On Skips

  • Public

By balder Comments (153)

Every day contains a certain number of productive hours. There is always more to do in a day than there is time.

 

Every productive hour offers me a choice: "spend time making Erfworld" or "spend time doing something that isn't making Erfworld." Those are the only two categories that matter. We have gas in our tanks, roofs over our heads, and food in the greasy brown bags next to our keyboards because of per-update pledges. But lots of crucial things fall into the second category, especially lately.

 

Writing this news post is Category 2. It isn't writing Erfworld. But from some bits of feedback we're hearing, I think I need to. So here's the important stuff:

 

1. In late October, something very bad happened to a member of my immediate family. What has unfolded since then is the most emotionally destructive crisis we've ever gone through. This situation is ongoing, it's deteriorating, it is made all the more painful for happening around the holidays, and it's tearing my family apart. I didn't want to have to say even this much about it. You should be aware that when something like this happens to a member of Team Erfworld who isn't me (as it did in the past to Xin), I probably won't say a word.

 

2. Lillian and Xin continue to be brilliant. No part in the skips is on them. This is all me, and they're being booping patient with it, considering that it affects them financially too.

 

3. Despite point 1, I am spending more actual time creating updates than ever. Like, ever. Linda and I have been tracking my dedicated writing hours on a daily/weekly basis for years now. The third week in November was an all-time record, and last week shattered that record by four hours. I'm also spending more time lately working with Xin and Lillian on the art. I've thrown a lot of important category 2 stuff under the bus to free up those hours in the midst of the family crisis. Site things are suffering, business things are suffering, deadlines are being missed, and I owe a lot of people an email (shout out to John Murphy in particular). But these extra hours are not helping us from the standpoint of productivity, because of point 4.

 

4. Erfworld has become a lot harder to write and draw than before. Updates are forever. Our first draft is our final draft (barring occasional Retconjuration). There's a quality mark to hit, and I won't put up a page and collect pledge money for an update that falls short of the mark. We're frequently revising a page all day on the update day, and I don't know if it's "post" or "punt" until the final hour. I don't see this as perfectionism, so much as integrity. Financial pressure shouldn't make us post a weak update. We've set some high standards, and your pledges were made on the expectation that we won't half-ass it.

 

So what "standards" am I talking about? I could write a book. :P But I'll pick one recent example and break it all the way down.

 

Some vague, minor spoilers below.

 

We have a protagonist. You can be sure he's the protagonist because his name is an anagram of the word "protagonist." Throughout Book 3 and what has become Book 4, we've had Parson in a weak, disempowered position. This is breaking one of those cardinal rules of good storytelling. Other characters' choices have been driving the plot for a long time. Characters like Lilith and Bunny and Jack and Wanda and Ansom and Marie and Janis and Maggie have carried the "protagonist ball" as the person we root for, the one whose personal values and choices overcome the obstacles and move the plot forward. They've each had a chance to shine, and that's great. We've also had a lot of screen time for a varied group to carry the "antagonist ball," some of whom (Tondelayo, Caesar, Isaac, Bonnie, Benjamin, Albert, Tramennis) get way more than a "villain's share" of the reader's heart and sympathy.

 

Parson has been on the sidelines so much that the reader can forget who he is, what he's about. Late in Book 4, it's understandable if you've been thinking of him as kind of an ineffectual derp-wad. That's not great for the enjoyment of the story, but it'll be okay, because I know what Parson is thinking and that it'll come across in time.

 

As I was thinking about Roger's arc, with his (and Jojo's, and Vanna's) ploy to trick Parson into casting the GTFO scroll, I was suddenly realizing that the time to communicate some of that stuff is right-the-hell now, or everyone is really going to think Parson is a moron. The plot outline did not originally call for the text that became page 285. Without it, though, I knew the story would suffer. If the next time we rejoin the Transylvito arc, we see Parson standing in the portal room ready to hurr-de-durr his way into Roger's trap, then it tips the scales over into "I can't even root for this idiot anymore. Rob has really lost control of his story." It would be a disservice to the character, the story, and the ultimate bosses: the readers.

