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.
I'm a fan since the Book 1.
This is my first time writing any comment here on Erfworld EVER... that's how strongly your post resonated with me. There is a lot of boop to cover and I do not want to sound patronizing but here I go:
1) Only idiots would call you out on sacrificing an update for quality of the next one. Just ignore them... seriously. You are doing a FANTASTIC job!
2) Family goes first. Always. Can't stress that more. Whether its your kids, parents, siblings or spouse, work hard to fix it and till then put everyting else aside. That's your real life. Not this semi-grateful bunch of nerds (myself included) that are happily oblivious of your real life ordeals. Go watch some Jordan B. Peterson videos to get the message that the only way forward comes from getting yourself together and then easing the suffering of those around you. Else this fickle virtual community will be all thats left in your life.
3) Feel free to make the story less complex. I know that some fans like it the way it is now but look back at book one for a bit. It was more vivid and playful and snappy. It progressed a lot faster and Im sure that it was easier to write and to keep consistent. Nowdays its a lot of detail but story progression gets choked and the (playful) fun is kinda sucked away in the process. And fun is an important aspect of comics, more important than 100% consistency or duty to fully explain every ulterior motive of the hero or those around him and try to fit it in an ever-expanding universe of Erf. If you re going to have more fun with the work you do, so will your fans. Make a short one - two strip spinoffs, like with Bogroll and his journey. It was unrelated to the plot but fun anyways. And sure to consume much less of your time. Nowdays its all serious and gloomy and in all sincerity I think its mirroring your life in a way. I m not saying that to diss' you, just to make you consider other options than to walk your current suicidal path. You have no obligation to please the crowds and you cant make everyone happy.
I wholeheartedly respect your dedication but PLEASE do not make your audience the reason your personal life goes down the toilet. And the same goes for the whole team.
That being said, I wish you all the best and thank you for your hard work.
Hi Rob, you're doing an amazing job and I hope you know we appreciate it.
I second the opinion that you should consider adding a monthly fee Tool level, so you wouldn't be so depending on regular updates, just let the people choose themselves.
If I may give you some professional advice regarding skips announcements, from marketing point of view (pure science here ;))), people DO need information to have the feeling you care about them, but YOU need to keep it as much positive as you can, eg. "no update today" is a much worse way of communication than "next update on Friday, probably ". It may be not obvious, but it really works and companies use it on regular basis.
Very sorry to hear about the family issues, Best i can do is offer my sympathies with whatever's happened.
And no worries, the fact that you put a lot of effort in is clear, sure somtimes we grumble, and moan, and complain, and all the rest, but we appreciate the final product and we'd rather give you the time to get it right, or i would and the comments seem to agree with that. Despite that i think this was a good post for you to make, we have tons of patience, but a reminder from time to time of the issues you face isn't a bad thing, even the best of us can forget given enough time and frustrations.
As somebody who has been following Erfworld since near the ending of the first book, I've seen it consistently improve in quality over the years. What started off as a simple comic-presentation evolved over time to something with ever better art, and ever better writing, due to how well you have worked and how good you have been at bringing together a "team" to keep up the experience.
To me, Erfworld is one of my longest-standing joys in fiction. The premise is supremely interesting, and the only things that upset me are always due solely to the fact that I always want more! That's something I've had happen to me only over perhaps 2-3 other fictional works in my life to this degree, and I've read quite a few books and pieces of fiction to draw this conclusion from.
I understand the work that goes into it to a degree, as well. Writing is difficult. Keeping up with details from years ago and being true to your own canon is difficult, yet fans like me truly appreciate these steps being taken.
After this has been running for so many years, it is inevitable that occasionally - it will be difficult to keep up with a schedule, and that it can be overwhelming. The current pace however is just fine, and I don't find it to be a problem. Given I've seen hiatuses and such in the past, and that the individual updates often are quite HUGE anyway right now, I can't even say this is bad compared to the history of this work.
I'm willing to be patient, and I know a lot of other fans are as well. Obviously, as a fan, I would love to get more updates - since I'm hungry to see more of such an amazing story - but just having this story around "at all" is already something that I am greatly appreciative of.
Keep up the good work, both in the real world and in Erfworld. =)
As a long time member of the Toolbox (who didn't convert to the Toolshed) and who rarely (if ever) made any comment, I feel like this comment is called for:
For every reader who bitch about skips, just know that there are a lot of people that just come here for the story and are just glad that this awesome story is still going. We know that life is hard and that keeping a tight schedule like this is very very difficult.
Please, take all the time you need to take care of yourself and your family and know that we will have you back, no matter what =D
You need to get an assistant. Someone who can do precisely those tasks that you describe here: making sure that you have information from prior updates readily available; summarizing people's a) abilities, b) current knowledge, c) current whereabouts, etcetera; help with specialized research, and probably half a dozen other things.
