Outbound/Inbound

A good line from Sumana:

Marketing is an outbound chore that increases the frequency of inbound inquiries.

This sums up a lot of my aversion to being visible (and easily reachable) in online spaces right now. There’s a negligible line between “marketing” and “posting photos on Instagram” (irrespective of what those photos show) because my work and my online selfhood are largely the same. If people remember that I exist, they might send an inbound inquiry. “Inquiry” here can mean anything from a simple heart emoji in response to an Instagram story, to a complex email asking for advice. Both elicit the same sense of panic: someone needs something from me, and I don’t have what it takes to give it to them.

What’s worse is that I often don’t even have what it takes to tell them I don’t have what it takes.

This is embarrassing. I feel shame around it. I know a lot of people deal with it! But I feel shame all the same.

The other thing I catch myself thinking about is that this is totally a Me Issue. I mean, yes: I can make direct requests that people not message me in certain places. I can turn off comments. I can ask loved ones to let me make the first move in initiating conversation. But I’m not sure that’s actually the solution I want.

I want a list of readily available texts or emails I can send that let people know where I’m at without needing to draft them from scratch when I have no spoons to do so.

Take the little autoresponder texts that Apple offers when someone’s trying to call you: “Sorry, I can’t talk right now.” “I’m on my way.” “Can I call you later?” I finally found the menu to change them to something in my own voice the other day because I was so sick of going through the same cycle: getting an incoming call, thinking “AAAAAAAAA I CAN’T TAKE THIS RIGHT NOW,” looking at the available autoresponder texts, thinking “UGH THESE ARE ALL TERRIBLE AND ROBOTIC,” and then taking the call despite not being in the right place to do so.

And of course by the time the call is over I’ve forgotten about finding the menu to change the text response options.

It’s the tech equivalent of only remembering that you need to buy a new shampoo bar while you’re in the shower and unable to do so.

Anyway, I’ve had some truly delightful inbound inquiries lately. I don’t want them to stop. But I do want to build more internal trust around this: that I’ll respect both my own time and other people’s when I step into conversation.

Old Post-It

A post-it note with "skipping days and piling up vs. skipping and always only having to do one thing. Second more forgiving. No consequences. Gets harder the longer you don't do it vs. stays the same effort."

Historically, when I’ve done daily drawing projects like the 100 Day Project and Inktober, I’ve felt strongly about starting on a set day and finishing on a set day. It’s often built into the challenge itself (a given calendar month, or a collectively-accountable longer start and end date), so I guess it makes sense. If I miss a day, I do two entries the following day to catch up. Miss two days? Do three entries on the third day.

I’ve always prided myself on this rigorous adherence to rhythm. I’m someone who gets shit done. Even if I fall behind along the way, I will finish on time. It becomes a pageant designed to placate my completionist, perfectionist ego.

But it also means that the more time I’m away from a practice, the more stressful the task of returning becomes. The work piles up in drifts. I feel more and more anxious. More daunted. More overwhelmed.

As far back as 2016 I was busy chewing on the act of returning as the backbone of a practice, rather than any tangible output that might stem from it. Having a creative practice or a yoga practice or a whatever-kind-of-practice is less about the times when I’ve been in the habit of drawing in my sketchbook or going to yoga every week. It’s about the times when I haven’t been going and then choose to return.

[Obligatory link to Fish, because it’s all about returning. I didn’t read for the first time until 2018, but it’s definitely impacted my thinking here.]

I wrote this post-it note long before I started drawing Seacritters, when I still lived in Portland and was doing a lot of very different things with my life, but I think it’s more applicable than ever.

I decided at the start of this graphic novel project that I could reliably rough out two pages a day. It takes me about an hour per page, and I can manage to spend 2-4 hours at the studio each day. Of course I’ve already missed days in the last few months of starting work on the book. I got sick. I threw a disc out in my back. I took a road trip. I was just too tired to work.

And then on top of that there’s the fact that a comics script doesn’t always translate neatly to the illustrated page! Sometimes pages end up needing to be split in two. Sequences expand and contract like lungs.

