How to Write & Illustrate your first Graphic Novel? Part 3/3: HELPFUL MINDSET

Updated: Mar 27


Editing and Assembling

When the images are done, I use Indesign to assemble the pages. Only then you should come into add the text into your speech bubble and caption. Edit down the dialogue to the bare minimum. Your graphic should carry most of the story. I am not successful in this manner, but I did my best to fix my planning potholes. For fun, you can make your own font like I did. It is free. Just make sure your font is legible!


If you want to go through the traditional publishing route, you will need to put together a pitch or query letter and a pdf of full pitch package in case the publishing house green lights your project. If you want to do a Kickstarter campaign, I humbly suggest that you build an audience for your content first and check out Stephanie Mui Law’s Kickstarter Guidelines. It is immensely helpful (I am not affiliated with anyone/page, just appreciative of the knowledge sharing).


If you are like me and doing it to get it out of your heart, into your hand and gain the experience to make a better one next time, then we can print our own books. YAY! A good printing company is one option, or you can print and bind your own book like below. It is fun, therapeutic, and rewarding!!!


Set up and supplies. Don't forget threads and needle.


The ancient art of eyeballing everything!


Glue the spine down and let gravity do the work overnight


How long does it take to create a graphic novel? What will I do differently next time?


About 400 hours on the clock. From now to my next creation, I will learn to write and drill down on the art of pacing. The next one will be more fun and less labor intensive in term of art. I want to make the painting as simple and lighthearted as possible. There were moments when I feared that I would not be able to complete this novel due to workload and … life.

But I just needed to sit down and promised myself to draw some bad drawings just for the momentum of it, and that works.

Next time, when the project is interrupted, I won’t let fear surround me, but I will have more faith that the story will come to see the light on its on timeline, no need to push, just do the act and step back like Lao Tzu.


Mindset and tools to commit to making your graphic novel happen


It is ok for it to be imperfect. Mr. Jake Parker’s mantra that helped me so much is “Finish, not perfect”. Perfectionism is about hiding according to Seth Godin, and is "fear in high heels" according to Liz Gilbert. I fully agree. Sometimes, it was so hard to get up at 4:30am to get the time in before my work day in. But...

This time was precious, yet too short to nitpick anything unimportant. Therefore, it helped me flow with great speed and joy.

That state of mind which is fertile for bringing about the story cannot be achieved without a solid chunk of time carved out and respectfully dedicated to this project. To facilitate an uninterrupted time for flow is beyond crucial. Neurons that fire together stay together. If you check your phones, change music or do “research” every 10 minutes, your neuron network pattern would be messy.

We want clean and clear practice where your brain only lit up the necessary path and cut out all the energy leakage or attention residue from distractions.

Carl Newport’s “Deep Work” explains this much more elegantly. If you doubt that you would enjoy or be able to bear the long-concentrated time, please check out Steven Kotler’s life career on studying flow state. Yes, it will be hard at first. But given that you enjoy the process, once you get into flow state, your brain pharmacy will release dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. They make you feel good and enhance your performance. I am not a scientist, but I do attest to that and I am certain that you have been in that addictive state multiple times before which is part of why you want to create and be in the zone.


Next thing to keep in mind is that incremental improvement is better than long term goal. Aim at the daily target. Jerry Seinfeld employed a practice that trained him to become one of the most celebrated comedians.

He promised to himself to write one joke per day and put an x mark in his calendar.

To keep up the chain of x marks, the longer one does something, the harder it is to slip and skip an x mark. Well, I used this tactic and it worked very well. These is something very encouraging about looking back and seeing how you show up every day for yourself. To me, commitment is an act of self-love that is too often neglected.



Another way to keep yourself accountable in your creation is by tracking your hours. The screenshot below shows how I did it on Google Sheet. The most important part is the notes on analyzing your performance. It is very short and not very precise but when you are at a loss, you can look back on those good days and try using one of those approaches to start your fire again. I remember listening to Bach’s for the longest time to cue my brain from sleeping mode into sketching mode.


The right most column is where I recorded what I did that morning just in case it was a good day and I needed to replicate that XD, also a diary of sort.


In short, it is all about Habit building around the creation of your graphic novel. You need a Cue, a sequence of Action, and a Reward. Check out the book “The Power of Habit: Why We do what we do in life” by Charles Duhigg. Once established and regularly taken care of, your good habit grows without you knowing it. Sometimes when I had to go on trips, it felt so itchy to not be able to work on the story at that time in the morning. Like craving chocolate in the afternoon, craving to work on your personal project can become a thing if you craft it well. Your cue can be a song, a dance, coffee, putting on a uniform, perfume, incense or some ritual that tells your brain and body “it is game time”.


Your Action needs to be planned ahead of time so you don’t start your work period wondering what to do. That would not be good for morale. Schedule your task at the end of each work session so you can hit the ground running next time.

Take care of your future self, respect the effort of your past self and take full responsibility for your present.

As a reward, you get to put an x on your calendar, punch in the time spent on this baby, and go for a walk to take in some fresh air or something that energizes you. Invent your own routine.


One last tip is to print out the characters or a scene of your graphic novel. Find a nice frame for it and put it on your work desk. Like pictures of loved ones, these characters will remind you everyday that they need you to show them love, and bring them into life. Their physical present allows you to imagine what it would be like to hold the novel in your hands one day, and give it its promised time today.



A reminder to yourself to put more energy into completing your passion project


Having shown you my process, I truly believe that there is no one way to make a graphic novel. I did not find the step by step guides when I started and am grateful looking back at it. I did not know what I was doing exactly but I forged my own path. One that suits my temperament and interest.



This post is a documentation for me but hopefully it gives you some sparks. I sincerely wish that you will find your method and walk on your journey, knowing that the stories that are buried deep within you might resonate with someone who needs it to feel alive. It does not have to be perfect, does not even need to make complete sense, just get it out and move on to the next. Thanks for reading and creating!


If you find this post valuable to your own path, please consider sending me a coffee. 😉 My Venmo is @Rubi-Do-Trinh