 

So I squeeze in page 285. And to write it, I had to touch on a lot of stuff I didn't originally intend to talk about at this point in the book: the Signamancy of the cereal boxes in Book 1, Parson's current opinion on Fate, how Parson questioned the bracer's lies and the falling beam after Spacerock, what Parson's actual gambit was when he told Benjamin "ask it," and why the fact that it worked just confirms the bracer is unreliable. I didn't invent these as "idiot ball excuses" for the update. I knew Parson had thought and done these things in the past, but they hadn't been told yet. Parson's a genius (whether he likes to think of himself as one or not), but the readers needed a reminder at this point in the story, or the story stops being enjoyable. When Parson presents some strong, smart, convincing reasons to disbelieve the bracer but to walk into the trap anyway, then that potentially major problem is avoided.

 

But that's not all there is writing the update. To stand on its own, a page or a text needs to be a complete arc. We can't end a comic in the middle of a conversation. A text has to do everything a short story does (conflict, complications, resolution), plus fit into the story arc, the book, and ultimately the series. It has to advance pieces of the plot, segue to the next piece of the story, tease future problems, and be consistent with all canon.

 

So. I start 285. I outline a page I didn't intend to write. I consider the characters in the room: Parson, Caesar, Roger, Benjamin, Maggie, the Makaleka, potentially even...others. I live in each one's head for a while. I remember what they can do. If I run into something that one of them could and would do, it might blow away the whole idea. Eventually, I get to Roger's Foolamancy and the little stinger at the end of the update. Now I can see that the whole update lays out Parson's high degree of awareness that the bracer may not be reliable. We feel it's a conscious and smart decision to go ahead with the crazy scheme anyway, instead of derpitude. Then Roger subverts that feeling by Fooling the reader. Parson doesn't seem dumb, because the reader also bit on the Fate-makes-the-bracer-lie misdirect. And now the reader feels smarter, because they have information Parson does not. Both the protagonist and the antagonist get a boost from this scene. I worked it out at the time I wrote the text, even though I already knew Parson's thinking going in.

 

But hold on. To write even one sentence about something like Parson's view of the falling beam, I need to revisit and reread (with note-checking and note-taking) the end of Book 2, and make sure I understand what I wrote, so I can riff on it (or at least avoid contradicting it). What does the reader know about this detail, I have to ask? When would Parson have had the time to digest these events? How did it play out? Notes, notes, outlines, dialog snippet, more notes. If I don't do this stuff, then I'm not respecting my own canon. Sharp-eyed readers will call me out on it. I'll call me out on it, the next time I reread Book 2.

 

Anyway, those are the standards I mean.

 

And I am not saying we won't post until it's perfect. Not at all. We had planned an illustration for page 285, where there was a new look at the Stupid Meal from Book 1, with new "facts" on it, which the reader would know were a little squirrely. We got this far, and ditched it for the sake of an on-time update:

 

 

 

 

even putting it on a bookshelf required a canonical decision about whether or not the box depopped with the rest of the trash 

 

It was important. It would have added a lot. Probably 5 hours of my time was spent on a 3D approach. It started with looking for an existing 3D model to buy on Turbosquid etc., then modeling a Stupid Meal myself in Maya, before just abandoning that tack and going with a perspective tilt in a 2D graphics program. The model I set out to create could have been used for future Stupid Meals in future updates (which is not to confirm it's canon that Parson still receives Stupid Meals), or even in the unit collection system when we finally deploy that (it's coming). But when we were out of time to post the update, the question was "does this update hit the target without that illustration?" and the answer was "yes, it's still pretty damn good." We posted.

 

That's how it goes. It's tough. I often can't write a single line of dialog without stopping to consider, for example, how one character would address another. That can be five minutes of querying the archives for the last time they spoke, or (in extreme cases like Jed's Hawaiian or Jojo's Carny lingo) an hour or two of tangential bouncing through Google, Onelook, Visual Thesaurus, Wikipedia, etc. trying to find a term or word that's as natural for the character's mouth as the reader's ear (and which doesn't accidentally mean something horrible that I didn't intend).

 

And there are usually details with the art that are just as fiddly, that require lots of extra time, roughing, reference hunting, and revisions. How long do we spend on a Stupid Meal before it's too stupid? I have to make calls like that a lot more than you might think.

