Take a Christmas Break
A couple of years ago, I posted a few thoughts on the idea of taking a weeklong hiatus for the Christmas holiday. It featured a guest post from “How To Make Webcomics” co-author Dave Kellett on the topic. The entire thing is worth a read, but I’ll paraphrase:
This is not a 9-to-5 job where you can clock out and forget it… And sure, it doesn’t seem like “work” because you love it so dang much. But you have to call a spade a spade. It’s still work.
That becomes evident after a few years of producing a strip. And especially after you’ve worked on comics through delirious sickness, or while drawing tomorrow’s strip on a cramped airplane, or during the funeral weekend of a deceased family member. You work through those crappy times, because you’re a pro, and this is what pros do. But when you do that a few times, your ego kicks in. You start to think maybe you could do this forever, without a break. That if a flu can’t stop you, or a grandmother’s death can’t stop you, then you must really be a machine. And you start to see how Sparky was able to do this for 50 years. And more dangerously, start to envision how you could do it, too.
But you can’t. Or, as I realized in 2010, even if you can do it… that you shouldn’t. You have to allow yourself a break. A space of time for your brain to recharge. Sure, hard work had gotten me the cartooning life I always wanted, but hard work would be my undoing, too, if I let it.
So last year, between Christmas and New Years, I gave myself a gift I had never previously allowed myself: A genuine vacation. Ten days of time with friends, of reading, of playing games, of stress-free family time, and of unclenching that cartooning muscle that’s always looking for the joke. It was absolutely lovely.
And it worked. That time off not only relaxed my soul and rekindled my relationships. It also sparked dozens of story ideas, gave me new business insights, and planted seeds for bigger projects down the road. Most importantly, I had a sense of joy back in my cartooning, to replace the increasing sense of drudgery that had been creeping in. That’s critical, because joy can be sensed in your strip. And after the vacation, it was a joy again to make.
In the past, I’ve been encouraging members to consider a Christmas break. But, in view of how reading habits on the Web have changed so drastically over the past few years, my attitude has changed.
I think you’re a masochist if you don’t give yourself some sort of winter-holiday break.
First of all, let’s start with the obvious reason: No one is reading webcomics that week. Traffic drops to ghost-town levels. It’s just not a priority for people during that time.
Secondly, we’re working in an environment in which tools like bookmarks and RSS are far less popular than they once were. I’ve been teaching college classes for several years now, and I’m always gobsmacked when my students confirm that they just don’t use bookmarks very often. And almost none of them know what RSS is. Instead, they surf social media and drift from link to link. That’s making it harder and harder to form a sense of Community on our sites. But the silver lining is this — we’re certainly not interrupting any reading patterns by taking a week off.
Thirdly — and maybe this is just the voice of a guy who has been doing this for (good lord) almost 17 years now — the readers will still be there when you start up again. Readers come, and readers go. Some of them are going to obsessively devour everything you post, and others are going to drift and graze. And new readers are joining the pool every day. I’m convinced that if you’re putting the effort in on social media, you’ll be able to direct eyeballs to your site on a routine basis. I spent years obsessing over my Web traffic — “Am I building my audience?” But, in retrospect, it has been my social-media presence — not my daily pageviews or unique visitors — that has been the fuel for the engine of my online business.
Fourthly — and this is definitely the voice of a guy who has lived a little — you need to be nicer to yourself. We all need a little bit more of that these days, and sometimes it starts inside your own head. Take a break. Catch your breath. Play with your kids. Kiss your significant other under the mistletoe. Build a snowman. Volunteer at a shelter.
This, I guarantee… when you do come back, you’ll be better. You’ll have stories and energy and passion and creativity.
It’s the nicest gift you can give to yourself (and your family).
Take a break.