I always feel like any title besides "artist" is a little ill-fitting, if only because I have so much more experience and practice with drawing and painting and the like. Visual media is where it's at, that's where I can say without a doubt that I know what I'm doing. I can channel all my intentions into my drawn work and figure out for myself if I achieved what I wanted or not. It feels rather like I've already unlocked most of the "tools" to drawing, and now it's just about making new works and combining things in unusual ways to keep my mind expanding.
So it's difficult to accept that, yes, I can write, and yes, I can make music, too. Being able to see just how much I don't understand yet makes me feel like I don't deserve to be able to use those titles yet, even though that's absurd. Anyone who draws is an artist. Anyone who writes is a writer, and anyone who makes music is a musician. This says nothing of skill or experience, but it's important to embrace that you can always learn how to be creative, that you can always improve at something you're working towards.
But of course, it feels really uncomfortable when you know you're nowhere near where you want to be. This even goes for people with a lot of experience in a field; I have several friends who experience impostor syndrome, even though they're successful and talented people. No one would even be able to guess, because they're doing work in their field and they're active and know what they're doing. But… that's not how they feel.
Mindset can make such a huge difference. Part of what I've been trying to move past is feeling like I'm not allowed to call myself "writer" or "musician" until I've "caught up" to my art experience - mostly because if that were the case, I'd never be able to. I spend far more time drawing than I ever will writing or making music. And besides, I've been practicing story / comic writing for 5 years now… which is something I didn't realize until I sat here and did the mental math really quick. That's a pretty decent amount of time dedicated to trying to get better at stories! And I've been messing around with music on and off for over two years now. That's pretty good!
I think it can maybe get a little easier to accelerate your learning with a creative medium after you've already learned how to be freely creative in another. The biggest hurdle is understanding that there are no rules, that there is only figuring out how to invoke different feelings and emotions in others. Setting some goals and trying to figure out how to achieve those goals is really important for my personal process. Also, it's gotta be enjoyable. If I'm not enjoying it, I can still learn from it quite a bit, but it also means I'm doing it wrong. Still useful to know, but not what I want. Nothing says I need to do anything that isn't fun for me, so I won't. (More on that later.)
It's hard when you reach that middle point, where you're pretty decent, but you really want to elevate your pieces. That requires a lot of hours, and a lot of thinking. It requires understanding exactly what kinds of things to throw away, and what to keep, and that's sometimes a little overwhelming. This is where an outside eye can help, if you have experienced friends. It's also where the most room for unique growth is possible, if you figure out a creative solution on your own. The balance is tricky, and depends wholly on what you want to achieve. I like to do things that are very "me", which means I'm very choosy about the kinds of input I want so other people's suggestions won't override my own thoughts. I already have feelings and emotions in mind, and I just want to figure out how to reach them in my own way.
Relatedly, getting better at writing has been a huge challenge. Like drawing or painting, it's extremely subjective. There's no "wrong" way to do it, but you might not evoke the right feelings in the reader if you're not being critical of your work. And then for me, there's a certain finesse required in relying on intuition vs thinking very hard about whatever I'm writing. It makes me feel really uncomfortable to show off a draft that I know isn't very good, but sometimes I need to do it so I can figure out what I can learn from it. Luckily, my husband understands this!
But, he also has a completely different writing process than I do, and it's been a challenge to come together on this and to learn from each other. He's read so much more than I have, and he's naturally pretty clever and funny; these things are reflected in his work. Even though he didn't really start writing until about when I did (when we worked together on our first project), he impressed me right away. I'm sure if I were looking back on his old writing now, I'd still remember the things I loved, even if he'd cringe. I'm guessing that's the inverse of how we'd feel if we were looking over my old art. Haha.
Speaking of old writing… I wanted to pull my hair out near the start of even trying to write comics or stories or… really, anything. It was so hard! What kind of idea did I want to capture? Why? What was the point? Was it leading to anything bigger? What kinds of ideas were even worthwhile? I had no idea. It was almost too much! So I just started somewhere, and made a bunch of comics that weren't very good, but they really helped me get a handle on what it felt like to explore my mind and my words. I got to find out how much I liked executing visual humor, and I got to find out I didn't care a lot about stories that weren't working towards a point. I mean, I got to learn a bunch of other stuff too, but it all came from just going "I need to make something or I'll never even start." And that's really how it is, how it'll always be: you're going to flail for a while before getting more comfortable with whatever you're trying.
My mind's been all over the place with this post, because I have so many thoughts about how I even got to where I am now. I keep coming back to the thought that's been with me for days, about how many people:
1) really enjoyed Try, Try Again's ending, but
2) didn't understand it all the way, and yet they still
3) cried really hard.
And also, that's roughly what I wanted to achieve. Uh, minus the crying bit. I actually didn't anticipate that, because I didn't cry while writing it. So many people told me they cried, a lot, but that feels so weird because I'd just spent hours carefully and meticulously editing the ending, scribbling new ideas and crossing them out over and over, erasing and inserting a couple of scenes very close to the deadline. The feeling and flow had to be just so. I knew what I wanted to imply, so I wrote around that premise. And I guess I did achieve it, because the emotional impact of the scenario (that hasn't been fully revealed yet) still hit them hard anyway. How interesting and exciting is that? I'm sure there are a good handful of people who were just plain confused, but that's all right, too. Enough people "understood" the emotions that I felt it a success.
I want to say more about writing that whole part, but it does get difficult to talk about. So much of what we do is intuitive! I'll get urges about the way I need to think about a scene, about the first approach I need to take to a draft or an idea, and I'll just sit down and start writing stuff and drawing related imagery. I need to have an idea I want to convey, and then I need to figure out the best way to imply story. It has to feel right, and it has to feel exciting to draw. If I can't come up with the visuals, it's not good to me.
