Creative Focus Workshop - Jessica Abel

Time to stop letting your creative projects pull you under.

Decide to take action, and bring your amazing ideas into being with the Creative Focus Workshop.

You’re a creative person. By definition, that means you’ve got a big imagination. You know where you want your ideas to take you.

Whether you’re someone who has just a couple huge ideas that obsess you for years, or whether you’re constantly coming up with new, potentially awesome stuff, you know better than anyone that the only way you will actually cause those ideas to take on flesh and bone, to become real in the world, is to focus like a laser and do the daily, weekly work to build them.

But the longer you let those ideas hang around and grow in importance without making headway, the further from reality that vision of your future feels.

You know where you want to be: on the other side of this wall, making the work, completed projects under your belt, building your audience and reputation.

What I discovered through a lot of painful mistakes, frustration, and trial & error, is that what you really need to finish your projects isn’t some new trick to cram more stuff onto your to-do list, it’s a strategy that takes into account who you are and how you work.

Your life is complicated. It’s full of both life-enhancing and energy-draining relationships and commitments. There’s a lot that’s worth celebrating. But it’s full. And you know you need to make changes so that you can weave your creative work into the rest of your life.

But how can you carve out the time and muster the focus?

When you get clear on your real goals, make conscious decisions about where to devote your energy, and build a structure for regular creative practice around the realities of your actual life, you will go from feeling like you’re floundering in the deep end to swimming with the big fish.

Dive deep in the ocean of creative work and you’ll bring up hidden treasures.

You’re not alone. So many people feel overwhelmed and out of control of their creative practice. Tell me if this rings a bell:

  • You’ve got a ton of great ideas, but you’re never sure where to focus your energy.
  • You feel overwhelmed by your daily life, and can’t seem to prioritize your creative work.
  • You say yes to too many projects—both your own and other people’s.
  • You’re a great “starter” but you’re afraid you’ll never become a “finisher.”
  • You want to get finished work into the world so you can find your audience.
  • You want to feel in charge of your creative practice.

Whether you have one big project or a hundred clamoring for your attention, in the Creative Focus Workshop, you’ll:

  • Get clear about your priorities and make smart choices.
  • Find room in your weekly schedule for your creative work.
  • Put you on course to get your work out to your adoring fans.
  • Sustain the energy you feel when thinking of how awesome your projects could be.
  • Value your own creative work as highly as work you do for other people.
  • Build a reusable structure and process that will consistently get you to the finish line.
  • Blast through your stuck-ness.
  • Focus. Finish. Move on to the next project.

jessica-abel-by-laurene-ducrocq

Graphic novels + a book + two textbooks + a comics documentary + a podcast + full-time teaching = a lot of behind the scenes planning.

I’m cartoonist and writer Jessica Abel, and I used to be a total mess when it came to my creative practice. The year I graduated from college I drew about 16 pages of comics—this while single and working no more than 20 hours a week. Couldn’t hold down a full-time job because, you know, I had to “do my comics.”

There wasn’t even internet yet. It was clearly not an over-full schedule that stopped me from making my work. I just had no earthly idea how to take control of my random time-wasting impulses, and set myself on a reasonable path to getting work out the door.

And it’s not like I enjoyed all these empty hours. There’s nothing worse than the feeling that you really should be making your creative work, but instead, here you are, doing ______. (What did I do back then with no internet? I have no idea.)

It took many years of experimentation, stop-and-go progress, and painful setbacks, but I finally got to the point where friends would ask me for advice on how to get their projects under control.

I don’t want anyone else to have to go through the same learning process I did. The intellectual effort that goes into creative work is demanding enough without also having to struggle with an unreliable creative practice. After 20 or so years of developing mine, I finally feel like I’ve really got something worth teaching to others.

This became most clear to me over the last four years, as I simultaneously worked to produce Out on the Wire, my documentary comic about the narrative secrets of the best producers in podcasting and radio, as well as my newest sci-fi graphic novel, Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars. These books (and the podcast I produced based on Out on the Wire) never would have happened without a rock-solid system to support my daily practice.

I’m the author of Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life, the co-author of two textbooks on comics, and the graphic novel La Perdida. While producing all those books (and a couple others I’ve left off the list…). I’ve taught at the undergraduate and graduate level for 15+ years (and am now the Chair of Illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), I co-edited the Best American Comics for 6 years, had a couple kids, moved to France, and moved back to the USA.

