Several months ago, I was at a talk by comics artist Jessica Abel, and somebody asked her for her number one productivity tip. She said, “get yourself a calendar. Here’s what she has to say (emphasis mine):
“Get yourself a calendar, and schedule the work you have to do in there. Make sure the calendar is the type where you can see a day or a week at at time (not a month at a time), so there’s room to write under each day. Then, mark in any regular commitments you have…Once you’ve got all that there, you will be able to see how much time you really have to work….In the time you have for work, assign yourself very specific tasks…Taking a little time to get all this in your book will do several things for you. It will become clear to you how much you can reasonably get done in a week. It will become clear where you might need to shorten your daily activities to fit in more drawing. And, most importantly, it will give you concrete goals, so that when you finish what you set out to do, you can cross it off and feel good about yourself, and you can also stop working, sometimes the hardest thing to do for a freelance artist. Knowing when you’re on and what you need to get done makes your free time, once you’ve accomplished these goals, truly free, guilt-free. And that’s the most important part of learning to make a life as a working artist.”
When I started the book at the end of June, I knew I had six months to get the manuscript finished. 25 weeks to make 150 brand-new poems. That’s 6 poems a week, one poem a day…if I took a sabbath. But there was no way each poem was going to be worthy of being collected in the book. So I decided to shoot for a 3/5 success rate (which is still way too optimistic), and make 250 poems in 25 weeks. 10 poems a week. Out of the 250, I’d throw out 100, and still have 150 for the book.
I couldn’t see it happening, so I drew it. 25 rows, 10 checkboxes. If I was doing everything right, by Christmas all the checkboxes would be full.
And that’s how I’ve been living for the past four months. Every week, there are 10 checkboxes to be filled, and I fill them. At the end of every poem, there’s the satisfying X.
Creating any long work of art is all about time management. Any goal you want to accomplish: get yourself a calendar. Break the task down into little bits of time. Make it a game.