After my previous post about my output in 2013 and some thoughts on writer’s block, I received a lot of wonderful comments and messages. Quite a few people asked about ways to be more productive/save time while they work, so I thought I’d cover a few things that have worked for me in case they’d be helpful to a wider readership.
Although creativity and writing can be driven by inspiration and there are more/less productive cycles, there’s also a lot of repetition that can take up undue amounts of time if you let it. Whenever I notice I’m doing the same kind of thing again and again during my work process I look for ways to automate parts of it to save myself time later on.
TEMPLATES and BOILERPLATES
When you’re constantly communicating with clients, publishers, other freelancers, and conventions you’ll notice that the same information is required over and over. Do it once, do it right, and save it so you never have to put that information together from scratch again. It’s easy to update and adjust once you have the foundation in place.
• I use a script template (It’s based on Fred Van Lente’s killer script format and the latest version was put together by the incredible Rob Marland, which you can download right HERE) that auto formats and auto numbers pages, panels, and dialogue lines so I don’t have to waste time doing it myself. It sounds silly and unnecessary but, trust me, when you have hundreds of pages of script and multiple panels per page it’s really helpful to just hit Enter→ and immediately roll into the next sequence without hitting Tab>Bold>and typing “Page” and “Panel” over, and over, and over again. The other nice thing with auto numbering is that if I take a line or panel out of a script, it cascade renumbers everything to match the new sequence, which is a real sanity saver. The technology is there, so I might as well use it to my advantage.
• I put together a standard intro paragraph about myself and my work so I can easily cut and paste it into an email and then customize it from there for introducing myself to new clients. The same goes for review copies and press contacts.
• I have a short 50-80 word bio and a longer 100-150 word one along with a recent photo of myself (both print and web-sized) so I always have them for conventions, signings, whatever.
• Publishers always need mailing information and that info tends to get lost so, as soon as I start working on a new creator-owned project, I get everyone’s updated contact info and put them in a text file ready to go. It’s also helpful for sending people I work with little surprise gifts or Christmas cards.
Basically, whenever I’m typing up information that seems generic enough that I may need it again, I’ll save it to my cloud storage with a self-explanatory title so I have easy access to it later. Speaking of which…
I used to walk around with 3 or 4 USB thumb drives with iterations of my latest work and was in a constant state of ‘version madness’ trying to remember where I’d saved the latest document or cursing myself if I forgot to back-up a copy somewhere safe.
Now I have a set of organized folders on Google Drive (Dropbox or any other comparable service should work just as well) that automatically uploads the file I’m working on to my desktop computer, my laptop, my office computer at the college where I teach, and online to my Drive account. It’s goddamn magic. I no longer have to worry about losing my work or wondering if I’m working on the latest version of a story. All of them are current, all of them are safe.
Even if I do some writing on a plane or somewhere else without an internet connection, the minute I hook up to the internet again (at a hotel or a coffee shop while I’m on the road) it propagates the newest save and every version is up to date again. With small files like documents the process is practically instantaneous and, since they don’t take up much space, I can keep a full archive of every script I’ve ever written in the cloud so it’s easy for me to access old or new work wherever I am, whenever I need it. The same goes for pitches, outlines, contracts, logos, and key reference documents I use all the time.
I even have my email signature in a text file in the cloud with every email program (software or online) pointing to it, so if I ever need to change my signature all of them are the exact same and up to date. Anal, yes, but also very convenient.
Photoshop has a wondrous feature not enough people use – Actions.
When you’re producing 20+ page stories month after month you’ll end up doing the same things to art files time and time again. With Photoshop Actions you can set it to Record you doing the sequence once, then do it as many times as you want by clicking on the new Action you’ve created. You can even point an Action towards a folder and Batch Process the whole damn thing. Set it up and walk away while Photoshop chugs through the files. It’s glorious.
• Publisher needs cover art in 3 different sizes/formats for solicitation? One-click Action.
• I need to resize page art to a standard size and create a ‘floating’ line art layer before sending it to the color flatter? One-click Action.
• I need low rez pages with a watermark for reviewers? One-click Action.
• I need differently sized page files for the letterer? One-click Action.
• One of the colorists I work with has consistently dim colors? One-click Action.
Any time I can see that I’m going to end up doing something more than a couple times in Photoshop, I build an Action for it and automate that bastard. There’s no reason not to.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Funny enough, these tutorial posts here on my site are also, in part, a time saving measure. When people started asking me about how to break into the business, or how I write comics, I realized it would be something that would probably come up a lot. I decided to really hunker down and write up an extensive answer for each of those questions so I could easily point people towards it and not worry about brushing them off.
Everyone gets equal attention and a detailed answer instead of me ignoring the question or writing something vague and unhelpful because I don’t have time to deal with it when they ask. It’s a resource people can use and, if it’s helpful to them – great. If not – at least it didn’t take any more of my time.
Work time can be fleeting, especially when you’re trying to fit it in alongside a day job or other responsibilities. Working smarter with templates and automation can help you maximize your time and let you focus on the fun stuff – story building, art, and creativity.
Now, please enjoy the boilerplate finish to my tutorials below…
Feel free to share your own time-saving methods in the comments so other people can find and make use of them too!