Beating Procrastination With Clarity

Procrastination is the killer of deadlines; the destroyer of plans; and the death of webcomics the world over. It is a beast that roams the minds of humanity, searching for its next victim and devouring them mercilessly. If it gets you, your comic will falter, because it eats away at your time and energy. Let’s look at how to give that old enemy a swift kick in the trousers.

'Pre-Emptive Biography', from 'The Life of Nob T. Mouse'

Being clear about what you want to achieve will help you greatly in achieving it.

In Eat That Frog!, author Brian Tracy identifies “vagueness” as the most common cause of procrastination, and he’s right. Without a clear idea of what you’re going to do, when you’re doing to do it, and why, you’ll falter. It’s as true in life as it is in webcomics, so let’s beat that monster down.

What Are You Doing?

The answer to this age-old question should not be ‘a webcomic’. It should not even be ‘tomorrow’s webcomic’; and it certainly should not be “today’s webcomic because instead of working on my comic, I spent all last night reorganising my shoelace collection”. So what’s the right answer?

This all depends on what you actually want from making a webcomic. Some people will tell you not to aim for financial success when creating a webcomic because it won’t happen, but I’m not one of them. I agree that it’s not likely to happen but it’s not as if there are no successful webcomic artists out there, so go for it if that’s what you want.

What you want from your comic will define everything about it; sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes not. If you’re wanting to create an epic tale of heroes and villains, that will define not just the style of the comic, but also the story you tell with it. Similarly, if you’re writing about how Billy, the kid in the year above you at school, sucks, that too will shape what you do with the comic. Nevertheless, as long as you’re clear about what you want to do, the rest will fall into place.

Now you know your goal, let’s look at how you’re going to reach it. With your endgame in mind, we need to break down the comic into manageable chunks. Taking the heroes and villains example, we may have a fantasy epic on our hands where Derek Chumnley-Biar, BSc. is a low-level tax inspector with a secret: by night, he uses his superhuman accounting skills to battle the forces of hell! His enemy is Archduke Groblesnarkz Villierzul The Toopronouncable, who wants to bury the human race in red tape for all time.

When Are You Doing It?

It’s clear this is not a story that can be told in one page, so we need to break it down into manageable chunks, or milestones. This is great for many reasons, because each chunk can become a goal in its own right; and if you’re anything like me, achieving a milestone is cause for celebration and that means feeling good about yourself.

We know the premise of the comic, and that means we can decide on the story, or stories, that will fulfil this premise. Don’t worry if you don’t have the every single part of the story worked out right now – that’s okay. In fact, I’d be amazed if you did. What we need right now is to know where the story comes from, and where it will lead to. We can do this by plotting out a roadmap of sorts, which details the major turning points of the story you will tell. This can then be split into individual storylines, and then into each episode.

Let’s illustrate this with the roadmap for Derek Chumnley-Briar, Hellfighting Accountant:

  • Introduction – Derek as a low-level tax inspector
    • Derek has superhuman accounting skills that put him on the fast track to promotion
    • His colleagues are somewhat jealous of his abilities, and he has trouble fitting in at work
  • The first encounter with the forces of hell
    • Derek discovers his accounting skills make him perfect for battling demons!
  • Introduction of Archduke Groblesnarkz.
    • He is livid that his minions were unsuccessful on their last mission
    • He sends his finest scout, Urthuraarl, to discover the cause of the minions’ defeat
  • Urthuraal arrives on Earth
    • He discovers a strange bureaucratic essence at the scene of Derek’s encounter with the minions
    • Tracking the essence, he finds Derek hard at work in his office
  • Derek battles Urthuraal while trying to remain inconspicuous
    • he can’t let his secret out or his colleagues will shun him even further!
    • On his defeat, Urthuraal reports his findings to Archduke Groblesnarkz
    • Derek must now tidy his office before his boss arrives for their monthly meeting!
  • After work, Derek seeks to uncover the cause of the demonic invasion
    • He enlists the help of his childhood friend, Sharon Tomkins, a local librarian
    • Together, they uncover a secret society composed of local councillors and businessmen who want to bring about the apocalypse in order to get the go-ahead for a controversial inner city rejuvenation scheme!
  • Derek and Sharon swear an oath to stop this secret society but before they can make plans, the Mayor arrives and takes Sharon prisoner!
  • Derek chases the Mayor’s limousine back to the Old Town Hall, where the secret society is meeting for its Major Incantation.
  • Derek confronts the society and looks set to win an epic battle against their faulty logic and poor budgeting skills, when Archduke Groblesnarkz arrives.
    • While the Archduke battles Derek, the Mayor is able to brainwash Sharon into believing the apocalypse is the only way to save the town from socio-economic obscurity
    • Derek defeats the Archduke using a brilliant display of pre-Roman accounting theory
    • In the resulting explosion, the society is obliterated, but the Mayor escapes with Sharon in tow.
  • In the final encounter, Derek and the Mayor go head to head in a heated discussion over the perils of diverting funds from local outreach programmes to bankroll a demonic invasion.
    • Derek’s arguments are enough to break the Mayor’s spell over Sharon, and she brings the old man down using a swift knee to the groin.
    • Derek uses this opportunity to prove in furiously-scribbled four-dimensional accounting that the Mayor never existed.
    • The Mayor subsequently disappears in a clap of thunder, leaving Derek to get the girl and save the day!

As utterly nonsensical as this storyline may be, the roadmap is sufficiently detailed to be able to break the story down into chapters, and then into individual episodes. With a little more work, it would be possible to flesh out each section and intertwine a second storyline; possibly involving Derek’s attempts to keep his work and personal lives separate, while gunning for promotion and attempting to win the heart of the lovely Ms Tomkins.

Why Are You Doing It?

Once the plot of each episode is worked out, it is easy to see what you are doing and when, so the question of why should fall into place. You’re doing this particular comic because without it, the next part of the story will not make sense. You’re doing it because each episode slides another piece of the jigsaw into place.

Above all, however, you’re doing it because if you don’t, you can’t achieve your goal. As we discussed at the start, identifying your goal makes everything else fall into place. So keep your eye on the end result and this will help motivate you to reach it. Once you know where you’re heading, the individual steps become clearer and it’s easier to leap from one to the next.

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