Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Early Years of Struggle

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book THE OUTLIERS about a principle called the "10,000 hour rule." People who train for sports events may have heard about it. The rule is: if you practice -- painting, cartooning, high-jumping, whatever -- for 20 hours a week for ten years, you will, by the end of the decade, master that skill.

It's a seductive promise: put in the time, and you will achieve the desired result. So if you really, really work hard you can (as many a teacher has told me) become ANYTHING YOU WANT.

This is, of course, utter baloney.

Talent is cheap. Persistence is all.

And the time is never right. It's never the right time to quit your regular job -- but it's never the right time to buy a house or get married. Later is always better. "It'll be better if we wait."

When I started, I failed at my first two professions. First, I was a graphic novelist. I did a script for a graphic novel, but pulled the plug on it myself because it would take too long. Then I was a comic strip artist. I did a couple of comic strip submissions that got "good" rejections. I decided to give panel cartoons a try.

I drew hundreds. I went to the library and copied out the names and addresses of the art directors out of publications, and mailed out many cartoons. I was relentless.

Months go by. No sale.

And this is a time when you wonder why you are doing what you are doing. IF maybe -- just maybe -- you are crazy.

There's a famous story that Bob Mankoff tells about when, as a young man, he told his dad that he wanted to be a New Yorker cartoonist. His father looked at him and said, "Don't they already have people who do that?"

OK. Back to me and my story:

After six months, within one week, I got five sales. 

It was a huge vindication. And, at the time, it was hard to believe. I remember I had to figure out how to format an invoice. 

And it was a huge relief to have some money coming in, of course. It was a reminder that if I had quit just a little bit before, then none of this would have happened.

1 comment:

Jim Keefe said...

Great piece.
Two links I'd like to add.

First from Colleen Doran.

Second from Calista Brill of First Second books.