Storybook Update, Or: Try it again, and again, and now one more time …

I’ve been slowly but steadily working on my Storybooks You Can Color, and I experienced the very thing I wrote about in F: Failure — there really is no Big Epic Fail. My “failures” weren’t fun initially, but they were the catalyst that changed everything.

Three drafts of the cover for “Sometimes…”

I didn’t get into the craft show I’d applied to, and then I hit a wall and could not get past some technical challenges. Frustrated, I went for a walk, which you know from earlier posts can lead to serendipity. Head down and fuming, I pounded the pavement when a name came to mind. Before doubt could set in, I hurried home and sent a message. Barely two hours later, I received a reply: “Of course I’d be willing to advise you forward. Let’s begin by having a conversation. Let’s schedule a phone call for Monday or Tuesday??”

This came from Don, a graphic designer I’d become friends with twenty years ago, but had not seen for at least fifteen. And yet, here he was saying “yes” to my request for help.

So, we scheduled a call and I asked him my questions about scanning, binding, and printing. He answered them all, then asked, “Is that it? Did we cover your questions?” Yes, I said, grateful for his time and ready to let him get back to work, but he continued, “Okay, then I have some questions for you.”

This is where everything changed. He asked why I’m printing only 25 copies of my book. Why not 100 or 1,000? Why not “think bigger”? Why not consider a Kickstarter fund? “This is the start of something,” he said, “You don’t know what you’re crossing into. These may continue to morph into more things.”

It was as if the tiny voice in my mind that I work very hard to silence had called me directly. Don described what I wanted to accomplish but feared so much that I hadn’t even let myself daydream of it. And yet, here he was on the phone, totally convinced my project could do more if I’d just let it.

I must have hemmed and hawed a bit, because he left me with a final urging: “Have a vision for something bigger, even if you don’t go there, because this could be the beginning of your career path.”

Hours of phone calls and emails later, Don has taught me design basics, pushed me to draw another version and then another, and waxed poetic about font choices:  “Typography has elegance. It has its own beauty. Attempt to capture that.”

I have eight pages of notes from our conversations, at least five versions of “Sometimes…,” a first book of much better quality than I could have done alone that’s almost ready to go to the printer, three more ready to revise, a few dozen more ideas, and enough skills to keep going.

I’m still four months and 47 to-do items away from having these books ready to sell, but I’m way closer than I was last July when I gave myself one full year to write and draw daily and see where it would lead, rather than trying to force things to happen.

Although it was hard to ask for help, I’m so glad I did. I think we decided to call him my “Creative Advisor,” but I like “Creative Guru.”  His insight, expertise, and support have expanded and strengthened my ideas, skills, and confidence.

So, onward and upward. Much work yet to do. It’s not all been pretty, but it’s definitely been fun.

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Committing to Change

I may never know why so many writers and artists resist working on their craft. We writers often slog our way to our desks and force ourselves to write, turning it into a dreary business. For whatever reason resistance happens, I’ve learned I’m not alone in experiencing it.

Recently, my friend Robin Vada and I taught a workshop designed to help writers free themselves from the burdens of resistance, doubt, fear, and procrastination. We combined guided meditation with writing prompts. We knew something special was happening early in the 90-minute session because everyone trusted us enough to close their eyes and follow our directions for breathing, stretching, and visualizing.

When we shifted to writing, the room filled with a productive silence as everyone bent over their notebooks and wrote. Some students melted into the page, their bodies curving toward the desk. For others, the page pushed back, so they leaned away from the desk, closed their eyes, took a few breaths, and bent in again, gaining a few more sentences and a little less push back from the page.

When we asked for them to read us some of their writing or describe their experience, I identified with all of their creative struggles. I realized that fear and resistance come easily to me, they are familiar and well practiced; whereas calm and confidence feel difficult.

Where does the fear come from? What is there to fear about creating stories, paintings, or music?

One student answered my unspoken question. She said resistance comes from fear of change because:

Committing to a creative project means committing to changing ourselves.

This rang powerfully true for me. It’s not easy to learn, to stretch, to risk, to endure failure and bounce back. I’m not even sure in what ways I change, but I am sure she is right.

Is this true for you? Do you resist getting started on your creative work? Do you think the creative process changes you? In what ways?