I know from project management, and I want to share what I’ve learned from all that with you.

The Creative Focus Workshop is a ten-unit online course, spread over four weeks, to allow for action, and also reflection.

Here’s what you’ll accomplish:

Set the right goals

  • Identify your Idea Debt and prioritize your projects.
  • Make choices about what to focus on that are aligned with your larger creative goals.
  • Learn to say no—to yourself as much as to others.

Identify your blockages, and overcome them

  • Clear the decks so that when you sit down to work, you can actually concentrate.
  • Put your personal conditions in place for successful creative work sessions.
  • Stare procrastination triggers in their bloodshot eyes, and figure out what hold they have over you, so you can defeat them.

Create systems to support your ongoing creative practice

  • Identify what exactly you need to do to move your project forward.
  • Put together a tracking system that will help you mark progress towards your goals.
  • Build a calendar that incorporates your reality and the dream of making your work.
  • Develop a robust review process that will keep you on track for the long term.

…and here’s how you’ll literally go about doing all that amazing stuff:

  • You’ll get nine audio lessons + transcripts,
  • Worksheets to walk you through each section,
  • Bonus exercises and resources,
  • An accountability and discussion community (of some of the most amazing, engaged, and supportive creative people I’ve ever met) on Slack,
  • Feedback from me on your burning questions and big ideas,
  • …And two live group video meetings to implement and refine your creative project plans.

The Creative Focus Workshop is a supportive environment with straightforward direction and step-by-step actions.

Our community really is our superpower in the Creative Focus Workshop: there’s nothing like knowing you’re not alone, having a cheering section to help you capture your own internal motivation, and benefiting of the experience of other committed creative people like yourself to make your biggest ambitions start to feel within your grasp.

You’ll develop a clear, easy to use new framework for your creative practice, one that’s built on the solid foundation of your own needs and style. When you create a plan to get your work done regularly that’s built on the solid foundation of who you really are as a creative person and the unique challenges of creating on demand, you’ll find it ever easier to return to your worktable and actually produce that ambitious creative project you’ve been dreaming of.

Get clarity and focus on your work and build a sustainable creative practice that will feed your soul for years to come.

The Creative Focus Workshop is not currently enrolling students. To be notified next time we open the doors…

Let’s get real. You wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t in pretty severe pain.

People write to me every day, expressing absolute anguish about their inability to get traction on, and to actually finish, their creative work. “Desperate” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Also, “shame spiral” and “scattered” and “stonewalled” and “helpless” and “guilty” and “defeated.” If any of that gave you a start of recognition, first of all, let me just say that, clearly, you are not alone. This is a real thing and there’s nothing wrong with you if you feel this way. Second of all…

Feeling like that sucks.

Not only that, but walking around feeling those feelings day in and day out is crippling your ability to enjoy your life and function as you want to in all the other areas that are important to you.

Nothing in this course is rocket science. I’m not some kind of creative productivity genius who pulled this stuff out of the clear blue sky. You can find all the elements we use in the course in some form in my book Growing Gills or, hell, on my website. If you are the DIY type, those resources are there for you.

But if you have not been able to pull together a system on your own that really works to get your creative projects done, I hope you’ll consider joining me and this incredible community of fellow artists, writers, and creatives to build a new approach and put an end to that black cloud that haunts your creative ambitions.

Guidance, clarity, simplicity, community, accountability.

This is what you get in the Creative Focus Workshop that you don’t get when you’re working on your own.

This workshop is not for the faint-of-heart. It takes true courage to dive into your creative process and face those fears and that pain. It takes time and energy to work through the process of creating a plan to move forward.

But when you make that commitment, you are saying that your work truly matters to you. And that admission is the first step towards putting things right.

Frequently Asked Questions:

I’m really busy. How long with this take?


It depends on what you want out of it. Even if you have no luxury of time to devote to this, you can get very good results simply following instructions. You can listen to each lesson on the go in under 10 minutes, or read it even faster. You can do a simple pass on most lessons in 20 minutes. There are a couple of them that will take up to an hour to do.

