Literature Notes #001

My notes as a reader on:

E.M. Forster The Other Side of the Hedge

This is a short story about death and dying and an outlook on the concept of paradise you wouldn’t have expected. It is fascinating how a whole place is created with few brushstrokes and you can’t miss the rich symbolism, while the author avoids any clichees, even when introducing a man with a scythe towards the end.

The most powerful sentence for me is „(My late brother) had wasted his breath on singing, and his strength on helping others.“

I might disagree on the assessment of the narrator as I’m more of this brother type myself, but i don’t want to judge, as I can understand where this asssessment is coming from. In fact, probably every one of us has tendencies for both of these siblings in them. You do want to help but you also need to take care of yourself.

Reading how the narrator loses the race of life in their own view, sinks through the cracks and into a secluded garden… I feel like this sometimes, too, lately. It might be something universal of this part of the journey of life. You are painfully conscious of your ageing and dying sometimes, aware your loved ones will not be eternal either, while you still have the doubts in your head whether your life’s mission will work out or not. It is an ungrateful place where your youthful goals and dreams still carry you or at least you still remember the star you are following, while you are starting to understand that you cannot race forward forever. And you have not „made it“ yet. Maybe you never will. Will you regret the journey though? I certainly will not regret mine. Not all riches that can be won on such an endeavor are tangible.

3 tips for getting more work out

Buckle up, it’s quick advice time!

1) Daily word count

I have rediscovered a piece of advice that seems to help to get more writing done. Have a daily word count to meet. It sounds weird to measure texts like that, as the word count tells you nothing about the quality of what you got. And that’s the thing, it is not about the quality. It is about getting you into writing mode at all, writing anything. If it turns out to be something that you will completely cut later, well, that could have happened with your “regular” writing, too. 500-1000 words seems to be enough for the getting into the writing zone effect. You can of course always do more, but don’t expect too much too quickly from you, especially if your focus is short.

You can probably apply this to art tasks such as making thumbnails, too. I will definitely try that out.

2) Rule of thumb anti- burn-out formula

Never give the full 100%. That sounds like a terrible piece of advice, I know. It’s even weirder when I say it, because I’m notorious for sky high ambition. I therefore had my share of burn-out experiences though and couldn’t ever figure out why until recently.

My work cycles used to look like this: raw powerful bursts of work, never letting any energy lie on the table if it was available, followed by periods of equally harsh exhaustion. Usually, the energy was spent so brutally, that there wasn’t any left to end a project if it took too long. I was too badly hurt in the end to bring myself to lay finishing touches onto it. There are a couple of zines I started the world never saw, more than a couple of unfinished scripts for stories. Hordes of unfinished drawings. My webcomic once made a months long break between chapter 2 and 3 for the same reason. The will to continue it was there every day, but just not the energy.

This could have been avoided or mitigated if I had explicitly restricted myself in the doses of daily work. I was trying to appear hard working before myself and others, but work is not about appearances. Although a lot of people will judge you by appearances alone, in the end your work must produce results. If your work can produce predictable, repeatable results of a quality people are willing to pay you for, congratulations, you have turned pro. So when your goal is to turn pro or even to just enjoy what you are doing, you do not want to survive projects barely and dread the next one for the anticipated pains and further exhaustion. Instead draw a clear line between what you have actually seen and experienced yourself do and what you think you ought do and do not go for the fantasy goals and workloads your pride tells you to go for. Most of your days will be average, some bad, only very few ideal. If you have a daily workload that you can fulfill even on your worst days you are better off than someone who has to rely on the good days. You will definitely get more done long term. And you will probably be less stressed out about it.

So do not give the full 100%. You are not holding back, you are not lazy, you are protecting your ability to do work consistently and to FINISH things.