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#AtoZChallenge 2015 REFLECTIONS

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The A to Z Challenge was even more rewarding than I hoped it would be. I got what I wanted: a writing project and some motivation to get it done. I did not, however, expect to learn so much or make a few friends. What’s even stranger to recall is the night before the challenge began, I almost quit before I started.

Although I’d drafted more than half the posts, I experienced “The Backlash” early (see N) and was 100% sure everything I had to say was ridiculously lame and did not belong anywhere but the safe confines of my journal.

I forced myself to post “A” in the same way someone plugs their nose and closes their eyes before jumping into a cold lake from a high cliff. And now …

I have 26 posts about the creative process: how to practice your craft daily and why daily effort is so powerful. Thanks to you supportive readers, I feel both inspired enough and confident enough to develop these posts into chapters for a book.

Yep, a book! Why not keep this momentum going, write a book proposal, research agents, and give traditional publishing a try?

The worst that can happen is I spend a lot of time writing a book proposal and I get a bunch of rejections. But hey, then I’ll know how to write a book proposal and can do it again for myself and others. There is no true failure, right? (See F.)

I’ve also continued working on my Storybooks You Can Color and have so much to tell you. During another serendipitous walk (like this one about flaws and this one about sticking with it), I thought of someone who could help me with technical challenges. I messaged him as soon as I got home, before doubt could strike, and ended up finding a creative guru! I will post stories about him, about the books, and a few pictures soon.

Most importantly, I met or re-connected to some lovely people during this challenge, from blog friends of ages past (Dropscone!!), tried-and-true supporters (Rose!), to new friends.

I can’t begin to convey how encouraging and inspiring it is for me that you all make time to read my blog and share your thoughts. Your presence has buoyed me along as I tackle more and more of my creative ambition with less and less trepidation. (See B for Baby Steps and H for Help.)

Here are a few of the new bloggers I’ve met during this challenge*:

Alex Hurst wrote lovingly about Japan, which she will be leaving soon to move to Canada for a graduate degree in publishing. My favorite posts were two short ones, one about pathways and one about vending machines, and this longer one about a treasure hunt. I really loved Alex’s blog and her comments on mine, but when she gave me a link to her 2014 post about writing and “publishing” books as a child, I felt like I was reading about myself!

Eco Cat Lady writes about whatever she wants whenever she wants. She’s a free spirit, adventurous and thoughtful. Although any of her A-to-Z posts make a good read, my favorite posts of hers are actually a series she wrote earlier about crafting a life for herself, living the way she wanted to, and doing it on a teeny, tiny budget. It’s quite inspiring.

Solveig posts intriguing flash fiction pieces that leave you pleasantly pondering and wondering. Not only that, but you can read them in THREE languages: English, French, and German.

A lovely woman named Debs asked me to be a guest blogger on her new professional website for her personal coaching business. So, we spruced up my “F: Fear of Failure” post and re-blogged it here. Debs also keeps a personal blog called Bunny and the Bloke.

There are many more blogs I look forward to continuing to read, like The Good Vader, The Wordy Rose, Life Spoken Through Fingers, Edwina’s Episodes, and A.C. Hoekwater.

*You can click on the “A to Z Challenge” tag on one of their posts to get a list of all 26 letters, and then pick and choose a few to read.

So, to those of you following along during April, to those of you who have been here all along, and to those of you planning to stick around: THANK YOU!

Thank you for making the time to read my blog.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas.
Thank you for your enthusiasm, support, and faith in my and my creative efforts.
I am deeply grateful you’re out there in the world.

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Zz: Zeal, Be Zealous

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

 

Zz: Zeal
Be Zealous

While thinking about what to write for “Z,” I saw the license plate, “B-ZESTY.” It made me think about art, and then about lemons, which somehow got me to “zeal,” something deeper and longer-lasting than zest.

Normally, when I think of zeal, I think of zealots, people so on fire about their religion that they talk about nothing but their faith, eagerly working to convert every person they encounter. However, it applies perfectly to art and to daily practice.

To be “zealous” means to be fervent, to have “enthusiastic devotion” to a goal, ideal, or cause and “tireless” diligence in its furtherance.” Daily practice is about tireless devotion to our craft. This devotion generates enough energy and joy and determination, that we stick with it for years and decades, however long it takes to see our vision through to the end, and really, does creative vision ever really end, or forever develop and expand?