In fact, there’s a absolute minimum you can do in about 15-30 minutes a week.

You will also have ongoing access to the course materials, so if you find yourself running into schedule problems, you can come back to use, reuse, and go deeper with them for as long as you like.

You may, however, find yourself wanting to take longer over some of these concepts. Investigating your creative practice at a deep level, coming to an understanding of who you are as a creative person and what you want to achieve, and then building a rock-solid creative practice that takes all that into account is a life-long process.

In this course, I’ll give you the tools you need to implement that process. How deep you want to go with it is up to you.

No, really, I’m just super busy.


I know. We all are, and that’s part of the problem. If you don’t have all the parts of your life running smoothly, you’ll feel overwhelmed and just busy all the time.

The tools in this course will help you gain clarity on what you should be focusing on when, in all areas of your life, and will assist you to clear space for what you really want to be doing with your time. It may not be as much time as you’d like. But if you’re not running your life efficiently in general, there’s extra time in there, time you can recover for your creative work.

You’ve got to free up a bit of time in the short term, but I can then help you free up more time in the long term.

Wait, didn't you just publish a book about this? Why should I join a course when I can read the book?


Yes, I did. And almost everything I teach in the CFW is in the book. But then, almost everything I teach in the CFW is also adapted from other things I’ve read and learned elsewhere. You CAN learn this, and implement on your own if you’re a self-starter and can stick to a program on your own.
What the course offers that’s unique and valuable is planning, structure, pacing, community, accountability, and feedback.

Also, it raises the stakes. If you pay for this, you’re not likely to let it slide by. Students who have been trying to do this stuff on their own for years (and who knew all the big productivity books chapter and verse) and were consistently failing to make it work…have come in and started making their work regularly.

With your investment of time and attention (and yes, money), things will change for you.
There’s so much psychology behind this. We simply don’t value things that we get for free like we do when we pay for them. The exchange of value is a critical piece of the equation; in fact, it may well be the critical piece of the equation.

Leveling up happens when we take action, not when we understand ideas. Action happens when there is structure and expectation, support and community. That’s what you get in the Creative Focus Workshop.

But I want you to feel safe jumping into the course. If, after a week, you don’t feel that it’s valuable to you, I’ll happily refund you.

I don’t feel confident in my work. I’m not sure it’s worth all this.


If you’re lying in bed thinking about your creative work, if you’re making notes on your project between meetings at your job, if you’re feeling out of place and unhappy with how you spend your time now, then your work is “worth all this.” Whether or not the creative work you’re thinking about is (or becomes) your career is not the point…yet. You’ve got to actually make the work—and finish the work—to know what it means to you.

If you’re spending lots of time being miserable because you just don’t know the answer to that question, then find out.

My creative work is not my job—how can I justify this cost?


There are two ways to look at this. First, if you want it to become your job, you’d better get good at producing work regularly and with as little pain as possible.

Second, all the tools you’ll master? They’re just as capable of fixing other parts of your life, such as your paid work, home life, relationships…if you have any goals (creative or not) these tools can help you meet those goals.

My creative work IS my job. I'm a pro...isn't taking a workshop like this admitting I'm not cut out for it?


One alum struggled with feeling, “You know who DOESN’T take Creative Focus Workshops? Effing Creative Professionals, that’s who. Loser.”

But I struggle with Creative Focus. So does just about every creative pro I’ve ever met.

The fact is, building a life where your job is to show up every day and pour your heart into brand-new creations, pulled just from your own ingenuity, is enormously difficult and high-pressure.

Many professional creatives have been students in the CFW, and I’m deeply proud that what we do there has improved their quality of life and ability to do their work quickly and at a deep level.

Am I "creative" enough? Will I feel out of place?


There is no bar to clear here. I’ve framed this workshop as about “creative work” because that’s a big bucket that contains many self-generated projects we decide to focus on that do not necessarily map to anything utilitarian.

This kind of project can trigger us to feel “selfish” or “childish” since the impulse to pursue it comes entirely from our own volition.

There are lots of not-strictly-“creative” projects that fit this profile, and will benefit from the same kind of planning. For example, things like learning to speak a foreign language, or to master chess, or to build a business.

No one in the CFW community creativity-shames anyone else. We all are like one another in the ways that we struggle to achieve goals, and we can all learn from one another.