3) Things have ends

This is another aspect of finishing projects. Now especially people who start projects easily but have a hard time finishing them listen up. One of the things that costs you so much energy when wrapping things up is letting go. You have made great experiences, possibly leveled up several times while working on your thing. Of course, you would not want to lose that feeling. Making progress towards a goal is addictive and sometimes possibly more rewarding than the feeling of actually having finished. You also might be deeply in love with your characters and not want to “lose” them either. I am guilty of multiple accounts of this. Once a project is finished, a story told, you have to say goodbye. Even if you were to tell the story of a character from birth to last breath because you love them so and want to drag out until you have to part ways again, you will one day arrive at the last breath. It is the same as with how fleeting life can feel when people come and go, places decay and emerge, things change. Things change all the time and you can’t plan and prepare for everything. Do not be afraid to live life even if that is so. That we do not have people and things forever gives them value, let’s us appreciate them more. The same goes for telling stories which in a way are depictions of life, so they will share some of it’s traits. As a child I have always wondered what fictitional characters do after their stories are told. Do they sit in a little farmhouse and stare at a wall, never having a big adventure again? That seemed more dreadful to me than writing them into ever escalating conflicts that get boring, once you have them overcome any possible challenge and saving not only the world but the whole universe. You can’t escalate from that.

As I have gained some more life experience since then I’m coming to terms with ageing, death(at least a bit) and how the passing of time actually feels. Yes, it is possible that someone does one big deed in their life, has a glorious youth, but then that is it. They do found a family, stare at walls and screens and then they fade. We all do. Some people are late bloomers and have their time later in life. Some are adventurers that never retire. There is no one right way to live. You don’t notice the passing of time from day to day. You would not notice that you yourself fade but you will notice it very painfully at times in the loved ones around you. Creative creations can have a spot in your heart comparable to that. That is okay. You are passionate about them. Yet any creation we can make has a form and the form dictates that it is finite. Value them for what they are. Also value yourself. You give time and energy of your own life and pour it into works that can be enjoyed by so many people now and later, when you are long gone. Things have ends, we have ends, and yet you are on your creative journey and happy to create. So dare to finish your creations and move on to the next.

Originality, the dreaded magnum opus and you

Rereading my pile of notes for past and upcoming blog entries – harshly disagreeing with you from weeks ago is a hilarious thing and it is a thing indeed! What has happened? As mentioned in the last blogpost, the lasting pressure to succeed is gone like a migraine. There is no need to beat myself up over things, insecurities are at bay. There is no need to become so dense about achieving that you start making stupid mistakes because you can’t even see what’s right before you anymore.

What happened? Amongst other things, I made an important discovery. I learned that everything I could hope to do in and with my creations has been done in one form or the other already. After all, works and ideas that inspire me, already exist and will also inspire others! And more works will be created with the potential to inspire future creators. Of course, there aren’t ever 1:1 matches that would make you creating your own version obsolete. There is always room for your version in your voice. But if I die tomorrow, nothing is truly lost. In the most optimistic case, one or two good original ideas I could have in my lifetime would die with me, and a creator voice vanishes in the big choir that doesn’t even sing together. But mostly, it would not affect culture in any way. I’d still feel sorry for my characters who can’t write their stories themselves, but the ideas underlying the characters do not die. They can return in other forms.

This is not self-defeating, on the contrary. Imagine the pressure you are under if you believe you are the chosen one and your future creations are so important that your premature death means the death of something new, that never was before and never will be if you – and only you – aren’t there to create it. In a way, there is some truth in that. You cannot be replicated. But creating something on a cosmic level of originality… these are expectations you cannot possibly fulfill, even if you are objectively good at your craft. At least you can’t force it.

