Three Ways To Know When To Finish A Comic Or Story Project

2017 Artwork Knowing when to finish article sketch

Learning when to finish a collection of stories or webcomic updates is a skill which can take a bit of practice. Ideally, you want to finish whilst you still have at least a tiny bit of enthusiasm left for the comic or fiction project.

Whilst I now seem to have something of an instinct about when to finish when it comes to my various webcomic mini series (which typically hover around 8-12 updates per mini series these days), I was woefully inexperienced about it when it comes to writing short stories – as evidenced by the low quality of the final story in the group of short stories I wrote for last Halloween during a return to a storytelling medium I’d abandoned quite a bit in recent years.

So, these tips will mostly be based on what I’ve learnt from making webcomics and from the mistakes I made with my short fiction series last Halloween.

1) Always plan: One mistake I made with my Halloween short stories was doing virtually no proper planning before I started writing them. I’d mostly just think of the opening sentence and possibly the premise a while before I started the story, and that was it. I had the idea that I wanted to write ten stories, but that was about it.

Whilst this allowed me to come up with some neat ideas and endings that really surprised me (like in this story or this story), it was just as likely to mean that my stories turned into a confusing mess (like this one).

If you plan your stories and/or comics out before you make them, then you’ll get a general sense of their size and scope. You’ll be able to tell if your project is long enough for you to finish it before you run out of enthusiasm (always plan your projects to be shorter, but with room for expansion if they go well).

You also won’t have to worry so much about writer’s block in the middle of the project, since you’ll already know what you’re supposed to make. This also helps to prevent the wild variations in quality that can happen in unplanned projects.

2) Know your limits: You’ll have to learn this through bitter experience (eg: failed and/or unfinished projects), but many people have a limit to either how long they can focus on a single project or how many projects they can keep going at any one time.

This is why, for example, all of my webcomic mini series are less than 20 comics long. When I’m making a mini series, I’ll usually go all out and make something like 2-3 comics per day (even if I only post one per day). However, I also know that I usually can’t keep this up for more than a few days (usually less than a week). So, I plan the length of my mini series to take account of this fact.

If you know your limits, you can work within them and you’ll be more likely to actually finish the projects that you start. Likewise, you’ll also be able to alter any project ideas you have so that you can stay within your limits, rather than risk running out of enthusiasm halfway through the project.

3) Always leave wanting more: If you find that you miss one of your creative projects after you’ve finished it, then this is usually a good sign. It means that you’ll want to make something else like it in the future.

If, weeks later, you find yourself wishing you could have added a few extra comic updates or stories to your project, then this is also a good sign.

However, exhaustedly slumping over the finish line like you’ve just run a marathon is probably not going to make you want to make more comics or write more fiction for a while at least.

So, make your projects – especially the ones you’re really excited about – a little bit on the shorter side, and you’ll find that you have enthusiasm and energy left over for future projects.

For example, my Halloween fiction series should probably have only been four stories long instead of ten stories long. I was truly, properly, enthusiastic and inspired for about 5-7 of the ten stories, but the other 3-5 were mostly there because I was determined to write ten stories. If I’d just written four stories (but not necessarily the first four in the collection), then I’d have finished whilst I was still in an enthusiastic and inspired mood.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Deal With The Feeling Of Loss After Finishing A Highly Inspired Creative Project

2017 Artwork After An Inspired Project Article Sketch

Truly inspired creative projects have a strange kind of “magic” to them. You might not realise that you’re making something that you’ll always remember fondly when you’re actually making it. But, after you’ve finished one of these amazing, inspired creative projects, then you can sometimes feel a sense of loss. A sense of forlorn nostalgia for the time when you were still making it.

It’s a sense that there was a beautiful moment, but now it has passed into the mists of time. There’s a sense that if you made the same project again, you wouldn’t quite be able to recapture the same sense of fascination, joy and effortless inspiration that you felt when you made it for the first time.

So, how do you deal with this feeling of loss? Here are a few tips:

1) Remember that it isn’t gone forever: Super-inspired project ideas don’t come along every day but, if you’ve had one of them, then there’s a good chance that you’ll get another one in the future. It’ll be different, but it’ll be just as interesting and just as amazing. Even if it might not show up for another few weeks, months or years.

In a way, these project ideas feel “special” because they don’t appear every day. If they appeared every day, then they would probably quickly become “ordinary” project ideas. So, although the idea of making these types of projects every day might appeal to you in the moments after you’ve finished one of them, there’s a reason why inspired project ideas of this level of quality don’t come along every day.

