Day 18: Still Okay!

I’ve admired my Aunt Ruthanne’s consistent Wednesday blog updates for years now (A More Colorful Life! Erry Wednesday!). I don’t have any classes Wednesday afternoons this semester and, seeing as this is my third blog post in three Wednesdays, maybe I can follow her example and make Wednesday posts a regular thing.

I won’t write much, though, because I’m trying to get as far ahead on NaNoWriMo as I can before the weekend.

Here’s my progress graph! I’m at tomorrow’s goal, and I haven’t even started writing for today yet.

32,007 words!

32,007 words!

 

I like how this book is coming together. I like the shape of it. I like the characters that are popping up out of the darkness. I like my ideas for the ending. The book feels complete, somehow, in a way my books rarely do at this stage in the writing. I know there are some threads that are missing, and I know I will have to go back to the beginning to weave a few new colors into the story, but I feel like I can hold the whole thing in my hands and I feel it is good. This feeling probably means I am in for a lot of surprises, but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here.

I’m also having fun writing this book. I want this to be my job. How do I make this my job? Oh yeah. Keep writing.

Good luck on NaNoWriMo and every other thing, you beautiful people, you.

How To Keep Writing

I’m going to start this blog post by telling you to read a different blog post, one written by Wil Wheaton entitled Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life. The whole time I was reading this, I sat at my desk and nodded my head furiously. Yes. We may have slightly different circumstances, age, struggles, changes, and goals, but this entire article rings so true to everything I’ve been doing (trying, working on) for the last two months—remember my last blog post? Near the end of his article, Wil Wheaton says: “I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel good about myself. I can do the work that I need to do to accomplish these things.” Yes. This is, nearly verbatim, what I’ve been telling myself over and over again, and scrawling multiple times at the end of my journal each day. I am worth the work I am doing.

Instead of doing everything all at once, though, I focused on exercise first and made it routine. This was heading towards writing, this had to be heading towards writing, but for a few weeks I allowed myself to feel accomplished if I worked out and then went to bed without having written a single thing. And that’s great—but it wasn’t enough.

So now I’m writing, and I’m writing hard. This Sunday is Day 1 of November, when I’ll begin a brand new writing project for National Novel Writing Month. It will also be the Year One anniversary of my main squeeze, my in-progress novel about a trucker girl and a telepathic dragon. I am trying to complete as much of this book as possible before I set it aside for the entire month of November. It has grown so much in a year, from nothing to a 100,000 word manuscript. And there is still so much to do.

The uncompleted draft of a novel is terrifying thing. It’s too much to keep in my head all at one time. The plot itself is overwhelming, and so are the doubts about the story and about the act of writing a book. Even as I’m writing and planning and plotting, I ask myself if it’s too long, if the ideas are stupid, if no one will like it, if it’s too similar to this book or that book, if it will ever be published. And more, even as I am trying to piece together the very first draft, I am already borrowing worries from the future: Will I have to re-write this section? Will an editor tell me to remove this character? Did I write this wrong? Is this bad? Will I ever finish the third and fourth revisions? Will constructive criticism kill all the excitement I feel, right now, for this story?

I even worry about how excited I am. Excitement is temporary. When the sparkle days return to plodding grey, will I keep writing this book? And how can I live with myself if I don’t?

100,000 words says I will. It is so hard to spend hours and hours on something when you can’t see the end of it, but all I can do is continue to check things off my chapter to-do list and keep making decisions about characters’ actions and motivations and what happens next. I am trying (it is difficult) to focus on a first draft, to focus only on writing a whole story that makes sense, and to leave the rest alone for now. Even if it is too long, or too stupid, or never gets published, that won’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

I’ve made a lot of personal progress since August. I no longer have to fight so hard to feel valuable, and to feel like a good person. So I’m fighting for my writing instead, which I’ve been fighting for all along. In 50 years, I’ll probably still be blogging about how writing is hard. I just plan to have written a few novels by then. So here’s the new mantra from my journal: My dreams are worth the work I am doing.

Write, and repeat as necessary.

