A ROOM TO WRITE IN
A few weeks ago, I talked about how important it was for me to develop a set work schedule and to treat my writing as a regular 9 to 5 job. But that schedule was only able to be fully realized once I finally procured one very important part of the equation: a space of my own in which to work.
There is a room in my house reserved solely for the writing of comic books. For this, I am eternally grateful.
I wasn't always so lucky. For the first four or five years of my writing career, my "office" was a laptop and a lapdesk. Actually, before there was the laptop there was just a desktop computer in my son's bedroom. But most of my comics were written on that lapdesk. When I had the house to myself, I'd sit in the living room. Sometimes when the wife and kids were home, I'd sit on the bed next to the few shelves I had crammed with books in our bedroom. Once everybody else went to sleep, I'd usually take over the kitchen table.
Even now, I have a hard time writing when my family is home. When there's a TV blaring in the next room or people coming and going, I just can't focus. When I'm alone, I work in complete silence. I can't listen to music or the radio, nothing. I get too distracted. My brain is too weak. I just can't focus with any background noise going on.
So having to grab work time here and there throughout our very tiny house was always hard. I never had a room I could go to and just close the door and block everything out. I dreamed of having such a room like other people dream of owning swimming pools or fancy gas grills or, I don't know, matching dishware or whatever.
About a year and a half ago, my wife and I were able to move to a bigger house, and at the expense of a guest room (sorry friends looking to spend the night) I was able to make my dream of an office come true.
Work-wise, it made me feel like a new man. Seriously. There is no substitute for having your own space in which to write. It's one of those things, like a DVR or a smartphone or, I don't know, viagra, that once you get it you wonder how the fuck you ever lived without it before.
I am significantly more productive now than I ever was before. Basically, I have no excuses for not being productive. I sit in my office each day, surrounded by books and comics and toys, and I play with action figures while I write, and I pile things on my desk and hang art on the walls, and I cherish every second of it. My office isn't huge. It's the smallest room in the house. It doesn't have a TV in it or any bells and whistles. I have friends with much cooler offices. But it's a space to write in and at the end of the day that's all I need.
Turning your guest room into an office isn't the only way to find yourself some work space. Here are what a few other creators I know do.
With the baby at home, my life is all kinds of hectic. It takes me long enough to get my headspace right and get into the zone where I can really see scenes in my head and produce good work, and trying to work from home, there are a bajillion things in a day that can derail that train. My wife could pass by the door and asks me a question about a bill or something, BAM. I'd be pulled out of it. Ask me to empty the dishwasher or take out the trash, instantly out of the groove. Sometimes I can get back on track instantly, but sometimes, when that concentration is broken, it takes a helluva lot to get back to that magic place.
I had an office in my house for a while, but when we bought our new house, it had a finished workshop above the garage, which I've claimed as my own space. I can work in peace without the distraction of being asked to do something else, I can blare my music or even step outside and blow off some steam on the target range to refocus. The physical removal, even though it's only like 20 feet, from my house, helps me mentally prepare and focus on the job. I tell my wife, if you wouldn't call me home from a factory to do "task X," then don't call me in from the studio. Having a physical work zone has proven imperative to getting into my mental work zone. Having tasted it, I could never go back and do it any other way.
I have my own studio/ office in one of America's many anonymous office parks. I got the smallest, most affordable space that I could find. One that fits my needs, perfectly. This space has changed the game for me.
I am more productive in my studio space.
Having my own space affords me peace and quiet while I work. I can get in there and jam, with no distractions. When I was at home (studio in my bedroom,) there was a lot of noise and distractions. I worked on my first few books in my bedroom with my studio lamp shining in my wife's face while she tried to sleep. My son was constantly crawling up my back, while my daughter put her head in front of mine as I inked. Also, lunches took longer simply because I ate in front of the TV and would get caught up in a show. My studio is like a zen garden, a place of solitude where I can focus on drawing.
I learned to be a better professional with my studio space.
I am in a building full of different businesses and professionals. This got me thinking about my work and me. Am I just someone in the building drawing some books? Or, am I a business? I learned that I am a business. I now have a full corporation for my comics work and am learning how to maximize the money I make and the expenses I can write off. As a freelancer, you are a business and need to treat it like one
I am a better Father/ Husband and a better cartoonist.
Probably the best thing that's come out of my studio is the separation of work and family. As an artist, I can't put the work away. When I was working out of this house, I would come downstairs for dinner, but my brain was in my work I would eat my dinner as fast as I could, waiting to get back up to fix that busted drawing. I was vacant during family functions and such. Now, when I leave the studio, I leave the work. When I'm at home, I'm a father and a husband. When I'm in the studio, I'm a cartoonist. It's all about balance, and I've found it.
Artist, Wolverine & Deadpool: The Decoy
It can be extremely isolating to work alone at home, too tempting to get online so you know there's someone else out there. And we know what comes of getting online- Not Work. I joined Periscope Studio for another reason, I had small children at home and it's hard to tell them you have to work instead of play with them. You might think it would be distracting to work around a lot of other comics people (we have around 20 if everyone were in at the same time), but really it regiments the creative process. I see every day that this is not a magical thing that I need to wait for inspiration on; we're all just sitting down and doing it like any other job. My ear for dialogue is far better than it might be because I hear real people talking, not the artificial dialogues of a TV show in the background.
The studio is mostly artists, but many also write. A couple other members write full-time besides me, Paul Tobin and Jeremy Barlow. I've noticed they just go under headphones when they need to block the world out to work. I do it with my Mad Ignoring Skillz. An advantage to working next to the people drawing the books is seeing what their real workday and challenges are. A lot of writers lose sight of that or never have it. These are the people doing the lion's share of executing your brilliant script, you should know what goes into their job.
Also, as a group we're able to have interns take the mail, get coffee and all the million other things that would rouse us from our ivory towers, and that is a truly wonderful benefit. If you live near creators you can be in a room with, I say consider the shared studio environment for a while.
Writer, Hulk, Thunderbolts
Jeff Parker has interns. I am so fucking jealous.
So there you go. Having a space of your own = being more productive. It doesn't have to be a home office or a commercial space or a studio full of other creators. It can be your kitchen table or a corner of your attic or a card table set up in your basement. Like the great Coach Tomlin says, style points don't matter. The important thing is just to find the space where you can clear your head and do your work.
And if there happens to be room for toys, all the better.
Jason Aaron is an Eisner and Harvey Award nominated comic book writer whose current work includes the critically-acclaimed crime series "Scalped" for DC/Vertigo and "Wolverine," "Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine" and "PunisherMAX" for Marvel. He was born in Alabama but currently resides in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter (@jasonaaron) or his blog. His beard is bigger than yours.