And so I feel myself working at a deficit again. The anxiety ratchets up and I worry that my original estimate of when the book will be done will become less and less feasible over time. I push myself to rough out three, four, five pages a day when I do get back to work. To catch up. To buy myself time.

What if I stepped away from something and the pressure to return didn’t ratchet up with each passing day? What if I allowed myself the right to return knowing that the expectation will be exactly same as it’s always been? Returning is always hard. Why am I making it harder? When I return, I don’t have to draw sixteen pages in a single day. I just have to draw two pages.

I always only have to draw two pages.

(So much of this process is just trying to build a system that tells my brain I’m okay.)

A Current Impasse

Historically, I’ve been someone who uses what I’m doing as an indication of how I’m doing.

I’m far from the only person doing this, I know. Capitalism and America’s Puritan work ethic really get off on doing as a substitute for being. But the thing is…it used to work relatively well. My creative work gave me The Good Brain Drugs, and so when I was working effectively and a lot, I’d feel good. A lot of my angst over the past year has stemmed from the anxiety of waiting to start on this graphic novel, which makes sense in this model. Now that I’ve finally started rolling on the project, hitting the studio every morning for three straight weeks, the creative blockade is lifting.

So why do I still feel awful?

The truth of the matter is that my creative/productive self is doing exceptionally well, but my emotional self is not. I have no idea how to deal with this information.

How can I reconcile how excited I am by this project—how tangled up in the joy of designing new characters and solving page layouts like crossword puzzles every morning—with how utterly depleted and depressed and grief-riddled I am in the rest of my life? I’m not used to there being a mismatch. Usually I feel stymied creatively and emotionally until the former comes loose and I hit a rhythm of making that scratches the itch, at which point the latter resolves of its own accord.

Not so now. Hm.

New territory.

Second Plunge

It’s no good. The sea’s too shallow here—too full of hazardous rocks. I’m threading my way through pudgy, puckered anemones sunk flush with the surface of the sand. It’s getting dark. My car’s parked in a 24-minute parking spot and I’ve already been out here for at least 15.1 I should call it. But I’ll feel bad if I call it. But I should call it.

I try walking down the beach instead, just to feel like I’m choosing something. I know there’s a stretch where the sand smooths out into a gentler and more welcoming crescent, but I misjudge the distance and end up equally far from both my car and the better beach. I jog back along the boardwalk, cursing my indecision through my mask.

I spend several minutes in the car caught in The Waffle—the dreaded space where I justify and wheedle and drive myself batty with excuses and alternatives—until my Wise Self barges in.

You’re not seriously going to drive all the way home and go to bed knowing that you were right here and didn’t do this thing that you KNOW always fills you with an unstoppable sense of power and joy, are you?

Monstrous harpy.

I drive the five minutes down the waterfront, throw the car in the parking lot of the hotel from Little Miss Sunshine, and march past everyone enjoying the last glimmers of sunset. I have a covenant to keep.

I’m bolder with my strip down/stride in routine this time—almost too bold; I nearly enter the water still wearing my mask. A quick return trip to my pile of belongings and I’m running back into the breakers. The water is easy and delicious. It’s not even that cold. Six waves pass before I plunge under the seventh. I stand there staring at the tiniest sliver of a new moon rising on my right for what feels like hours.

She’s right. I’ve never regretted this. Two for two.

A glowing beach at sunset. There are shallow, reflective waves moving up the shore. The sky is apricot at the horizon grading slowly into deep blue. On the right, a headland with palm trees silhouetted against the sky. There's a tiny sliver of moon rising.

1. Why only 24 minutes? Such a specific number. Remind me to look that up later on whatever civic planning blog is nearest.

100 Demon Dialogues Tour: Leg 2

Hi everyone!