Daily effort creates a steady vibration that fuels your tireless diligence, and in the future, you’re going to look back from the vantage point of your 10-story mural, from the center of the gallery containing your retrospective, from the shelves at the bookstore, from the rave reviews from critics, and see that zeal started with small, thoughtful, steady steps and grew into fully formed zealots: craftspeople steeped in their work, brimming with deep contentment, ever working at their craft no matter how accomplished they have become.

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Yy: You You Are What You Practice

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

 

Yy: You
You Are What You Practice

I used to teach a food studies course, and I would ask students about the claim, “You are what you eat.” Usually, someone would say, “Well, if you eat doughnuts, you’ll be round and fat like a doughnut.”

I disagree. It’s not so automatic or simplistic. So, I’d then ask them to think about their goals in life and their best, most happy and successful selves. Then, I’d ask, “Can you eat in a way that helps fuel that ideal self? Can food help you achieve your goals? Can that be what it means that ‘you are what you eat’?”

The same seems true about art, you are what you practice. The work etches itself into your skin, from callouses caused by gripping pencils tightly to sore shoulders from slogging around film equipment. However, practicing by rote, like checking chores off a to-do list, does not transform you into an artist.

It’s a long, slow, but steady transformation to become what you practice and requires devotion to and trust in the process. So, your mindset matters. Your intention matters. Do you show up to your work passively waiting Someone Of Authority to appear and deem you an Artist? I used to do that, whining to myself, “I’ve been writing for years and years,” and look around for the Fairy Godmother Of Accomplishment to deliver some sign that I had finally arrived.

Daily practice becomes most dynamic and powerful when you come to it ready: eager to tackle what’s before you, patient enough to abide the set backs, and in love enough with your craft to wholeheartedly celebrate the moments when your work comes close to matching your vision.

Practicing daily with a wide open, vulnerable heart, an engaged and agile mind, and limber muscles sculpts you into An Artist, maybe to such a fine degree that the rest of us see it in you (see X). Your creative focus shows in the way you walk and talk, and eventually, all of your life is an extension of your craft.

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Xx: X Factor, That Special Something When All Else Is Equal

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

Xx: X Factor
That Special Something When All Else Is Equal

For “X,” I’d initially planned to say “X Marks the Spot” and tell you that daily practice constantly corrects your course so you’re ever-aiming toward your greater and greater creative potential.

I still think that’s true.

However, I’ve become fascinated by the idea of an X factor, that mysterious quality someone has that makes their work more evocative and captivating than other work, when all else is equal (like skill and medium, etc.).

Some people have charisma, that personality that can attract and charm nearly anyone, but then there’s the X factor, some intangible element in the creative work that makes it so obviously art, whether the artist appear disheveled and crusty or polished and professional.

However you define the X factor, I believe it grows from daily creative practice. I think people who live and breathe their craft invite the X factor in, make fertile ground for it, and without their even knowing it, let it add depth and power to their work.

What other explanation can there be? Do you recall work you’ve seen that left you spellbound? What gave it that X factor? I don’t think the artist has much control over the X factor, but I don’t think the quality is arbitrary either. Where does it come from? What makes some work so substantially amazing?

 

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Ww: Write, Write a fan letter

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

Ww: Write
Write a fan letter

At any time during your creative practice, but especially when you’re abiding a slump, writing a fan letter to another artist can serve as your creative effort for the day and will reignite your own joy and faith in the creative path.

Think of one artist you admire, whether they do work similar to yours or totally different, whether you perceive them as uber successful or just a few steps ahead of you on this journey. Review some of their work. Study what it is that makes their craftsmanship so compelling to you. What do they do that makes you see them as successful? What’s the “X factor”? (See X.)

Then, write them a fan letter—the kind of letter you would love to receive from an admirer of your work. Go ahead and gush. Tell them what you love about their work and about them. Be specific.

Taking the time to study another’s work and discern what makes it so great, helps you further define what “success” means to you. Is it the artist’s unique vision or voice? Is it their remarkable skill? Is it the risks they take by not following convention?

As you write this out in your fan letter, you spell out for yourself what success looks like–successful art and a successful artisan. Praising someone else reveals to you what your creative goals are, and it shows you that this kind of success is possible.

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