Even authors of big, epic, sprawling stories have assistants. The art team is a team, and for good reason.
It's not about having someone involved in your creative process. It's making sure that your creative process has as few hurdles as necessary.
Thanks for the 'state of Rob' update. I'm very sorry about your family troubles. Knowing about it helps.
Of all the webcomics I follow, or have looked at, Erfworld is the one I have tagged in my head as 'Probably Literature'.
When I say that - I've haven't got a Literature degree, or studied formally, but I have read War And Peace (twice), all the Shakespeare plays, all Austen, a lot of Hemmingway, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, almost all Dickens... I'm fairly broadly read. 'Probably Literature' is not a badge I hand out lightly.
Erfworld is rich. It's complex. It's deep. It's not by chance that we spend pages analysing and poring over every detail of each post. We get to do that because of how much intent Rob puts into every single word, every nuance. It's all put there for us to find.
There's no doubt in my mind that Erfworld is Art. And Art is hard, and it takes time. Serial, periodic Art, as a form of income? Super-tough.
Rob: you're doing a great job, and the team is doing a great job. In between all the pain and hard work, whenever you get a chance to breathe, you should feel damn proud of yourself.
Your family will be in my thoughts. I hope the sun comes out again soon, and that you all find the strength to cope until it does.
as many others, I have never posted a comment and / or messages on this forum, and although it might help you, Rob, and the Erfwrold team, I always found it disturbing to have people proposing further developments of the story in the comments.
I discovered your work from the OOTS web site, and today, Order of the Stick and Erforld are only two web comics that I follow on a daily basis. I also follow some free MP3 fantasy / role-playing / comedy stories. From messages posted by the authors of this FREE work (although Erfworld comes also with an upkeep flavor, but from the reader's choice!), I always understood that a lot of work was involved and to be mixed with other work / family / personal / voluntary... time. I visit every of these websites every day, and am never disappointed when there are no updates, because I know that it's for the better good of the stories and readers.
I would just like to thank you all for your work and your dedication to it. No need for update status, even for pledging people, who have chosen to support you financially and because they thought it was worth it. It's still worth it, no matter the delay between updates, as long as you show the deep engagement you describe above into your stories.
So good luck, all my thoughts for your family, health and any other potential issue and keep like that, you're really doing a wonderful job!
A french reader.
I personally am happy with the current system, but if people really need a "no update today", an automated system which pushes a set message at the end of an update day, if there's been no update, might help some readers. Particularly if they're in a different timezone, and don't actually know when "the end of the day" is in the US.
That said, I'm happy with just checking at the end of my day, and I appreciate your integrity in producing such a high quality comic.
Good luck, and thanks for being amazing!
I actually looked it up Tuesday night while while wait for the update. You skipped twice in October and three times in November. You originally told us about twice a month so you are exactly on target. The quality hasn't degraded and we are getting the amount we were told to expect, there is literally nothing to complain about.
I do think it would be nice to have something on the front page that says something like "next expected update." It wouldn't require a news update. Just if we come in late on Tuesday or Friday, see there's no update, and see the next expected isn't that day, we don't need to wait around to see if it's a skip or if there will be an update. I can understand why you wouldn't do something like that though; from this explanation that decision sometimes comes last minute so it wouldn't really provide the information I'd want out of it anyways, and it would add to someone's work too. So while it would be nice, I can live without it.
What a lot of other people said. That is, count me in as a loyal fan who empathizes with the complications happening in your personal life, and doesn’t begrudge you a single moment of the time you need to spend on dealing with them even if it’s at the cost of enduring a skip day.
Update 285 was masterfully executed, btw, and I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating the cutaways to some of the formerly off-screen convos that informed Parson’s analysis of whether to go along with Roger’s plan.
You can't give more than you can.
I would still love a system where you commit pages 7 days before they go life, after which they are frozen and can't be edited anymore. That's the deadline, and if you don't make it for some reason, that's a skip - the same as it is now, but announced 7 days in advance. On the one hand I believe that would save you a lot of frustration and even stress - knowing there won't be a whinefest about unannounced skips, because all updates will either be in time or announced as a skip a week in advance. It would save you time working on these Category 2 posts too.
But these kinds of things have been suggested plenty, and apparently they don't work for you. That's a shame, but ultimately you still produce a very high-quality web-comic that I'm really enjoying. That's enough for me.
(1) Your comments about Parson being the protagonist show that you Get It, so that makes me happy. It makes me less happy that I never noticed the anagram.
(2) I've followed a lot of web content that has done lazy/missing/ineffective updates. This includes, earlier, Erfworld. Erfworld does not feel that way to me right now. You're entitled to skip occasionally. Your Patreon scheme also makes sense. So.. don't worry too much. If you disappear for a month or two right now (cough), okay, yeah.
Hang in there Balder. I really appreciate you posting this. As a die hard roleplayer, game master, game designer and a person who writes for a living, I found this peek into the creative process truly fascinating.