NaNoWriMo and December Sketch-a-Day Challenge

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI finished NaNoWriMo today. I wrote my 50,000 words, and that’s a wrap for November. Here’s the graph; I even managed to stay pretty close to par all last week, despite traveling to Boston for a really lovely Thanksgiving dinner and weekend with cousins and friends.Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.25.21 PM

I have a lot more time to do creative work than I thought I did, but I need to be working hard every month of the year, not just November. Last year, in the wake of NaNoWriMo, I instigated a Sketch-a-Day challenge for December. I didn’t finish in time, but Ruthanne of A More Colorful Life sure did and I still think it’s a great idea. So this year, I’m doing it for real. If you need an artistic kick-in-the-pants, please join us! I’ll link to your blog if that’s where you’re posting December sketches, and if you’d like to join the online December Sketch-a-Day Challenge community, do a Facebook search for the group I made (it’s called December Sketch-a-Day Challenge) and request to join. The goal is 31 sketches, 31 days.

The Sketch-a-Day Challenge is my big goal for December, but I don’t want to stop writing. I also don’t think I told you anything about my NaNoWriMo novel? It’s the self-indulgent telepathic dragon novel I never knew I had to write, and I don’t think I’m even fifty percent through the story at 50,000 hastily-written words. I have a lot of good stuff, especially good ideas, but a lot of those words are unusable and a lot of them will change once I figure out some answers to the Big Story Questions, and I’m finally at a place where I know which Big Story Questions I should ask. So I’m going to keep working on it. Most especially, I am going to take some time for outlining and researching and organizing—all the things I didn’t have time for during NaNoWriMo. I know I need to do lots of non-word-count related work on the story, and I know my sketch challenge will take up the majority of my daily creative energy, so I am setting a very small writing goal of 500 words a day. This makes a total of 15,500 words for the month. That’s sure a significant drop from 50,000, and I’ll top it if I can, but I think 500 words and one sketch every day will be enough to be getting on with. And I think I’ll get tired. But I think I can do it.

What are your goals for December?

Celtic Bull and Status Update

I was reading up on my Celtic Mythology, and I took a break to sketch an illustration I found in the book. The following is a sketch of a drawing of a stone carving of a bull. According to Celtic Gods and Goddesses by R.J. Stewart, the original can be found in Burghead, Morayshire, Scotland (Stewart, 16).

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 5.48.43 PM

 

I’m working, but I’ve been really discouraged these past few days. Sometimes, it’s easier to focus on all the times you’ve quit and let things slide than it is to focus on all those other times you’ve started up again and worked your hardest. You start to recognize every platitude and new strategy as something you’ve said and tried before, as something that obviously didn’t work because here you are again, back to where you started. I also recognize that the negative energy doesn’t help, so I’ve been cleaning and organizing and seeking positive inspiration (thanks, Dad) and taking care of myself (12 mile bike ride, woo!) and working. Writing the words and making the pictures is, ultimately, the only way to prove to myself that I can.

Blog Number 100: Space and Summer and Goals, Goals, Goals

This is the 100th post on the Grace Makley Blog.

Yay.

We also had the two-year blog anniversary sometime last week.

Woooo-hoo.

Neither of these strike me as especially significant, but it’s so hard to get anything done these days that I might as well celebrate small accomplishments.

I’ve been thinking about workspace. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past year is that writing/arting in my apartment is difficult. My bedroom has barely the requisite space for a bedroom; forcing it into double-service as desk-area and studio really taxes its reserves. There is no space I can work in my apartment that is not also the space I use to relax, so it’s hard to find any distraction-free focus. I work in coffee shops when I can, but the difficulty there is the danger of your work being on display. I’m putting together a kick-ass painting of Vanya and I don’t care who looks over my shoulder at Starbucks and sees it, but I’m using a photo of Mr. Huntington as reference. He’s not making I guess the most flattering face in the photo, and the Vanya-shirt isn’t his usual style,  and he’d frankly rather I not inadvertently display it around town—and since I’m going to be needing many more reference photos, I’m rather keen to respect his wishes on that.*

So I need a better space. Not necessarily my own solo space, but a space where I don’t need to feel self-conscious about the accouterments of my work, and a space where I don’t need to buy a drink to stay there. I actually had the possibility of an exciting opportunity that would solve my space problem and provide a fulfilling occupation and some extra income. I was hoping for it with all my hopes. It still may come through, but it’s looking less likely now, so I’m trying to move on to other solutions. I’m at a point where I’m ready to invest money in this, ready to make it happen—except, oh yeah, I’m also out of money! Not out out, but this business of cutting back to three days a week from four without an extra part-time job to fill in the cracks is starting to make itself known in the size of my bank statements. Even if I’m ready to shell out cash for some workspace and willing to make that investment, I just can’t afford it right now.