 

Bottom line here is that there's no slack in the process. On this side of the screen, nobody is doing anything less than the best they can. I'm back to working every waking hour unless the family stuff is happening, and I also have health issues that can steal up to two hours of my time each day. I'm not stuck. I'm not lost. I'm not bored. I'm not depressed. I'm not slacking. My attention is not being consumed by anything that isn't Erfworld or my family.

 

Creating this story is just a whole lot harder than you might imagine. Especially under the circumstances.

 

Yep, it's a bummer when we don't update. Yep, it's a lot of money to give up. Nobody feels worse about it than we do, and nobody on the team feels worse about it than me. Lashing out in comments won't help there be fewer skips. Also, derailing Reactions with discussion about skips is a One Rule violation. We haven't banned anybody, but I reserve that right. Saying "Rob needs a manager" or saying that I need to take my job more seriously is missing the mark by a whole lot, and I hope this post will help explain why.

 

Erfworld's fans are loving, generous, and more supportive on an ongoing basis than literally any other readers in webcomics. When the Worst Thanksgiving happened, I remembered to be thankful for all of you. (It's a daily habit, so it was easy.)

 

That said, announcing every skip is still not going to happen. This is not coming from a lack of respect for the readers. I respect the hell out of you guys. Not posting a subpar update just to take your pledge money is how you know that. My writing news posts 20 times a year to say we're skipping will not say "I care about your feelings" any better than just giving this story everything I've got. But it would take up a substantial amount of my Category 2 time, and leave us with a front page full of repetitive bad news instead of comics and community things.

 

Seriously, I care a lot about your feelings. It's why I had to add page 285 in my one (pretty typical) example. The only value Erfworld has is in the heads and hearts of the people who enjoy it. But remember I also then posted 285 without the Stupid Meal, because I care about making the on-time update too. That's the balance. That's our challenge.

 

I really hope this post was worth spending more than half my productive time today, and not getting to the bank to do an important business thing, and missing my old barber who only cuts hair on Wednesday ("old barber" is also an interesting anagram). After thinking it over, I'm going to leave the comments open. Please remember the One Rule. Sock puppets will have their strings cut.

Comments

  • qualiyah

    I'm so sorry to hear about the family troubles. Thank you for making this wonderful thing we all enjoy so much. I for one don't mind skips, announced or unannounced. I've been a fan of OotS forever, and still happily love it, so any comic that updates more often than OotS feels like a real bonus! I hope you'll keep doing what you feel is best and not worry too much about the complainers.

  • yogomakeoshimi

    I am so sorry you are suffering through a hard time with your family. I hope for the best outcome possible for you and yours.

    These peaks behind the curtain are fascinating! The hard work and dedication are incredible, and educational for those of us who are not in creative fields. To many people do not understand how hard it is to be good at creative endeavors and how important it is to have professionals making art to have great art. Thank you for your dedication and for letting us see just what it takes. 

  • ProfessorH

    I don't mind the skips, but there is something to be said for going to a once-a-week format.  Donors can adjust their pledges appropriately, and you wouldn't have to feel... is it like you're inadequate or something?  I have a hard time reading emotions from text.  If that is it, though, you shouldn't feel that way.  Quality remains high, even if the story can get a bit convoluted.  I like convoluted personally, I should say.

    Alternately, you could have someone whip up a widget that posts a 'no update today' post (saying just that) if there is not an update post by some pre-determined time.  I realize that's not exactly different than the status quo for most, but the clarification for the casual reader may well be worth it.  Someone familiar with whatever this page is coded in could probably do so in like an hour.

  • urbalt

    Rob Balder, I'm surprised you're not a "bald-orber" by now! (I saw that before I saw the anagram I imagine you were thinking of.)

    I'm going to share some thoughts about unannounced skip days not because I think the team—or any fellow readers—should necessarily consider them, but simply because I find it interesting to share one's experience. I'm sure that the way I think about this says more about me than about anyone else.

    Personally, I actually find that skip days being unannounced make it a lot easier for me to avoid refreshing constantly throughout the day. When I load the page on some day, if there's no update there, it's easy to say "oh, maybe today's a skip day", and then I don't worry about it. I might check again later, but I might not—I certainly don't leave the tab open hitting refresh every hour, which I've done in the past—especially as midnight appraoches. Sometimes I would refresh every 15 minutes in the last couple hours of the day. Frankly, I have better things to do with my time than refresh the Erfworld homepage.

