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

  • technojunkie

    Oh! And uh, if you're actually entertaining any thoughts of improving the 'skip notification' concept... how about a change to the banner instead of a permanent site posting? Maybe y'all could add a graphic that says "Rob's turn has ended.." tie it to some back end process where you send an email to a site address and have it automatically raise the banner so to speak.

  • ruleno2 (Tipped by 1 person!)

    No probs on the skips!  (I mean obviously.  You are a God here, Rob - always and forever)  But hearing your work process and how much time goes into researching the little things, I wonder if hiring an intern to pick up the small tasks slack might offset the losses from skips?  No doubt any number of people from these forums would be more than happy to volunteer (many unpaid even, I'm sure).  Just a thought!

  • benana

    I can't speak for everyone else (though I suspect many will agree), but I read the comic, and pledge for it, and love it because it's *worth it*.  I don't pay for a lot of webcomics out there... and maybe that makes me cheap, but I pay for this one, because it tells a great story, in a way that nobody else out there does, or probably can.  Keep it up, and know that we appreciate what you're doing.

    But family comes first.  I want you to keep churning out Erfworld, but I don't want you to regret spending time on it instead of other important things, either.

  • gambrinus (Tipped by 1 person!)

    Appreciate the explanation, not really bothered by the occasional skip at all.  I mean considering how many of us came across this comic from OOTS, we're really worried about how often Erfworld skips?  (No disrespect to Rich, either...I enjoy both comics when I get them and don't worry too much when I don't.)

  • mathemancyoftwo

    Erfworld is one of my favorite webcomics of all time. While I'm always a little bummed when I come to the site and there wasn't an update, I understand that creating something this awesome is hard work. I'm sorry to hear you're going through such hard times, and I wish you all the best in dealing with them. If I can wait through the Gigapause for HS (which I didn't even like as much as this excellent comic, and which was much less justified imo), I can wait through a few skips for Erfworld. I'll be here whenever they come up.

     

    Also, I can't believe I never realized that Parson Gotti is an anagram of protagonist. I feel so dumb.

  • mrgrooism

    Hey Rob, Xin, and Lillian! LONGtime fan here, from almost the beginning, during the good old GITP days!

    I am so sorry that you felt you had to post something like this, and wow so incredibly sorry to hear about the devastating family issues, BUT I am glad you did post this, if just so you can see how many of us support you unconditionally!

    I think the whiners are in the minority, so I hope you take some strength from hearing from us!

    I have no problem with the skips whatsoever. As I told you a long time ago, when I first pledged to the Toolshed, this has become not just my favorite webcomic, or favorite comic, but my favorite piece of literature ever! I am hesitant to admit this publicly, but I want to remind you of our email correspondence where I decided to become a Tool and donate to this most worthy venture even though at the time I had just defeated homelessness, I had been working but living in my car for about a year, and my first priority after making my first month's rent was joining the Ship of Tools!  

    I bring this up now because your vocal support of me, and your attempt to have me delay my Toolshed payments until I was on firmer ground, well, it meant the world to me! Now I want to make sure that YOU take care of YOURself! We value YOU as much as your art, not to mention the amazing team you have assembled!

    I for one support your skips wholeheartedly, and if it is simply too much to post some sort of notification, NO PROBLEM, we are good!

    I do like the idea of hiring a personal assistant/researcher, to help you give yourself the help you need!

    Groo The Wanderer scribe Mark Evanier has a wonderful blog called NEWSFROME, and when he is too busy to update he posts a pic of a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, heee heee! (https://www.newsfromme.com/2017/12/02/mushroom-soup-saturday-10/

    So if you feel like tossing up a simple graphic to confirm a skip day, wonderful! However, I don't think it's necessary, but I do think you could make it FUN without it being a crazy time sink! You could even delegate the design to Xin or Lillian!

    I also support the option of a monthly subscription for those of us willing to pay whether you skip or not! 

    Bottom line, YOU ROCK, SO WE WILL ROLL WITH IT! 

  • j scheibel

    no worry's rob...

     

    and if anyone complains they will be dealt with in a manner most befitting the nature of their actions and insults.

    "They shall all drown in lakes of blood."

    too much? yeah, perhaps a tad. :) seriously, though do what works, then make it better and stay as sane as you can.

     

  • Xeranar

    The absolute ONLY issue I've ever had with the skipping was that you felt there wasn't a need to announce it and therefore we would be left to wonder if it was coming or not.  I don't want nor need a 3 page essay on why you missed.  Just a simple 'hey, skip day guys, sorry!' posted early in the day so I can just assume we're getting one later on.

     

    Everything else, all the feelings towards you as a writer or a person is completely beyond my authority or knowledge.  I've been reading here for free for years, I just don't have the cash right now to share it around and I plan on in the future.  But even if I was a patron, you don't owe us anything.  We agreed to this system, we knew what it implies.  

     

    But the only thing I request is a simple post to say 'not today' and move on.

