A Donut

On April 16th, 2018, a friend of mine began a 100 Day Project—a collection of self portraits in ink, framed as a meditation on gender.

The tiny illustrations began to pile up: two weeks, 100 days, a year.

They kept drawing.

At 862, they stopped sharing to Instagram, but said they would probably keep going in private. (We love to see it.)

And then, a couple days ago, a text:

A screenshot of a text message which reads "I'm on day 1006 of my little drawings. Quite something."

I asked how they were feeling about the milestone.

A screenshot of an iMessage chat dialogue. The speaker on the left says: Honestly right now my relationship to these drawings is similar to flossing. It’s something I do every day and then I feel virtuous  And I actually like that I’ve managed to make it that much of a habit  They’re not phenomenally interesting but the continuity and the habit is cool. The other speaker replies: Mm I really like that point where it ceases to be about the art itself and shifts to being the behavior around the art. The first speaker says: Yeah that’s an interesting place. And probably where most art actually comes from.

And now I’m laughing thinking about Benoit Blanc and donuts, because this is how I feel at moments like this—screenshotting a perfectly normal text conversation because something about it makes me think “HANG ON”.

Not the art, but the behavior around the art.

A donut! One central piece, and if it reveals itself the fog would lift, the arc would resolve, the slinky become unkinked…

It feels right, at least in relation to my own practice, which is often very much predicated on rules and rituals. (30 Days of Portraits. 100 Demon Dialogues. 1000 words a day.)

These are all projects where the structure of the undertaking supersedes the content. Fixating on the satisfaction of completing another link in the chain allows my less-than-perfect artistic skill to slip past the Watcher at the Gate undetected. Success is defined as adherence to the practice, not excellence in the craft.

The joke, of course, is that they’re one and the same.

The Ritual is the Cab

There’s a paragraph from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit that lodged firmly in my brain when I first read it in college. (I loaned my copy of the book to a friend years ago and it was only recently returned it to me, so this is the first chance I’ve had to go back and reread it in a long, long while.)

A photograph of a page from Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. It reads: I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

THE RITUAL IS THE CAB.

Eh-hem. Anyway. She goes on:

Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed. The cab is moving. I’m committed. Like it or not, I’m going to the gym.

The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing. (I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.)

This bit at the end! The question of “whether or not I like it” immediately countered with the truth that if this ritual is something I have built that will carry me towards things I have decided are meaningful to me, then it will automatically be the right thing.

But even when the right thing has proved, time and time again, to be rich, pleasurable, surprising, rewarding, and thrilling, I still have a brain that fixates on the times it is not. Sometimes it is infuriating, terrifying, or disappointing (although almost always those feelings come at the start, not during the act itself—or after the finish). I latch onto the negatives, drowning in avoidance, believing I can think my way around them.

Tharp’s model requires a clear-eyed statistician’s view—an assessment of the facts. And the fact is I feel good about the act of creation far more often than I feel bad about it. The ritual becomes a method of tipping over the edge into that inexorable slide—the point where it would be far more work to turn back than it is to go forward. The point where you can’t help yourself.

This is the mantra I need going into my next project, quaking in my boots because it all feels new and beyond my capacity or control:

I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.

Dove in sobbing—came out laughing

My friend Chloe threw up a Twitter thread this morning about trying to learn to dive as an 8-year-old (something I also spent many early years terrified of doing).

I’ve never forgotten the professor on my orals board who listened to all the questions and considerations I’d thrown into coming up with my thesis concept before asking

“Do you really have to go through this orgy of anxiety before you’re able to begin any creative project?”

GOD, IT MADE ME MAD.

Of course I worry about this all the time. WE ALL WORRY ABOUT THIS ALL THE TIME. But if I’m worrying at something, claws sunk into a paradox that feels irresolvable and keeps me up at night and makes me hold up the line time and time again, tears streaming down my face because I want to do it and I know I can and I want to and I can if I just stand there a little longer I’ll get there I know it—

That’s how I know I’m on the right track.

“Dove in, sobbing. Came out laughing.”

It’s hard right up until the moment it becomes simple. I don’t think anyone’s ever done a better job articulating how I get things done.

[Just realized I wrote what amounts to another version of the same blog post two years ago, except it’s got more Ghost Rider in it. Go figure.]

Inner Critic Investigation Week, Day 5

It’s Day Five of the Inner Critic Investigation series I’m collaborating on with writing coach Deb Norton! Our goal is to help you develop a dialogue with your inner monologue and better understand why your brain keeps trying to stop you from making 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:

Often our Inner Critics are busy being, well, critical. What makes them truly happy? The knowledge that they’ve successfully protected you from failure. A heaping plate of junk food. Convincing you to do what they want. Shiny pebbles. Getting to see a movie. You can also try moving from the prompt “I’m happiest when you…”

If you’re feeling brave, share your results from these exercises in the comments below, or email them to me (lucypcbellwood@gmail.com) and I can post them anonymously. I would love to have a collection of Critic Quotes at the end of this experiment.

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 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!

Inner Critic Investigation Week, Day 2

It’s Day Two 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:

Often our Inner Critics harp on us because they’re scared of what will happen if we try something new. Ask your Inner Critic what’s out there. What could go wrong? What would the consequences be?

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.)