Being a comic creator is a job.
That’s something we as fans and readers can forget sometimes. It isn’t the totality of your being. Writing Batman or Spider-Man is not your identity. It’s a thing you do. We know that, of course. But sometimes it feels forgotten that creators are people, first and foremost, and ones with real troubles and concerns that may lead the way over whatever universal issues we may be curious about. Lately, that topic has been top of mind, as the hashtag #ComicsBrokeMe exploded on Twitter and triggered a surge of open discussion about the trials and tribulations of those who make comics. No matter what role or what publisher you work with, people faced real challenges, and ones that can be harmful in a number of ways. It was a lot, because it is a lot.
It’s also a lot more than that. Everyone who does anything goes through their own journey of physical, mental, and emotional health, or a lack thereof. Even a renowned, award-winning, best-selling writer like James Tynion IV. Tynion’s been going through a process of late where he prioritizes his own health and himself as a human, both in the form of weight loss and pushing to value his own well-being. It’s something I’ve observed as an outsider throughout our SKTCHDxTiny Onion interview series this year, and with this topic being so personally and generally important right now, our latest chat focuses on that subject, why he’s been making changes in his life, how those changes have affected him (and his work), whether this should be a priority (as much as it can be), and a whole lot more.
It’s a considerable change of pace from the conversations that we have been having, but it’s a good and necessary one. You can read it below, as it’s open to non-subscribers. If you enjoy the conversation, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for more features like it. Also, this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Before the last edition of this went up, I was bugging you when you were in Dallas for Fan Expo and the Diamond Retailer Summit. I was emailing you saying, “Hey, just take a look at this. I just want to make sure we get this up for Tuesday,” because I’m a stickler when it comes to scheduling. What I didn’t know was your friend, Ian McGinty, had passed away and that your dog, Khaleesi, had passed away as well. And I felt very bad about bugging you then, so James, I just wanted to say sorry, because I had no idea what you were going through.
James: I appreciate that. You’re a good, kind human being, and I very much appreciate it. It’s part of why I like talking to you so much.
But the real thing is that my life never slows down. And it’s balancing that off of my professional needs and all of that, and it is a part of every week of my life. And over the last year in particular, my life has gone through tremendous changes that…I’ve talked publicly about a lot of them. Some of them are a little more private. But I am existing at a state of extreme living all the time. I talk about this a little bit in my newsletter here.
It was a really hard weekend. Dallas was incredibly hard. And it was one of those things where it’s been the first time in a while where literally I got really awful news on two consecutive days 15 minutes before the ending of a signing.
James: And then just out of pure self-propulsion, I still had to hold back the tears, and sign a bunch of comic books, take selfies with people, and all this stuff. In a way, there was a comfort to that, but it’s also just an incredibly strange thing. The strangest thing in terms of the Dallas weekend is that Vincent D’Onofrio saw me crying behind one of the curtains because he was on this little golf cart being taken to the big panel thing, and I had just taken a chair in this back little alleyway that only the creators had access to.
But that is part of life. None of it is separate for me. And maybe there’s a healthier separation that I could find, but I’ve found the opposite more to be true, that the more of my life that I live and myself that I make a part of what I do, the better the work is, and the happier and more stable I am. The best thing in the world was that on one of the worst weekends in the last year was when I was surrounded by a bunch of my friends and collaborators and just laughing and drinking with them while being surrounded by love and humanity. And then I came home to New York, and then it was the same for the rest of the month. I was just surrounded by people that I love. And that helps off that. It helps balance the fucking scales of the universe.
I often think about when Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples took time off from Saga to take a breath and live life for a while because they’d really burned themselves out and had a lot of stuff going on personally. They took time off for a few years, and some people were like, “Where the hell is Saga? What’s going on?” I think sometimes people from the outside are guilty of forgetting that creators are people.
And I know that’s a very obvious thing to say, but I also think that creators — and I’m guilty of this myself — can forget to think of yourselves as humans with human needs rather than some sort of productivity machine designed to achieve success and deliver results. I feel like you’ve been going through a path lately where you’re remembering that, and it seems like it’s been really positive for you.
