How Doing Your Creative Thing Helps You Do Everything Else

I’ve been reading a lot of articles over the past couple of years about working freelance. I’ve joined groups, I’ve tried some initiatives around specific kinds of work. Yet I’ve never really felt 100% confident – maybe not even 70% confident – that I could actually create something that someone else would want.

Just recently, though, I’ve started feeling that confidence – because I’m creating and publishing something I really like.

I’ve read advice abut working out what your vocation is that suggests looking at what you’ve always done. Well, drawing is one of the earliest things I remember doing; working on a transposing of a monster from a book based on The Trap Door when I was but a wee ‘un. For the next few years, I drew sporadically; mostly character portraits for various RPGs, plus the odd attempt at an Aliens-based comic strip.

My first and only strip for the aborted "Fraser Road" web comic, created a little over twelve years ago.
My first and only strip for the aborted “Fraser Road” web comic, created a little over twelve years ago.

Mac Hall got me moving on making my own web comic; artist Ian McConville posted a guide to how he draws his characters and I started fiddling with it in 2001. Though I had lots of ideas and sketches (I used to sketch on the train to and from work), I only got as far as creating a single, publish-ready strip before things fell apart.

Sharing Too Early

It was the old self-confidence (or lack thereof) issue. Vickie tried to give me a nudge toward getting my stuff out there by telling my Mum and Dad about it and getting me to show them the strip I’d done – unfortunately, telling my Mum and Dad that I was doing something was, at the time, the best way to get me to not do that thing. So, though I’d been sketching the odd idea for further strips, I pretty much quit the idea of doing a strip seriously.

And then I stopped drawing. Regularly enough to call “practice”, anyway.

Creative Outlets that Didn’t Let Anything Out

In the meantime, Vickie and I quit Sydney and moved to Cairns. I got a new job, noodled with The Novel I’ve Been Meaning To Write For Over A Decade, fiddled with podcasting and dabbled with creating myself a freelance sideline. Yet I couldn’t find the confidence to try anything seriously.

I’d managed to convince myself that writing a novel was the only way that I could make a profit from my creative side (plus there was always the image of my name on the cover of a paperback to tempt that part of me that craved fame and approval). Yet aside from odd spurts I never enjoyed the process. I’d rarely have something to present at the monthly meeting of the writer’s group I’d joined – which meant I rarely went to them.

The Paid to Play Podcast was the closest I got to a freelance product or marketing tool, yet it too was easy enough to leave behind. I liked podcasts and wanted to have one of my own, and having it largely satisfied the urge. Not only that, it felt at times more like a convenient way to get in touch with cool people (see previous comment re. fame and approval); once I’d built some solid relationships, creating more episodes felt like pushing something uphill – much the same way writing the novel did.

Not only that, I felt a little hypocritical putting up a podcast encouraging folks to make money from the things they enjoyed while I wasn’t really doing anything I enjoyed.

I let the lack of results from my first efforts to make voice or writing offerings and build client bases discourage me, and there was always that nagging feeling that I was creating myself another “day job” – something that paid the bills but that didn’t satisfy any deeper need. Why do that when I already had a day job?

Slamdance Mark I, Take 1
My tilt at Slamdance, from 2012

I picked things up every now and again in the meantime – I tried my hand at drawing Slamdance for my aborted Thing-A-Week project in mid-2012 and worked on a single-panel Deathwatch themed comic strip right around when I was buzzed about the roleplaying game – but I was mainly all about writing, especially trying to finish the novel. I even went as far as chucking out all my old sketches in the last big cleanout we did; as I wasn’t doing anything with it, I reasoned, maybe it was time to get it out of my life.

Falling Back In by Starting Small

Yet at the beginning of this year, I followed a link on the science fiction web site io9 to a web comic called Dangerously Chloe, which led me to the other comics by the same group, Pixie Trix Comix – which led me to a comic they liked, called Go Get A Roomie. Now, this was during the Christmas break, so i had the chance to start from strip #1 with these comics and read forward through three to five years of stories – but though the Pixie Trix stuff was good, it was the difference in art quality in Go Get A Roomie from Strip #1 to the latest one that turned the lightbulb on – maybe I didn’t have to be as good as I thought I needed to be to start.

