The Writing Marathon – Motivation and Writer’s Block

I mentioned in my previous post that I scripted a thousand comic pages this year. That wasn’t hyperbole. The actual total was 1003 pages. I was backing up files and reorganizing old documents when I thought about the crazy productive year I’d had and got curious about how many pages I scripted in 2013 compared to previous years. Going back through my files checking old projects, here’s how it added up:

PageCount

1000 pages is equivalent to 4 comics a month, which is solid output for someone working in the business full time, let alone juggling a full time day teaching job at the same time. I’m not saying that to brag, just trying to give some context.

That being said, it hasn’t been easy. In order to hit my freelance deadlines and stay on top of my day job, everything else in my life took a back seat in 2013. My social time with family and friends was fleeting. I barely played any video games or watched TV/movies. Almost every single trip I took was to a convention or signing. On top of all that, I stepped away from my Project Manager position at UDON, wrapping up ten solid years of working with people who have been like family to me. Writing consumed everything in its path.

My wife was incredibly patient through all of this, understanding that I had to make writing a priority to make the most of opportunities that came my way. Thankfully, she worked away on her own prose writing at the same time. We both have aggressive creative goals, which is one of the reasons why we’re a good fit together. :)

Producing stories week after week taught me how to ‘turn on’ productivity when I need to. It’s like any other kind of exercise – you start slow, keep practising, and bit by bit you improve. At this point I’m able to break down a story faster, pace out scenes better, and more quickly get into character when I’m writing dialogue. You can read tutorials and learn from other writers’ techniques, but there’s no replacement for putting in the time and building your skills through experience.

People have asked me how I stay motivated and push past writer’s block. I don’t have a foolproof system and I have unproductive days just like everyone else, but my answer is probably not what you might expect.

When I get blocked up and need to get writing work done, my biggest motivator is fear. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true.

I have a deep unshakable dread that people who are waiting on my work (the line artist, colorist, letterer, editor) will get screwed over if I don’t deliver when I say I will.

I’ve been in too many situations where people haven’t upheld their end of things and those experiences have branded into my brain what that feels like. When I’m distracted or seizing up I try to put myself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how frustrated I would be if I was expecting that script and didn’t get it on time. After that, my gut clenches up and shit tends to get done…

…And if it doesn’t, a rye-whiskey and a bag of Doritos works pretty good too. :P

Crown

Crown & Coke – Jim’s writing fuel. Always drink responsibly. ;P

Having concrete deadlines looming overhead is a definite motivator too. Starting new creator-owned projects is more difficult because it can always be put off compared to deadline-driven work for hire gigs. Once I have an artist attached to a project it becomes more ‘real’ and my guilt-fear complex takes over. I don’t want an artist to be waiting on me when I said I’d have a script for them. I do everything I can to deliver on time or let the editor/artist know ASAP if things aren’t going as planned. It’s a respect and integrity thing for me. The fastest way to my bad side is lack of communication.

I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I’m not here to tell anyone how much work they should be producing. My output and schedule is different from anyone else’s. Everyone has their own situation and has to do what works for them. There’s no “one size fits all” solution, especially when it comes to creativity.

Some people write a little bit every day like clockwork. I tend to do story breakdowns and plotting for quite a while and then binge-script once I feel confident I have the story figured out. When I’m finally ready and in “scripting mode” I can pound out 8-10 pages on a good week night or 15+ pages on a Saturday or Sunday working through the day. If someone else does 3 pages a day for 7 days in a row and I plan things out and then script 20 pages over two days, it doesn’t matter – We both have a finished script ready by Sunday night.

Even then, I wish it was that simple. I can’t honestly say I produced a script a week. Deadlines overlap and outside responsibilities occasionally trump writing time, which translates into bursts of productivity between pauses trying to figure out plot lines or waiting on project approval. The flexibility of writing is both a positive and negative – You can work any time, but you always feel like you could do more. What’s important is finding methods that work for you and recognizing your own triggers, good and bad. The only way to do that is with time and practice.

My goal for 2014 isn’t about writing more, it’s about improving my overall quality and being selective about what I’m working on – Launching creator-owned projects that show a wider range of ability and taking on work for hire projects that inspire me and bring out my best. That’s where I feel I’m at right now. Look at that dorky 5 year bar chart above and understand that it’s a process that takes time. Everyone’s path is going to be different, but I can say without reservation that writing regularly will definitely help you improve, no matter what skill level you’re currently at.

For the first couple years I was worried about whether I’d be able to deliver anything at all. After that I fretted I was typecasting myself with too many sword & sorcery projects. Right now, I’m feeling a bit more balanced. It’s impossible to know if 2014 will be as productive as this year was, but hopefully I’m better prepared for the challenges to come. I don’t have all the answers, but I think I know how to keep some of this momentum going and enjoy the ride a bit more.

  1. No one leaves comments on websites anymore, it’s all “likes” on Facebook– and that makes me sad. New Year’s resolution: I’m gonna buck the trend and leave comments ON pages!

    Thanks so much for your yearly recaps, and a big thanks to your enthusiasm for 2014. Honestly, it’s getting me pretty jazzed about my own creative goals for 2014! Although, no matter how fired up I get about my writing for next year, I’m not doing a friggin bar graph! WHO DOES THAT?!!
    Happy Holidays/New year, Jim! Keep up the great work!!

    Tim, from the Comic Script Archive

  2. Thanks for writing these posts, Jim! They get me inspired by just reading about your growth over the years and keeping up with the workload. I’ve been struggling to keep my independent project in a steady progress (a weekly updated Webcomic) and I enjoyed reading this! Good luck in 2014 and I look forward to reading more posts from you!

    -Joshua Chace

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