James: It has been. I 100% fell under the trap of thinking of myself as a productivity machine. Because to be honest, I’m a pretty good productivity machine.
One of the best, man.
James: I’m a high-output writer. When I think of how everyone reacted to the pandemic in different ways, but when I was locked in, I just worked. I just worked for two years nonstop, and created more and extra work. That was when I had to fulfill the terms of the first Substack year. I had to do two posts a week that I was writing myself on top of writing all of my books, launching my Batman run, Wynd, Department of Truth, Nice House On The Lake, and doing everything that I could to make those books good and putting all of myself into them. But the exchange on that was a huge part of myself and a huge part of my sanity.
And frankly, the first thing that collapsed in the face of that was my superhero work because it was just when I was working at that pace with no real outlet, I just realized that the work didn’t mean enough to me to be killing myself over. It just wasn’t worth it. But then it’s just I’m brain poisoned enough that then it was just like, “So therefore, I will find the work that is worth killing myself over.”
Your own work.
James: Yeah, exactly. And I don’t know how to work less than I do, but the thing that I’ve realized in the last year…it’s something that I used to know, it was something that I was better in my mid-20s where it was just like, “Oh, no. I need to live. I need to be out there living life surrounded by people that I love and care about.” And then on top of that, I just need to be doing things that have nothing to do with my work life.
Boxing has been one of the best things in my life for the last six months. And I’m not particularly good at boxing. I don’t want people to think that I’m suddenly very good at it, but it’s something that I’m allowed to be bad at and improve at, at a slow and awkward pace because I’m a big nerd who’s lost 120 pounds in a year, and it’s just my body. I’m figuring out how to move in my body, let alone how to move in a coordinated way to hit very hard. And it’s just the value of that, I can’t overstate what it is just for me. It just makes me feel better. It makes me feel more attractive. It makes me feel more confident, and it’s just good. It is a good facet of my life.
I do think there’s something to doing something that you don’t have to put a lot of thought to in a time where we’re constantly thinking and constantly engaging and constantly doing things. While you’re boxing, you can’t be thinking about the destruction of social media. You can’t be thinking about the next contract for your book. You just have to be boxing because otherwise you’re going to get punched or you’re going to be extra bad at it.
James: You can’t even be thinking about what’s the right position. You have to get to a state where you stop thinking, where you are fully reactive and fully present. Being fully present is one of the things that I have always found to be the most difficult. My brain races 24/7.
Even while you’re writing?
James: 100%. I wish it happened more often where I hit the magical workflow where I start typing and then suddenly it’s four hours later. I wish I could say that happened once a week. It happens once every two months. But those moments are incredible, and that’s what I’m chasing every day. But finding the moments of fully channeling where you are and what you’re doing…that’s just phenomenally important. And I mean, all of my work is me telling the story of my life in different ways, even if it’s not perceived that way. And I think to a certain degree, it is perceived that way because there are a bunch of characters named James that have glasses. At a certain point, I’m not hiding it.
But it is just one of those things where I’m constantly looking at and analyzing my life and trying to figure out what my fucking damage is and why I do things the way that I do them. It is all about a kind of self-improvement. This was the problem of my 20s. In my 20s, I felt I was seeking perfection in some key way. And now I feel like I’m seeking the opposite, where I don’t want perfection. I want the messiness of life, and I don’t want the messiness of life to blow up my life. I like my life. But it is just one of those things where I want to try new things and experience the full spectrum of human existence. I want to travel. I want to kiss beautiful people. I want to go to weirdo backyard parties at my friends’ houses in Bushwick. That’s what I want out of my life right now.
I feel like an important caveat that needs to be put in there for all people in comics is you want to travel, but not just for conventions.