I felt huge relief when I saw everything is safe. I still intend of having a lifetime full of creative endeavors, telling my stories and living life. Even if I fail, I cannot fail so hard an idea or a whole culture dies. I’m free. I am free to create whatever pleases me and I’m free to enjoy it no matter what I believe it’s value is. I had the looming shadow of an anticipated magnum opus over me that kept me from fully enjoying doing the smaller things. A magnum opus is a defining creative work a successful creator is mostly known for. Of course, if you yourself would know what that work is, why would you want to work on anything else? Most decide to wait to work on it for a couple of years, get good first or worse, wait until they feel ready which will never happen. The thing is, you as the creator do not get to decide what work of yours is the most popular one. Your audience and your audience alone makes that decision. So don’t worry about it and create your things, treating them equal and allowing yourself to enjoy them equally. What the dream of a magnum opus is good for on the other hand is bringing you through the difficult years in the beginning where you have to build up your skills from zero. Having a big dream definitely helps to deal with the frustrations of skill and ambitions never matching. You just have to be ready to let go off of the dream later when it doesn’t serve you anymore. And I’m not talking about giving it up. Imagine a situation where you as a child decide what you want to make and how you want to make it and how it is supposed to be. Later, as an adult, you have learned that things actually don’t work this way in reality, you know your craft and your personal limitations and your flawless work from back then actually has some brutal flaws that would keep it from becoming an enjoyable experience for people that aren’t you. Wouldn’t you want to adapt it? Wouldn’t it be an act of love to undo the magnum opus status of your own creation so that you can properly challenge and improve all aspects of it? And what if you have created things that are clearly better in the meantime? How would you deal with that emotionally?

I am lucky Street Prey(SPREY) was never meant as my magnum opus. Actually, it was a quick idea from a subway ride somewhere in 2011. SPREY just ended up as the thing that made it through and that I’m making right now. And I can take the unhealthy pressure out of that, too. There is no need to rush anymore. I have been and I am deeply in love with SPREY, every day, every working session I spend with it. I guess I will look back on this time and say SPREY was the project I figured a lot of things out with. SPREY that killed my future and gave me one.

100 Days – 21

Third week – quite a challenge!

I was tempted to not make a compilation this week. I was brave and started working on my environments in depth. And while I did do quite some work none of it is worth putting it into a compilation by itself. How can this be? Didn‘t I have beautiful studies last week?

I approached these with a painterly approach, now I‘m constructing. With the first I can rely on reference and even just draw what I see when I do not understand what I see. With the latter I have to go into the geometry and from time to time invent when references aren‘t enough…so this is of course worse. But both is necessary for good drawings.

And directly connected to this is the most important thing I learned this week: I have a taste for complex and eccentric environments. I didn‘t know environments were to be treated like characters…and from this viewpoint this makes a lot of sense – that would be my taste for character-characters as well! Complex and eccentric! Unfortunately, my current skills do not match this taste. So I shouldn‘t be surprised I can‘t draw the environments I need or give my characters the visual and writing punch they need. And nothing gets done because building the skills for this might take some time.

Also, I was reminded how important it is to keep learning and to keep reading books. A Pattern Language has a profound influence on my way of thinking already. After yesterday I was quite restless until I came up with more ideas with what to do now. Imagine my situation as follows:

I am climbing a mountain range and was walking on a plateau quite some time. I was just wondering why I never seemed to progress anywhere, especially ahead and upward. Turns out I was walking in a circle all the time. I realized it and now started walking forward again. But now, almost immediately, I find myself before a huge chasm that separates this plateau from the way forward. There is no way to simply jump over it, there is no bridge or any other passageway. If I want to pass this I have to climb down, probably almost until the foot of the mountain and then I have to climb up again on the other side. So of course, I feel conflicted. I will need a lot of time and go through a lot of pain if I do this. But I have to do this! And it is the only way to follow the path I chose! I don‘t want to walk in circles.

For the art it means: I could only ever see the distant, nebulous goal but I was blind to where I am and what I‘m actually doing. I didn‘t see the chasm that built up over time. That chasm is everything I lack to create the things that I want to create in the way I want to create them. I lack some crucial skills and experience to create truly long form comics and any sort of complex game. I could even say the comic scripts I expect myself to write are too much for me. I cannot carry what I would like to carry and what I expected of myself. And while this all sounds damning, in fact I feel relieved. Working on Corvus for 21 days has taught me so much about myself and the true state of my skills, that bad news don‘t have any negative impact on me. They don‘t even make me fall down. This does not mean I‘m ignoring it. On the contrary, I am thinking about how to improve my situation and moving forward all the time and take the bad news as welcomed feedback. Deep down I knew something wasn‘t right all the time, but at the same time, I didn‘t know any better, so I walked in my circles.