This post is not supposed to be a downer! I’m just putting the problem out there to the universe. Acknowledging the issue in good faith, making my goals known, stating them so I can start working on them where I can. And hey, I grabbed an extra shift today. And I’ve got a job lined up painting a fence this summer. Not enough for rent on a studio space, but at least I’m getting by.

And, oh yeah, the weather is beautiful. I’m biking places, and yesterday I ran the Back Cove Trail for the first time this year (over four miles, starting from my apartment). Today it reached 80º, and I have more energy after work than I’ve had in a long time. I’ve been trying to eat more fruit, and trying to at least go for walks when the weather is nice and I don’t feel up to running. I cleaned my room yesterday, and some harmony in my space makes me feel like I can breathe. Gotta wonder, sometimes, if Maine winters are really worth it. Do people in warmer climates feel this good all the time? Or are summers only so welcome in places like Maine and Michigan because we have endured the snow and cold and depression all winter long? As someone who would choose 90º F over 50ºF any day, I think I would like the opportunity, one of these years, to discover whether I would miss Maine winters if given the chance to do so.

Hey internet! Do you have any advice for me on finding a studio I can afford in Portland, Maine?

 

*The reference photo problem actually represents a solution to ANOTHER problem, the problem where I wasn’t using as many reference photos as I should because it’s hard to work ON the computer while looking at a photo that is also on the computer. So I started printing my photos! Now I can use my whole workspace for painting, but an 8″x10″ photo propped up beside my computer draws more attention than a few pixels taking up space on a screen.

 

Weekend Retreat

If you read my last post, you’ll recall that working from home is a real struggle for me, even if I’m working on the things I love and the things I want to be doing. This past weekend, I received an amazing gift of time and space that let me do more work in a few days than I’ve been able to do in a long time.

There is a Franciscan Monastery and Guest House in Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s a ten-minute walk from the beach by road, and has beautiful, well-manicured grounds with walking trails through the woods to various shrines and down to the river near the mouth of the sea. Every year before the tourist season begins, the Guest House hosts a retreat for the Secular Franciscans from the surrounding states. A Secular Franciscan is a Catholic who takes vows to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis—but Secular Franciscans aren’t monks, and they are allowed (and encouraged) to get married and live in the world. My parents are Secular Franciscans, and they’ve been taking me on this retreat since I was very, very small.

When I was a kid, there were always older kids at the retreat who babysat and took care of the younger ones while our parents were at the retreat sessions. They took us to find tide-pools near the beach, brought us walking on the trails, and played frisbee and football with us on the lawn. We would sit at our own kids table at dinner, away from the adults, and steal second-helpings of pudding and third-helpings of very sweet iced tea.  As we got older, we became the babysitters for the younger kids. Now I’m twenty or so years older than I was at my first retreat and my parents have aged accordingly, but my parents are still some of the youngest of the professed Secular Franciscans. There weren’t any young families with children at the retreat this weekend, and there weren’t any gaggles of young children running around the grounds the way we did when we were kids. Some of us still come back as adults, but this weekend all my childhood friends were busy (the baby of our old crew was attending his Junior year high school prom) and I was pretty much on my own. And, in terms of making art, that was exactly what I needed.

While my parents went to the retreat sessions and spent their time in prayer and reflection, I went to a conference room on the third floor of the guest house and worked on a digital painting. Given large blocks of time to myself in a space without distractions, I was able to focus. I didn’t even have to worry about feeding myself, because the retreat included included bountiful and delicious home cooked meals served up three times a day. All I did on Saturday was eat, paint, eat, walk to the beach, paint, eat, walk to the beach, paint, spend some time with parents and dears friends, and sleep. I’m excited to show you the painting I was working on; it’s almost done! And of course we can’t be on retreat all the time, but sometimes time away from home shows us what we’re actually capable of when we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted. It was a good way to get back on track mentally and creatively, and I’m hoping to bring a little bit of quiet and focus with me as I travel through the weeks ahead.

Have you had any retreat experiences that have allowed you to get more creative work done that you could do at home? Where do you go when you need to focus?

Time Management 101

It’s Thursday, and I have the day off. I was working Thursdays for several months, so I’m not used to this yet; it feels perilously like a Monday, and I have to keep reminding myself that the weekend will arrive sooner than I think. I’ll get some stuff done today. Important keeping-the-ship-afloat stuff like laundry, dishes, and tidying up the apartment, and I’ll do some writing and artwork on down the line as well.