James: Yes. I love a good convention. I’m about to go to San Diego. The convention travel can be wonderful, and I love the big, beautiful community of comics. I love the people in it, and I really love spending time with them. The magic of these shows is there’s always the person who you haven’t really caught up with, or it’s somebody that you’ve always vibed with, but you never really had one-on-one time. And then you find a corner of the con bar or whatever party you’re at, and then you just end up talking to them for two or three hours. And at the end of that experience, this person who you’ve always just been lightly friendly with, suddenly knows all of the weird secret drama of your day-to-day life. That’s the magic. It is because we have a very strange existence, and comics can be so solitary, but it’s also one of those things where these moments of community are just so phenomenally important to it.
But yes, I want to go travel and not for that reason. In August, I’m going to fly out to Spain. I’m going to go visit Alvaro where he lives. I’m sure we’ll do some work while we’re there, but that’s not the point of the trip. I’m not doing any signings. I’m not doing any of that. I am just going to Spain to see my friend, and I’m very excited about that. Because those are new things. I did a trip to Palm Springs in May with a group of friends. That was fucking amazing. This is a friend trip. I want to do more friend trips. I don’t want the only times I travel just to be because my family is making me or comic books is making me.
People always ask me, “Oh, are you going to go to San Diego? Are you going to go to this? Are you going to go to that?” Which I appreciate, but I only go to a maximum of one convention a year because it is so hard to get out of Alaska that I need to prioritize vacations that are actually vacations. Everything can’t be work. Again, I like conventions. I love seeing people, but I also want to take trips to France where I just drink wine and eat really good food and see amazing things.
I have had a very fascinating front seat to this experience for you, just because we’ve been doing these interviews on Zoom every month. I mean, not just the interviews. We started talking about it in December, and we’ve been doing it ever since. And so I’ve been a front seat of your journey of losing 120 pounds and also getting into a better place mentally and emotionally and everything. And I will say, as an outsider, I commented on this last time, I said that you’re looking good. You’re looking great, man. But then on top of that, you seem genuinely lighter personally, which I think is a very good thing. Are you feeling better than when this journey began?
James: 100%. And weirdly, there are days I forget that. It’s easy to because I’m mopey. You read my comic books. That all exists in me in a very primal way. I am the sad mopey Walter person that just wants to kidnap my friends and stick them in a house and just watch them. That exists as a core essence of who I am.
It truly is a nice house though.
James: Oh, yeah. That’s the thing. I want my friends to be comfortable. But there are so many moments in my life have been defined by what I’m scared of. I think fear can frankly be a good motivator from time to time. But right now my comics are selling. I have a good sense of my stature in the industry. I’m excited about my next rung of books. I’m not asking myself where the money’s going to come from to make them. I know what I’m working on for the next few years, and I even know the shoot-for-the-moon projects that I’m working on, on top of that, that I can continue to challenge myself creatively and artistically with.
All those questions are now answered. And those were the fundamental questions of so much of my life where when I was in the grind of superhero comics, you didn’t even know if you were going to still be on the same book six months from now, let alone a year from now, even if it’s selling. Because suddenly you might have to veer off into an event, or there could be a line-wide something or other, and that could derail everything. And you then have to sacrifice the central pieces of it, of what you wanted to build to fit the line better. And then on top of that, there’s all of the weird politics that go into making all of those books and coordinating with all of those other writers.
Right now, I’m working with my friends. I’m making stuff that I care about in worlds that I built with people that I love and care about, and I’m just trying to improve the system one by one. I’m trying to make each part of my business life work more effectively because there are all of these things that I still do myself, that frankly, I should not have to do myself. I should have somebody else do. And I’m working on having somebody else do those things so that I can focus more on the work and focus more on my life.
This is the crazy thing: we started this interview talking about my worst weekend of the year. Directly, almost a week following that was probably the best week of the year so far, where I had Tate Brombal, Isaac Goodhart and Nick Robles in for the Christopher Chaos launch. We did a signing at Midtown, a signing at Third Eye. We did the four and a half hour drive down to Annapolis and back up to New York in a car together listening to musical theater. We did karaoke one night. I took everyone to my boxing gym, and it was just nice. It was just nice.