I’m back from a frankly ridiculous month of touring across the Midwest and down the East Coast, which means it’s time to announce the dates for Leg 2 of the 100 Demon Dialogues Tour. But first, some stats about Leg 1:

PRETTY HECKIN’ COOL, RIGHT? I feel very accomplished. Also very tired. Turns out moving house every 1.8 days will do that to you. Check out these lovely smiling faces from the many bookstores, comic shops, and venues I visited in June:

I was especially grateful to how many people participated in my experimental Guest Book idea, where folks filled out name tags about what their demons said to them. Here’s a selection:

Even though the resultant volume is pretty heavy reading, my hope is that people found it helpful to see visual proof that they weren’t alone in their fears. We can get through this together.

If you’re on the West Coast or hanging around the Southwest, I’ve got a slew of stops for the next few months right here (also a bonus visit to the UK and back to the East Coast for a couple comics festivals):

 

Here are those stops with RSVP links, in case you’d like to invite any local friends to tag along:

  • 826 Valencia‘s Pirate Supply Store (with special guests Rose Eveleth, Molly McLeod, and Anxy Magazine) – 6:30-9pm, July 25th, San Francisco, CA
  • Local Color – 6:30pm, July 28th, San Jose, CA (followed by Mighty Mike McGee’s Spelling Bee/r!)
  • Bart’s Books (Hometown Shindig, come meet my adorable parents) – 7-9:30pm, August 3rd, Ojai, CA
  • Other Books – 6-8:30pm, August 12th, Los Angeles, CA
  • [Venue Forthcoming] – August 16th, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Writers, Ink: Generative Demon Workshop – [Event Page Up Soon], August 17th, San Diego, CA
  • BookPeople – August 20th, 7pm, Austin, TX
  • [Colorado: TBA for Boulder/Denver]
  • Thought Bubble Festival – September 22nd & 23rd, Leeds, England
  • MICE – October 20th & 21st, Cambridge, MA

Thanks for keeping up with this wild and crazy endeavor! I’m looking forward to visiting some new places and returning to old haunts over the next few months.

A note on actually PURCHASING copies of 100 Demon Dialogues:

Due to Some Nonsense, the official in-store release date for 100 Demon Dialogues got pushed out to July 19th (although I heard some comic shops got their copies this week). If you’d like to encourage friends and family to buy a copy in the meantime, you can get both soft and hardcover editions (and Demon Plushies, stickers, postcards, and prints) from my own online shop. This is actually the best place to send folks, because more of the profit goes back into supporting my work, but I also want everyone to be able to get the book from their local shops if they so choose. Keep your eyes out next week for wider availability in stores!

Hope to see you on the road,

L

Inner Critic Investigation Week, Day 4

It’s Day Four of the Inner Critic Investigation series I’m collaborating on with writing coach Deb Norton! We’re hoping these prompts can give you all some insight into what your little jerks are thinking and feeling as they go about trying to stop you from making creative work.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Get a pen and a sheet of paper.
  2. Set a timer for six minutes.
  3. WRITE. Ask your inner critic the question and find out what they have to say. Keep your pen moving, even if you’re writing lies or “Blah blah blah” over and over.

Here’s today’s prompt:

The Inner Critic loves to tell us about all the other things in the world that it believes are more important than working on our creative projects, from taking naps to volunteering at the local food bank. Whether it’s trying to tempt you or shame you, write it all out in a list. What does it think you should be doing instead?

There will be a new prompt once per day for the rest of the week. This is a great exercise to do as a warmup before you sit down to tackle your daily NaNoWriMo goal, or just launch into creative work of any nature. There are no wrong answers. Go wild.

If you want to listen in to a whole conversation about this Creative Resistance stuff, check out this talk I just recorded with Deb.

NOW GET WRITING!

Inner Critic Investigation Week, Day 3

It’s Day Three of the Inner Critic Investigation series I’m collaborating on with writing coach Deb Norton! We’re hoping these prompts can give you all some insight into what your little jerks are thinking and feeling as they go about trying to stop you from making creative work.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Get a pen and a sheet of paper.
  2. Set a timer for six minutes.
  3. WRITE. Ask your inner critic the question and find out what they have to say. Keep your pen moving, even if you’re writing lies or “Blah blah blah” over and over.

Here’s the prompt:

What is precious to your Inner Critic? What do they value above all else? Fame? Security? The knowledge that they’ve successfully prevented you from making a mistake?

