Unless you’re independently wealthy, the beneficiary of multiple high-profile gigs, or living way, way below your means, you probably have to contend with the hardship of that necessary evil…the day job. Part-time, full-time, any time…it’s a disruption to your dreams and goals. All day long you look forward to the drive home and stepping into your home so you can…go right back to work on those comics. Okay, so maybe you’ll take a moment to cook up some ramen and catch some of the news while you’re slurping down noodles. Maybe you’ll put on a good non-thinking DVD with lots of action and cool effects to help obliterate all thoughts of work from your poor frazzled mind. Wow, that hit the spot. I wonder if the sequel’s out on DVD yet. After a quick search on the internet, you’re out the door to Wal-mart to add that precious DVD to your monstrous collection.

Doesn’t take much to sidetrack you from working on that second job, does it? By the time you realize that you need to get stuff done, it could be late at night, and you’ll stay up even later to get as much done as you can. You wind up not getting much sleep, and you start that day job tomorrow a little weary. It makes the day drag on, leads to mistakes and loss of productivity that increases your workload, and puts you in a position where anything remotely resembling work is the furthest thought from your mind by the time you get home. You’re just too burnt out to “work” on your dreams. And it’s a pattern that keeps getting worse…unless you do something about it.

Break the cycle. The nasty thing about those vicious repeating cycles is that they never seem to end. They just go on and on like some kind of endless pit of frustration. And if you keep at it long enough, it’ll become habit. If this is you, stop. Immediately. Break the cycle now. Take some time off to just relax. Not just a day, or even just two. Take at least three days to just indulge yourself. Watch movies, play games, read some books, go on a nature hike. Do whatever it takes to relax and give your fried husk of a brain the chance to recover. Don’t think about any kind of work…no day job…no comics…nothing but entertainment and fun. But before you take that break, you’ll need to do one little thing.

Work out a schedule. Given: the day job’s gonna grind you down. Given: your mind will need a little time to relax from work. Given: creating comics IS work (fun work, but it does take a lot of effort). Given: you need a certain amount of sleep to be productive…in your job and in comics. Now, take all of these factors into account when you develop your comic working schedule.

How much sleep do you need at night to feel rested and ready to take on the world? If you’re not sure, use your days off to find out. What time do you need to get up in the morning to make it to work on time? Use this as your baseline and find out when you need to go to bed to get the right amount of sleep at night. But you can’t just call it quits right at bedtime and expect to fall asleep immediately. Give yourself an hour to unwind from your comic creator persona. This gives you a buffer, so if you happen to run a little long with your comic work or get hyper-focused on a particular project, you’ll be able to handle it without running into your sleep time. Continuing with this backwards-stepping approach, figure out how much time you can dedicate to comic work each night while still leaving yourself some time to cool down from regular work.

But no schedule is completely foolproof, so take an extra precautionary measure to make sure you don’t jump back into that dreadful burn-out cycle.

Schedule time off. Give yourself permission to goof off one day every week. Plan a night out with some friends, go to the movies, veg out with popcorn and movies, go shopping, or take care of any number of things to take your mind away from work and let it unwind. In a single day, you should be able fit enough recreational activities to sate your “goofing off” fix for the week. By working it into your schedule, it gives you a psychological advantage over slacking off all week long. You’ll have an easier time getting to work on comics all those other days because you know you have an entire day coming up soon where you won’t have to deal with any kind of work.

Know how to plan your projects. So, now you have a schedule you can work with to preempt the burnout phase…but you still have to integrate that with your project planning. With a set schedule, you know how much time you can put into creating comics each week. But how long will a project take you? How do you schedule your projects so you aren’t overloaded with work and wind up right back in that dreaded cycle? How much time do you need to do research on a project (gather facts/data or find reference material)? Once you’re prepared, how long does it take you to get through writing/drawing/inking/coloring/lettering an average page? What factors might cause that page to go slower or quicker? If you’re not sure, take a couple weeks to time yourself and find out. Since you have a new schedule where you work a set number of hours at a time, just keep a record of how many pages you complete each day.

After a couple weeks, calculate an average of how long it takes you to complete a page. If you have any time that took longer than your average, go through the pages from that time and find out why. Did you require extra research or references? Did it have heavy amounts of dialogue, backgrounds, or details? Do the same for any pages that finished up faster than the average and take into account these factors that can impact your schedule.


And yes, everyone’s different. Some people are workhorses that can just come home and have no problems jumping right into their comic work. A lot of people working the small press route also tend to run with really loose deadlines, and they just get projects done at whatever pace is comfortable or convenient for them. But once they get a solid deadline on a project that could be their big break, there’s a chance those lax ways could get the better of them and lead them to frustration and dwindling productivity. If you feel frustration getting to you or feel yourself struggling with stuff that came easily a few weeks ago, step back for a moment and take an honest look at yourself…are you burning out?

If so, don’t let it get worse. Do something about it. Develop a plan that works for you if you have to. The above steps work for me whenever I start collapsing into a burnout phase, and they’ve worked for some friends of mine. If all else fails, give them a shot because at least you’ll be doing something to keep those dreams alive.