This is what I want out of comics. It is the community side of it that is so phenomenally important to me, and it’s also just…talking about the stories, one of the nights, the night before the Annapolis signing, we were in the hotel bar just telling each other all of our life secrets. And then the next morning, Isaac was pitching me. “What if we did this in Christopher Chaos that actually reflects this aspect of all of the drama that we’ve all been going through?” That’s the magic and that is the power of what we can and should do, and it’s the model that I want to build more of my life on.
This is a seismic change. You’ve went through extreme physical change. You seem a lot mentally and emotionally healthier. Do you feel like this is going to have a material impact on your work? I’m not trying to say that you’re going to switch into Slice of Life comics or something like that, but you know what I’m saying. Do you think that you could see this reflected in your work in the same way that a lot of your other emotions are?
James: I think inevitably, yes. I do think that part of the pointing to the lightness of… I still have plenty of dark emotions. But it’s just frankly, what I do with those emotions is I channel them into the books.
James: And I have really good vehicles to channel those things into. And it’s one of those things where even later this month, the Thessaly one shot’s going to come out, and I’m not going to point to the exact ways in which that that is a very personal book to me, but it is. When I started having to write that issue, I had an entirely different idea of what it was going to be. But I was going through some stuff emotionally and it was just like, “Oh, I’m tearing up what it is was before. It still needs to accomplish the same thing for plot reasons, but I am going to just dive bomb towards the exposed nerve in me, and I’m just going to write about it.”
And it leads to more interesting work and work that I’m prouder of that that can hit those nerves. I’m very interested to see how long form this changes… I think you can read the different eras of my life in my work already, but I don’t think I need to be depressed to write a good comic book. I think I can tap into into the core emotions I’ve always been trying to tap into because they all live in me constantly. It is that funny thing. I know I seem a lot lighter and a lot happier in my day-to-day existence, but it is just one of those things. I still have some rough nights, but I have a way to process that, and that’s my comic work. And a therapist. I promise I also have a therapist.
But the comics help.
One thing I’m interested in is…you are very invested in your success and the long-term success of comics and your peers. That’s something we’ve talked about a number of times throughout this. I’ve talked to a number of people who have similar sentiments, and one of them was a retailer who was working really hard to try to make things better. And one of the things he had to do to make himself feel better to some degree was to let go a little bit and to give himself the grace that he can’t solve everything for everyone. Is that something that you’ve felt? Do you feel like part of this journey has been remembering that you are a character in your own story as well, to put it dramatically?
James: Yes. I love that you put it dramatically. That is 100% the case. There are certain things that I had to let go of because I am the sort of person where…for years, I thought what I wanted was a very structured and ordered life because I like structure and order. And I also, just bluntly, like control. I like having control over the different elements of my life. I get the most anxious when I’m in a situation that I have the least amount of control over.
But you don’t get to have that kind of control in life, and a lot of this last year has been letting myself live with uncertainty, and it’s a lot more satisfying. When you have control over everything, at the end of that process, nothing’s surprising you and nothing’s invigorating you. And it can be creatively deadening, and it’s also just emotionally deadening which is more important than being creatively deadening. But I mean, those two things are the same.
It is deeply, phenomenally important for me that my life is able to surprise me. There were a lot of facets to what you were just saying that I want to touch on because it’s also about the impact that you have on other people. I spend a lot of time thinking about that, especially I, at least in this moment, I’m one of if not the most prominent queer creator in the direct market sphere of comics. And I have lots of thoughts of the traps I don’t want the next generation to fall into that I saw a lot of my peers fall into when I wasn’t in a position to try to pull them away from it. And now I’m in a position where I can pull them away from it, but I can’t save everybody.
Every time you make a material difference in somebody’s life, it matters. And finding the people who I vibe with, both as a human and as a creator, and wanting to make a material difference in their lives and doing that by being able to pull them into my ecosystem, that matters to me. And it’s something that I take very seriously. I want that to be a central driver of why I pull in the people that I pull in. And you see a lot of these stable systems that exist out there. I love the fact that for the most part, even Seth Rogen’s production company is him making a bunch of stuff with his friends and then properties that he’s cared about his whole life. You see the Jody Hill and Danny McBride, they just make their own stuff, and they just love making their own stuff.
