Where do ideas come from? How do you know if a story idea is good or not? And is it true that Danish writer/artist Palle Schmidt wrote a big Hollywood movie? Yes! Well, almost…. This video uses music from https://www.bensound.com
Digital Tools for 2021
Happy New Year! Or maybe not so happy. I do allow myself some cautious optimism for 2021 even though Denmark is currently in another lockdown because of Covid. I’m currently sitting at the small kitchen table in our three bedroom apartment, while my wife and kids occupy the other rooms, each with their own laptop and online work schedule. My workflow has certainly also changed in the last year and it wouldn’t have been possible without some of these awesome digital tools:
Simplenote – notes on the go
I’ve had severe problems with the Notes app on my iPhone and mac. Syncing issues, where the note I just wrote disapeared, all notes gone after an ios update, stuff like that. I spent hours trying to troubleshoot, no dice. So instead I bought Simplenote, which syncs across all platforms and should my phone or mac ever crash, I can just log in from any device with my email and password and all notes are there in the latest version. Simplenote also allows for tags so it’s easy to find story ideas, recipes, contacts or whatever you decide to put in.
Tripit – plane travel made easy
This tool may not be the most needed during a pandemic and various lockdowns. But keep it in mind when the World hopefully returns to some sort of normalcy. Tripit is a travel app that collects your flight info in one place, letting you easily access time, flight number and the most basic info. After a quick and free setup, forward the email with your flight itiniary to pIans@tripit.com and within seconds it’s nicely organized within the app on your phone. No more frantically searching your inbox for your ticket, no more scrolling through seven pages of terms and condition to find the flight number. really a time saver.
Savefrom.net – simple YouTube downloader
I’ve recently used movie clips for educational purposes and YouTube is without a doubt the best place to search for stuff like that. There are also a lot of royalty free stock footage on the platform. But how do you get it out of YouTube and onto your computer so you can edit? Simple: Use this free YouTube downloader. Just paste the url and click download.
Editframe – the podcaster’s new best friend
This I use for uploading podcast episodes to YouTube. I’ve spent fruitless hours looking for an audiowave effect to add some movement to the episodes as a thumbnail picture is just not that interesting to look at for an hour. Editframe can create movies and social media clips with the effect over a thumbnail, audio and video. Really simple editor, very intuitive and free to try. I look forward to using this in the future rather than opening up iMovie every time I need to edit something small for Instagram or YouTube.
StreamYard – streaming and online meetings made easy
This is another new service I signed up for because of Covid. It’s basically a home studio setup that can stream directly to your Facebook page. You can invite guests, add your logo (with the paid monthly subscription) and save videos of every stream for later use. Neither you or your guests need to install anything as it is all web based. Simple, intuitive and super functional for online events and meetings.
Auphonic – audio editing for dummies
For someone who edits his own podcast, I must admit my skill in sound design is sorely lacking. That wavy, squiggly line scares the crap out of me, I have no idea about room tone, noise reduction or audio levels. But thanks to Auphonic I don’t need to! This free (up to 2 hours of audio a month) service fixes all that automatically. I just upload my file and it makes it better. I have no idea how, I just now it works. And if I need more hours I can top off with my credit card (currently $12 for an extra 5 hours, $22 for 10) – no recurring fee.
Streaks – rock-solid habit builder
Streaks is basically just a habit tracking app. Plenty of those around but this one ensured that I did daily exercise for over a year now. Started just doing a few push-ups and kept at it, because I was reminded daily. You can set up any habit and frequence. The app doesn’t completely replace good old fashioned discipline, as you can obviously just mark it “done” with no fear of repercussions, but it’s worked for me. Much more than I had anticipated.
I also cannot make a list of digital tools without mentioning Dropbox, which makes sure I have access to all files on all devices. I save everything in there and I truly love the service.
What are some of your favorite digital tools? Let us know in the comments!
Why Creative Restrictions are Good for You!
What does David Lynch, Picasso and George Lucas have in common? Setting up guardrails for your creativity can have surprising benefits.
I put together a video explaining why, using examples from film and TV like Reservoir Dogs, Star Wars, Twin Peaks and my own graphic novel STILETTO.
