It’s Wednesday. I’m staring at the script for Peter Panzerfaust #8, five pages in, and clearly I’ve come to a stand still creatively because I’m writing this now. Once again, I’m stuck.
This summer wasn’t an easy one. I really don’t need to go into the details, but around the time of my trip to SDCC my personal life was starting to come apart. When I came back from that trip, almost everything had unraveled. I was left picking up pieces and trying to patch together a new life , to start over when I’d believed things to be certain.
I started to invest in my life again. Over the course of a year I’d let friendships and family take a back seat to my pursuit of a goal and dream that I’d been following for years. I’d set aside everything else to put whatever time and energy I could muster into writing as much as I could and getting my name out to the masses. The truth is, I succeeded at that goal in a lot of ways. Between April 2011 and July 2012, I’d put out 24 issues of comics through Image and Image Shadowline, had a short in the Marvel Holiday Annual and my novel Between Worlds was finally released. That is not counting the freelancing work I’d written with Fathom Interactive, over 15 web comic scripts for their Sky Pirates of Neo Terra property.
I was, and still am, very proud of that.
There’s a cost, though. If you followed my podcast, The Process, you’ll have noticed a continued theme of struggle with my writing productivity and with levels of stress. When you lose balance in your life, when you make only one thing a priority, everything else in your life suffers. You have no time or energy for other aspects of your life that should be equally important, and I’d lost sight of that.
When I was piecing everything together again this summer, I received a nugget of wisdom in the form of an exercise from a counselor. “Go home and really think about what is most important to you.”
My immediate answer was, of course, writing. The exercise continued to float around in my brain and when I took a real honest look back at the events of early to mid 2012, I realized that writing isn’t really the most important part of my life. If tomorrow it just so happened that I lost all my comic series and no one ever wanted to hire me again, I’d be broken up about it but I’d survive. I’d find other work and continue to write on the side, for my own mental health and enjoyment. On the other hand, if my family completely cut me out, or I was to face my entire future alone with no one to share it with, I’d feel utterly defeated.
The people I love, my wonderful friends and family, they mattered most to me.
When I realized that about myself I was given hope again. I invested in my social life, actively pursued spending time with my friends by having parties and making myself available to them. I quickly became embedded in a life I’d abandoned for a career and I’m grateful that even after everything, these amazing people excitedly took me back.
So while I was putting my personal life back together, there was one part that was still a major casualty of my experiences: my writing. Since July, I’ve written very little. In fact, those who know me well heard of my actual resentment and hatred of writing for a period of a month. I started to blame my career for my struggles and what it had cost me. That took awhile to overcome because in a lot of ways, writing had cost my a lot, but at the end of the day I had to realize it was my decisions, not my career, that was ultimately responsible.
It’s now October and I continue to struggle. In most ways my life is back together; I’m active with my social life and take weekends off without fail (no matter what my productivity was during the week), I am in better touch with my family, and I take a lot of time to reflect on life and be content to have periods of solitude. Writing has remained an elusive demon.
The question now is; how do I push through the self doubt and return to a higher level of productivity?
I’ve been searching for that answer for months and here are some things I’ve been learning.
1) Remember that it is something you love. It’s easy to start to resent something when it’s no longer a simple task or loses any amount of satisfaction. Take the time to reflect on why you started doing it in the first place. It comes from a place of passion or excitement, or at least, it used to and you have to be able to acknowledge that.
2) Claim your victories. Even when they are tiny, learn to relish those moments where you pushed through a block and managed to write something. Anything. I stared at Page 1, Panel 1 for Peter Panzerfaust 8 for over a week and felt more frustrated and defeated with each passing day. Yesterday I wrote the first five pages. I didn’t finish the script. Hell, I didn’t even get half way through, but it was something from nothing and that is a win.
3) Be comfortable with your method. I joke a lot with my friends that most of my day is spent napping on my couch. There actually is a level of truth to that, but rather than napping I’m living inside my own head for hours of the day simply thinking. Even if it’s not story related, or working out a plot point, I often sit and reflect on life and who I am. Out of those long sessions, sometimes lasting weeks, some of my best work has come out of. It’s easy to look back at that time and feel as though you’ve accomplished nothing because you haven’t actually written anything but as a creative person pooling ideas is an absolute necessity. We can’t be expected to craft meaningful stories without investing that sort of time into the early development.
And, as a second point, and possibly the most important: For the love of god, stop comparing your work routine with others. I remember when Riley Rossmo and I first started working together on Green Wake and I was absolutely floored by his work ethic. He maintained a solid schedule and without fail invested a full 8-10 hour day every single day only taking Sundays off. When I began freelancing, I somehow assumed that would be the life I would have and when that didn’t happen in any way whatsoever, I was completely demoralized. Over time (even though it’s still a struggle) I learned that my method of creating is completely different than Riley’s but still a completely valid one. I may not put in 40-50 hours of solid work a week but I constantly remind myself that I am invested in my career and I’ve done very well with it so far, so something must be working.
I’m looking back at this essay and it’s clear to me that I’ve needed to write this for some time. 2012 has been at two polar ends for me; the highest of highs and the most crushing of lows. When I face a week of complete and utter creative failure, I can still look back at everything and remind myself one thing:
Glad to hear you’ve survived, Kurt. Inspiration isn’t always easy to come by, but I hope it turns up! Take care!
There’s no way any of us fans can be there for you in the way that friends and family can. Take all the time you need, we’ll always be there any Wednesday with your name on it. Much love and respect to you.
Now you understand. I thought I was getting a lot of funny looks from people like you and Ty when my priorities were different than other peoples at the time. I know I’ll be playing catchup later, but I have to make sure other things are in check first. I completely understand where you’re coming from, Kurtis. I hope despite my own absence from the scene your newfound empathy will help us pick up again and hang out sometime next you’re around. I still very much want to do all the things you, myself and the Jenkins had chatted and dreamt of, but I just have to sort things in my own world out first.
Great post, Kurtis. As Kevin said, your loyal fans will be around for the long haul so take your time and balance everything–family, friends, social life, career–out. Take a breather. It’s posts like these that always make me think, “I want to buy you a drink”.
Good words! I have been putting my social life off this last while to focus on my projects and you just gave me a good reminder to get out there and be friends with my friends! 🙂
I needed this.