Habit Forming

30 Sep

As a cartoonist, I’ve often always wondered about my time spent on the actual business/craft of doing what I do.  What am I talking about?  Well, I constantly used to think (and still do) about others in my profession and how they spend their day.  Do they take the occasional ‘check the email’ break (like, about 50 times a day – like me)?  Do they wake up early/late?  How about other activities?  Do they do anything but work?  How about donuts?  Do they eat a lot of donuts?

I’m reading a fantastic book by Mason Currey called Daily Rituals – How Artists Work.

He has everyone from Mozart to Hemingway.  A huge list of authors, poets, musicians, writers and artists of all nature are featured.  And what’s striking is the big variety yet all the similarities, too.

My ritual is pretty much the same.  At least during the week.  Weekends things get a bit flipped around.  Here, I’ll get into it a bit.

I typically am up at 5:30 in the morning.  First things first – I feed my cat, Tiger (who usually gives me a wake-up call at the same time).  I head to the gym – usually jogging for 20 minutes or using the elliptical.  I try to lift weights three times a week as well.  No, this is not easy.  I’ve never considered myself a morning person and don’t think I’ll ever really be one.  However, I feel much more productive waking up early – no matter how torturous it is.  Admittedly, I’m good at fooling myself that I’m a morning person and I think that’s the only way I pull this off.

After the gym, I get back, brew some coffee and shower.

Mornings are my main writing time, so usually from about 6:30 to 8:00 is writing.  And when I say writing, it’s mostly just for my cartooning work. This is also the time of major coffee consumption.

8:00 I’ll start my marketing.  That means scheduling posts on social media, making contacts, connecting with clients/editors and stuff like that.

About 10 AM, I’ll try to hit the drawing board.  I usually start with my syndicated comics.  It’s kind of a nice exercise for me to start with such familiarity.  Client work often consist of new territory that I’m not quite “awake” enough for this early.  It requires a lot more thinking whereas my regular work is more of a natural flow.  You wouldn’t want to learn to ride a unicycle before a bicycle, right?  It’s kind of like that.  Or maybe that’s just a bad analogy.


I usually work until noon.  Then, it’s lunch time and getting random things done time.  This can include sending invoices, paying bills and making phone calls.  My lunch is about 5 minutes long (usually in front of the television).  Often it consist of mac & cheese, leftover pizza or whatever I can muster up.

I’m then back to marketing, client work and regular cartooning from 1-5.  All the coloring and things like that get done around this point.

It’s then dinner time.  After dinner, I’m currently back to work on a graphic novel I’m writing.  Also, I’ll spend some evenings doing things like this (a blog post).

I’ll chill out around 7-8 and usually watch some TV.  Then, about 9 or so, I go read.  If I’m lucky, I’m in bed by 10.  Boring evening, I know.

Weekends are TOTALLY different.  As a person who works in his home all day, the urge to get out and do something completely takes over my psyche by Friday afternoon.  I love to get out and enjoy some local brews, watch some football and basically hangout with people.  It’s very liberating and I believe healthy.  You can’t stay cooped up in a studio without getting out.

Sunday’s I like to do NOTHING.  Although, there are times where I do feel like doing something, so I will (which I often times regret considering I have a busy Monday regularly).

That’s my ritual.

A lot of writers and artists are similar.  In the book, it mentions some of the writers who work only a couple hours a day.  Or, take three months off due to no creative flow.  And some artist are night people – others day.  But, they all – for the most part – had some sort of ritual.

I’m glad I’m not alone to times when I do check my email, slack for a minute or two and basically feel like I’m not productive.  One thing about creative work is it’s not a constant.  In other words, when I’m writing, I often have to stop for a minute, check the mail, grab a water – something.  That breathing room is important to me and makes me more productive.  When I mentioned my routine, you have to envision me taking numerous breaks throughout that.  Yes, I get very wrapped up in any artistic activity I’m doing, but the occasional break happens frequently.

I also enjoy listening to funny things or music when working.  The Howard Stern Show is quite amusing these days.  Or, I put on some rock, classical or whatever I’m in the mood for.  That varies a lot (although, time at the drawing table on my syndicated work is usually talk radio of some sort).

Another book I’m reading is Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.  She mentions what all she has done to achieve what she has (she specializes with ballerina’s and does choreography).  She’s the woman behind the dancers in the movie, Amadeus, and also wrote the Broadway musical Movin’ Out.  I’m not a big musical (as in Broadway musicals) person, but like any creative type, she mentions a lot of good insight on the creative process.  Again, it helped me know that I’m pretty normal doing what I’m doing.  I begin to wonder sometimes……

So, anytime I’m taking a break and thinking that I’m slacking off, I now think back to these books and other artists creative habits.  Some artist hit the bars (daily), some go for walks all day and others do – well – other stuff.  I hope I shed some light on kind of what I do.  I get asked that a lot.  Also, I still get the feeling many people think I sit at home in my pajamas all day just drawing funny pictures.  They would never consider what I do a profession.  However, there are thousands of illustrators, cartoonists and other artists out there.  How am I different?

What is different is my ritual – which I think is cool.  I wouldn’t want to copy some other persons ritual at all.  That wouldn’t make it unique.  And that’s no fun.

What’s your ritual?  Is your ritual NOT having a ritual (the book mentions a few artists like that)?  Share your thoughts!


4 Responses to “Habit Forming”

  1. David Hurley October 1, 2014 at 7:18 am #

    I love to have a routine and love reading abut yours, Nate. It’s really the only way to get things accomplished. I use to have a routine of exercise, drawing etc. These days (as I do have a different job) I really don’t have a routine other than when I’m not working or taking care of necessary things in life I work on my art. Unfortunately, I never know what my work week will look like as it’s never the same. I think this is great, you have to treat it like a business, as it is your business, Now I’m going to look for ways to quit my job and go cartooning full time! Good article/blog Nate.

    • w101njf October 1, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      Thanks, David! I find having a routine worth it. It’s something I NEVER had before. I think I’ll do a few more blog post on some other routines that I’ve found have helped me with my career and ditching the day job. Good luck on your work/business! There are a lot of opportunities out there for us cartoonist – just gotta find them.


  1. Sweating It Out | Nate's Ramblings - February 7, 2015

    […] I realized that was torture and stopped doing it.  (In fact, I wrote about that several months ago about my daily routine.  When I wrote that, the early morning thing was happening.  […]

  2. » Sweating It Out - February 7, 2015

    […] I realized that was torture and stopped doing it. (In fact, I wrote about that several months ago about my daily routine. When I wrote that, the early morning thing was happening. […]

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