On Ideas, Blocks, Inspiration & Discipline
I haven’t been making comics for the last 6 weeks because I’ve been feeling blocked and sort of fried out. This actually happens to me every summer and usually with a break and some watering I can come back to it fresh, but today I realized that while this is mostly true, I’m also in a spiral of negative thinking. Meaning, I actually have ideas, but I’ve been kind of a jerk to them by rejecting and/or ignoring them.
When I started making comics a few years ago, I made a deal with myself: If the idea comes I’ll write it and I’ll finish it. No matter what my brain said, no matter how bad I thought it was, if an idea presented itself I was to act on it and see it to its end. This was because I had spent years GETTING READY to be good enough to do or finish anything. I had learned that this voice, while well-meaning and protective in nature, was actually hobbling me and keeping me from doing the work I dreamed of doing. So that’s what I did day after day through diary comics and then on to longer pieces. Some I had no trouble at all with, some were agony to get through. My “Hey Hey It’s Tina Fey” comic was one that I completed while my brain screamed at me: THIS IS STUPID! THIS IS EMBARRASSING! WHY ARE YOU WASTING YOUR TIME ON THIS? To which I kept responding: I promised to finish it! I promised to finish it! I was sure I had embarrassed the hell out of myself, but then I got it done and I’ve been told by some people that it’s one of their favorites.
I have forgotten this promise from time to time and I have drafts of comics to prove it. Do you know what unfinished drafts of comics lead to? MORE unfinished drafts of comics. I tell my students this: The more you complete things, the more your brain will know you are up to doing more. The minute you give up on a comic or delay finishing a story, your will gives up and it actually gets harder to do anything. Not impossible, just HARDER. I’ve had to claw my way back, start small until the engine runs again. I’ll do this and be so happy until the whole cycle starts again–and it will start again.
Usually when I am “blocked” it’s because I am taking myself too seriously and really need to lighten up and do something fun. Sometimes when I am not working I can catch myself turning away ideas because they aren’t “good” or even worse, they aren’t what I “really want to be doing”. The latter one is a relatively new one and is tricky. I do have some vague idea of something larger (a.k.a more IMPORTANT AND SERIOUS) I’d like to be working on, but it’s not there yet and as much as my ego and impatience would like to ride it into the sunset, the worst thing I can do is rush it. Meanwhile I use the IDEA of this idea to delay acting on more readily available ideas that come to me–and there goes the will and the pages of drafts pile up. Which leads me to another truth I have learned since making comics regularly and that I often forget:
Discipline can create inspiration, but inspiration RARELY creates discipline.
Don’t get me wrong, inspiration is a glorious and wonderful place (I ADORE you inspiration!!) but it’s not to be depended on. At most inspiration is a match or a lighter, but it’s not the flame that keeps the way lit. When I am not working and thinking I need something, anything other than what I have to start, I forget that simply showing up and sticking through the initial shitty protests from the brain in the guise of doubt, shame, and boredom, will almost always give way to something else I hadn’t expected. I am always learning from comics and I never know what they have to teach me until its done.
So today I started on a draft I have promised to complete. My brain is not happy, as it thinks I am either too good for it or I am the worst thing in the world–it can’t decide which. Which brings me to another helpful mantra I use from time to time:
Shut up and do.