It’s November! While I haven’t been writing a novel, I HAVE been working very hard on a creative project. Possibly harder than I’ve ever worked on any creative project. I’m so excited to share it with everyone—but it’s not quite ready yet. It IS, however, very real and in a far-too-late-to-turn-back-now stage of production. I’ll be making an announcement here and on social media during the first or second week of December, so STAY TUNED.
I’m committed to keeping the project details a secret, but I wanted to tell you how I got here. On November 1st I read Anne Lamott’s pep talk for National Novel Writing Month, and I was really struck by the following quote:
“…You start now, as is.
‘As is’ is the portal to creation, to new life. ‘As soon as’ is a form of delusion and therefore soul death.”Anne Lamott
A few days before reading this I was sitting at my temp job, where I had a lot of time between tasks, and I decided to start drawing, just to draw. I drew a little rectangle and turned it into a dragon. I gave him some spots, and named him Punky. Then I drew a slightly more detailed dragon, trying to just draw and not get caught up in perfection, and I liked that one so much that I posted it on social media—my first art post in a long time. That same day it occurred to me to do some research, and I learned about a new process that completely changed the way I was thinking about a big project. The next day, I drew another version of Punky, and then I started designing my project and thought up a way to scale it down for December release. By the time I read Anne Lamott’s pep-talk, I had sketches and concept art, a thorough plan, quotes from multiple production companies, and a drawing of Punky for every single day of work. I shared Ann Lamott’s talk on Facebook. I was starting “as is,” and it was working. I titled Punky the As-Is Dragon, because that’s the whole point of him; you can’t be worried whether you’re drawing him right because he’s just a rectangle and there isn’t a wrong way to do it. He allows you to start where you are, and by the time you’ve drawn him you’re warmed up, you’re thinking about lines and color, and you’re ready to get to work.
As I continued to work and my big project began to feel increasingly real, I wondered: “Is this really all it takes to start making exciting art? Do I just have to decide to start where I’m at? And if that’s all it takes, why has it felt like I’m beating my head against a wall every time I’ve tried to make art for the last several years? Why couldn’t I do this earlier?” And that’s when I spotted the flaw in the “as is” philosophy. You first have to create the conditions that turn your “as is” into a place where your work can thrive.
A year ago, I was using a 6-year old laptop with a broken trackpad and about 20 minutes of battery life that could barely run photoshop. My “new” drawing tablet was broken, but I could sometimes get the ten-year-old drawing tablet to work if I jiggled the cord just right. So in February this year I invested in a 12.9” Third Generation iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil: the best of the best of Apple’s drawing-capable products. I’m still paying it off. I was buying this at a time when money was very tight (just like now LOL), and I wondered: can I justify buying professional-level tools when I haven’t made any professional-level art in a long time? But if I hadn’t made that investment, I couldn’t have made any of the art I made this November.
Once I had the iPad, I had to learn how to work in a whole language. It was my first touch-screen, and it doesn’t support Photoshop, which I’d been working in for more than a decade (and even if it did, other, cheaper programs are catching up and surpassing Photoshop for drawing). Everything I did in Procreate (the drawing program I’m using now) and on the iPad in general was so frustrating. Even very simple things would leave me stymied; I alway knew there was a way to do what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it. And every time I turned to Google for help with very basic tasks, I got a little more comfortable, and a little closer to the workflow I have now. Over the summer I used my iPad to design a shirt for my hashing club, which forced me to watch a lot of tutorials and discover some ways I didn’t want to work. In September I signed up for a free “Getting Started with Procreate” class at my local Apple store. I figured that, worst-case scenario, the class would give me some time to sketch. But it turned out the class was just me and the instructor, and I was able to spend the hour asking him every question I had about the program, rapid-fire. He even helped me with some basic iPad file management. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so many directly applicable things in such a short span of time. And thanks to that class, as well as those frustrating months I spent finding answers, when I started working on my big project I was able to just USE Procreate without being constantly frustrated that it isn’t Photoshop. I think I even like it better!
In addition to the technical aspects, it’s not a coincidence that my big project happened while I was working a low-stress temp job that allowed me time to draw on the clock. It’s not a coincidence that I didn’t get started on the project until I had the peace of mind of a permanent position lined up for after the temp assignment ended. It’s also not a coincidence that I was able to pour so much time and energy into this project during a time when I’m unable to run due to plantar fasciitis. Which might make you think that I’d make more art if I ran a little less—but I absolutely wouldn’t be making the art I’m making now if I hadn’t spent all that time running. And I wouldn’t have been able to make this project happen in such a short space of time if I hadn’t been sitting on the overall idea for more than a year. Most of the concept was ready to go. So even when it felt like I wasn’t making any progress, I was actually on my way, and putting all the pieces together. This November, when I started “as is,” I started on the strong foundation I’d already built—and in just a few weeks I was able to complete some ambitious work that I can’t wait to show you.
I also worked really hard. I’ve put so much time into this. And I couldn’t have done it without help; the endless encouragement of my roommate at every stage of the process, the monetary AND moral support of two dear friends, the “That’s a great idea, you should do it,” of my family when I told them about it. And drawing Punky as a ritual really did help me to start “as is.” He helped me find a way back into my work every day, and I have 18 drawings of Punky for 18 days in a row of drawing. You have to start “as is,” every day, because how else will you start anything? But when you’re trying, and failing, and it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, maybe the work you’re doing now is building a better as-is for tomorrow.