I hope everybody involved comes through the family tragedy as well as possible. Best of luck <3
Oh man. I read the start of your post and I was fucking terrified that it was the lead-up to Erfworld going away or something. But damn, you're just asking some of your readers to be less of an asshole? Trying to explain how much of work and detail goes into one of my favorite things? Damn Rob, you know how many times I've wondered how you keep track of this amazing world and thought "He's a wizard, got it"? And the fanfic writers just keep pouring it on? I might go so far as to say that I may be paying for this level of awesome with some upsetting shit in my own life (not even on the same planet of bad as yours, from the sound of it).
Regarding Parson's role (I'd say I can't believe I never noticed the anagram, except I am not a wordsmith, so yes, I absolutely can. I had a girlfriend who fucking torched me at Scrabble, consistently and easily. She was also a fucking wizard. Anyway, very cool anagram!) I'm just a lowly consumer of online media, but I disagree with the storytelling/protagonist-is-always-boss rule. Or maybe I just draw a line that is less on the side of protagonists being awesome. But anyway, I think it's also easy to make the mistake of focusing too much on the protagonist; the story could become about just one thing, and that's no fun, IMHO. I like it when explorations are made into other areas; I like the world-building and intrigue. I like the idea that the story is more complicated than a guy on a mission. If you as the storyteller think that it's time for a character that has been on the shelf for a while to come off the bench (sorry for mixing metaphors) That's completely your call. Just don't think you have to. Not on my account; not on anyone's account. The problem with genius is that it can overshadow everyone else; just ask Luke Skywalker.
I have seen a few comments to the effect of "Rob's doing too much" or "the story's degrading or getting boring" or something. If I'm feeling charitable, I think maybe they're made out of love, but in light of your post, I'm not feeling it right now; so wield your banhammer! Soon as I get a personal budget together and figure out what I can afford, I'm going to up my subscription level, for my part. The manager thing makes a tiny bit more sense, in light of the sheer amount of shit you have to keep track of, but I can see how "I need someone to help me manage my time" is a pretty insulting thing to say. But this world is FUCKING ENORMOUS; having a separate continuity officer whose one job is to keep it all straight so you don't have to, I dunno, MIGHT help. I mean, maybe a second ~harddrive~ brain would help?
Just please keep going. I'll pay for non-updates. I'll up my subscription. I'll comment more. I'll find your trolls and give them a ~savage beating~ stern talking-to. I'll cope with 1 update/week and pay the same. Just please don't ever stop, and tell these self-entitled pricks whining about their money's worth to shove it up their ass.
I've read Erfworld since day 1 (I think Mac Hall linked you or something?) and I'm not sure I've posted a comment before, but in light of this post I feel like I should:
You and the team do a great job and clearly work hard. Skips are a disappointment, but neither I nor anybody else has the right to pressure you to mortgage your life for our weekly entertainment. I'm not sure what the ratio is on the site of understanding readers vs inconsiderate whiners but I imagine it's probably favorable, and regardless I urge you to trust in the former and ignore the latter.
I'm sorry to hear about your family troubles - I hope they resolve as peacefully as possible.
"Erfworld has become a lot harder to write and draw than before."
If the amount of work is ballooning then maybe you should adjust your schedule to 1/week. Otherwise you're just stressing yourself out with unrealistic targets; skips are at best a sticking-plaster over this.
This was an interesting insight into why you feel you can't always meet the 2/week. I don't think this post is having the effect you envisaged however, because that's not what was bothering people.
I don't recall yet seeing more than one or two people complaining about the skips themselves. Most of the people who are bothered are bothered by the communication around the skips. You only mention that issue in passing and said you aren't going to change anything. So unfortunately I think writing this post hasn't been a good use of time. :-(
Hey Rob, sorry to hear about your troubles, I appreciate the candor of your post and the fact your excuses are professional, unlike many other webcomics *cough Goblins cough*. Your webcomic is the one I look forward too the most :), so keep up the fantastic work.
Regarding the skips, you do it however you want. If you don't want to post a skip notice, then don't, you're running the show. Likewise, if people don't want to pledge because of no notice skips that's fine too, I get it.
The most important thing is that we keep this amazing story and it's art moving forward, even if it's one post a week.
It would be useful to have a temporary post that just says "skip" and maybe the date. So people know to stop wasting their own productive time refreshing. No explainer needed. Delete it when the next page happens. (Or maybe just put up an image from the gardening channel.)
But do whatever works for you!
Oots posts new ones at more or less random, and we all still read that.
I don't think any rational in the know people think any negative thougts about you or the team's work ethic, and in the long run some missed updates make for a better story. When HBO shows up to make this into a tvshow and give you Scrooge McDuckian amounts of money they wont care you missed an update 2 years ago, they will care about the story as it exists at that point.