I want to find the people that I like working with the most. I want to give them the opportunity to make really good stuff that’s in line with the sort of work that I want to make, and I want to build out from there. That’s the center of what I’ve been building for the last two years and what I hope to build over the next few.
Now, this makes me wonder which of your projects is the equivalent of a Lonely Island’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, because I want to see what James Tynion’s version of that is.
But I want to go back a little bit. For a little background on myself, I don’t think I’ve ever told you this. I used to be…I didn’t like weighing myself because I was very overweight when I was in college. The most I ever weighed because I never weighed myself, was 272 pounds, and I was probably well over that at certain points. And the moment I knew I needed to change was I went on a run with a friend, and I felt like I was having a heart attack. I was 20 years old. I knew that that was not a sustainable way for me to live. And so I made a change, and I ended up losing 90 pounds in five months, which was crazy. It worked really well, and I’ve mostly kept it off. Mostly. Turns out I really like food, James.
I’m curious as to your why. Was there a moment where you knew that you needed to make a change for yourself, for your physical wellbeing, for your emotional wellbeing, for your mental wellbeing? Because it seems like something had to lead to this.
James: Yeah. I mean, I think there were. I knew I needed to go down this road about two years before I started going down it because…frankly, there were moments where at a much higher weight than I am right now, where I was pulled together, dressing well, and was attractive as a bigger person and all of that. But especially over the pandemic and so much of my life… I have a bad habit of when I’m stressed, I turn off the parts of my brain that I don’t like about myself and don’t like about my life. I just don’t look at them, and I don’t make any progress on them. I don’t work on them at all. But the thing that I had known for a long time, and…people keep asking me, so I feel like I need to address the how of it a little bit, and I wish my process was more easily reflectable to other people.
But it’s just the simple truth of it is I was very overweight in college and not taking care of myself, but it was when I was in my early 20s, my primary care doctor put me on a combination of medications that then that plus working out, I lost 100 pounds in a year. And then I moved out to Los Angeles and my doctor basically talked me out of the combination that I was on, I started gaining the weight back slowly and steadily. And then once I just slowly factored out working out more often and all this stuff, it all compounded again, and I just over time gained all the weight back and then some.
But the big change for me was, and I’ve talked about this a little lightly, but it’s just a little over a year ago a seven-year, very serious relationship came to an end. Thankfully, my ex and I have stayed on remarkably good terms. We grab drinks once a week. We talk all the time. We’re still really good friends, which I am extraordinarily grateful for. But it was one of those things where I was aware that I just put all of these parts of myself on pause, and I was just not working on all of them. The only thing I was putting the work into was my work.
And it was almost exactly a year ago that I went to the Eisner’s, and I won the best writer Eisner for the second consecutive year, but it was in person, and it was handed to me by Neil Gaiman, and it was just this moment where it I have achieved everything that I ever sought to achieve in my work in the comics business. I have the accolades. I have the series that are deeply personal to me that I think are going to sit on the shelves for a really long time. And I’ve written Batman. I’ve written all of these characters. I’ve even written one issue of X-Men.
I’ve checked all the boxes. But the thing that I hadn’t been working on actively for years was myself. And that was one of the key reasons that relationship ended. I wasn’t working on myself, and I wasn’t putting the time in to be a human being. I was only being a work monster, and it wasn’t making me happy. My success in comics made me very happy, but that wasn’t a fulfilling way to live my life. Six months before that, I had gone back on one of the medications, and then I went back on the other one a month following San Diego.
It took a little while to get back into working out, but I just had these hand weights at home, and I started doing 50 bicep curls every day. I started doing that for three months, and then it was just like, “Okay, I wanted to try boxing for years. I’ve wanted to do this for years. There’s a queer boxing gym that’s four blocks from my apartment that I walk past every day on my way to the studio, and the vibes in there don’t feel intimidating and all of that. I’m just going to go in, and I’m going to set up an appointment.”
