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When the Projects You Aren’t Working On Are Killing You

| December 24, 2012

CC_FeaturedImage_12-24-12I was complaining to my fiancé (T-minus 7 days and she will be upgraded to wife status) the other day that I’ve been feeling unproductive for the past few weeks.  She almost socked me.

“What the hell are you doing with all that time you spend in the office then, if you’re not being productive?” she asked incredulously.

Indeed.  What the hell have I been doing?

In the 20-40 hours a week I’m able to devote to ComixTribe and related creative endeavors, I have been fighting the uphill battle of distributing books through Diamond (THE RED TEN #1 drops January 2, SCAM #3 and THE STANDARD #1 to follow shortly), Oxymoron Kickstarter order fulfillment, doing art, lettering, editorial, and page design for THE RED TEN #0 FREE COMIC BOOK DAY BOOK, lettering THE RED TEN #3, and scripting issues 5 and up,  working both administratively and creatively on a big Joe Mulvey project next year, writing this here column…

Unproductive, Ty?  Really?  Clearly, I’m keeping busy…

And yet, it’s often the projects I’m NOT working on that weigh heavily on me:

  • Comix Counsel is supposed to be a weekly column.  How come I only wrote 24 columns in 2012?
  • 90% of retailers with Diamond accounts still aren’t stocking ComixTribe books.  How’s that outreach coming, Mr. Publisher?
  • You call yourself a comics writer?  How many pages have you written this week?  None?  How is that possible?
  • Or are you an artist?  You do draw, right?  And yet by my count, you’ve drawn a whopping 13 pages of sequentials this year. For a comics creator, shouldn’t you be, y’know, creating more comics?
  • Pop-Quiz: What do CounterTerror, The Hopeless, Knock Down Drag Out, Girl With a Badge, The Killionaires, The Prince, Capes and Robbers, Conspiracy Games, and Bonds have in common?  Give up?  They’re all projects you have failed to get off the ground yet.
  • And what’s up with EPIC?  Is that ever going to come out, or should we consider that one consigned to the comics graveyard?

These are the thoughts that clang around in my noggin all too often. (Yes, apparently my inner critic is a snarky hipster.)

And man, such thinking can take a toll.

The projects your AREN’T working on can sap both focus and motivation from the projects you ARE working on. 

And unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for how to deal with this.

I guess there is some comfort in not being alone with this issue.  The other day, I Tweeted something to the above effect, and was met with a chorus of “I hear ya, man” from fellow creators.

There’s a delicate balance that all creatives will eternally wrestle with.  We must always stay hungry and aspire for that next level of success, that next gear of productivity.  The drive to work harder and produce more keeps us from stagnating.  But there’s a danger there, too.  When your to-do list perpetually dwarfs your to-done list, it can get harder and harder to tackle any of it.

Again, I don’t have answers, to this dilemma, but I have some ideas I’m going to try.

1)      Stop Comparing Your Productivity to Others

Whatever rung you’re currently on while climbing the imaginary ladder to comic book success, it’s hard not to pay attention to the people who are above you…or even worse, people who seem to be passing you by.  This guy wrote 600 pages this year.  That girl got an Image deal.  How the hell did they get [hot artist] to draw their pitch?  Zero-sum thinking can plague even optimists, and if everyone else is winning, it can feel like you’re losing, or at least falling behind.

But the truth is, the success of creators A, B, and C, has no impact on whether or not I finish a script.  Envy doesn’t get stuff done.  If studying the work ethic of others and trying to emulate it drives you to be more productive, than that’s fine.  But if instead it disheartens or causes bitterness towards your fellow creator, its time to focus less on others and more on what you can do to get where you want to be.

2)      Complete Something…Anything!

John Lees shared a tip that I thought was a good one.  While struggling on a script for a big project he’s been working, he started to lose confidence. I think it’s just something that happens when we get to a particularly tough point of the writing process, when nothing seems to work.  These are the times the “sexy new idea” pops up, which saps energy, momentum, and focus from the current project.

Well, John’s approach was just to go with it.  Instead of bashing his head against his keyboard, he decided to take one of those new ideas and bang out short script for it.  It was an exercise to prove that he could actually finish something, as much as it was to execute the idea.

And what do you know, the act of going away, finishing something, and then coming back to his primary project seemed to get his mojo back.  Now, I think the important thing here, if you’re going to try this tip, is to actually FINISH the new project.  The worse thing you can do is go to something new every time something gets hard, but never actually finish anything.  One finished script is worth more than ten half-executed ideas.

3)      Start a Chain

Creative inertia is just as real and strong a force as the one Newton described.  Active creative minds stay active…inactive ones stay inactive.  Believe it or not, it’s easier to write everyday than it is every third day, or five times a month.  Humans are creatures of habit, and habits often need to be formed with intention.

One of the best tricks to form a daily habit or get moving on something, is to create a calendar chain.  Print out a calendar, put it someplace you’ll always see it, and start doing the activity you want to be doing (writing, drawing, reading, etc.)  Draw an X on that day after you do your target activity.  Do it again tomorrow.  Write another X.  The next day. X.  And so on.

Your goal is to not break the chain of X’s.  If you need to tie incentives or rewards for chains of various lengths (ex. No buying new comics until you’ve hit 15 Xs) have at it.

Fact is, if I wrote a single comic page a day, every day, for a full year, I’d have a little more than 16 issues written by the end of the year.  If I drew a single panel every day for a year, I could easily have a graphic novel complete at year’s end.


So, that’s how I’m dealing with this issue. What about you?  Any suggestions or frustrations you want to share? Any breakthroughs this year?

Join us in the forum to discuss.

And have a very Merry Christmas!



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Category: Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at
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