    I like to imagine that unannounced skips performs a similar function to the Erfworld team: not having to answer to themselves the question of "when will this update post", not having to ask every 15 minutes after 10PM "is this good enough yet?", because if it's not going to post today, or it's not good enough yet, that's okay too. Of course, I'm sure the team is still asking themselves those questions—and I still check Efrworld on the release days—but now it's okay if the answer is "no". It still hurts the team, but they're not failing to hold up their commitment to us readers. Personally, I've always found that making failure an acceptable, if undesirable, outcome is much more motivating. I think this is one of the many signs that both the team as a whole and Rob in particular have been making great improvements in management, to the benefit of us all.

    As a final note, I really like when Rob writes about his process; it's a fascinating topic to me.

    Keep up all the awesome work, and I hope all of the Category 2 stuff finds a gentle solution!

  • Raziel

    Please take care of yourself and your family, and take as much time as you need. Erfworld is the most elaborate webcomic that I know.

  • Skull the Troll (Tipped by 1 person!)

    Man I cant believe there are people in here STILL posting about wanting a notice on skips. (First post even!!!) You are all acting like 4 year olds! He's stated over and over he works up to the deadline. I know that you want your comic and all, so I'll tell you what the rule is. The comic updates Wednesday and Saturday Morning at 12:00 am. If its not there- its a skip day. Congratulations you're been notified. You only had to check the website once. Honestly Baldur should simply do this. Make the announcement that this is the posting time. No one complains if its early. 

  • Jural

    Personally,  I've been enjoying the story even with the slower pace of updates.  Thanks for the peak behind the curtain as well, and good luck with the personal issues.

  • cloudbreaker

    Keep up the great work, Rob!

  • AggieDan

    Just an idea...  I've been a reader since you first popped up on gitp.  So, I've been here from day 1.

    But, I think you may be a little tunnel-visioned when it comes to posting about a skip.  You could even make it a simple little pictograph reminiscent of something Charlie might have regarding status that sat on the main page above the posts.

    Simple logic for display...  If day is a post day, check if there was an update for today, if no update, present status of Good, At Risk, Bad.  Pictogram for whatever would be appropriate instead of actual text.

    This would eliminate the history being filled with skip notices and still give everyone the warm fuzzy that you're safe, sound, and dealing with stuff that leaves the update in jeopardy.

  • WurmD
    Wow, the comments have so many good ideas!
     
    Getting an assistant to help with the research and double-checking, like a paralegal does for lawyers, albeit tricky and challenging in its own way, it's truly the only/ultimate way to increase your productivity.
     
    Or posting fan work as soon as you know an update isn't going to happen
     
    I think a timer/countdown to the next post is the best idea - where when as soon as you know an update is not going to happen you reset the counter
     
    But switching the gobwin on the Erfworld logo to looking sad when you know an update is not going to happen is also a perfectly acceptable solution, not to mention discreet :D
     
    Likely, having a set hour to make posts, and no longer ever making an early post would probably solve it.
     
    And finally, here 
    :) specially see the last minute of the video ;)
     
    (about the choice of making the donations per update only, instead of per month always)
  • Rawr

    I think everyone who has read Erfworld this far and keeps reading it loves your work Rob. High quality is worth the wait.

     

    Also glad to hear your thoughts on the characters, especially Parson and the Stupid Meals. I want more Parson doing protagonist stuff, and maybe less Marie spoiling it :P

  • Sir Dr D

    Thank you Rob. Updates like this are important , as it lets people know how difficult things are when they can't otherwise know.

    And Erfworld  is my favorite peace of literature. I want to see it succeed.  And I do hope you are not only trying to find better ways to keep Erfworld running, but you are trying to find ways to help it grow.    The art team is great.  It is easy to tell how they can take all the ideas you have and expand it in a way that brings erfworld to life.    They are a great extension of your creative process.  And if you need a bit of higher pledges in order to help find someone who is also a great extension of your creative process to be part of a writing team, most of us would be glad to contribute.

