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B&N Week 84: Motivation

| July 31, 2012

It’s another Tuesday! We’ve got sun, high temps, and air conditioning. Personally, I’d like some rain. The heat is dangerous!

Anyway, we’re still talking about what can make you a better creator. This week, it will be about staying motivated. So, let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of that, shall we?

Staying motivated is hard work! Never let anyone tell you differently.

Everyone wants to create their own comic, or write a house character. [It’s why you’re here, isn’t it?] And you want this to last for years. But how many of you have seriously put real thought into just what it takes to do this? Not many, I bet. However, I’m willing to bet that most of you are incapable of the fortitude it takes to sit down and create on a consistent basis.

For those of you who do, most of you will find your motivation tested.

And that’s going to be your real test. This will let you know whether or not you’re cut out for the creative life. Because while you can find lots of external motivators, the real motivation has to come from inside. Everything else is just gravy.

Some external motivations are easy. The biggest one is the audience. Once you have a following, if you’re engaging with your audience, they’ll motivate you to do the hard work of sitting on your duff and creating. Fan mail is great, or if you have something like a webcomic or a blog, then you can have instant feedback on your work, for good or for ill.

Some of the good: Those who write in, praising your work, wanting more. Or, they’re asking questions about things like collections, signings, store visits, convention attendance, and the like. These are fans of your work, and really, they are the greatest external motivator a creator can have.

The bad: those who write in, and are basically trying to tear you a new one for whatever reason. They go out of their way to be offensive, making attacks not just on the work, but personal attacks against you. While you can’t please everyone, these types of people can never be pleased by anything. [You’ll also find that most of them are hiding behind some sort of anonymous internet handle. People find it difficult to say unreasonably offensive things when using their real name.]

Another big external motivator is money. If you’re doing something and have been able to monetize it, then you’ve done something right. The money will allow you to keep doing it. If it’s a book being sold, then what you should realize is that you have a fanbase that is supporting you. If it’s a website, then one of two things has happened: either the fans are supporting you directly, or you’re popular enough that you have a decent amount of traffic, and so, you can sell ad space on your site. Traffic to your site also means you have a fanbase, even if they’re not that vocal.

These motivators are important. Otherwise, there’s little reason to continue: we create not for ourselves, but for others. We sit on our butts, ruining our health, worrying about where the next job is going to come from, wondering if it’s a gig for pay or if you’re going to have to work for free/back-end, and we do it for our audience.

There are also internal motivators. The biggest one is your word.

Once you’ve created something and put it out into the world, you’ve also created a contract with your audience. That contract is implied, and it says that you’ll continue with the work if they continue to show up for it. If you stop creating, or only create when you feel like it, then you’re breaking your part of the contract. Then your audience disappears, and you’ll be wondering what the hell happened when you finally decide to release something.

You are not Marvel/DC. What this means is that you cannot put out a book for a few issues, and then let years go by before putting out another issue. Marvel has some stories that are just terribly late. Like, years. We won’t go into specifics, like that Spider-Man/Black Cat story, but they’re out there.

Eventually, you’re going to get bored with whatever story you’re working on. The longer you work on it, the larger your likelihood of growing bored. That’s just the nature of things.

If you’re an artist working on a strip, doing all the work yourself, you run the highest risk, especially if the strip is one that is neverending, like most comedy strips. You toil day in and day out, possibly having few fans, and possibly having little to no interaction with the fans you do have. It’s hard to find motivation under those circumstances.

I liken it to eating steak every day. I love me some beef, but if I were to eat nothing but steak day in and day out, I’d eventually lose the taste for it. [I don’t know if the same thing can be said about bacon.] If you don’t change it up every so often, you’ll burn yourself out of the taste.

I believe this is why you see so many high profile creators switching books after a few years. There was a time when you could expect to see a creator on a book for ten years or more. Now, you’re lucky if you get three to five years out of a creator before they move on—and that’s artist and writer.

Writers have it easier. They shouldn’t find it difficult to stay motivated on a project. The reason is because they can structure stories differently, especially in the indies. A writer could have one or two ongoings, as well as a limited series or graphic novel. They can “clean their palette” on a more regular basis.

If you want to be a better creator, then you have to find ways to keep your motivation up. This is key. Not only will keeping up your motivation keep you in the chair and working, it will also show up in your work. Readers will be able to tell if whether or not you’re into the material. For artists, we talk about pages having “energy.” Readers can tell if you were exited about a project or not. For writers, we don’t talk all that much about energy, but we do say whether or not the read was engaging or not.

And remember, motivation is different from inspiration. You can be inspired to write a different take about a boy and his dog, but only motivation will get your butt in the chair to write it. Motivation won’t be the story itself, but it can be a part of it.

Motivation is different for everyone. You’re going to have to find out what works for you, as well as what doesn’t. Then it’s just a simple matter of three things: chair, duff, work.

That’s all I have for this week. Remember, I’m still taking questions. Send ‘em, and I’ll see about answering ‘em.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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