All I Want

After a couple extremely chaotic late-night email threads at the start of our collaboration on Seacritters, Kate and I quickly agreed that the best thing to do would be a weekly phone check-in where we could talk about story issues, share sketches, and debrief on any notes we’d received from our editor. I’m not used to working in cahoots with this many other people, and I find it overwhelming keeping everyone on the same page, so the ritual of a weekly call seemed both helpful and necessary.

This morning’s was only vaguely concerned with the book, though. We talked about story questions for about thirty minutes and then just…meandered off. We covered a lot of ground (Commonplace Books! Patreon! Gesture drawing equivalents for writers! The Emperor’s New Groove!), but the thing that really stuck with me was the phrase “This was time well spent”.

Kate said it, and it set off that little zing in my brain that registers as truth. This is what I’m looking for, when I draft things or draw things or design things, no matter how tangentially related they might be to my primary aim. And when I’m in a rut, as I am now, it’s often because anything I lay my hands to feels divorced from any context that might make it “worthy”.1

On the good days, everything feels connected—a giant wall of conspiracy string. But on the bad days, every gesture and thought sits in isolation. It’s like I’m looking at the same board, but someone has turned off the layer containing the string. Rather than an electric galaxy of potential I just see…a mess. Disorganized, aimless, futile.

While I would love to be in a position to turn that layer off and on at will, sometimes it’s out of my hands. Those are the moments when I miss the drip-feed of social validation that comes from sharing things on public platforms. It’s a steady piping cry of “Yes! Keep going! This matters!” that can make all the difference between enthusiasm and despair. But I don’t want to rely on it. I don’t want to give away that kind of power.

Talking to Kate got me excited again about ideas that had, only yesterday, seemed dull and lifeless. She made me think that it might not be about the public validation at all. It might just take an enthusiastic co-conspirator to say that it all matters. Everything is new to somebody.

This was time well spent.

1. The whole question of what constitutes worthiness in a creative practice is another matter entirely.

First Foray

I’ve made my first YouTube video! It’s a four-minute rundown on how to bring emotion, action, rhythm, and clarity to bear in writing for comics.

Folks who follow me on Patreon know this came about because I’m working on a graphic novel called Seacritters with my friend Kate right now and it’s her first time moving from prose to comics. I DO NOT ENVY HER. Most of what I learned while putting this together had to do with remembering just how many factors there are to consider in telling stories visually. Hopefully this makes it a bit less overwhelming.

(If you want to learn more, I originally delivered this information to Kate in a much more expansive, 54-slide visual presentation. I’ll be uploading that for Patreon subscribers at all levels later today. An excellent time to join.)

I miss going into Helioscope and getting to enjoy these kinds of conversations around the lunch table, but a nice side effect of the Pandemic is that we’re making more of them available online. (I say “we” but what I really mean is Leila, who’s been a champion about recording, editing, and uploading all kinds of content to the studio YouTube channel. Go take a look around if you like this sort of thing!)

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.

Perfectionism, Process, Patterns

[I’m going to start cross-posting the weird captain’s log audio updates I’ve been doing on Patreon for the last couple years here on my blog. If you’d like to take a spin through the whole archive, I’ve made a page for every past episode here.]

Okay, so! A Ramble. Typically when I share these on Patreon I try to keep it simple and just throw up a list of links to things I talked about, in case folks want to follow up and read what I’m reading. I still don’t know how to approach the practice here. Ironically, this particular Ramble is about the relative ease of talking compared to writing for me, and how the pressure to “get it right” in text is so much stronger.

I recognize that this is probably diametrically opposed to how a lot of people feel about any kind of public (or semi-public) speaking, but I think by talking, and my best thinking-talking usually happens when I’m addressing people who get it. Sometimes this is specific friends for specific projects, but there’s a reason this practice came into being on Patreon. My Patrons have bought into the weird, non-transactional structure I’ve built for my page, which means they’re probably the people I trust the most with an imperfect, non-linear audio snapshot of whatever I’m thinking about at the time.