Am I too young/too old?


Youngsters:

Get your creative life started on the right foot. If you’re in art school or university, you know full well that you get no training there for how to manage your time and be productive. And as soon as you graduate, you’re completely on your own with this, without even the occasional project due date. It’s essential that you learn the tools to self-regulate so that you can produce the work you dream of if you hope to make this your career.

Mature creatives:

Hey, you’ll be in very good company. I and many of the other students in the CFW are in the middle-aged and up category. We can all feel regret about what we didn’t manage to master as youngsters, but wouldn’t you rather get it right now than wait another minute?

You’ve got battle scars, you’ve been burned, but what’s the upside of continuing to struggle at this alone? Sometimes it takes a certain maturity and a firm grasp of what’s truly important to show up and be vulnerable in this way, and that may mean you’re the most qualified student possible.

Are the course materials available after the course is finished?


YES. You can return and redo and listen and absorb your course materials as long as the course platform (Doki) is a thing.

You can continue to use the group for support and connection with your fellow students as long as Slack is a thing.

Which means, for a very very long time.

The Creative Focus Workshop is not currently enrolling students. To be notified next time we open the doors…

What will you do in the Creative Focus Workshop?

A step-by-step breakdown of how we do what we do.

Week 1: Setting Goals

The biggest stumbling block for building creative focus in your life, and thus actually finishing your projects and getting them out into the world, is setting the right goals. We’ll spend the first two modules sorting through your Idea Debt, clarifying your commitments, and choosing your focus.

Lesson 1: Set One Goal. Address your Idea Debt, learn how to prioritize and choose, and pick a single creative goal for your next 6-9 week sprint.

Lesson 2: Open Loops. Examine your surroundings and various half-abandoned systems to identify and capture the commitments you’ve (sometimes unconsciously) made to yourself and others.

Week 2: Rhythm

In week two, we figure out how to set your specific conditions for success. We look at how you work best, and what ordinarily stands in your way, and then we codify and systematize the approach that works for you, so you can replicate it on demand. We also look at how your own demons of perfectionism and self-doubt undermine you—and how to fight back.

Lesson 3: Creative Rhythm. Look back at your creative history and identify your conditions for success.

Lesson 4: Creative Practice is Self-Care. What are you telling yourself when you try to create? How can you fight back against the ways you’re undermining yourself?

Lesson 5: Your Ideal Week, Next Week. Given the real world we live in, how can you maximize your creative time?

Week 3: Building your trusted system

In week three we will take what we’ve learned about your true goals and your personal creative rhythm and we will put that together into a system that will support you as you move forward on your creative work every day (or week or month) from now on. What’s important about the system is not the particular platform, but that you use it, so that you come to trust it. Trusting your system, knowing it will be there for you, knowing that you don’t have to depend on pure willpower to force creative work to happen, is how you create space for inspiration and flow to arrive.

Lesson 6: Asking Questions. Discover the best way to break down your big goals into doable chunks by asking questions to get a complete grasp on how you’ll build the path to success.

Lesson 7: Choose Your Tool. Given what you’ve learned about yourself in Week 2, what tracking tool will work best for you?

Week 4: Tracking and the road ahead

Finally, there’s the question of how this system will continue to work for you in the future. In week four, we develop robust tracking and review processes that will keep you moving forward. We also revisit your vision for the future, now that you have some inkling of what you’re capable of, and set a path that will allow you to arrive at the destination you dream of.

Lesson 8: Next Actions. Take your subgoals and break them down to daily and weekly steps, so that you’re no longer overwhelmed by the entirety of what you want to achieve.

Lesson 9: The Key is the Trust. Your review procedure is the missing link between just having some kind of system and actually using it as a tool to accelerate your creative work.

…And here is when you’ll do it.

The Creative Focus Workshop is guided and structured. You won’t be left on your own to figure out what to do when. Lessons drop on specific days, accountability is programmed in, and the video meetings (with alerts a few minutes ahead!) are already in the calendar so you can plan around them.

The Creative Focus Workshop is not currently enrolling students. To be notified next time we open the doors…

Go from overwhelmed, anxious, and stuck, to consistent, clear, and in control of your creative life.

Dive deep and SWIM.