The Internet: My Enemy, My Friend! Balancing Art Making and Social Media Cred
The internet is an essential tool for promoting my work and spending important time with my readers. I’ve had a constant web presence for about 20 years, and a website for my comic art for fifteen years.
I’ve made valuable connections with other creators. Warren Ellis and I met on message boards, and we went on to work together on several important projects. J Michael Straczynski contacted me out of the blue to support me when I was getting some crap in comics fan circles, and he’s become one of the best things ever to happen to me on a personal and professional level.
Selling my work on the web has grown from pocket money to five figures annually over the last four years, a very comfortable sum which equals 1/4 of my annual income.
On the down side, it took almost sixteen years for my web income to grow. There were months I didn’t even begin to cover my monthly web overhead. Before Paypal buttons and the like, it was expensive to take credit cards and maintain a shopping cart. I paid thousands for website building, with some designs never finished, and one client taking off with my passwords and registration, before I finally landed DC McQueen who built a site that works. (Yeah, I know, you’re thinking “Why didn’t you just build it yourself?” Well, back then not so simple, and even considering what I’ve doled out to pay for one, it would have cost a lot more to learn to do it myself. I don’t do my own car repairs, either.)
Before, I made most of my money on ebay selling stuff from my collection. Now I sell my books and art which goes for good prices. Go me!
Still…that achievement took sixteen years.
Did public perception of my work change, did I get better, or did I finally just get enough web presence to find an audience?
I’m sure the answer is All of the Above.
There is a lot of time and effort that goes into building websites and updating them (or, in my case, paying someone to do it,) and a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook to build that audience, as well as computer time and equipment to develop all of these skills. If I were twelve years old and growing up with this, it wouldn’t be something I’d think of as a learning curve. It would just be something I do every day, like playing video games.
But Facebook, Twitter, and almost everything on the internet didn’t exist when I was twelve (when I studied computer science, we used punch cards for programming,) and I had to begin to learn to do all this when I was pushing thirty-years-old and had business obligations to deal with besides.
Sending my assignments to my clients via the internet is now the norm, though my early adventures with trying to format files and use FTP sites, or to do the now-required production work for my art, made for comedy of errors material. (I know many creators who still can’t do these things, and they have trouble getting work.)
I could not do business today without the internet, and it saves me the time and energy of going to Federal Express a couple of times a week, and thousands annually in shipping costs.
But it’s also a time and brain suck, where social media goes from a great place to meet fans and talk to your fellow pros, to a place where pervy dudes send you disturbing mash letters, conspiracy theory nuts plaster your page with crap about 9-11, people do very bad things with your work and tell you to be grateful for it, and trollish weirdos dominate comment threads.
Dealing with them is an emotional drain.
When I get in a work funk, I can waste hours web surfing or blathering on social media. People who have cognitive disorder and attention or focus issues as I’ve discussed here are especially vulnerable to the fugue state brain suck of the internet. We aimlessly run around, flipping from one site to the next, one comment to the next, like that coach potato dude who sits in front of the tube and never seems to do anything but click the remote.
We don’t feel the passage of time: three hours or twenty minutes? We never know. We’re floating in the mists of brain fog.
I keep a time sheet to make absolutely certain I meet work obligations, and that helps. I’ve also kept journals to watch my internet usage. (They all gave me the same answer: too much.)
In the long run, I am not sure the profits I’ve made due to my web presence over a twenty year period entirely outweigh the time and money investment, even limiting that time tally to purely professional ventures. On the other hand, I doubt I’d have a career today without it.
The trick is to find the balance between art making and time investment on the web.
Look, spending time on the web reading articles and chatting on Facebook is no different than spending a half hour at breakfast reading the newspaper, or an hour after work with your friends at the pub.
When it eats into your work time, or, more importantly, when you have trouble dealing with disruptive people and their drama, it’s a good idea to limit your access and people’s access to you.
Start with keeping a time sheet and be honest about what you are doing on the web and when you are doing it. I tend to limit my social media use to time spent on my treadmill desk: that way if I am being chatty, at least I am getting some exercise! (UPDATE: Treadmill died. I don’t do this anymore. So, now that I don’t exercise when on the net, I need to really watch my time on the net.)
Also keep a time sheet to measure your real work time. Be scrupulous about recording breaks. You may be in that office for long hours, but how many of them are productive hours?
Install apps that monitor or limit internet use. My favorite is Self Control.
This app blocks whatever website you program into it for up to 24 hours. I am sure someone out there has figured out how to disable it, but I never did. I installed it on all of my computers, including the one on my treadmill desk. It won’t stop the counter, even when you restart your computer. I block all social media during most work hours using this app.
When you install it, this image pops up and I nearly had a cardiac because I thought I must have downloaded some sort of virus:
But it’s OK, it really looks like that.
One drawback which doesn’t affect everybody: there is a bug in the program that may require a patch. I contacted the developer, and had that patch in just a few hours. I sent him a hat tip. The least I could do, as Self Control has been the single most valuable time management app I’ve ever used.
There are many other social media blocking apps, but they are very easily bypassed or disabled. All you have to do is restart your computer. Self Control solves your impulse problem.
Leechblock is a Firefox add on. The advantage to this app, and why I think it’s such a great supplement to Self Control, is you can tell the program to block many sites in different categories, and set what limits you want for each category. For example, there are times I want to access social media or industry websites during work hours, but I want to make sure I limit that access to no more than 15 minutes per three hour period. After I’ve been on for 15 minutes, I’m blocked. It also has a statistics function which lets you see exactly how much time you’ve spent on any sites you’re tracking.
Also, there are some sites I just don’t want to see at all. I don’t want to give them my patronage, or I find them offensive. I can block my browser from ever going there. If I click a link and don’t realize where it’s going, no worries. Leechblock stops me. There are some websites I haven’t seen in years.
One drawback: Leechblock is glitchy, and I’ve had to delete and reprogram it more than once because the timers get stuck. Still it has its uses and its free.
Freedom is another app I don’t use as much because it blocks the net entirely. However, it is easily bypassed by quitting the app and restarting your computer.
Minor drawback aside, it’s another great impulse control gidget. Many people would benefit from simply not hearing that email ping and, like Pavlov’s dog, jumping to see the latest dispatch.
I don’t have anything like the impulse control problems I used to have with the internet, and can’t even remember the last time I was on a message board.
There’s nothing wrong with spending time on the net, or enjoying long distance friends via Facebook.
But I know many people who have attention/focus problems and some artists get very upset when they see someone trashing their work on the web. You can block people you don’t like on Facebook, and you can block websites you don’t like with these apps.
I’ve had a couple of bloggers complain that if pros block their blogs “They just can’t handle the truth!”
Most of these people aren’t speaking truth to power, they’re complaining about comic books.
You don’t have a professional obligation to read everyone’s commentary about you or your work. Your professional obligation is to produce the work.
Just for the hell of it, one day I tried reading all the news on the major comics blogs….FOUR HOURS LATER, I was still at it. There goes my day!
I don’t have time for that. Neither do you.
People pick and choose what is important to them, just like they pick and choose what comics they like and give favorable reviews.
No one hates you, blogger. I just picked another blog over yours.
Unnecessary web drama eats up time and attention. It creates stress. De-stress and turn it off. Focus on what is important to you and share your time with others in a productive manner that enhances your life and theirs.
You’re under no obligation to participate in anyone else’s time suck.