Last week I put up my exit interview for the latest round of Comic Artist Rehab, signifiying the successful completion of 28 days of new comics creation. As I mentioned in my self-introduction at the beginning of February, I came away from my first rehab round feeling like I’d over-thought the exercise and tried too hard to make things good, if that makes sense. I worked very hard on getting the drawings “right” – sketching them first, then pencilling them in before finally redrawing them in ink – and came up with a plot structure that every four-panel entry would follow.
This time around I decided to shoot from the hip with no overarching story in mind, just waiting until a panel was finished before posing the question of what to put in the following panel.
I also decided to ditch the whole sketch-then-pencil-then-ink approach to the pictures, instead committing to drawing with whatever pen was nearby on whatever scrap of paper I could shnaffle from the rubbish bin. No redrawing, no pre-drawing, just pen to paper and letting it flow.
It was liberating to work that way. Having a looseness of technique working in tandem with the strictness of the commitment to drawing four panels every four days was a real lesson for me in how to best propel the creative process forward.
The thing that makes combining the two approaches work so well for me is that if I can stop thinking too much about whether or not what I’m writing (or drawing) is any good (which usually means whether it’s of a comparable standard to those writers whose work I admire) and focus purely on having something – anything – to hand in by the due date, then the issue of quality and pride in what I’ve created can be addressed afterwards.
The difference between worrying about whether I’m writing absolute crap before I’ve actually finished that poem or story or comic or novel or whatever, and worrying about whether or not it’s crap after it’s finished, is the difference between a blank page (or a never-finished story) and an actual real live complete piece of writing that at the least is in need of revision, and at best is actually finished and good.
I’ve always known that I work best with a deadline hanging over my head. It also helps if some form of professional embarrassment is the consequence of failing to meet those deadlines. I think that’s why things like nanowrimo work so well for people.
I knew this guy once who, whenever he formed or joined a new band, would book a gig three months ahead of their first rehearsal. That way, not only did they have something to work towards, they also had the fear of getting up on stage and doing a crap gig inspiring them to become the kind of band that people would actually want to listen to.
I’ve always thought that was a really smart way of doing things, but it’s only recently that I’ve realised that it’s possible to approach writing the same way.
February was a good month for me in terms of imposed deadlines. I had Comic Rehab’s four-panels-every-four-days-for-four-weeks keeping me company all month, and I also had the Target 168 make-a-zine-in-168-hours thing going on in mid-to-late Feb. I also had the deadline for Cordite‘s Zombie 2.0 issue to work towards, and I’m happy to say that I did manage to squeeze a zombie poem out in time (it didn’t make the cut, but that’s okay – now I’ve got the rough draft of a zombie poem to work on and turn into something a bit more publishable, which is better than having to write one from scratch).
With that in mind I hereby publicly declare my intention to recommence my 100-posts-in-100-days twitter novel commitment, which the observant among you will note has been lying fallow for more than sixty days (insert shame here), by committing to at least 62 new posts in the next 62 days. I’m also aiming to have a manuscript ready for the Whitmore Press/Poetry Idol Manuscript Prize, which translates as 150 lines of new, unpublished poetry by July 9.
I reckon that sounds pretty doable. And you have my express permission to rag on me in any way you see fit if I crap out on either of those goals.