...but that's not going to work as a cue for everyone, because I'd say that most people don't feel like their paintbrush is an extension of their arm. I'd say I have an advantage in that way, with the medium of comics. An awful lot of the editing happens by itself if you just pay attention to where the art and the words are redundant. Or if I'm just like, "I don't want to write these words on this page, they feel boring." That's what happens when I approach Marl's script: with a clear head, I can sit down and start thumbnailing some ideas, and I'll get a feeling for where it's falling short or where it shines. I mean, it's absolutely up to me to enhance even the best parts of the script, too. If my art isn't exemplary, then I'm risking ruining the impact of whatever he's written. (Or whatever I've written.)
I don't think it'll ever get easier to do a bunch of concept work and then go "this is all now scrapped." It's always frustrating for me, even just for a moment. I absolutely know that better work is around the corner, and it's just my impatience and lack of understanding that are both getting in the way, but… it really does suck to still not have the right idea yet.
So what's the balance between "putting out work consistently" and "finding the right idea"? I guess this varies per person. For me, I can't really afford to not work, so I'm constantly scrambling to keep coming up with the right idea so I can keep putting out work. My paycheck depends on it, as does my mental health. Not putting out work gets me into a depressed rut. If I'm not at the right idea yet, then I have to start scribbling scene ideas in my sketchbook, or I have to start talking with Marl to figure out what's wrong and why we don't like it. Marl hates doing much (well, any) planning in advance, but I require at least some ideas to work towards. A goal. He also needs a goal, but we both like having different amounts of detail in our heads before we start writing a scene or a part. This can make it super hard when I need to start sketching ideas for a scene we're both working on, and he's still working on half a dozen scripts he'll never show me because they're not the right idea yet.
But what does it even mean to be the "right idea"? How do you know what to throw away?
For us, that means a certain feeling. It means not feeling constrained by the idea, not feeling like our creativity is going to be chained down. To not feel like there is only one path towards the end, if approached a certain way. It means excitement that fuels the drive to work on it. In a single phrase, it always comes down to:
Is it fun?
If it's not fun, it's not worth it. If it's not fun for me to write, for me to listen to, for me to draw, then it's not worth someone else's time to experience, and I'll throw it away without any regret. I think this is the only "rule" I'd say I wish I could get other people to follow. Your best work comes through when you're being playful, when you're learning how to do something in a way that is "you". When you think, "it'd be really fun if I could do X", then… maybe give it some thought. That urge is what creates something personal. To channel your interests and what you enjoy into a work, that's what makes it stand out! To experience a certain perspective -- something unfiltered, something not curated to be like everything else…
That's the kind of work that I enjoy best, anyway. I like seeing the visions of a small group of people, or of one person, manifest into a very personal story. I feel like that kind of stuff always resonates really hard with enough people that it's worth trying to pursue. To create art and experiences is necessary for me to express myself, but the flipside is other people experiencing those expressions and interpreting it in their own way. What a strange power! To be able to cause feelings in other people you'll never meet, people you'll never know! Dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands… and then the effect continues, as those people are changed in some way by the experience, and as they're driven to create and influence others. How strange and wonderful.
I think writing becomes a lot more enjoyable when you realize that you can do whatever you want with it. Once I started realizing that I should have goals in mind for a feeling or idea I wanted to convey, it got a lot easier. I could scribble out anything that didn't fit the feeling of the scene. Realizing that everything needed a point… well, it was the same idea behind all of the surreal imagery I've been doing for the past year in the stories. Sometimes the point is something very abstract that very few people will ever truly get, but it still has to be present in your head as you work. There has to be something that makes the piece cohesive as a whole. Taking an idea and going all out, that's important!
On that note, Marl likes to say "if you ain't outta control, you ain't in control" which was kind of a "not really" joke to start. Mostly because it sounds silly, but it's also how we approach the stories. When we have the thread of a good idea, we have to keep tugging on it. How extreme can we get? How much bigger, grander can the idea be? What would elevate the idea from "cool" to "really fucking fantastic"? How can we find the push that tumbles us over the edge into an idea so exciting I can't even contain myself?
It takes a lot of "what if"s, and a lot of not settling for the first ideas. So many people are scared they'll never be able to come up with something better if they throw away whatever they've been working on. I understand the fear. Like I said, it sucks. But, those ideas are a good place to piggyback from. But I mean… I look back on what i've done thinking "what if we'd settled for the first ideas?" In terms of the past 3 arcs (Itchy Itchy, Broken Toy, and Try, Try Again) and I feel horrified.
So much of those stories wouldn't even exist. I mean, aside from the obvious that Try, Try Again wouldn't exist in any form... But also, did you know that Broken Toy part 3 originally just had a kinda generic scary comic that Beleth was reading? No story from Price. No cool dream sequence. But I read the first drafts and I couldn't muster excitement. "What's the point? I don't want to draw these scenes from this random comic." So he tried again after getting inspiration for how to approach that part, and I was enthralled. Suddenly it was super exciting for both of us! What was this new, bizarre story? I had no idea, but it meant I got to make some amazing visuals for it, and that I got to start flexing my surreal mind muscle again. I was so, so into it. All of it.
And that's just a couple examples! We threw out literally hundreds of pages over the course of working on Try, Try Again.
But it was worth it. How are you going to find your best ideas if you keep sticking with the first and easiest ones? And it's not like you'll never have more. Anyone can have more ideas. Anyone can keep thinking of new things. It just gets more difficult to ask the right questions to transform the ideas into something truly spectacular, but even something like that just requires practice at the mindset.
Always keep questioning and learning! And never stop having fun. That's important, too.