And then I started doing that two to three times every single week, and that’s when the gains started kicking into overdrive, where before that I was losing weight at a fairly steady pace, but the second I added on actual intense cardio and weight lifting with direction, I started losing almost twice as much a month while still working with a nutritionist and an endocrinologist and all these things where people are keeping an eye on me and making sure I’m doing this in a healthy way. But once I had that system in place, I’ve been able to just roll with it, and it feels phenomenally good. It feels like I’m tapping back into something because I’m still a way off from my lowest weight when I was in my mid-20s.
I still have another 40 pounds to go, but I’m probably going to hit that within the calendar year. And I am excited to see where it goes from here because it’s also one of those things where it’s less about the physical size. Like I said, there were moments where I was a big guy, and I was a well-dressed big guy that carried myself with confidence and all of this. But I’m finding a way for all of this to reflect how I feel. I feel more confident out in the world. My energy levels are back to the levels that they were when I was in my mid-20s. And then on top of that, it has helped push me to just do things that for a while I thought, “Oh, I’m old. I’m in my mid-30s now.”
That was what 20s James would’ve done. That’s not me now. But I remember being at Angouleme in January, and at that point, I’d lost maybe 50, 60 pounds, which is very impressive. I was very happy about that, but I was still a really big guy. But one night, me and Alvaro and the Urban Comics folks, we were out dancing till 3:00 in the morning, and I hadn’t done that in years, and I loved it. I fucking loved it. And that’s part of me. It has always been a part of me. I’m a very social person. I like being out in the world. I like being surrounded by interesting people. I like having my weird intense relationships with people. I like weird, intense relationships. I’ll leave it at that. This is what I want out of my life right now.
One thing I think is important to bring up is… You know this. Listeners or readers probably know this. But not everyone is in the position you’re in. Not everyone has the level of success you have. Not everyone has a nutritionist. Not everybody has an endocrinologist. So for other creators that maybe read this and think that “Maybe I need to make a change, but I don’t have those things,” do you think it’s still important for creators to remember all this and to take care of themselves both physically and mentally, even if they don’t have those things, that they’re more than just what they produce?
James: Imagine if I was the monster who just said, “No, that’s not important.”
I know it’s an obvious setup, James!
James: Once you have your Eisner, you can stop. (laughs)
It’s an obvious setup, James. Give me credit, come on. (laughs)
James: No, obviously anyone who asks that question knows the answer to that question because it is so obviously the case. You need to prioritize. You have to prioritize your life. There are moments, and I do genuinely believe this…I’m an intense workaholic, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t an intense workaholic. I am, and I frankly haven’t stopped being an intense workaholic. I’m still writing all of these comics and all of this stuff. I’m going to have to cross a whole different series of bridges if I end up in another serious relationship sometime soon because that’s something that I never figured out how to balance with my work life in a serious and healthy way.
But your work gets better when you’re living your life, and it gives you more inputs. And that’s the biggest thing for me that I had to teach myself over and over and over again. Even in the pandemic, it was happening in a much smaller way, where it was just I got on top of all of my work at the start of the pandemic, and then it was just suddenly I was way far ahead, and I was able to read all of the books that I had intended to read for five years, and I read them within two months. And it was just the influx of new ideas coming into my brain gave me the creative juice to write the most successful work of my career.
But it’s all from new inputs. And now I have a bunch more people in my life, and they’re making me listen to music and watch movies and stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily have gravitated to on my own. And that invigorates you. It opens up your brain, and it makes you think, and think things that you wouldn’t on your own. And that’s the engine of good creative work. I struggled. I wish I was the sort of person where it’s just willpower alone was the way that I was able to conquer all of this. But I never want to be the person who pretends that it was.
I needed help. I’ve always needed help. I’ve always had issues with my weight, with other things that I won’t get into, but I needed to solve a few things with a doctor to get to a place both mentally and physically to carry myself in this way. But the important step is taking the steps that you can, and I think the most important step for any creator is prioritizing new inputs. I know that’s a weird robotic way to put, “You should have a life,” but you need new inputs. You need new and exciting. You need to be presented with new and exciting information, and you can’t just read the same thing over and over and over again. You can, but you should do things on top of that.