    PS: I'm sorry that your family is having such an extreme and clearly near-end-of-life condition.  Losing people you love is never easy but I hope the final moments are smooth and painless. 

  • Brony83

    Hey Rob, this is sad to read. Part of me suspected another crisis, because I know how hard-working you all are, and I'm sorry to hear that one is actually happening.

    This is the second time a crisis was announced exactly when I went on a holiday abroad, so if it happens a third time I will believe my holidays in foreign lands are jinxed to bring you bad luck and I'll write you an "I'm sorry" that Caesar won't have issues with. ;-) Last time was when David quit and that was when I created this account because I didn't have my password with me (and the other one Squall83 is only for my private Desktop PC anyway for security reasons).

    Thank you for sharing this much information with us. I hope the personal stuff can get sorted out well in the end. The info about the writing process was really interesting to read. If you ever have any free time in the future, feel free to share as much as you want. You don't need to use this info to justify that you can't go faster, though, I have been knowing that already for years now.

    I appreciate your super high standards for updates, but you don't have to work so hard for my sake. It gives me bad conscience. Of course I am merely a tiny Level 1 Tool, so my opinion weighs very little compared to someone who pays an amazing 20$ per update or more than 1000$ for a backer story (holy boop, there are some amazing people out there!). I'm just saying that I'd be perfectly fine if you eased the burden on yourself.

    I have an idea: How about you give high-level Tools early access to updates so they can help you find plot-holes in exchange for knowing the story earlier?

  • mrgrooism

    By the way, I just upped my pledge to make my Thank You all the more sincere, I hope others will too!!!

  • carrion pigeons

    You don't actually have to make a news post to alert readers to the existence of a skip.  You could just put it in the banner at the top of the page or something.  'SKIP DAY, MM/DD' in place of 'LATEST PAGE'. I mean, I don't want to say it's a big deal to me, but every time I don't know if there's going to be a skip, I do always end up spending more time checking this website over the course of the day than it would take you to change the banner, and that's just one person.

    I put up with OotS' inconsistent update schedule and I'll put up with it here too, so don't think I'm trying to push anything.  I'm just trying to offer a suggestion that seems like it reasonably addresses your concerns and mine, and finding ways to communicate quickly and efficiently is always going to be a big part of that.

    Hope your family stuff works out.  I know how that can suck.

  • barwhack

    I hope and pray for your comfort and patience in your trial, Rob.

  • Eternal

    Worth waiting for. Handle your business, both public and private. We'll still be here.

    No need for Dead Piro Days updates.

  • literarywizard

    I wish it were easier to just comment on a post how much your writing of this comic inspires me (I got the Parson figurine from one of the Kickstarters and he sits in front of my monitors to remind me of my favorite story whenever I work on my own stories). I get so excited whenever something happens that I will go back and re-read the last 20 pages so I can see where it all fits in to what has been going on and see if I can figure out what is coming next (I rarely do, which is part of why I get so excited).

    You know what you need to do, Rob, and I trust you to do it. I can't wait to see where you take this story over the years. Take care of yourself so you can keep telling us this story and I'll try to be more vocal about how much I appreciate your writing, Xin and Lillian's art, and everybody who works to make Erfworld the wonderful story it is. The angriest voices often sound the loudest, so I want to try to help you see how many people are supporting you.

  • shadedevlin

    I'd like to think I'm pretty savvy on the jokes in Erfworld.  I'd really like to think that.  But the fact that, until today, I never realised that Parson Gotti is an anagram of the word "protagonist" makes me irrationally angry.

    That said, though, I'm glad that you ended up creating Erfworld, rather than following your true calling as an old barber.

  • niklinna

    I am not worried about skips. You're telling an amazing story so the occasional wait is not problem.

    On the matter of canon stuff, it's a good thing you left out the stupid meal box – http://archives.erfworld.com/Book_1/84 – Parson wrote that the trash disappears.

  • CrazyIvan1745

    I used to be annoyed by the skip days back with Book 3, though I rarely said anything. I find it silly looking back considering how rare those skip days were, but they just bummed me out when I came home from a long day at work, ready for the next page to sit back and relax and read. I still wouldn't have called it the end of the world. Lately, I've been too busy to check for updates as frequently so I usually don't notice the skip until the next page is about to come out.

    I will say I've always felt everyone on Team Erfworld has done an outstanding job. I hope Erfworld will continue on for a long time to come. That said, Rob if you ever get around to working on the animated version of the comic again, I would absolutely love to help. I've been doing sound design/engineering for several years now as a bit of a hobby, and I've been trying to bring that into a small career as another job. I would gladly help with sound effects or any other audio work for Erfworld as a way of giving back to you guys. In the meantime I may play around with the idea if anyone is doing any kind of Erfworld related audio projects.