There will be a new prompt once per day for the rest of the week. This is a great exercise to do as a warmup before you sit down to tackle your daily NaNoWriMo goal, or just launch into creative work of any nature. There are no wrong answers. Go wild.

If you want to listen in to a whole conversation about this Creative Resistance stuff, check out this talk I just recorded with Deb.

NOW GET WRITING!

Live Event: Demons & Monsters with Jessica Abel

Let’s take a brief trip back in time to January, 2016.

When Jessica Abel started posting the podcast adaptation of her storytelling handbook Out on the Wire, I was totally hooked. The series pulled from her own robust career and from interviews she’d done with luminary radio hosts and journalists, but took a wider stance on applying their lessons to an essential question:

What makes stories work?

I appreciated her candor at not knowing the first thing about making a podcast, and simply figuring it out as she went. I enjoyed the camaraderie of listening to ideas and practice exercises from other listeners. Most of all, I loved the way it helped me think about my storytelling work from a nonjudgemental, process-oriented standpoint. It was a community—not just a product.

So I tweeted about the show and how I much I was enjoying it, which I think is why she ended up watching this talk I’d given at The Animation Workshop in Denmark and following me on Twitter. It was one of those “WHOAAA A REAL CARTOONIST IS LOOKING AT ME WHAT DO I DOOO” moments, which I can tell you from experience everyone has. Jessica co-authored Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, which was a really formative book for me back when I was getting into drawing comics and couldn’t find a program that had the rigor I really wanted from a formal perspective.

Fast forward to this summer, when she wrote and told me she’d been teaching workshops about a creature called The Should Monster that was super similar to my inner demon. Jessica’s students had pinned their inner critics to the page, just as I had, in order to defuse their power.

Should Monsters from Jessica’s students

Then she asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a live, online event—part interview, part Q&A—where we could discuss work-life balance, creative practice, and social media.

WELL, DUH.

I was beside myself with excitement—especially because our dates aligned with the launch of my new Kickstarter, which explicitly deals with overwork and self doubt and a million other things.

And then she wrote this essay about it and I had to come to grips with the idea that somewhere along the way, I had become a working cartoonist. And what’s more, I was good at it. I had learned some things that other people might find useful, and someone I really admired wanted to get that knowledge out to a wider group of people.

It’s not going to silence the little voice that claims I’m a phoney forever, but it’ll definitely do for today.

So here’s our upcoming event!

What:

Demons and Monsters with Lucy Bellwood and Jessica Abel

Join us on Crowdcast to talk about

  • building an audience for your work,
  • using Patreon, Kickstarter, and self-publishing to pay (some of) the bills,
  • and fighting off the Should Monsters and Self-Doubt Demons that want to stop us from making it.

Ask your questions and get some answers!

There will be a replay for those who can’t make it, but you only gain access by registering, so be sure to sign up either way.

WHEN:

July 25 (next Tuesday) at 12:00 noon Pacific, 3 pm Eastern, 9 pm European.

WHERE:

At this link: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/demons-lubellwoo !

This event will be online in real time. You can join us from anywhere via Crowdcast, the online platform we’ll be using to stream. (There’s even an app if you’ll be out on the beach and still want to tune in.)

So reserve your spot here, and we’ll see you soon!

(I’m really, really looking forward to this one.)

The Galaxy of Super Adventure: Fears

Hey Friends,

If you like spaceships, comics, radio drama, and the practice of making things, let me recommend a really fun podcast! The Galaxy of Super Adventure is part one part galactic adventure saga, two parts creative advice round-table. It’s run by my comics pals Ben Hatke, Zack Giallongo, and Jerzy Drozd, and this week’s episode (all about FEAR) features a guest appearance by yours truly!

GosaHeader

I play Bold Space Adventurer and Sensitive Artist Lucy Bellwood, crashing in for a talk about artistic anxiety and self-doubt with the help of my sentient French mustache sidekick, Polly (pictured above).

The whole series is a hoot, and I highly recommend listening to it from the start, but if you just want to jump in for this episode, check it out here. Enjoy!