If you’ve experienced a few of these project ideas, then you’ll already know all of this. But, if it’s your first time, then it can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “nothing THIS good will ever appear in my imagination again“. This isn’t true!

If your imagination was able to come up with something great at one moment in time, then it’ll come up with something else great in the future (even if it might look different because your interests, thoughts, personality, skill levels etc.. have changed slightly over time).

Once you’ve experienced the feeling of making one of these creative projects, your imagination isn’t exactly going to let it slip away from you easily. Your imagination has probably already started work on building the next great idea – even if you don’t realise it yet!

Super-inspired ideas rarely appear out of nowhere. They’re usually something that has been slowly forming and developing inside your imagination for days, weeks, months etc… before you have that sudden “Aha!” moment. So, give the next project idea time to develop into something suitably brilliant.

2) Keep practicing: Although it might seem counter-intuitive in the moments after finishing an awesome project, you still need to stay in practice (this means keep practicing drawing, writing etc… regularly even when you aren’t feeling inspired), so that you can act on the next inspired idea the instant that it seems like it’s “ready” to be made.

If you fall out of practice, then working up the motivation to make one of these ideas in the critical moments after it reveals itself to you can be somewhat more difficult!

Yes, by comparison, the practice paintings, drawings, comics, stories etc.. that you make in the days after your inspired project won’t feel as enjoyable to make as the project you’ve just finished did. You probably won’t be as proud of them. But, you still need to make them anyway – even if it feels like a bit of a chore. If you keep practicing regularly, then inspired ideas are much more likely to appear than they are if you don’t practice any kind of creativity.

3) Find mildly awesome ideas: The best creative project ideas are a strange confluence of many different things that you consider to be “awesome”. It’s when you find a way to make something that is not only inspired by several of your favourite films, games, comics, books, places (real or imagined) etc… but which also has a lot of your own unique imagination added to it too.

This is really hard to describe if it’s never happened to you before, but it is an almost spiritual experience. It feels like you’ve made something that matters.

Still, going from meaningful and inspired projects to making “ordinary” practice art, practice fiction etc.. again can quickly make you feel disillusioned. So, you can take the edge off of this by looking for mildly awesome ideas. These are ideas which, whilst not as Earth-shakingly fascinating as your previous idea was, are still things that you consider to be “cool”.

For example, although you might not be able to find a confluence of different things that inspire you, you could make something that is inspired by just one or two things that you find inspirational. This will get you back into the frame of mind of being inspired by things that you find cool. It will encourage you to exercise your imagination and to put your own imaginative spin on genres, topics, ideas etc… that interest you.

Unsurprisingly, this method is also a good way to speed up the development of new highly-inspired ideas. For example, I’d wanted to make a cyberpunk comic for quite a while and – after several failed attempts at planning both serious and comedic “traditional” comics in this genre- I’d put it in the category of ‘cool things that will happen eventually, but not for a few months or years‘.

But, I then thought that I’d try to do something mildly awesome and loosely-related to this idea and make some cyberpunk art instead. Yes, it didn’t have the narrative complexity of a comic, but I was drawing and painting cyberpunk-related things on a regular basis for several days. In addition to this, I was playing cyberpunk computer games and daydreaming about the genre regularly too.

Eventually, when it came to thinking of an idea for the next instalment of my occasional “newspaper comic”-style webcomic mini series (that will appear here in February), I suddenly realised that I could make a comedic cyberpunk series with a semi-linear storyline. Hey presto! Super-inspired idea!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Ways To Find Creative Projects That “Almost Make Themselves”

Sorry about the scratchy writing, my pen was running out of ink at the time.

Sorry about the scratchy writing, my pen was running out of ink at the time.

If you’ve ever had the experience of making a creative project that “pretty much made itself”, then you’ll know how exhilarating it can be. Making these kinds of projects can involve a lot of effort, but it never really feels like effort. In fact, it feels more fun than anything else. It feels like the project was something you were meant to make.

It’s probably best to describe it as the project pulling you along, rather than the other way round. These kinds of projects have a momentum to them that many other projects don’t always have.

Since I experienced this again a few days before writing this article ( when I was making this year’s Halloween comic), I thought that I’d see if I can give any advice about how to find these kinds of project ideas. I may or may not have written about this subject before, but it certainly bears repeating.

1) Look at the things you love: Every time that I’ve had one of these “it almost made itself” experiences, it’s always been related to things that I really love. Or, more accurately, a combination of several things that I will geek out about at every possible opportunity.