It’s hard for me to arrive at the place where the story and the canvas are the only things that matter. I get overwhelmed by everything else, and even within my own work I get overwhelmed by the choices. Should I write today, or paint? Is this editing the most important thing, or should I be writing new scenes? Should I be working on this painting that’s for improving my skills, or should I be taking reference photos and getting at the meat of a new illustration for the book? Decision-making is not my best skill, and it takes mental fortitude for me to even decide where to begin. And, if in addition to my pressing need to be someone who actually makes books and art rather than just talking about it all the time, the dishes also need doing, the floor needs vacuuming, the laundry needs putting away, it becomes even harder to choose my work over the work that keeps me happy and comfortable in my space. (I’m not a very good housekeeper, but I also get miserable when the house is a mess. It’s a constant battle, and the more I lose the less I feel like cleaning or doing anything.) This doesn’t mean I’ll actually do all the dishes instead of writing all the things when I get home from work; it just means I’ll feel bad about not doing either and watch another episode of House on Netflix. When I get home from work, I’m just too tired to prioritize and make decisions. I’m not too tired to do stuff—if there’s a scheduled event I’ll change into some nice clothes and go back out there—but if that stuff I’m trying to do is solely for my own happiness and personal improvement, then it becomes ridiculously hard to rally.

Today, I’ll get to the art because I have time to do the dishes first and pack up the laundry. I’ll do some writing at the laundromat, and then I’ll come home and have a cup of tea and keep working. I have all day, so all the things I want to do are more spread out and a little less pressing. I’m not so overwhelmed by the stress of deciding which to tackle in an alarmingly short space of time. I’d rather work only on my days off than never work at all, but I think my task for the upcoming weeks is to find a way to remove the stress of decision-making from my process when I get home from work. To transition from day job to vocation in a way that doesn’t open the door for all the doubts and decisions that I just can’t deal with at that point in the day. Does anyone have any ideas?

Do day-to-day decision hinder your workflow too? How you deal with the conflict between the creative and the mundane, when they’re both fighting for the same real estate in your 24-hour day?

Ruminations on The Struggle

So I’ve ben sketching. It took me three months to post 31 sketches, but this week, I’ve done that many since Wednesday. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the struggle to make art, about what it all means. I’m at a point in my life when I’ve recommitted myself to my artwork and writing countless times, and I’ve been ruminating on how delusional it is to believe, every single time, that I’ve figured it out, that this is what I do from now on, that I won’t need to recommit myself again because this is it, forever. I’ve been thinking about how invigorated I am by change, by new routines and new ways of working, and how bizarre it is that with each NEW thing I think I have found the thing that will ALWAYS work. I’m realizing it is the change itself that always works.

This scares me, because I worry that in my quest for change, for newness, I will never be able to finish anything. This reassures me because I have been working on Wanderlust, a single project, for seven years, and I’ve never given up on it, not even for an instant. I get discouraged and stop working on it for months or years at a time, but I never truly lose sight of it, and I’ve never considered quitting. It’s only my methods of working that change.

I read an internet article recently about what separates amateurs artists from professionals. One of the things listed was that amateurs are always working, always perfecting, and never finished (I’ll try to find the article again to post later on, but right now I’m trying to finish this post before work). If I want to make the leap from amateur to professional, I have to start finishing things. I have to start sending Wanderlust out, I have to start getting rejections. I’ve been thinking about the amount of work I need to complete before I can do that, and I’ve been thinking about how to get it done.

We had one warm day last week. It got up to fifty degrees (F). I’m still in a good mood.

My current New Thing is returning to traditional media for sketches. It’s important to work with yourself, I think, to make things as easy as you can for yourself when you are asking for big efforts and great things. I, for instance, have developed an aversion to pencil dust. I don’t like it on my fingers, I don’t like how it collects in the bottom of my backpack when I store pencils and a sharpener in one of the pockets. So I was sketching with pen, for a while, and I bought some mechanical pencils the other day. They’re pretty annoying for filling in large spaces, and using them for loose work goes against everything I’ve been taught, but for right now they’re what I need for remembering anatomy and working through thumbnails as I prepare to dive into, and maybe finally complete, some real work and some illustrations for Wanderlust.

sketches

A New Challenge for December

So I won NaNoWriMo. Here’s the proof:

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 6.44.32 PM

So, yay me?