It’s okay to keep reading X-Men, but maybe you should do something else also.
James: Yeah, and I mean, frankly, bluntly, especially if you ever want to write X-Men. If you want to write X-Men, yes, you should do your deep dive. I’m saying all this in front of a wall of superhero comics. Read all of those superhero comics, but also go read some novels and plays. Just lean into your curiosities, both creatively and in your life. What are the things that you think you might be interested in, but you’ve never really tried before? Because I’m telling you, for five years, I was just like, “I have a feeling I’d really like boxing,” and I never signed up for one class. And I’m in a position right now, I can work one-on-one with a coach, and that’s the privilege of my life at this moment.
But there are lots of entry level classes that you can be in, like a group of 20 people learning this stuff. Find the outlets that you want to try to do. Prioritize doing the things that you think you want to try to do. And sometimes you find out you don’t like them, and that’s valuable too. And sometimes you find out that it’s just like, “Okay, I kind of like this, but maybe this is a two to three times a year thing, not a every weekend sort of thing.” Whatever it is, it’s important.
I did want to note…I knew that was an obvious question. But the thing about it is, as you just alluded to…you said it took you two years to really get to the point where you knew you needed to make a change despite the fact that you knew already. And you wanted to box for five years, but it took you five years to get there.
I think a lot of people know that they should make a change, but sometimes they need that push and sometimes they need something to drive them. Sometimes you need somebody like you to raise awareness in the fact that this is important because it doesn’t just help you as a person. It can help you as a creator too, where it can push you in a positive direction, and it can lead to real gains to you as a human, as a storyteller, maybe even as a productivity machine. But we’re ignoring that for right now.
James: Here’s a bit of real advice: the trap that I always fell into is I always tried to do one thing at a time, and I think making any positive step is a positive step, and you should congratulate yourself if you make any positive step towards this kind of improvement. But once I made the decision to do it all simultaneously — in stages but still all at once — I started changing.
I started making the steps that I knew I needed to, like going to the doctor that I had known I needed to see for three years. I just needed to set an appointment and I never had. And then from there, I started working out again, and then from there I quit smoking again. It’s just step by step. I started dating again. I started doing all these things that at different points in my life, I’d be like, “No. I need to master this one little element of this, and then I can move on to the next thing.” And that never worked for me. You need to get the momentum going on the first step of your plan and then you add on the next part of it.
And frankly, that’s also how my professional life works too. Getting something up and running is always the most difficult part of any creative process. But the thing that I’ve realized, especially in terms of my output creatively, is once projects are up and rolling, you can keep them rolling. There are weeks that I’m going to travel for two weeks. I’m not going to be able to go to my boxing gym for two weeks. There will probably be one day I get to the hotel gym. In my head it’s like, “I’m going to go every day,” but I’ll do it one day. I might do some squats in my hotel room or something like that. But aside from that, I’m basically not going to work out for two weeks.
But I’m not going to see that as, “Oh, no. Now my whole system’s collapsed.” I’m just going to go back the second that I come back in to New York. You have to just have to push each boulder down the hill, and then you have to keep them rolling and not worry too much about the day-to-day progress. It’s just making sure that each boulder keeps rolling.
It can be overwhelming at times. It can be a lot. But it’s just…I’m feeling really good right now. And I can’t pretend that this hasn’t been a really difficult time emotionally as well. But I feel more myself than I have in a long time. I think I’m still writing as good as I ever have, but my life feels in sync with my work in a way that I can’t remember that ever being the case before.
Even when I was healthier in my mid-20s, that was my early DC days where I was pulling multiple all-nighters every week to hit my deadlines. The only time I pull an all nighter these days is if I have an early morning flight the next day, and that’s always a mistake. I should never do an all nighter, and I should never schedule a flight first thing in the morning. Schedule a midday flight. I need my full sleep. I wish I was the sort of person where I could sleep for three or four hours and then just wake up before a 7:00 AM flight or something. But I’m not that person. I either need a full night’s sleep or no sleep, so I need the full night’s sleep, and I need to prioritize that.
Coming down to it, you just need to prioritize yourself.
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