I made a fantastic discovery today and I’m willing to share in the hopes that my reassesment of work habits helps others to do the same. Here's the story:
I often tell people that I am a writer first and an illustrator second. That seems to annoy people for some reason. I think there is a notion that anyone can write if they simply sit down and do it, but illustrating is a skill you are both born with and have honed. It’s so much easier for people to see the results of illustration. You look at a picture and decide right then and there if you like it. This is why I can send an illustration to my inner circle and get almost immediate feedback, but wait days (often weeks) to hear anything back on a written story. Where was I going with this? Illustrations…feedback…author first. Yes, right! I tell people I am an author first. This is because writing is easy for me. Ideas pour from my brain, I write them down in my trusty notebook, and a couple of days later I will have a pretty solid draft 1 (of perhaps 15). Then I sit down to illustrate and life stalls. Notebooks fill with ideas, lists of future books pile up in my head, and 30 days later I have an illustration to show for it. That’s how it has been for my current and long-running project anyway. But I had an epiphany today. Let me break it down:
When I write, I MUST listen to instrumental music with the sound of a thunderstorm (http://8tracks.com/bravearya/dedicated-to-all-students + http://www.rainymood.com/ makes me a happy writer). I figured out that this worked for me maybe a year ago or some more and it really is a must. I fall into a trance and I can write and think and write and think and know when to put things down and when to come back. And having discovered that this works for me (discovering these types of things about one’s self is pretty exciting!), I thought, or perhaps did not think at all, that this is exactly what I needed while illustrating.
A glimpse into my current illustration process: I lock my door (six and seven year olds like to sneak in when I’m ‘making new books’), check Facebook, turn on my music and rain, leave my room because I forgot my coffee, stare at what I worked on the night before, check Facebook, make a few changes to what I worked on the night before, etc. This has resulted in pure, unadulterated frustration. I’m like a kid in the outfield watching the butterfly go by and getting distracted from that by a nearby grasshopper. What is different now? I wonder. This used to be so easy. Is it because I work more? Is it because I don’t drive as much as I used to? These are things that I stress over lately. And to be honest, things are very much different now. When I illustrated The Great Big Scary Monster and Sloth VS Turtle, I was a stay at home dad. That is not an easy job, but it makes sitting at a computer at the end of the day a lot easier. Now I sit at one all day and it takes a lot of will power to sit back down at one all night. Plus, the art styles were simply less challenging. This post is getting so long. Too long, so I digress.
I was listening to my usual this evening and finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I changed the music. And I did it again. And I turned the rain off and it was all making me feel crazy. Then (while checking Facebook for the 207th time) I saw a Fresh Air episode about OCD and thought I’d give it a listen. Turns out listening to people talk is to my illustrating as music and rain is to writing. I worked for an hour without thinking about anything else. Then it stopped and I thought, I should check Facebook, which led to, I should post something to my page, which led to, I should turn this into a blog post. Tomorrow I will remember to add more episodes to my playlist so I don’t go writing another blog post.
Anyway, if you made it through my ramblings, the next time I see you, let me know and I will give you a super fancy high-five. Good night and happy good work habits to all.