  • grenma
    1. I love this story and have been reading it for years. I'm a huge fan and not going away
    2. Family is real - Erfworld is not. I believe you are acting accordingly
    3. As is apparent from the comments here, you have created a large, loving and supportive community
    4. In my view, Erfworld is different from a graphic novel or a serialized story. It is at least to some extant a non-democratic but still communal project. Rob and Xin and the other creatives are at the top of the food chain and drive nearly all of what is going on here. But there is a sense of communal shared interest, and that interest is what drives the fan fiction, boards and all the other weirdness which is a non-negligible part of what Erfworld is. Does that community drive the bus? No, never. But should they wait in solemn silence until midnight every Tuesday and Friday to know whether the story will be advanced? Well, that is up to Rob, and it is rightly his choice. But there is a dissonance between that and what I perceive Erfworld to be. It could be that I am wrong, or that priorities have changed, or that I never really understood any of this from the beginning. Selfishly I guess, I like my way better.
    5. Please know that I am so sorry about your family issues, whatever they may be, and offer my thoughts and prayers.
    6. Thanks for the update and the wonderment that is Erfworld.
  • VorpalAuroch

    I follow you and a dozen other comics in a big blob of RSS, so I wouldn't even notice if you skipped for two weeks. I do, on the other hand, definitely appreciate the attention to detail and storytelling you trade for it.

     

    I admit I thought it was odd that Roger's Foolamancy was presented as a revelation. I thought it was pretty obvious from 283 that it was his plan. Him not knowing the true answer was a neat insight, through, as was the detail of CharlesComm's orders for Parson.

  • gsguerra

    I am not one to post regularly (or at all), but never miss an update. 

    The fact that you felt the need to write this post instead of taking care of family business or working on what you love is just sad. Following reading it, i did the only thing i could to help and doubled my pledge...

    Family stuff is a fact of life, we all have them to one degree or another. They tend to occupy our minds a lot more than we usually care to admit. Continuing to write and work at the pace and intensity you do is honorable, but I’d wish you gave your family all you can give. The comic and us will be here waiting when you are ready. 

    Hang in there and chose what is best for you, we all do.

    GG

  • gimli_mx

    I don't have the seemingly photographic memory that many in Erfdom seem to possess. It amazes me the references others come up with. I, on the other hand, won't be able to tell you which book, won't remember the name of the characters involved, but I will remember how the story made me feel. A particular example that stands out is the prequel story with the eagle and the naval battle. That fight where the eagle saves the day had me on the edge of my seat, I felt exhilarated when it happened... afterwards I couldn't help but be amazed how this little webcomic had such a profound effect on me, something that multi-million dollar movies and shows, professionally written books and other media had failed to stir in me for who knows how long. That requires skill, craft, passion.

    This doesn't address your post directly, but I felt that positive feedback is needed at times like this. I will admit to feeling disappointment when the update fails to appear, but this is sort of like the sadness one feels when someone dies: I'm the one feeling sad and it's because I will never see or speak to that person again, not because their suffering has stopped or their potential is cut. My sadness (or disappointment) is, at its root, an intensely selfish act.

    Consider me in the silent majority that needed to speak up. 

     

  • Twobeard

    As an avid reader ever since the days on the OOTS page, i appreciate the complexity and depth of your world. Your integrity as a writer is important and  i appreciate it every day. I am terribly sorry that things are going so poorly in your personal life. At least from this reader, you have my full support. Keep it booping coming. We love it.  (But also please take care of yourself)

  • Xhosant

    In order of significance:

    I don't know what is wrong, but I wish you the best. Nobody should have to wrestle with such issues, and nobody is expected to keep doing a great job at the same time. You're pulling off both, so again, you deserve wishes for the best.

    I'm glad we figured out Old Barber, because I'm that bad with anagrams that I had to look through the comments.

    Programmer in me says an automatic banner denoting skips that could be flicked on with a moment of Category 2 would be the way to go, just to admit that it's bugged me in the past to not be sure if I'm just here early. But I'm known to be blind to problems beyond mechanics, and you making a great webcomic is a testament to your good decision trees, so...

  • Keemonto

    Hey there!  I've never posted anything on here- I just quietly consume and support- but on this one I wanted to make sure and say that you're fine with me, and I deeply appreciate your commitment to quality. I was an original Tool, and when the commitment went from monthly to per update, I didn't like the change- I never support anything on a per-update basis, because you never know how much you'll be paying or what you'll be paying for. 