For example, the interactive comedy/horror story that I wrote last Halloween [LINK] was heavily inspired by 1990s computer/video games (eg: “Blood” in particular). It was also inspired by my memories of the “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks that I read when I was younger.

In addition to this, it was in the comedy/horror genre – which is one of my favourite genres these days. Lots of Halloween-related stuff was also appearing on the internet at the time. With all of these things swirling around in my mind, it wasn’t long before they combined themselves into a project idea.

So, if you want a project that will “pretty much make itself”, then think of things that you enthusiastically consider to be “cool” or “fascinating”, then surround yourself with them as much as you can. Read about these things, think about them, re-visit them etc.. until they all start to come together in an interesting way. Immerse yourself in these things until you suddenly start feeling an irresistible urge to turn your fascination into something creative.

As soon as you start feeling this feeling, then good creative ideas (inspired by the cool things you’ve been reading about or looking at) will probably follow fairly soon.

2) Know your characters: When you’re planning or starting your “pretty much makes itself” project, one thing that will help to keep your project flowing smoothly is to know your characters well.

This works best if you already have several pre-existing characters that you can use but, if you don’t, you can always create some characters that are inspired by (but different from) your favourite fictional characters. The thing here is to know your characters quite well.

Once you know your characters well, then planning your story, comic etc.. is an absolute joy. If you know your characters, then all you have to do is to ask yourself “how would they react in this situation?” and the rest will pretty much write or plan itself. Writer’s block can still happen, but it’ll be less of an issue.

For example, my upcoming Halloween comic features the four main characters from a long-running occasional webcomic series of mine. Since I’ve known these characters for several years, working out how each of them would react to a zombie apocalypse was surprisingly easy. Although I had a mild case of writer’s block when planning the ending to the comic, this wasn’t too much of a huge issue for the simple reason that I knew all of the characters very well.

3) Imagine it in other formats:
Without fail, I’ve found that these project ideas seem to exist independently of the medium you choose to express them in.

These ideas seem much larger than just one medium. In other words, once you’ve found one of these ideas – you’ll probably start wondering what it would look like if it was turned into a movie or a TV series, what it would look like as a videogame, what the promotional trailer for it would look like etc…

For example, with my upcoming Halloween comic, I suddenly just knew that two panels on one of the later pages would have the first part of The Offspring’s cover version of “80 Times” (by TSOL) playing in the background if this comic was ever turned into a TV show. In fact, several scenes would have a 1980s/90s California punk soundtrack if it was ever made into a film.

I also knew that if it was ever adapted into an animated film, then there would be several extended versions of various scenes (and a totally different ending, which would be a parody of the whole “dream within a dream” thing that turns up in horror movies sometimes). These ‘extended’ scenes never made it into the comic, but they just suddenly appeared in my mind. Likewise, I found myself wondering what certificate the BBFC would give my comic if it was adapted into a film.

So, if you find that you suddenly spend a lot of time wondering what your fascinating novel, comic, art etc.. idea would be like if you’d chosen another medium, then this is a good sign that your project will make itself.

In fact, if you can easily and quickly imagine a lot more things about your project than you could ever actually fit into the finished thing, then this is a very good sign that your project idea is one of those things that will make itself.

4) It’ll find you: In the end, the very best project ideas rarely seem to come from within you. It’s almost like they exist separately and are just waiting for the right moment to appear to you. But, once they appear, they don’t exactly go away easily.

Yes, you might put off working on the project – but you’ll still be absolutely fascinated by the idea. it will seem like one of the coolest ideas in the world. Even if you don’t make it, it’ll probably still lurk in the background of your mind and wait for an opportunity to appear (possibly with changes) in one of your other projects several weeks or months later, when you least expect it.

Creative projects that “make themselves” aren’t always things that you have to find. Sometimes they find you.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Tips For When You Need To Focus On A New Creative Project (But You’ve Already Got Several Others Too)

2016 Artwork How To Handle A New Project article sketch

Yes, I know that I’m breaking my “don’t blog about blogging” rule for at least the twenty-seventh time, but – as always- I have a good reason for doing so. Today, I’ll be looking at what to do if you start working on a new creative project, when you’re already creating and posting things online on a regular basis.

I’ve dealt with this subject a few times, like during the five days that I spent writing an interactive horror/comedy story called “Acolyte!” in late September/ early October and I thought that I could offer two useful tips.

1) Efficiency: Back when I was writing “Acolyte!”, I didn’t have as much time or energy to spare for my usual daily articles and art posts. But, although I had a fairly large buffer of both articles and paintings, I didn’t really want to let this dwindle too much. So, instead, I worked out ways to spend less time and energy making art and writing articles.