It was a pretty cool thing to do. I wrote 50,000 words, and I’m glad I did it, but I don’t feel satisfied by this victory. I’m still hungry. It was fun to work on a different project for a while, but finishing NaNoWriMo doesn’t mark any progress on any of the other goals (writing and art) that I’ve been trying to achieve for the last couple years. I proved I have enough time to 50,000 words in a month. This month, I need to use that time to get stuff done.

I liked having a monthly project, though. That’s a nice, solid amount of time to focus on something. In December, instead of having a word goal for each day, I’d like to make some art each day. Therefore, I’m challenging myself to make 31 sketches during the month of December. My idea is that these can be warm-up sketches, twenty-minute sketches. A short exercise that won’t necessarily use up my entire creative output for the day (I’m hoping I’ll be able to sketch and then write, or sketch and then work on a more complicated artwork), but that will at least ensure SOME amount of creative output.

What do you think? I’d like to post sketches on the blog; do you want to see them? And would you prefer daily sketch updates, or a dump of several sketches every few days or week?

Here’s today’s sketch. I call it Grumpy Self Portrait. I tried to capture that back-to-work-the-Monday-after-Thanksgiving feeling, and I really focused on the expression and the asymmetry of my face. (And yes, I did a sketch yesterday for Dec 1, so this is sketch #2. I’ll share #1 later this week.)

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Please tell me what you think about the new project, and how often you’d like to see updates on the blog. Also, if any art folks are interested in joining me for this December Sketch-A-Day adventure, please let me know; it would be great to have some company. 🙂

 

The Creative and the Subconscious

I dreamed the other night that I owned a beautiful book. I’d acquired it at a great discount at one of those places one sometimes acquires beautiful things at a great discount—the bargain bin at NMU’s bookstore, in this particular case. It had a sapphire and lavender cover, the colors fading and drifting into each other like a sunset. Think the cover of Bitterblue by Kirsten Cashore (one of the [many] [really good] books I am currently reading), but shinier. It wasn’t a story book; it had pictures and text and paintings of magical creatures and words about how to write and how to make art and references for mythology and all other sorts of things. Or only a few of those things, or none of those things at all. What I knew was that it was a beautiful book, and full of all the wisdom and inspiration that I most especially need. Something I was glad to have, and something I wanted to hang onto. With a lot of reverence, I placed the book on my shelf—and here, I ran into trouble. The spine of the book held both the title (some word written in silver flowing script, with multiple S’s) and an image of a white creature, either a dragon or a unicorn. When I placed the book upright, so that the title ran the correct way and the book would open right-side up when pulled from the shelf, I discovered that the creature was upside down. Ah, I said. It was a discount book, after all. I flipped it over, so that the creature was upright and centered, braced against the bottom of the shelf—and now the words were upside down, and ran the wrong way. No matter how many times I re-oriented the book, I couldn’t get it right.

Maybe you’ve already guessed my metaphor.

Nothing’s changed. I still want Wanderlust (the writing, the art) more than anything, but I’ve gotten lost somehow. I’m tripping between the pictures and the words, not sure what I should be working on, and unable to accomplish, or finish, anything—and all the time hunched beneath and wading through the pressures of REAL LIFE, and most days too tired (or too engaged in other things) to make headway on creative projects at all. I don’t know which end is up. I don’t know which way to hold it, and I can’t seem to get it right.

I present you with this blog post sheepishly, ashamedly, like a thief who returns a stolen object at arm’s length, ready to run. I haven’t been following your blogs, or reading your tweets or keeping up with any of you, my internet friends and supporters, and some real life friends too. When I withdraw from the internet, I do so pretty completely. Also, I noticed that each of my sporadic posts over the past MANY moths ends with something like, “I promise I’m going to start blogging more regularly. No, I mean for real this time.” Therefore, this time, I make no promises. What I usually forget about blogging, though, is how it makes you write. Writing is writing. All practice helps. And right now, I do need help.

One more thing. Something I’ve been ruminating on for the past few weeks. November starts in, what, a little over a week? I am… eep… considering doing NaNoWriMo this year. You know, that crazy thing where you write a novel in a month. I’m still undecided, but more tempted than I’ve ever been before. More on that to come. Maybe. If we’re all very lucky, and I manage to write another blog post soon.

-G