Shop Talk: Keeping focused with an epic webcomic…..

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Staying Focused

The other day,  I had a conversation with a fellow creator of mine. He was struggling with a few things that to him seemed to inhibit his ability to finish any project that he has been working on. He told me of all the many ideas that he had in head and all the great and fantastic stories that were needing to come out on paper and be expressed. Yet every time he started a project it was doomed to fail and the ever growing frustration that he felt seem to pull into that dark abyss that can consume a creator.

As we talked, I thought about this quite a bit and have found myself in similar circumstances. Not many people realize the emotional and mental struggle that creators go through. It can be quite hellish, yet there are a few things we can do to help us get our stories out there.

Bean is nearing update 350 with many more to go. To those that know me, this is a milestone. In fact as I read older posts on forums about bean from years ago, the comments towards me were uncertainty that I would even finish the tale. This was harsh to hear, yet I have learned a few things in my medium old age that have helped get my story on the right path and keep going. Some of these I have talked about before, while others are things that I have only begun to learn. So to the webcomic creators, take what you need. You might not agree with it all, yet sooner or later, you will find there is truth in what I am about to say.

1. Show me, do not tell me ” you want it bad enough.” I am a strong believer in this philosophy. People talk about things all the time, yet talk is just that, talk. If you want to accomplish something bad enough you will find a way to make things happen.

2. Pick one story and stay with it. As an artist and creator I realize that my head is full of different stories and ideas. There is nothing wrong with this, and if you just want to write short stories, you will be fine. Yet for those of you with “epics” in mind, you will find that there are times you get bored with your tale. We all do. Working solely on one project for years at a time can be quite draining. This is were the temptation to switch gears hits and start another project or tale. Then we become involved in that project and forget our original idea that we started on…. yet we also find ourselves unable to finish the new project.

Well this angers our fans. They are there for what you started and if you break away from the tale, you will lose them. You can slow down on updates, but you need to also be true to them. When you switch and switch and then switch again you will find a growing disconnect that is not always repairable.  Now if you end the story that is different, but you can’t just switch gears… well you can if you want to risk readership. The more you do it, the more control damage you have to do.

3. Staying focused. So I mentioned the realistic fact that creators lose interest in their projects. Usually this happens for a variety of reasons. Lack of instant results (big one). Mundane moment in the story. Shinny Objects… or the desire to switch for the “better” idea. Failure or perceived failure. Critical commentary from fans. Those moments of depression or feeling stuck.  All valid reasons and can really slow one down.

I once heard a great cartoonist say that the only way to be successful is to work when you don’t want to work. It can be hard to stay focused at times, it is these times that you have to push yourself the most. I believe that and some of my biggest breakthroughs have been when I pushed through my lowest funks. Is it easy? no not really. It is worth it though.

I have tons of other story ideas that I want to do. So what do I do? Well I write or sketch them down and then put them away for later. I have found that I am so involved in the Bean that I cannot stop. I am too invested in it and deep down now I have to see it through. Which brings me to my next point…

4. Stay true to your original vision. Stay true with that original thought. Had I learned that 13 years ago, Bean would not have gone through so many phases. What you see is my original vision and layout. It was a super strong impulse that once I returned it, I found out that it was the correct one. It was only when I returned to it that my story became successful and took off. So when you feel that you need to go off and do another book, take a moment and “reset” and remember what made you start your tale in the first place.

5. Anchor it! I talk about this a lot. Give it an anchor an ending of sorts. It will make a huge difference in your ability to keep going. It gives you a finish, than an un-ending story cannot. Stories with no ending tend to send the creator into the realm of boredom rather quickly as well as the fans. Fans can tell if you don’t have at least some sort of direction. Even with the ending set in stone you can still have the inspiration to change and adapt the middle anyway you like.

6. stop comparing yourself so you can create your own feel and style. This is a tough one, especially since we all love to compare ourselves to other comics and artists. Yet we forget that every artist is at a different stage in the game. If your draw like everyone else than you also disappear. You have to figure out a way to stand out in the crowd, so you need to figure out your own unique feel. Learn from others, but dont copy them. Influences are very important in art and if you use them right influences will help you create a unique feel that is different from everyone else. This also takes practice, I was about 30 when I finally learned how important it was just to be and do my own thing.

7. Patience That’s tough, yet something to be learned. I understand that most webcomic creators have many many other responsibilities. Myself included. If I could do bean full-time, I would be jump at in a heart beat. Yet, I cannot, and I had to figure out how to get creative on when I work on the bean. I draw everywhere, from the doctors office to jury duty. I am constantly finding ways to make it work. I also realize that this is a long-term project, so I plan my life as best I can accordingly. With that in mind and being upfront about my needs to others, patience grows. Do I ever get frustrated, yes, but that is part of deal. My frustrations are now when I have to redo a page rather than losing interest in my works.

8. Remove Distractions- Turn off the tv or put the video game away for a bit. If you are serious about this and want to succeed, you need to turn some things off so you can create.

9. Have “outs” –An out is when you need a break. I need them many times and my outs are prints and commissions. This does two things for me. First it allows me to satisfy my need to draw something else rather than bean. I get to play in science fiction, fantasy, and realism. Second, it releases stress. My outs come at the finish of a chapter and my commissions help fund my webcomic. I am though careful to make sure my outs dont become my 2nd project. There is a fine line and if one is not careful your “out” can highjack your story.

10. you are not alone. Honestly you are not alone out there. We all struggle with staying focused. Yet it is possible. When I learned that my inspirations struggle at times with their stories, it reminds me that they are human too and as I watch them push through it, it strengthens me to do the same.

The key is to help you stay focused and though the your comic project might seem huge and overwhelming, it is still possible. In reality it all comes down to  “how bad do you want it and what are you going to do about.” Once you figure it out you will see some incredible things happen.

So Keep Creating



Felix » 5 Nov 2013 » Reply

I used to be a perfectionist, but then I got fed up with never getting anything done. Once I stopped trying to write the perfect story, I found that it was a lot more important for it to be complete. (Which relates to point 5 above.)

And that’s where a lot of aspiring creators get bogged down, I think. Any starry-eyed teenager dreams to create OMG EPICS. I sure used to. But if you can’t complete a 3-page vignette — and do it before breakfast! — then a 30-page short story… every month like clockwork… how are you going to ever complete a 300-page novel, let alone an epic series?

@trollwind » 5 Nov 2013 » Reply

I gotta say you have been killing it with your Shop Talk posts recently. Required reading for anyone trying to build a career as a creator. Keep up the awesomeness… you always help to keep me inspired!

@Chris_DFS » 24 Jan 2012 » Reply

I can't see what anyone would argue with there. I have seen and experienced number 2. It is hard, but if you stray down that path, You'll forever be taking the next fork and never reach your destination.

@JMANARTIST » 24 Jan 2012 » Reply

This is great advice Thanks Travis! This is exactly what I needed to hear!

Nightlyre » 23 Jan 2012 » Reply

Great post, Travis! I heard one more golden piece of advice that helped me through a rough time, and it's related to your anchor idea. Throughout the story, there are going to be those scenes you really want to write and draw! Make sure they're included in the outline, but don't write them yet! They're goalposts, and they'll keep you going through the parts of the story that are more difficult to create. They're a nice little reward to keep you on track.

I've also found that if I'm dreading a scene for its complexity, the initial "fear" of the scene is always worse than it actually turns out to be. Thus some of the most complex pieces of artwork have been some of the most rewarding and fun.

    trav » 5 Nov 2013 » Reply

    yup i think we have all felt that.

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