On a practical note: I talk so much faster than I write. My guess is that a transcription of each Ramble would feel like an insurmountable slog to read through, but as a 20-minute audio snippet it’s a relatively small ask. You can do other stuff while consuming it, which I know people do because they comment and tell me about it! How lovely to imagine a friend or stranger doing dishes or puttering in the garden while we spend twenty asynchronous minutes together. It’s the best.

Every Ramble also comes paired with a photo I took while recording it. This started because I was too lazy to draw a cover for the first one, but it’s become a really important part of the process. It creates a visual touchstone that reminds me of the season and the weather and the moment when I was thinking these thoughts. Seeing them all together feels like a form of cyclical time travel.

Anyway, here’s today’s:

A moody photograph of a skyline at sunrise. There are black buildings and telephone poles silhouetted in the foreground and a streak of orange against slate-grey clouds on the horizon.
December 8th, 2020

This Ramble felt like going to therapy on a week where I think nothing in particular’s been going on, but find myself reckoning with the unseen weight of countless stressors from the last three days alone within five minutes of opening my mouth. Except I should replace “stressors” with “stuff I’ve been thinking about while reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home” to paint a more accurate picture.

And because I do think it helps, here’s that list of links to things mentioned:

So that’s that. These come out roughly every 2-3 weeks, or as the mood strikes. Don’t set your watch by it.

Smut Peddler: Sordid Past

A few months ago I got an invite to pitch a comic for the latest installment of Smut Peddler, the wildly popular, sex-positive anthology series from Iron Circus Comics. The current volume, Sordid Past, captures sexy escapades from days gone by, making this the first time my track record of drawing comics about both maritime history and sex toys (and also the intersection thereof, sort of) has paid off in the form of a professional opportunity. Never again will I joke that my brand is in tatters; THERE IS ROOM FOR EVERYTHING!

The book is already fully funded on Kickstarter and features a truly stunning lineup of artists. I mean, let’s start with this cover from Yuko Ota:

An illustrated book cover with gold text that says "Smut Peddler Presents" across the top and "Sordid Past" at the bottom in large type. Three people in period clothing seductively embrace on a grassy hillside. There's a tiny silhouette of a tall ship in the background.

DELIGHTFUL. (And I’m not just saying that because it features a Good Boat.) It’s also chock-full of stories set everywhere from a temple in Pharonic Egypt to a 1980s American arcade, all of them sweet and sexy and consent-driven and magical. Truly, something for everyone.

I’ll admit: I was scared to say yes to this gig. I’d never drawn Actual Sexy Comics before and the folks in this anthology are…well, they’re very good. So many skillful artists who’ve been doing this stuff for years, including people whose work I’ve followed since I was in high school.

No pressure.

Because I’m me, I said yes on the condition that I could make a comic about queer lady shipwrights plying their trade under the radar in 1750s England. This is partly because of a long-running gag that I’m some kind of Boat Pervert, but also because it seemed like a story premise I could really get excited about.

A warm-colored three panel selection from a comics page. Two women look at plans for a ship on a large desk. One of them is saying "Ah! This keel line! And the curvature on these headrails! Unf! Nobody draws timber framing like you."

Even with an exciting premise, though, it’s hard to focus on whether or not something is sexy when you’re busy desperately trying to make sure the page layouts are engaging and the anatomy is correct and the dialogue works and the colors look right while also subjecting yourself to scathing perfectionism. But! Contributor Lyndsay McSeveney had made a Discord channel for Smut Peddler artists, and with some wrangling from Harriet Moulton everyone ended up in the same digital space sharing process shots and trading feedback. Seeing all these amazing creators working through their respective anxieties over the course of the project—and cheering each other on—was an invaluable reminder that we all have our demons and hang-ups in doing this work. (You’d think I’d’ve internalized this by now having literally written a book about it but SURPRISE! I have not.)

