Setting Goals and Priorities, Even When it Really Hurts
(For those of you who don't know me, my name's Mikhaela Reid and I draw a weekly political strip, Boiling Point.)
So my first question to you other cartoonists is: what are your goals and priorities, and what do you do when they conflict with each other?
If you're anything like me, you have a full-time (non-cartooning) job. Not to mention friends, family, pets and other interests competing for your precious, precious time. And there are so many comics you want to draw, sketchbooks you want to fill, and drawing and lettering and coloring techniques you want to study. You want to learn silkscreening and bookbinding skills to make pretty covers for your mini-comics, but it's hard enough to make time to draw the comics to go between those covers in the first place. So you you grit your teeth and make some painful decisions.
I used to be an even worse procrastinator than I am now, drawing a cartoon once every few months or years. But once newspapers starting paying for my weekly strip, I was forced to get my act in gear. There's a lot of room for improvement, but I'm getting there. and it always hurts to realize I can't do everything I want right this minute, but whenever I start to feel crazy and overwhelmed, I try to focus on...
- My long-term goals:
- ARTISTIC: Draw the best weekly political comic strip I can--push the envelope, make people think, change the world, avoid doing hack work. Although someday I would like to do short stories and even a graphic novel, I don't really have time for much of that right now. (ouch! pain! hurts!)
- BUSINESS: Make a full-time living off of cartooning/illustration. I suspect that may take up to 10 years if it ever happens at all. Patience!
- SOCIAL: Stay sane and happy, spend time with friends/family and make time for doing the non-cartooning things I love (cooking, sewing, etc.) Unfortunately this often comes into conflict with my first two goals, but I'll save that for another post.
I assign every cartoon-related thing a priority based on balancing those goals, and I try to be as ruthless as possible and not just agree to do everything. It's not the most scientific system, but, as Robyn said, "whatever works!":
- 1. THINGS I MUST DO CONSTANTLY OR FACE DIRE CONSEQUENCES
- Draw my weekly political cartoon and email it to all my newspaper and web clients ON TIME. If this means not sleeping, not eating, drawing while near-unto-death with the flu or turning in a single-panel cartoon that I drew on typing paper during my lunch break, then so be it. If I miss a deadline, I'm toast.
- Send out invoices, pay bills, etc. I hate doing this crap but it's key.
- 2. THINGS I DO REGULARLY
- Consume newspapers, blogs, and radio like the crazed news junkie I am.
- Update my website with my latest cartoons. When I'm busy I sometimes don't get around to it, but no big deal.
- Keep a running "whip" list of ideas broken into categories (political, non-political, autobiographical, etc.) in my email. So even when I'm not actually drawing all those ideas, I'm letting them percolate. SOOOO helpful.
- Take paid illustration gigs. I don't go looking for them but I never turn them down, stress and sleeplessness or no.
- Attend cartooning, political, and newspaper conventions. It takes lots of time/money, but this is the main way I've picked up paying clients and made good connections, and it combines socializing with cartooning, yee-ha!
- Read other people's cartoons and comics.
- 3. THINGS I DO WHENEVER I HAVE THE TIME
- Blogging. This may sound like procrastination, but it actually helps me get cartoon ideas. When I'm crazy busy, the blog goes silent.
- Draw in my sketchbook. In high school I'd fill 1-10 pages a day with colorful doodles and sketches from life of friends done while socializing. But I've had to scale back to keeping a bite-sized sketchbook mainly just for ideas--though I still draw from life when I remember to (which is NEVER enough).
- Put together and sell mini-comic collections of my cartoons, usually for conventions.
- 4. THINGS I REALLY REALLY WANT TO DO BUT NEVER GET AROUND TO EVER
- Non-political comics projects--cartoons that (a) are more than 6 panels (b) actually tell a story and (c) involve characters other than Bush/Cheney. I haven't done an actual story-telling comic since I was 15. That SUCKS. Maybe being a part of "Make Comics Forever!!" can help me change this.
- Redesign my website. Set up a much more user-friendly store to get people to buy more stuff.
- Make T-shirts and buttons. I've been approached a number of times about making T-shirts based on my cartoons, and another political cartoonist told me he made $15,000 from T-shirt sales alone in a year, but it's just not as important as drawing comics.
- Try to acquire more clients (sending out emails and packets). I really gotta get on that if I'm ever going to make a living off this.
- 5. THINGS I USED TO AGREE TO DO BUT HAVE LEARNED NOT TO
- Draw cartoons for worthy causes for free, even if it seems like it'll be quick. I've got a full-time dayjob, friends, family and a cat, after all--not to mention all of my own projects that I don't have time for. I do still sometimes let cool organizations use work I've already done for cheap/free, but I've stopped doing random pro-bono stuff, because I never actually get around to it, and then EVERYONE loses.
I could go on forever, but I've got a cartoon due at 8 a.m. tomorrow that I haven't started AT ALL.
So that's how I keep from overwhelming myself, usually. How about the rest of you?