Thursday, December 1, 2011

One Way to Fail

Every thousand years
This metal sphere
Ten times the size of Jupiter
floats just a few yards past the Earth.

You climb on your roof
and take a swipe at it,
Hit it once every thousand years,
'Til you've worn it down to the size of a pea.

Where you gonna be?
Where will you spend eternity?
I'm gonna be perfect from now on,
I'm gonna be perfect starting now.

-Randy Described Eternity, Built to Spill

When you're working on something big, the most difficult part is always the middle bit. Starting a project is easy -- you're full of new ideas, untapped energy, and naively optimistic notions about scheduling. And you'd be surprised what kind of spiritual reserves become available as the finish heaves into view.  But the middle is a drag.

If you'll indulge another cycling metaphor: drawing a (slow) comic is like riding (slowly) in the Tour de France.  The peloton has left you behind, the cheering crowds that lined the streets of the last hamlet can no longer be heard. The next town lies somewhere over the horizon, and the surrounding countryside does not change. There is no way to mark your progress, nor are there other racers against whom to measure your pace. The motorcycle-mounted camera has disappeared with the fast riders, so you don't even get the satisfaction of knowing your struggle is being shared.

There's just the sound of your breath to distract you from the pain in your legs. Occasionally, you pass a lone spectator who has waited patiently by the roadside to clap for you. There's also the rare heckler, who jeers as you wobble past.

But no matter how much the world begins to feel like a demense-covered treadmill, you remind yourself that the finish line is up there somewhere. It may be far away, but every turn of the pedals brings you a little bit closer. It took Lance exactly the same number of foot-pumps to get there as it'll take you.

The only way to fail is to stop.

I'm somewhere in the middle of issue 2 of Nonplayer. With my shoulder back in shape, my work-days are approaching their former length. But I'm comically late -- my milestone schedule mocked me today with the words "End Nonplayer #2." The drastic inaccuracy of that prediction would be funny if it didn't also trigger shortness of breath and a cold sweat. It feels like I'm failing. In slow motion. In public.

But I have to keep reminding myself: the only way to fail is to stop. All the predictions of doom and gloom, the retailers wailing about betrayal, the publisher bemoaning the loss of sales, the general sense of having been forgotten -- it's all immaterial, as long as I don't stop.

You may not see me, but I'm out there somewhere in the dark right now, pedaling. And knowing that there are other folks out there on their own stretches of lonely road, putting away the miles -- that's just about the greatest comfort there is right now. That, and this video.

Don't stop, you guys.


  1. People who follow your work will sick with you no matter how long it takes. Others will flock to your story when it shows up. I feel that, know matter what you're feeling about the deadlines flying by, you ultimately have to focus on the story you want to tell. So try not to worry about it. Just relax and create. The rest will happen.

    Now what was the name of that comic you created? ;^)

  2. I'm cheering you on, man. And I'll keep cheering as long as you keep doing your thing.

  3. Nice man. Really inspiring. The poop video I mean.

  4. The cycling metaphor is actually pretty good.

    Keep at it! Your comic is worth struggling for.

  5. Still cheering you on! Everyone runs into obstacles, it's those who overcome them who are remembered, no matter how long it takes!

  6. count me as that cheering spectator, Nate. Cycle on!!!

  7. Don't worry how long it takes to finish this leg of the race, you will still do it with style.

  8. Keep on cycling, dude. It's not getting to the finish line in time that's important. It's the journey itself. I'll be waiting on that second issue Nate. You're my inspiration. Best of luck.

  9. We will still be waiting at the finish line.

  10. I've been reading your blog almost since the beginning. I'm a screenwriter trying to develop my own comic book after floundering around the edge of Hollywood for a few years. Your struggle has been a cautionary tale at times, but I've watched you push through to do some incredible things. You remind us that we're all human but also capable of doing incredible things. You inspire me with every post. Keep it up.

  11. Dude, you are awesome and I love the cycling metaphor...except the part about the number pedal strokes to go the same distance as Lance. Let's face it, if you are floundering in hilly stage of the TDF, you are not going to be riding in the exact same gear ratio as Lance. You'll be working in quite a few more pedal strokes per mile in an easier gear. :) Keep on keeping on.

  12. Well, we all understand why things are slow. You had a major accident, and a long recovery process. I read Nonplayer #1 earlier this year before your accident, and I can't stop thinking about it. It is such a beautiful piece of work. I know it will take a while for #2, but I know that it will be worth it. Your work speaks for itself, and you have not been forgotten.

  13. I'm standing on the side of the road patiently waiting for the moment you ride by and I can clap and cheer. Until then, I'll enjoy the view here and sip my mojito.

  14. I will buy Non-player#2 whether it comes out tomorrow or 10 years from now.

  15. yeah man you can do it! persistence is the key!

    TEAM NATE 4 EVER ahaha

    seriously, keep on truckin'!

  16. Just read np1. Genius. Take as long as it takes

  17. several years have pass since this article, and I still remember it.
    I remember this words ''the only way to fail, is to stop''. I remember them, because I had them written on a piece of paper on my desktop... and I just realized that as I've moved to Europe two years ago, I have that same piece of paper inside my wallet.
    I just remembered the whole story and was able to find this blog again looking for the story of your bike accident.
    that mantra ''the only way to fail, is to stop'' has become my main frase all these years.
    Just wante to thank you for writen it down here. :D