Anyway, after a lot of self-flagellation (not like that) I managed to turn in a 12-page story I’m very proud of, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the book. Sordid Past funded on Kickstarter almost instantly, so this thing is definitely happening—and every $5,000 raised over the initial goal translates into a $5-per-page raise for us artists! This is such a smart move on the part of Iron Circus: limits liability for the publisher, passes Kickstarter success onto the creative team, and generally forms a more symbiotic relationship between everyone involved. I love it.

I’ll be sharing a proper process write-up (including some of the hilarious reference photos I had to come up with) over on Patreon, so join me there if you’d like to learn more.

That’s all! Thanks for reading about this very, very niche thing. I hope you enjoy it.

The Long, Hard, Elegant, Easy, Stupid, Creative Way

I read something this week that really ticked me off.

I’ve been building my page on Goodreads as I gear up to put 100 Demon Dialogues into the world, which partly means leaving lots of reviews for creators whose work I admire. If you follow me on Patreon you’ll know Deb Norton because I interviewed her for my unofficial podcast, but just in case you don’t she’s got an amazing book called Part Wild: a Writer’s Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance. She was also my writing mentor in high school, and I owe her an enormous debt for her impact on my creative development.

Anyway, I realize reading reviews on Goodreads is basically like reading the comments anywhere else on the internet (DANGER, DANGER), but after writing my review for Part Wild, I idly scrolled down the page to see what else people had said about the book. And then I stumbled on the following sentence:

…if you are really finding it that hard to write and need to use all these prompts and tips, then it probably means that writing is not for you – find something else to do.

You know Ghost Rider? He’s that comic book character who’s basically a flaming skeleton on a motorbike. That’s what I turned into directly after reading this sentence: just a skull on fire in road leathers doing 90 down a highway screaming “FUCK OFFFFFFFFFF.”

Whenever I react this violently to something it’s usually because I fear there’s a grain of truth in it.

This attitude digs at the root of something that’s deeply entrenched in our cultural beliefs about what creativity “is” (the answer, of course, is many things—it’s a paradox—but we’ll get into that later). We’re taught to think that, for creative people, making things is easy. You know you’re “Creative” when you’re able to sit down and art flows from your fingertips like water from a mountain spring. The Muse appears, the Art happens, and there you are like some sort of divine lightning rod just channeling your Gift into the world.

I’m as much a fan of being in a flow state as the next guy, but I also think this is a dangerous load of hooey.

Like, what does this mean, really? That experiencing any type of resistance or challenge means you should just give up and go do something else? This is not a growth mindset. It is small and constrained and petty and miserable and OOOH IT MAKES ME SO MAD.

Okay, okay. I’m under control. I can do this.

Do I worry that I’m not cut out to be an artist (or a writer, or a small business owner, or a public speaker, or a…) whenever the work feels like pulling teeth? Of course I do. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this great talk Frank Chimero gave about doing things “the long, hard, stupid way,” and it always makes me feel a lot better.

Frank was struggling writing his first book, and then judging himself for struggling because clearly it meant he was doing something “wrong.” (This is something I’m very guilty of.) But then he shifted his perspective and recognized that this less efficient methodology actually defined his creative process. Accepting the quirks of his personal practice allowed him to relax into it. (Pair this with Chuck Wendig’s excellent advice to “embrace the joy of the forbidden.“)

I am constantly reminding myself that experiencing resistance, strife, doubt, and complexity mean I am on the right track. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career it’s that these feelings are normal and they do not go away. In fact, if you’re experiencing a total absence of those feelings it probably means you’re not taking any risks at all, which means you’re not growing, which means it’s time to get back in the ring.

Okay, next paradox:

I have complex feelings about Tim Ferriss, a massively successful technology-culture-productivity-type entrepreneur, but I was interested to read about his take on overcoming these mental traps:

What would this look like if it were easy? is such a lovely and deceptively leveraged question. It’s easy to convince yourself that things need to be hard, that if you’re not redlining, you’re not trying hard enough. This leads us to look for paths of most resistance, creating unnecessary hardship in the process.