    I have never regretted making the transition with you guys- I am very happy with where my money is going.  So thank you for your commitment to quality, and thank you for the work you put into this comic.  This is my favorite comic, and the love, thought, and support that go into it are what make it so good.

  • Charron

    I think the stupid boxes would only depop if they actually are trash but if they are meant to be read then yes, they should end up on the bookshelves as part of start of turn cleanup.

    :)

  • Archena Nighthawk

    http://archives.erfworld.com/Book+1/118

     

    Okay, at least once Parson doesn't get a Stupid Meal - and that in Book One. 

  • KeiranHalcyon31

    Well, boop. Having participated in one of those off-topic skip conversations, I now feel like a tool, despite (and perhaps a bit because of) not being a Tool. That reader dissatisfaction with the handling of the skips weighed on you enough to prompt this update - which feels a bit like behind-the-scenes toolbox content anyway - it is long past time I did something about that.

    I hereby promote myself to Tool!

    (Whoa! Holy crap, the comic got bigger! This is nice!)

    By the way, some have suggested making Erfworld keyword searchable. But it already is! The wiki has text transcripts, and these are Google-searchable. For example:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=promote+field+site%3Awiki.erfworld.com

    (It's not ideal, but I find it helpful, anyway.)

    Now as eager as I am for you to start charging me, make sure you give your family the attention it needs. You and yours will be in my prayers. Merry Christmas.

    (And happy birthday to Parson!)

  • Airwhale

    Enjoy the comic,  and I hope that everything is improving with your family, Rob. I totally get that this comic is a ton of work. That's not the issue here though for most people,  I think?

    This isn't such a big deal,  but I still don't see why it is time consuming to put up some standard message (Maybe even a memefied erfworld image?), once you guys decide that there won't be a comic today.  And then just remove it from the news feed when the next comic goes up?  It makes for a easier website visiting experience,  does not affect the news feed the way that you are worried about,  and keeps me from taking out my phone a little bit after midnight, and being slightly confused for a few seconds if the backer story/toolbox post/news post is the most recent comic.  

    I just don't see what you lose in terms of anything other than 30 seconds from posting that today is a skip?

     

    Again,  this is such a minor thing though,  and I don't see why people are so worked up over it. =P

  • WooSai

    I haven't been reading the strip comments a lot lately due to lack of time, so I haven't noticed that people were hassling you about this, but I can definitely see that it had an impact.  

    You let us know that skip days were going to happen in normal scenarios, and clearly you're in an abnormal situation at this time.  While I so miss the updates being regular, I'm here for the story, and I'd rather the story be better than timely.  Obviously both is your goal, but we often find that we have to focus on things other than work sometimes in order to continue the work.  Self care is important, but in a business like this, you're not just some cog in the machine who can take some time off and have then engine keep running.  This puts you at odds with yourself, and that's also not healthy.  

    Erfworld is the only comic that I read the day it comes out.  I get my notifications from FB, so when FB lets me know that an update has happened, I immediately go to it and read it.  I say this to commend you for keeping my attention, when the other comics in my feed get read when I have the time.  No other comic has forced a girlfriend to wait to go out for dinner while I read the update.  

    I'm voicing my support in not announcing skip days.  If my FB feed popped up with a notice that I had an update from Erf, I'd be excited, then deflated because it was a skip day.  I'd rather my Erf notifications be positive.  If I don't get one for a while, I can always come to the site and make sure I didn't miss anything.  Or if I realize I haven't seen anything from you, I think "must have been a skip day" and move on with my life.  

    You're doing right by you, and you're doing right by us in not letting the quality of Erfworld deteriorate.  

     

    I hope you have the best holiday season that you can.  

    --Woo

  • DangerBoy

    Rob, dude, I'm 95% sure that you won't read this but in the off chance that you do: your fans love you. Take solace in that fact.

    But you also have a business to run. Yes, there are some canon freaks out there that will watch everything you do like a hawk and scrutinize everything you do. My opinion: those guys are a**hats. Ignore them. Don't go all George RR Martin on us and let your plot complexity cripple you to 50 words per day. Just tell your story. And where necessary, simplify.