Let me know what you think! Comment below or go to YouTube and do the same.
PS: I know a lot of people worldwide are hurting financially and in self-quarantine at the moment. So to offer some consolation, the premium Comics for Beginners course is available at a drastically reduced price until December 31st 2020. Follow this link to get lifetime access for only
How to Write a Great Story – and Stick the Landing
So you’ve read all the books on writing, from Syd Field to Scott McCloud and you still struggle with writing a compelling story. Nothing seems to work or hold your interest long enough to get the damn thing finished!
It sounds to me like you’ve been looking for inspiration in the wrong places. Books on storytelling can be great to help you course-correct but rarely feed the creative fire to create something from scratch. You need to turn your looks to your inner self, what stories are bubbling in there that you want to tell? Or read lots of fiction to get inspired for your own stories.
I certainly can relate to jumping from one story to the other, I do it all the time (see this post on writing for scatterbrains: https://comicsforbeginners.com/writing-tips-scatterbrains/). The main difference I think is I have enough discipline and/or experience to either abandon a story with total conviction (after not spending too long on it) or clench my teeth and finish the damn thing at some point.
A friend of mine who’s a very succesful and wildly productive writer once told me: “He who has written is wiser than the one who has not.” Meaning you DO learn and evolve, even though you may end up scrapping the ten pages you just wrote. My friend also suggest keeping all the failed attempts and false starts on file because who knows? Maybe one day that bad idea can be used as a subplot for another story, a character you wrote can be brought back from the dead to play a part in something else, or you will simply get a new idea from skimming through an old one. I personally just found a document I had forgotten I wrote, which turned out to be a pretty decent outline for a crime story that never really found it’s form. Looking at it now it seems perfect to pitch to this new editor I just had a meeting with.
Not everything has to pay off here and now. You can plant seeds and maybe one day some of it will bear fruit. Be patient.
That said, you need to finish something to build your confidence as a storyteller. Every abandoned project that just didn’t work or you lost interest in will add another frustrating chip in your armour, make you feel like a loser. I harp on this a lot, the fact that quitting half way through a project breaks down our self-confidence as creators – and we NEED that self-confidence, it’s at the core of our creative existence. We need to nourish it and shelter in from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as Shakespeare put it, keep it safe from the nay-sayers and the sceptics, because they will stomp that thing into oblivion if you let them.
I recorded a podcast episode on quitting that might be helpful: https://comicsforbeginners.com/comics-for-beginners-podcast-episode-30-why-we-quit/
Again, there is the possibility you just don’t have a knack for writing. And that’s totally OK! You can work with a writer or a writing partner (which might also help keep you on track and accountable). I wrote a post on getting an artist on board. If you flip the narrative, you might find some good ideas here: https://comicsforbeginners.com/catch-artist/
Choosing which story to pursue is not easy. Decide early on to ditch the idea or stick the landing. If you find yourself returning to a story again and again in your mind, then it’s time to commit to develop it further. Set a deadline, get an accountability buddy who agrees to read your first draft.
My final piece of advice would be to spend a day or two writing up a synopsis or just notes on a story, then leave it be for a week or more. If you keep returning to the story and characters in your mind, that’s an indication there’s more to explore in that world. If you don’t dream or think about the story at all, doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea – it just means you are not meant to write it.
In art, two plus two doesn’t always equal four. Using the same method or the same pen as Stephen King will not make you Stephen King. You need to find out what works for you, by trying out a bunch of different ways.
Some people work within very strict boundaries – setting a timer or planning out everything in detail ahead of time. Others work more intuitively, making it up as they go along. As long as you get a result – and a result that you can be satisfied with – it matters less how you got there. But to make a living as a creative, you need to be able to repeat the process, so it might be a good idea to take a few mental notes along the way. Be conscious of what it is you do and how you spend your time, so you can make the most of it.
