I Don’t Know What I Know Till I Know How I Know It

I love it when my Patrons prove me wrong.

The best instance of this was when a few of them bullied me into making a $50 tier for the page—which I thought nobody would spring for—so they could give me more money. Years later, I am still flabbergasted that anyone has joined at that level—let alone the very loyal and kind group who have stuck around. They are life-changing types.

So you’d think at this point I’d know not to underestimate them.

But this morning I published a 1,300-word essay about trying to start work on the scripting process for Seacritters, my forthcoming graphic novel project with writer Kate Milford, and thought that nobody in their right mind would read it.

I liked the writing a great deal, and it definitely captured what I was going for, but it was, y’know, 1,300 words. If I’d received it in my inbox as a Patron, I would’ve taken one look and thought “mmmmmmaybe I’ll read that one later.”

Because my attention span these days is, to put it mildly, not great.

So I gave myself a bit of a talking-to about engaging my Inner Editor a little more in the future…but then people started to comment! They began to discuss! And over the course of the morning I realized that a bunch of humans I respect immensely had actually taken the time to read those 1,300 words, and had found them helpful, and were excited for more.

The best feeling.

Atom

NB: I originally shared this post on Patreon on July 14th, 2017, just after launching the Kickstarter for 100 Demon Dialogues. I wanted to link to it in an essay I’m working on right now, but I’m also trying to consolidate my writing on my own website, so I’m reposting the whole thing here. This kind of low-key time traveling will probably keep happening.


This is a story about the first time I successfully orchestrated a theatrical cue of my own design.

I was a sophomore in high school, dipping my toes into other areas of the dramatic obsession that had consumed me from an early age. Us technical theatre students were asked to light and score brief monologues performed by members of an acting class. It was my first brush with the luminous cellophane gels that would become my livelihood for the next three years and grant me the financial freedom to travel on my own before college.

My friend Kendall was performing the opening speech from The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel. In it, a girl describes learning about the enduring nature of the atom for the first time in her life. I’d built up a multi-hued blue Fresnel background wash and a slow, warm Source 4 from house left, carefully trained on her face and nothing more. Kendall ran through the words, savoring the phrases—a tongue of fire that screamed through the heavens until there was our sun—until she closed with three lines: 

Atom.

Atom.

What a beautiful word.

A gentle beat after that last syllable, Jon Brion’s “Row” came in, one note at a time, while the warm front light dwindled until she was just a silhouette in blue. The lilting piano carried the moment for 15 seconds and then faded into silence. 

We’d rehearsed and tried all the individual elements and fine-tuned the timing, but the first time I got to call the shots and watch as light and sound cascaded into something that heightened the emotional impact of her performance, I burst into silent, happy tears in the booth.

Orchestrating the conclusion of The 100 Day Project and launching my Kickstarter this week pushed those same buttons in ways I never could have anticipated.

When I figured out how I wanted to end the series—and I knew a few weeks in advance—I started to panic. I’d never run a daily webcomic before. The notion of an audience investing in a storyline and hanging on every page was entirely new and utterly intoxicating. I’d largely given myself permission to shoot from the hip for so much of the project. Before, there were no wrong answers. Now, it suddenly felt like I had the potential for failure. 

The last few weeks were grueling—all frantic scripting and logistical production and minutia and a million moving parts (on top of the creative work itself). It’s something that flummoxes me when people ask for advice about how to run a good Kickstarter. All I can think is “Just do everything. Work the hardest you can at absolutely everything. And then somehow, magically, it works.” And I don’t think that’s what people want to hear. “Turn thrice widdershins and sacrifice a goat” is way simpler.

Wednesday rolled around and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I’d stayed up way too late finishing the final entry. Folks had sent me photos of themselves on Twitter to draw into the panel (though they didn’t know it at the time). I’d shot reference out my own front door and fretted over the sketches and then, in a rush, poured it out. The finished project resonated with what I’d pictured in my head. It felt, mercifully, right.

At 9:55 am, I posted the final entry, closed my eyes, and counted to sixty before pushing the launch button on the Kickstarter page, and then I counted to sixty again before triggering the blog posts and the newsletters and the updates and the notifications—all these moving parts I’d carefully structured to help guide a new project into the world.  

And when people flooded in to say “YES” to the ending, and the journey, and the campaign, I discovered that all those neurons were still there, lighting up at the pleasure of seeing a well-timed cue resolve all those moving parts into something more.