Now I have resolved a deep lying misunderstanding I had about the scale and depth of projects. I never had a particularly good feeling for time or workload, but I must admit, I did not expect to find something like this. I find my thinking juvenile and it makes me uneasy. On one side I was always very old on the other hand I still must have relics of a child‘s mind and thoughts in me. How could a concept a child make about the quality of works of fiction survive that far into a lifetime? Go big or go nowhere I thought! It‘s either epic or it‘s nothing. And I tried to act on that all the time, the best I could, now realizing that I might spend a couple of 100 days to get a comic done. That doesn‘t work in reality. And why does the embarassment about it quickly fade? I think I am discovering something very important these days. My voice. I know, I might be talking about Stephen Pressfield a lot lately, but his books really are a helping hand to me. When he was walking through absolute darkness as an unsuccessful creator and didn‘t know what to do of himself, he started paying attention to what he did write on the wayside. For him it was letters to his friends. While I love writing walls of text, too, I mostly blog. And from what I read from my blogs, I am a sort of travelling researcher. I take nothing for granted. I will dissect even mundane things, I will talk about the psyche a lot, invisible worlds within. I am an old child.

Climbing down the chasm would be to cut back on my ambitions to focus on the things that I could actually do…fast. Or at least faster than getting a first feedback on what I‘m doing after twelve years. And build up from a clean new beginning. I stand behind Corvus like I stand behind anything I have ever started. But I‘m seeing the big problem myself. I see Corvus as a „simple“ story and would regard the comic as not the longest thing that I have in my head. But it IS quite long as it turns out. And I‘m not actually making comics right now. I made comics as a child, but something isn‘t right here. I have no problem with working on a thing for a very long time – I make blankets, where I spend around 3 months on a piece. So what is the problem here? A huge gap between skill and ambition – and in consequence, expectation. A lot of charming stubbornness, yet stubbornness nevertheless. Cutting back makes me feel a bit nervous. But who knows what I‘ll find on the ground of the chasm. I can‘t be hopelessly worse than any other creator. But I‘m still not good.

What if I‘m not cut out for comics after all? Wouldn‘t I be absolutely keen on doing them? Are they not the right vessel after all? Was I being stubborn and decided something on a whim that this would be the thing I was doing moving onward? At least I‘m here every day, trying to build something, trying to better myself. I‘m just not actually building. I can‘t wait to get to the bottom of this. And I let you read all of this so that you don‘t make the same mistakes as I did. I would like to spare you going over some cycles on the spot. Starting small means accepting the death of an old version of you that believed in big things happening in a certain way. I do not say that means you lose hope and can‘t do the big things. You can. The way is just a bit longer and probably a bit more winded to get there. I was at times carrying a whole universe in my head, but unfortunately nothing of it ended up on paper/digital canvas. Another thing is, when you get better at your craft, your old grand ideas don‘t seem that good anymore. You should have acted on them earlier. Now they are dying to make room for new things. You should have collected the experience while enjoying them for what they were. But the good thing is, you can still start anew.

I will do my best on this new part of the road. I‘m no longer in the claws of old passions and ambitions. I have actually no idea what I will do tomorrow, but I‘ll sit down and try to actually create. I‘m in shock, a good chunk of me just died as well as probably some future creations. But it happened purely on the inside, so nobody has to worry. Is there a chance that I just snapped from the 100 days of making comics? Actually not, I felt relaxed and well most of the time. And I might have no problem to blog daily into eternity, the quality of the blog entries would just fluctuate. I‘ll try to set up a series of short small projects that I will actually complete. One after another, clean, affordable for my ressources. If you want to, come along!

See you tomorrow!