It frustrates me to no end seeing other artist just killing it, when their working methods are obviously flawed. I have to remind myself that we’re not all wired the same way and what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for them and vice versa. I interviewed a friend of mine who’s a very successful writer, after he got a three-year grant from the Danish Arts Council. I was cripplingly envious (can you imagine that? THREE YEARS of rent covered!) and decided I needed to figure out how he got to that place. During the podcast interview it came to light that my friend was envious of the colleagues who could sit down and write for more than four hours. I can personally write for ten hours straight, if the family will leave me alone. So as it turns out, we all have our own struggles and comparing makes little to no sense.
If you want to derail yourself by looking at people better than you and being envious of their success, go right ahead. There’s a free resource called Instagram that’s perfect for that activity.
It took me many years to accept my own method in writing. Everyone I talked to seemed to write chronologically, apparently that’s what you’re supposed to do. But when I tried this method I would always get stuck somewhere in chapter five or whenever I hit a point in the story I wasn’t able to figure out at that given moment. I completely gave up and walked away from a few books that way.
I later figured out that skipping ahead and writing something I can figure out, I’ll keep my momentum and avoid getting stuck. I’ll get an idea for a piece of dialogue while I’m trying to write a synopsis or get an idea for the end while I’m writing the beginning. Apparently I’m just too much of a scatterbrain to work from A to B to C – and that’s OK! As long as I get to the end. Today I’ll allow myself to jump around, thereby short-circuiting whatever is blocking my way. I don’t care if this is the right method or not, I’ve become very good at ignoring what other people think.
You have to try stuff and fail a lot before you find what works for you. Maybe you’re a night owl and that’s when you seem to create your best work. A musician I know consistently sleeps late, while his wife drops their son off at school. He hangs with the family all day and goes to the studio after he put his son to bed at night, working until the sun comes up. Others insist that the morning hours are the most productive.
Perhaps you like working with crayons while your colleagues use markers or watercolor. See if there’s anything in their tools or working methods you can learn from – then go do your own thing.
This post is an excerpt from my book SOLO – Survival Guide for Creative Freelancers available now in print, audio and ebook format.
Eating a Whale
When you set out to write a novel, record an album or draw a graphic novel, it can feel like having to eat a whale. You don’t know where to start, you don’t see how it can ever be done, you wonder why you ever said yes.
I felt this every time I started on a longer comic. I felt like it would be impossible, I felt like I didn’t know how. So I had to look at my book shelf and the pages pinned to my wall to remind myself that I did it before. I sat down with a cup of coffee calmed myself down and opened up my calendar. I looked at the deadline and the number of pages I had to do, then divided that number with the number of weeks available to work on it. It’s stupendously simple when you think about it.
Large projects can be harrowing to tackle, even the ones you yourself set in motion, even the ones that don’t have a clear deadline (especially those!). You need to break it down into manageable chunks. Make a plan but be open for the deviations that will undoubtedly arise. Start with the end goal in mind and work backwards. Plant some goal posts along the way, cross every little task off on a list if that makes sense to you, time yourself if you can.
For my graphic novel STILETTO I decided the book would be 120 pages long. So I created a large sketchbook with 120 blank pages in it and started rough sketching. I had a script, mind you, and I had already broken it down into pages so I sort of knew what I was doing. Still having that sketchbook made it painfully concrete, very easy to oversee the entire book and see how far I was.
As I’m translating this book (which was originally published in Danish in 2017) I just started somewhere one fine morning, and then looked at the word count at the end of the work day. I’d managed to bang out roughly 3000 words so that became my standard. As long as I keep at it, and manage to swat away the swarming thoughts of inadequacy, I’m able to hit that word count almost every day.
I find that when I’m writing a book, it helps me to set the goal of creating a shitty first draft. It can always be edited later. If I set out to write a great book, I’ll never finish anything. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert:
“A good enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.”
For your own projects it’s equally important to set goals and deadlines or you’ll see it constantly get moved back when other, seemingly more important things come up. If you have all the time in the world, that’s exactly how long it will take. You need to make a decision. Saying to yourself: “I’ll do it when I get the time,” is basically the same as saying you’ll never do it.
Time is not something you get. It is something you take.
This post is an excerpt from my book SOLO – Survival Guide for Creative Freelancers – Order now on Amazon.