Training Your Way Towards Your Goals

This was written as a response to one of my students in the “How To Make A Comic MOOC”  within our new “” Slack online community.

The Question:

I know that the challenge is to write within 16 panels for the course assignment. I also know its good for me to write within that constraint. But, I have a much longer comic in mind. Why is it so hard to write within a 16 panel constraint? (paraphrased question).

My Answer:

Concision is key! I’m also a person who likes longer form better as well. However, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how to hone in on that feeling of “done-ness”. Without crafting a feeling of completion you can run into the bigger roadblock in the creation process – not knowing how to finish. Small projects are really key.

My friend is a competitive cyclist. One day he was teaching me how to climb hills on a bike. He told me that the only way to get good at it is:

  1. Start with small hills and work up to larger/longer climbs
  2. Have a routine training schedule. It is key to have that in order to improve consistently – otherwise you’ll only ever be as good as where you are at with no experience.
  3. You have to fight your instincts. Most of us try to climb a hill by charging it – but the problem is that you lose all your speed halfway up and because you hit your heart rate limitations early it is almost impossible to make it the other half up the hill. Instead you should start slow, almost at a crawl, then gradually build up speed. When you see the top of the hill, then you can charge it with all of your strength. Even more important is, as you are slowly climbing, to concentrate on your heart rate and breathing. You don’t want to over exert so you should try to slow down to the level of intensity where you are working hard, but in a reasonable manner. Always being in that sweet spot of balancing between over exertion and a good workout – that spot that is maintainable.

I think it’s the same with making comics, or any project really. Each one of those steps necessitate a mindset that is difficult to attain, so you need to focus on them each separately and practice combining them.


  1. Starting small even though you want to go big. This take humility and honest self-reflection.
  2. Creating habits (the one I struggle with the most) – this is all about you understanding that a quantity of work trumps a density of a work session. You can’t get good at making something by try to cram in 25 years of experience into 25 hours. No, you have to layout how you are going to get 25 years of experience in a craft in the next 25 years. Jason Brubaker had a quote I always liked from his book Unnatural Talent: “The best time to start a project is 5 years ago. The second best time is right now”.
  3. Fighting your instincts takes a great deal of humility as well because for you to fight your natural inclinations you need to admit to yourself that the way you’ve been doing things before now isn’t the right way – otherwise you’d have everything you wanted. This is a gut punch to the ego because it means, on some level, you can’t trust yourself.

So I designed the course with these lessons in mind. They are appropriate for beginners. I’d argue that they are important for everyone. These are the basics, the fundamentals. We all need to remember these as we work.