Try this: Next time you come across someone’s work and you’re not sure exactly how they do it, don’t ask them how it’s done. Don’t go after the “right answer” like some eager honors student. Look closer. Listen harder. Then use your imagination and experiment with the tools you have. Your bad approximation will lead to something of your own.
Sophomore year of college. Classics 202: Greek and Roman Epic. Teacher doesn’t say a word, just passes out our papers, walks up to the blackboard, picks up a piece of chalk, and writes:
Then she says, “Ask yourself that next time you write something.”
That’s one of those lessons I never forgot.
Maureen McHugh has started to blog about the process of her novel-in-progress. She drew this hilarious chart to illustrate the steps:
I have all but abandoned my graphic novel. If you were to plot my stage on the chart, it’d be “dark night of the soul,” only that dark night was months and months ago. Maybe last year. At this point, I’m way past it, and thinking of a new project, and thinking about how I might be able to actually put out a book-length comic.
I got a lot of advice when I was trying it the first time around. Some told me to just plot the whole thing out, and then draw. Do an outline. I was even told that with 20 pages of artwork and an outline, I might even be able to sell the thing.
This really made my guts churn. I’m with Maureen on this one:
I don’t outline. Outlining is for hacks. I believe in the difficult but fulfilling process of finding my novel as I write it; letting inspiration and the shape of what I’ve already written shape what comes next. Which is why I’ve thrown this novel out five times already.
My wife, who always has the best advice, if only I’d listen to it, suggested I just draw the whole thing out in my sketchbook, with nasty, sketchy thumbnails: the drawing equivalent to a “first draft.” Turns out this was the advice that I should’ve followed.
You don’t get a graphic novel much bigger than Craig Thompson’s Blankets. That was almost 600 pages, and his new one is going to be even bigger. Even bigger? How does he do it?
“I draw the entire book in this loose ballpoint pen format and edit, before ever starting the final pages. BLANKETS was thumbnailed for a year.”
A YEAR of thumbnails. This makes me very hopeful.
My wife, again, came in with more advice: “You just need to FINISH something?” Ah yes, finishing. Getting to the last of Maureen’s stages, “It’s done and it sucks but it’s better than I thought.”
…just…finishing things is a good idea! I had started a lot of projects before then where I’d get 20 pages into it and then I’d lose interest, then a couple months later start up a new project. I was never finishing anything. And so, whether Good-Bye, Chunky Rice has limitations or weaknesses or whatnot, just the fact that I finished it was a big deal, and it ended up being quite successful for that point in my life. So Blankets was a lot easier. Even though it was going to be a much bigger book, I was like, “Well, all I have to do is finish it.”
Because I’m into this Myers-Briggs gobblygook, I should note that my particular personality type, ENTP, is notorious for starting projects and then abandoning them once it figures out how they should be executed.
“ENTPs are less interested in developing plans of actions or making decisions than they are in generating possibilities and ideas. Following through on the implementation of an idea is usually a chore to the ENTP. For some ENTPs, this results in the habit of never finishing what they start.
The “secret to success” for me that my career book gives me?
“Prioritize, focus, and follow through.”