But what happens if we frame things in terms of elegance instead of strain? In doing so, we sometimes find incredible results with ease instead of stress. Sometimes, we “solve” the problem by simply rewording it.

So now we fight, right? The Long, Hard, Stupid Way vs. The Elegant, Easy, Simple Way.

But I don’t actually think these attitudes are opposites. There’s the inherent challenge of making creative work, but then there’s the self-judgement of that challenge—and that’s what Ferriss’s question can help us get around.

Rather than getting mad at ourselves for being a skull on fire, maybe we just accept that being on fire is sometimes a normal part of the creative process. That way whenever we burst into flames and/or have a case of the brain weasels we don’t have to worry that there’s something wrong with us. We can accept the weasels as part of the process and get on with doing normal things, like riding other wheeled contraptions, coming up with new ideas, and continuing to move forward with the work.

I think I’m gonna leave it at that.

***

(A note on credit: the Ghost Riders—or should that be Ghosts Rider?—in this post were illustrated by: Marc Silvestri, John Cassaday, and Mike Bear. Thanks, fellas.)

Inner Critic Investigation Week, Day 6

It’s Day Six 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 Critic as if it were a separate, living character. I’ve found this massively helpful for understanding what’s in my way when I sit down to make 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.

Today’s prompt is:

Your Inner Critic is probably all too keen to tell you about the things you’re doing wrong, but about the times they’ve royally screwed up? Take confession in six minutes of free-writing.

If you’re feeling brave and want to share any of your responses to these prompts, you can leave excerpts in the comments below, or email them to me (lucypcbellwood@gmail.com) to be included in an anonymous roundup at the end of the project. The last prompt goes up tomorrow!

If you haven’t done so already, you can listen to a whole conversation about this Creative Resistance stuff in 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!

Inner Critic Investigation Week

This week I’m thrilled to announce the release of my latest podcast episode with writing coach Deb Norton, a long-time friend and extraordinary creative resource.

I’ve known Deb since I was 13. She brought me into my first writer’s group and taught me so much about working with my inner critic in the company of other dedicated creators. She was a huge inspiration for the 100 Demon Dialogues project, so I’ve been itching to talk with her for a while. We ended up recording an hour-long conversation about creative resistance, grit, risk-tolerance, accountability, limitations, shame, self-knowledge, protection, NaNoWriMo, recovery, process, and so much more. You can listen to the audio through SoundCloud, or watch the video if you’d rather see us wave our arms while we put everything to rights.

As a fun bonus exercise, we decided to collaborate on a series of seven prompts that will help you get to know your own Inner Critic a little better. The rules are simple: set a timer for 6 minutes and let your demon do the talking. It always wants your attention anyway, so give it the floor and see what happens.You can write lies, you can write truths. Just make a mess.

A new prompt will go up at 9am PST every day this week. You can find them on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Patreon, Facebook or via this blog. (Gracious, that’s a lot of social media. Something for everyone, I guess!)

Thanks for reading, and good luck with the prompt! I look forward to hearing what comes up for you all.

Time-Lapse Boats

I had a ton of fun wrapping up these watercolor paintings for my top-tier backers on the Baggywrinkles Kickstarter last week. Here’s a look at the final lineup of paintings:

verticalships

Clockwise from upper left, we’ve got El Galeon (hiding behind PDX YAR’s First Mate), L’Hermione, Brig Niagara, and Kalmar Nyckel (in disguise under a different paint job, for reasons outlined in this Tumblr post).

In the process of getting all of these done, I learned a bunch about making time-lapse videos, which you can check out below:

And if you’re curious about the tools used for these projects, here’s a sneak peek at a post I put up for my supporters on Patreon all about my watercoloring setup:

watercolorsetup

I put up an informative essay each month about some aspect of my creative process, along with a load of other content for folks to read/watch/listen to/generally enjoy. I serious adore Patreon as a platform for making more of this work possible, so if you haven’t already checked it out, go take a peek! (There’s a lot of free stuff there, too, if you don’t want to commit to chucking some money my way each month.)

More news coming next week! Stay tuned.