This is why, for example, some of my articles from earlier this month (yes, my article buffer is several months long) feature recycled title art. Believe it or not, creating and editing the little title graphics at the top of each of these posts can sometimes take up to half of the time it takes me to write a blog post. So, I was able to save time during those five days by just re-editing some of my existing title graphics using MS Paint.

Likewise, many of the articles that I wrote during those five days were either fairly short or they were fairly rambling. I’ll talk more about how I wrote those articles later, but they were articles that were easier and/or quicker to write than most of my articles are.

As for my daily art posts, I’d fortunately started a series of minimalist limited palette paintings (which were posted here in January) before I’d started writing “Acolyte!”. As such, it was fairly easy for me to continue making these paintings, albeit with less background detail, when I was writing “Acolyte!”.

I guess that what I’m trying to say here is that, you need to find ways to spend a minimal amount of time and effort on your pre-existing projects whilst still working on your main project. If you can come up with ways to create filler content, then this can also be useful too.

Although this might seem like a lot of extra effort, it’ll help stop you losing momentum on your pre-existing projects. This means that, once you’ve finished your new project, you can get straight back to working on your old projects again with a minimum of disruption.

2) Similarity: Back when I was writing “Acolyte!”, almost all of the blog articles that I wrote were about interactive fiction. Likewise, most of the art that I made during this time was related to the horror genre too.

Why did I do this? Well, it was both to allow me to write articles and make art quickly, but also to prevent me from losing focus on the horror/comedy interactive story that I was writing at the time.

Since I was devoting a lot of my mental energy to writing interactive fiction and coming up with horror-based ideas, making sure that all of my other projects (eg: these articles and my daily art posts) were as closely related to these topics as possible helped me out a lot.

Since I didn’t have to think about any other topics, I could switch between writing daily blog posts, making art and working on “Acolyte!” fairly quickly. The lessons that I’d learnt from writing interactive fiction earlier that day could easily be turned into blog articles and, since I was already daydreaming a lot about the horror genre, it wasn’t too difficult to come up with ideas for horror-themed paintings.

So, if you’re working on a new project then, if possible, try to make your pre-existing projects as similar to it as you can get away with. Not only will this make you more inspired, but it’ll mean that you’ll be able to jump between projects a lot more quickly too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Tips For Restarting An Abandoned Creative Project

2014 Artwork Restarting Old Projects Sketch

Ok, most of the time that we end up abandoning art, comic and/or writing projects, there’s usually a good reason for it. If that reason is that you didn’t have time to continue it, then getting back into it when you’ve got time hopefully shouldn’t be that difficult if it’s a project that you enjoy working on.

But if you either ran out of inspiration or just ended up feeling too creatively exhausted to keep working on the project, then getting back into it can be a lot more difficult. And although I don’t personally plan on restarting any projects at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d offer a few tips that might come in handy.

1) Know yourself: Personally, I’ve only ever been able to restart a couple of my abandoned creative projects – the most notable example being a comic I made in 2013 called “Somnium“. I abandoned it for a day or two, before I started to miss it and eventually returned to make a few more chapters of it.

And, most of the time, when I restart an abandoned project, my second attempt at it doesn’t last as long as my first does. Likewise, I’ve always found open-ended episodic projects slightly easier to restart than projects that just tell one continuous story.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, one of the best ways to get a good idea of whether you’ll be able to restart one of your abandoned projects is to know yourself as well as possible.

If you know what kinds of projects you work best on, then you can focus on restarting these types of projects rather than throwing yourself into resurrecting projects that have little chance of succeeding.

Likewise, knowing how long you can keep working on resurrected projects can be very useful too.

Yes, you’ll only gain this knowledge through experience and failure but if, for example, you know that your restarted projects don’t last for very long, then you can focus on concluding them in a satisfying way rather than just continuing as normal and leaving them unfinished again a few days/weeks/months later.

2) Get back into the mood: One of the problems I’ve sometimes found with old projects (which often puts me off of restarting them) is that they feel like they “belong” to the particular part of my past when I started work on them.

Because my interests, mood, outlook, imagination and life have probably moved on to slightly different things since then – it can be near-impossible to get into the same creative mindset again if I leave it too long before restarting a project.

If you have the same problem that I do, then it might be useful to try to listen to the music you were listening to when you originally started your project, to re-watch the movies and/or TV shows you were watching at the time etc…

Basically, if you try to surround yourself with things that you associate with that particular time, then there’s a chance that you might get back into the right mindset to resume work on your abandoned project.

