Work! A Rant

In the first of his writing advice posts, Alexander Danner quoted a piece of advice aspiring writers often get. I paraphrase instead of looking it up because I've heard it often enough:

"Write every day! Treat it like a job! A job wouldn't allow for exceptions, would it?"

Part of that is useful advice. But it's kind of difficult to separate the crop from the crap. Alexander already said everything you need to hear about the "write every day" part, so I'll concentrate on the job thing.

What makes work a job? As opposed to a hobby? (Apart from pay? 'Cause that would be too easy.) I've been through lots of discussions about what a job is since I finished my studies and didn't seek a paying job right away. What I didn't get from those, I got from magazines targeting frustrated office workers. I think I've heard enough to distill some kind of definition out of what people with a job have to say about jobbing:

  • It's for the money, and for the money only.
  • You work for a boss who doesn't understand you.
  • Customers are idiots.
  • It's stressful.
  • It's eight hours a day. At least.
  • It's unappreciated.
  • It's repetitive rather than creative.
  • Work time is the opposite of spare time.

I could go on, but the canon is clear: A job, to a lot of people, is doing something for money that you despise or at least wouldn't do otherwise, usually in an environment that drains you of your creativity. Of course I'm totally exaggerating and ignoring all the great creative freelance jobs. I'm really after a meme here, rather than a sociological panorama. And the belief is really out there: People have actually told me that labor isn't labor unless it stinks. As opposed to the cool, creative stuff I do, which therefore must be a hobby, and could I please go cut my hair now and get a real job?

So, that's how I should treat my comics work? With despise? I don't think so.

Of course, there's a lot to be said in favor of treating it like a job. Even if you don't actually want to make money with it. If you put in your labor and develop a work ethic, you'll get better at it. And it'll help you evolve from the mind set that claims you're just a hobbyist who won't ever get anywhere with it. Which is the first step in actually becoming a professional. If that's your aim, it's all the more important to treat your comics work like it's a job.

  • Set some regular time aside for working on your project. Do nothing else at that time, unless it improves your work.
  • If you can afford it, get a work space. It's okay to work from home (I do it, too), but it's harder to not think of the dishes that need washing.
  • Make sure everybody around you knows and respects the fact that when you're working, you're working. They wouldn't want you to call them during their working hours and just assume they're free for a one-hour chat or a drink right away, would they?
  • Be professional: Stick to your promises. If you have a regular webcomic, make sure it's really regular. After all, as long as you're not getting paid, the only thing that marks you as a professional is your work ethic.
  • Give it all. Don't hold your best ideas back until you're established and have a large audience to appreciate them. You won't ever get there if you don't put in your best possible work now.
  • Keep learning. You're already practicing your skills if you're working regularly, that's good. But challenge yourself, too. Draw something you haven't drawn yet. Keep up to date with what's hot in webcomics. Most of all: Read. A lot.
  • In opposition to the meme above, don't treat your customers (your readers) like idiots. Treat them like clients.
  • Oh, and get a hobby. Just to mark the difference.

People will try to scam you back into the hobby meme. Editors will try to get you to work for free ("I'm offering you exposure for your work! And you're drawing stuff all the time anyway, no matter if you're paid or not!"); friends will want you to make time for them, and they won't understand how a hobby can be more important than they are. (actually, that one's tough if you want to keep your friends; you'll have to cut them some slack, but make sure they accept boundaries); other friends as well as family will be worried about your future.

And you'll have to resist them every single time. It's much easier to just give in and set your mind back to being a hobbyist, especially when everybody around you expects you to. They are your peers after all, and chances are you'll share some of their values. Part of you probably believes what they say, and it makes a lot of sense, too, doesn't it?

That's why it's so important to develop a professional attitude. Set your mind to being a professional, and it'll be easier to convince the rest of the flock, too.

But before you quit your day job, take a good look around at what you've been doing there. Evaluate the habits and attitudes you've developed in your job. Take the useful ones with you and apply them to your comics work.

But make sure you leave the others behind.

Max Vaehling