    On the note of family issues. Family should always come first. I will always regret not leaving work to be with my mother until literally the last minute before she passed. It's tough, and any issues involving family will seemingly never get any easier. We had a few days notice and working helped ease the pain by being a fantastic distraction, but it didn't help me one bit in the long run. Do everything you can to be there for your family, even if it means taking more time off work, even if it may absolutely suck to deal with at the time. Please take care of yourself.

    Just another crazy reader,

    Ivan

  • stemfish

    Thanks for everything you've been doing! I'd love to know when a skip will happen, but a permenant posting isn't the way to go and would just klog things down. If anything a banner post on the side or top just saying that a skip has happened or that we failed to scout the post or something like that. But to me at least the effort is worth it. The year of solid posts was amazing and I loved paying up for each one, but the reason I love this comic is the level of detail. Each new page means rereading the page, scouring the archives, and then reading the comments. It's always fun to go back to old comics and see how right or wrong everyone was about what the future would hold.

    Keep up the amazing work!

  • Swiftbow (Tipped by 2 people!)

    I'm not currently a Toolshed member (at some point, if money can be a little less tight regularly, I'd like to be), but if I was, I'd be willing to pay per update, and not be overly concerned about the "on-time" part. I'd venture a lot of the Tools feel like that, though I suppose it's difficult to be sure.

  • Boondoggle

    Rob, with the absurdly awesome (in the traditional sense) level of depth of both the story and art of this comic, I'm honestly amazed that you can manage to put out two updates per week at all. Erfworld has been going for years, at varying paces of updates, and the thing I most want is for the story (and stories!) to continue for years to come. If the main story updates drop to once per week, I'll be more than happy to increase my pledge to compensate, and I suspect many other would as well. Perhaps that would even leave you time to continue work on other dormant storylines as well.

    I know the thought was that switching for thrice-weekly to twice-weekly was going to have precisely the effects I described above, but I think the extra time hasn't manifested as more #2 time. Rather, the extra time has allowed Erfworld to grow and improve: The story has never been so complex, so engaging, and had so many shoes ready to drop. The art is also the best it's ever been, with so much attention to detail, and amazing nuance. And that's really saying something given the amazing quality of the battle for Spacerock. Furthermore, the fan community has grown with the new website, along with all your plans for more.

    Erfworld is growing into itself more than it's ever been able to before, and it needs even more of your time to shape and nurture it than it ever has before. I'd gladly pay more 'per update' to continue supporting Erfworld, in all of its facets, at roughly the rate I do now. Especially if it means I know when to expect updates. I'm always happy to see each new update, but I have given up on the late-night refresh game as of late, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't occasionally miss it.

    Keep up the amazing work! (At whatever pace enable Erfworld to continue to grow!)

  • ThisIsNotDan

    No essay from me, just voicing my support for you and your family, wishing you the best with whatever trials you're enduring, and assuring you that, whenever you are able to post an update, I'll be as overjoyed as ever to read it!

  • Chiu ChunLing

    Well, as someone that has not entirely ignored the discussion about skip days, I want to say something here, but there isn't much I can say.  Except that I wish I could do more to spare your family (and others) grief.  I mean that.

    Erfworld is great, and greatness takes time.  And yet time is limited.  I'm not sure I should wish for any of those things to change ,I'm certainly not going to wish for the first to be different.  Because I think that, in a sense, great art can also create time.

    On that note, I'll wish Erfworld many more anniversaries.

  • onigame

    So what "standards" am I talking about? I could write a book. :-P

    I would pay money to be able to read that book.

  • MechaBill

    Family comes first so do what you gotta do.

    Also,your comment about having to make all these decisions reminds me about a story I read recently about hijackers in the 70s and 80s.

    Back then it was trendy for any fringe group with a grudge to hijack a plane and get their 15 minutes of fame by demanding ransom or release of compatriots or whatever. It was a demonstration of power and eventually the airlines realized that to mitigate the situation, it made sense to give them more power than they could handle.

    For instance, under the old method, if the passengers became dehydrated, the stewardesses would ask the hijackers if they could serve water which required a simple yes or no response. Under the new training system, flight attendants would simply say that the passengers are getting restive and overheated; what do you want to do. This is a more open ended question and required actual thought by the hijackers. And it went on all. The. Time. 

    Eventually, when it came time to release hostages, the hijackers now saw them as troublesome responsibilities they were glad to get rid of rather than valuable bargaining chips worth keeping.

    Having to make constant decisions will make you crazy.

  • themerrykingofbohemia (Tipped by 1 person!)

    I usually just assume you guys update whenever, and check back periodically. This webcomic has skips a lot less often than some others I could mention.

    Anyway, regarding Parson, yes, he's clever, but I thought his passivity was meant as a character flaw. I mean, if he's so clever, how come he's such a loser IRL? Based on his time in erfworld, I'd say it's because his cleverness is largely reactionary. He comes up with clever ways to fix things that happen to him, but he sorta takes the back seat during downtime.

    ...And that's fine. Characters need flaws, or they have nowhere to grow. So, that's Parson's thing to overcome. He's not dumb, he's lazy.