Out came the pencils and the scrap paper and the results were, frankly, crap. Yet…

When the going got tough with writing fiction, I’d tell myself the same things I told myself (and still do) whilst drawing: I was doing it to practice, first drafts always suck and the current goal was just to establish routines and build momentum.

But unlike with writing, I did keep on going. Sure enough, I started improving on things like hands and feet. I started heading to KerSplatt! Comics drawing my lunch breaks and showing store owner Mal what I was doing and he was very encouraging. (See Mal’s stuff in the margins of the KerSplatt website or even his DeviantArt profile for an idea of how bloody good Mal is). Though I hit a significant hitch in February – there’s another blog post in the offing on that – I got past it and now I have enough done comics for four weeks of weekly releases (two of which are now live on the site).

Why Did It Stick This Time?

0001 - The Thing We're Always Out Of
Slamdance again, 2014.

Maybe it’s the license that web comicking gives me to not take it all so seriously. I can just turn the short scenes of witty banter and random shenanigans into four-panel stories without having to worry about plotting and plans, three-act structures and character studies.

Then there’s the actual drawing aspect of it. I’ve a very visual imagination and drawing feels like I’m putting a chunk of me on the page, even if the result doesn’t match what’s in my mind’s eye. And in that regard, it always surprises me just what comes onto the page; that I might not be as good as I wish but I’m better than I fear.

Re-discovering this outlet has changed how I feel about myself. See, now that I can do this – create something and put it out in public – I feel confident in myself enough to revisit freelancing, to take some of the things I’ve learned from the sidelines and put them into practice. I know know I can create, refine and ship something for me; maybe I can start doing that for others.

Even the Paid to Play Podcast is making more sense now; as I know what it feels like to really make something that comes from you, I have a better idea of the kind of people I want to talk with and the questions I want to ask.

Finally, I’m even finding enthusiasm for the little things I normally avoid; things like weeding the vegetable bed or doing push-ups every day. Okay, the meditation could well be helping there, too. But doing something I truly enjoy – that I don’t feel guilty for setting aside once I’ve done enough for now – means that I don’t get that “Shouldn’t you be working on your income? Your future?” feeling that I used to get when doing chores.

Four Ways To Find and Do Your Creative Thing

  • If you feel like you want to make some sort of change in your life, especially if it revolves around a business, start by doing something creative, something that really comes from you. Leave how it might make you money aside for now and just indulge your love. You never can tell who will find value in what you do.
  • If you’re not sure what your creative thing is, let me re-iterate some advice I’ve seen a bit: Do what you’ve always done, or what you used to do. Mine your past, especially when you were a child, as I did with drawing, and try those things out again with your grown-up eyes, hands, skills.
  • If you find yourself losing enthusiasm for what you’re doing, try something else. Trust your instincts. If your intellect is telling you the thing you’re doing could make you rich but you dislike the action of making it so much you’re avoiding it on a regular basis (and might even be despising yourself for being “lazy”), go with your emotions; you’ll save yourself a lot of misery.
  • Make each unit of your thing small enough that you can polish it and put it out in public in a short time frame. I give myself a week for each comic I do; you can do whatever suits you, but I do suggest making sure you can put something new out on a regular basis. I reckon the biggest confidence boost drawing web comics gives me is being able to mark it “done” and upload it to my server. Even if I don’t get feedback or praise (and that good old need for approval has me hitting my server stats more than is healthy), I’ve shipped something and am going to ship another thing soon – which is what makes me think I can make things specifically for others and ship them to them in a timely manner.

What things are you doing?

What’s your creative outlet? What do you make when no one’s looking, with no (or only idle) dreams of reward?

What things have you tried and set aside?

What things are you doing at the moment – or, more accurately, not doing at the moment – that you’re beating yourself up about?

Oh, and: Do you remember The Trap Door too?

Links

The Trap Door on Wikipedia (Anyone

Mac Hall

Pixie Trix Comix

Go Get A Roomie

KerSplatt! Comics & Collectables

Follow GM Radio Rob!