An Experiment in Zen


"How do you do it?" I asked offhandedly in the chat window. It was late evening, and I was experiencing a rare moment of lucidity in the seeming perpetual fatigue I now exist.

Bing! rang the computer speakers. In my memory, her reply came back as a kind of "Eugh?" in a Japanese accent, plucked from some forgotten anime series. I explained that I agonized over every little detail in my creative pursuits, accepting nothing less than perfection from myself to the point of being unable to do anything at all. Meanwhile she manages to turn two webcomics and a writing project in her limited free time. "How can you keep that up without succumbing to the pressure?"

"Mostly," she replied, "I don't think about it." I balked. By nature, I'm a thinking-type personality. I tend to analyze every possibility to the point of excess. Not thinking seemed...well, unthinkable. She continued typing, "If I start to get that way, then I know I'm in too far and I need to back off".

I've never been able to maintain that sort of distance with my projects. Instead, I become overly involved and place too much value on their success or failure. This is a horrible thing to do to any sort of project. You lose your objectivity, and begin to obsess over each perceived deficiency. Most importantly, you lose sight of the fact the main goal is always completion.

Paper Girl has been in existence now for almost 8 years now. The furtherest the project came was late 2002 and 2003 when 24 pages of comics were produced. Shortly thereafter, I put the project on hiatus while I worked on “script issues”. What I had hoped to be 6 months became 3 years.

In 2006, I found myself in a much more stable life situation. I had a good job and a home of my own. I decided it was time to write down all the ideas I had in that three year interval into a cohesive outline. Outlines were all I managed to produce until sometime late last year. I threw out all the outlines and came up with a simple 9 page document (the previous ones were 40). I avoided details and focused on the major plot points. And then, quite unannounced, I turned my back on outlines all together.

Since late last year I've been working on the Paper Girl script. So far, the work has been pretty slow. I've managed to put together two chapters, with a developing idea for a third. This sort of thing seems to come in fits and starts for me. Some evenings I find myself staring at Open Office Writer blankly, unable to write anything at all. Other nights the words come quickly, spilling over the brim of my mind and splashing on my fingers faster than I can type them out. Most nights, however, I'm simply too tired and exhausted to think about the thing at all.

My life has become busy again this year. There are a lot of projects and clients at work making my days draining, but ultimately rewarding. I started a new exercise regimen that is requiring a great deal of my free time, not to mention free energy. Starting this week, I'm at the gym 6 nights out of 7 – tonight is my night off.

Recently I've began to think, This isn't working. Maybe I should just give up and cancel Paper Girl altogether. I hated that thought. I hated the fact that I couldn't see why this had happened to me. For the last year I haven't been able to draw or write unless I forced myself. Occasionally I manage to produce a new piece of artwork or some lines of dialog, but the effort was strenuous.

Fear, of course, was weighing me down. Overcoming that fear requires a great deal of energy in addition to what is required in order to work on a project in the first place. With my exercise regimen, energy is at a premium. I can't afford to force myself to draw or write, and instead I do nothing.

Doing nothing is certainly not helping. The few times I manage to draw or write are a great stress reliever for me. It's an opportunity to leave the stresses and concerns I face in daily life and enter into another mental realm where all that's important is what's in front of me. Doing nothing, however, has allowed me to examine the history of this and other projects and realize how maintaining a degree of distance is important. Didn't a Zen master once say, "Act without doing; work without effort"?

This is usually the point in the entry where I make some sort of promise to produce something. I certainly would like to produce something soon. The script as it stands today has some issues, but has been received overall very well by my “editors” and I have ideas to improve it. I would like the script to be at least three chapters ahead of any drawing I produce.

I almost made a promise there, didn't I? I have two chapters already, with thoughts on a third. If I manage to produce the third, what exactly is holding me back from drawing comics? Nothing really. How then, shall I publish these things?

It's basically impossible for me to maintain the three or two-day-a-week schedule that pervades the webcomic world. I can imagine I'd barely be able to produce a page a week as I intend to post each in full color with airbrushing. Instead, I will probably follow the pattern of Faith Hicks of Demonology 101 fame. I'll release a series of pages at a time, with no hint of a schedule. In a world of RSS feed-readers, do we really have need for scheduled posts anymore?

As much as I want to avoid making promises in this post, I shall make one: I promise I will try.