It’s all about habit. That’s what I have to say this morning. Writing habit. Or lack there of. I’ve been trying to get some more of my “Message Tee” strips written lately and have not been meeting with much success. All because of habit I’m guessing.

I haven’t even been trying to get more “Message Tee” drawings made. My original plan for the comic was to make it less about the drawings and more about they sayings on their shirts. I was already making new strips six days a week and adding a seventh day was a bit daunting. So I decided to do fifty two drawings, one for each Saturday in a year, and then recolor and reuse the drawing over for the next year. That was in 2011. But then in 2012 I decided I wanted to do fifty two more drawings and have a hundred and four of them to rotate. The same happened in 2013. I finally ran out of steam in 2014 and didn’t do any new “Message Tee” drawings. No explanation. I just didn’t have it in me to make another fifty two drawings this year. But on the bright side I ended up with a hundred and fifty six drawings rather than my originally planned fifty two.

I also had a rather different way of writing this particular comic too. I wrote it while on nice summer walks. I’d grab a small notebook, go for a walk, and then stop every ten or twenty yards to write down an idea for a message. I could knock out ten or twenty ideas in a walk and over a month or so of time have enough ideas (I write at least twice as many as I need and then pick the ones I like best) for a year’s worth of “Message Tee” strips. The system worked well. Until it didn’t. This year, for some reason, I took fewer walks and didn’t feel like writing as I took them. Before I knew it fall came around and I had nothing written. Whoops.

My solution to this problem of having not written anything on my walks was to sit down (or stand up) and write some comics. That seemed pretty darn logical to me but then a strange thing happened. Nothing come out. It wasn’t writer’s block or anything. I still found things to write about on this blog plus wrote a “Four Talking Boxes” strip every day but I had nothing for “Message Tee”. I’d set aside some time but get no closer to writing anything. It was weird and I think it was all about habit. I had a completely different habit for writing “Message Tee” and my normal writing habits wouldn’t do. My solution was to change the habit altogether.

I managed to make it down to Manhattan a few times this summer to take street photos. I take a train to get there. Two trains. One from Nanuet to Secaucus Junction and another from SJ to Penn Station in Manhattan. That’s about an hour on the train plus time spent waiting for trains. This summer I spent that time reading a magazine. I saved my monthly issue of “The Sun” magazine for those trips and reading it took up about the whole of the getting there and back time. It was a nice little habit but this time I decided to switch it up and write.

I got my same little notebook (a Moleskine “The notebook for people with more money than sense”) that I used to take with me on walks and took it on the train. It was interesting writng on the train. First off my little short “Message Tee” messages take a different sort of writing than normal. Or at least a different sort on concentration. With something like this blog or one of my “Four Talking Boxes” strips I have to concentrate for an extended period. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes of concentration and then a few minutes break and then back to concentrating. Repeat for as long as needed. With the “Message Tee” comic I stare off into space/look out the window for anywhere from thirty seconds to five minutes, come up with a saying, and write it down in my notebook. Writing in the notebook usually means rewriting too in that the form it first takes in my head usually changes as I try to make the wording just so.

Sometimes the ideas come fast and furious and sometimes it takes the full five minutes for me to write down something I’m not even happy with. I found that to be one of the keys for me to write “Message Tee”. I write down an idea even if I don’t like it just to get it out of the way. And who knows? I may find a way to make it work at some later date. I finished about half of the writing I needed to get done on that train trip so now I just have to get the other half done and I’ll be golden. I’ve already recolored the fifty two comics from 2011 and they’re all good to go once I get new messages on their shirts. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even draw some new ones next year.

Here is one final observation from my train ride that I’ve always taken for granted and never thought about until writing on the train. As I wrote before my process involves staring off into space and thinking (or trying to think) and as I do that I look around or out the window. When I walked and wrote I was always looking around at the scenery on my walk. I’d, of course, nod and say hello to any stranger that happened to pass me because that’s the polite thing to do out in the suburbs. Now here I was writing on the train where it was impolite to talk to a stranger or even look at them. I had to look around without looking at anybody. In Manhattan you pass a million people on the street and everybody has to ignore one and other. That’s nothing new and probably a good thing since you can’t say hello to a million people as you walk the streets but the contrast really struck me as I was trying to write. Now I have to find time to get the other half done.