3) Low expectations: If you’re returning to an abandoned project, then it’s probably best to do it with slightly lower expectations than you might have if you were starting a totally new project.

This isn’t to say that you should condemn yourself to failure before you even begin, but you should probably be especially aware of why you originally abandoned the project and try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Not only that, if you restart a project with low expectations then it’ll be less of a disappointment if you end up abandoning it again. Conversely, it will also be a lot more amazing if you succeed on your second try. Either way, you win.

4) Make some changes: Sometimes projects are abandoned for very good practical reasons – either you’ve found them impossible to work on or something just isn’t quite right about the project.

Perhaps you used first-person narration when you should have used third-person narration? Perhaps a central element of the plot gets in the way of other parts of the story? Perhaps the colour scheme in your comic clashes quite a bit? etc….. All of these things can ruin a project and make people abandon it after a while.

So, when you’re returning to an abandoned project, don’t be afraid to take a careful look at it and change anything that doesn’t work. Not only will this improve your project, but it’ll also give you something of an emotional boost – since it’ll almost feel like you’re working on a new project again.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Find Your Creative Timeframe (And Use It To Your Advantage)

2013 Artwork Timeframe Sketch

This probably varies heavily from writer to writer, but I’m guessing that most writers/artists/comic writers and probably have their own “creative timeframe” (this is the best term I can think of to describe it). Basically, this is the maximum amount of time you can spend working on a project before you begin to feel worn out and thoroughly sick of it.

Obviously, this timeframe partially depends on how interesting you find a particular project too (since you’re more likely to stick with a project for longer if you really enjoy working on it), but even so, you’ll eventually find yourself reaching the end of it. For me, my creative timeframe usually varies from about a week to a month (depending on what I’m creating). After this time, I usually need to move on to something different or take a break for a day or two.

The only real way to find your creative timeframe is through experience and practice. After you’ve worked on a few projects, then you’ll probably get a fairly good sense of how long you can stick with one thing for. If you’re just starting out, then it can be a good idea to either start with fairly short projects or more open-ended projects (which can be finished at any time) so that you don’t leave anything unfinished. Just keep going with your open-ended project or keep increasing the size of your projects until you reach a point where you know how long you can spend on a particular project.

Why do I need to know this? Shouldn’t I be trying to get past my limitations?

If you see your creative timeframe as a limitation, then I’ve written another article which might be more useful to you. However, I’d personally argue that your creative timeframe is part of your general creativity and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For starters, if your creative timeframe is quite short, then this is usually a sign that you like to do lots of different things and, trust me, variety is absolutely essential for creativity.

Secondly, if you know what your creative timeframe is, then you can design your projects around it. For example, if you have a fairly short creative timeframe, then planning to write an 1000-page sci-fi novel probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Sure, you could try it, but you’ll probably either end up leaving it unfinished or end up feeling completely burnt out and uncreative at the end of it.

However, if you know that you can’t sustain a project for more than a certain amount of time, then you can shelve your original idea and aim for something similar which you actually stand a chance of completing. You can still work in the genre which you love (in fact, you should work in genres which you love) but you can design a much shorter and more manageable project which stands a much better chance of both being completed and being enjoyable to work on throughout the whole thing.

Although this may seem like limiting yourself, working firmly within your creative timeframe actually ensures that you continue to enjoy creating things (rather than feeling the despair which comes with an unfinished project or the sense of complete burnout and dread which comes from “biting off more than you can chew”) and this is probably the most important part of creativity. Since, if you don’t enjoy creating something, then you aren’t going to feel as inspired or motivated about it and the quality of your work will suffer too.

To give you an example from my own work, “Liminal Rites” is coming to a conclusion at the moment. It was the longest fiction project I’ve ever worked on (the finished story is about 30,000 words long) and I felt totally burnt out by the time that I wrote the last sentence of it. Although it took less than a month to actually write, it felt more like two months and I was very tempted to vow never to write another episodic fiction project ever again.

However, after I finished it, I had another idea for an episodic fiction project (called “Ambitus” ). However, I decided very early on that writing another 30,000 word story was completely out of the question. So, instead, I decided to split it into 10,000- 15,000 word episodes. Each one would take me about one to one-and-a-half weeks to write, which would be well within my timeframe.

By doing this, I still get to work on a project which I really love, but it’s nowhere near as daunting or exhausting as it could have been. As such, hopefully, the writing in “Ambitus” will be a lot better than the writing in the later chapters of “Liminal Rites” was.

Anyway, I hope that this article was useful 🙂 Just remember to know your limitations and use them to your advantage.