Creating, Making, Giving

Some thoughts on making things exist. The joy and fear of it all. A sequel to this post on Passion and Work and Adulthood.

1.

Lately I’ve been thinking of a few things.

  • The corporatisation of webcomics. How creators now rely on platforms. How goals are influenced by corporate interests: a million views, a contract with a telecom company asking you to produce a mind-boggling 70 panels per week, an adaptation to TV or film or some other Hollywood thing.
    (side note: I don’t think those are bad goals by themselves. Just that it is very sus when those become the default ideal, obscuring all alternatives. What I really don’t like, though, is the corporate-created idea that 50 to 70 panels (10-12 pages!) a week is the standard for webcomics. It creates an unhealthy expectation for creators and readers alike.)
  • Someone in my vicinity mentioned their surprise that webcomics can simply be passion projects that don’t lead to anything major. This comment struck me funny because it revealed that this generation of creatives live in an online world completely different than my generation. Back in my day (imagine this in a rusty voice), we put our nonsense up and the most we expect is enough supporters to fund a Kickstarter. That is — if we managed to accomplish that rare goal of producing enough pages to justify crowdfunding. Of course, some folks, especially those working in the humour strip format, made things for the purpose of chasing the same clout as Penny Arcade or Cyanide & Happiness or whatever. Still, in 2007 – 2013, I rarely heard the idea that webcomics were done for a career or professional purpose.
    Times have changed.
  • Closer to home: now that I’m officially part of the latest cohort of Webcomic Artists Who Went On To Make Published Graphic Novels, you’d think, hmm. Maybe I’ll just keep making published books. Afterall, that was the trajectory of the artists from the previous cohorts. You know, Raina. Gene. Vera. Faith. Noelle. They started their career making webcomics, got a book deal, and kept getting more deals after that. They don’t fully return to the webcomics world. (And I can see why. It pays. I too, like money and a publisher to handle the distribution/marketing etc.)
    For me though, I still want to make webcomics. There are some things that webcomics can do that the current publishing landscape is not ready to nurture. Passion projects. Extremely ambitious and weird stories. For older audiences. In odd genres. I still see a place here for me. I am not sure if I can leave it fully.
  • It’s strange comparing the way I approach my first webcomic (TWIDI) vs my second webcomic (Alexander). In some ways, the approach is still the same. In others, the second webcomic is much wiser. And more interested in getting some form of support or compensation lol; yes, I’ve been spoiled by publishing. Whatever, anyway, there’s now a professionalism attached to Alexander that was only in development with TWIDI.
  • But like, even with the professionalism, Alexander is at its core a passion project. The reasons why I pursued it were out of a mysterious blend of calling and love (will elaborate later). Yet some say that professionalism and passion don’t mix. That they are antithetical. But really? Is that true?
  • I absolutely think it’s possible to be passionate about something while being professional (and getting compensated). I mean, that’s normal for craftspeople and people who work in trades. People who build furniture and handmake clothes and stuff. People who write. Why is the visual arts, especially in comics, any different?
  • Of course when you make things out of passion, your main concern is to bring the work to existence, for your fulfilment. Anything else is a bonus. The goal to make it palatable for corporate or Hollywood interest or an outside party from the jump doesn’t factor into that concern. Not in the beginning, at least.
  • A tweet from a colleague: (paraphased) Some indie projects have this vibe of being made as if there’s a Netflix executive hanging over their shoulder. Why live like this?

2.

It’s so strange being here with (comparatively) better drawing/writing skills and a stronger ingrained sense of professionalism… and yet nowadays I seek to embrace the chaos, joy and carefreeness of my youth. I really did have some things figured out back then, and I want to reintegrate those things back into my current practice.

It took me 8 years to train myself out of thinking like an illustrator when I am drawing comics. While I don’t think the illustrator-side of me has ever left, especially when I compose my double page layouts — I just think it’d be nice now to intentionally make lush, stunning artwork using both my ability to illustrate and make comics (they are two different skillsets!).

Slowly I’m embracing the strengths of both my old and current art: shape design, silhouette, linework, whimsical elegance. I’m specifically looking at my 15-17 Years Old era of art. It was very experimental! Very fun. And I want that energy back.

3.

In regards to Making Things Exist (and finishing them), I feel like I’ve been round the block now.

Every book is new and brings its own unique challenges, so there’s always something new to learn. Still, I am old. A veteran. A wizard wise in the ways of conjuring worlds into reality.

So I see people who are maybe writing stories for the first time and stumbling on certain blocks, some important, some not-so. I usually leave them be, because (Antoni Queer Eye voice) bringing things to life can be so personal. They will figure it out soon.

But then there’s the risk of them freezing into inaction. Out of anxiety. Inexperience. Fear. What if I mess up? What if I am not good enough? What if no one else cares and I am wasting my time?

4.

Starting something is the hardest thing. The second hardest thing is finishing it.

5.

When I make something, on the first few drafts, I don’t really care about the prettiness of the outline. I mean, yes I do at a base level, but I try to not let it control me. If I get stuck on something or if I can’t find the words, I skip over it, I make notes to myself (ermm have X character talk about the making of bread, the weaving of rugs, the gestation of a child, something to do with things blossoming in their time???), I vomit out some gibberish. Go go go.

[A Twitter thread about this whole process, from another writer]

I’m about to reveal the greatest trick I ever learned for finishing a novel at a decent rate. You all ready for this? It’s called <get there>.

Usually I’ll have an idea of what a chapter involves, and it’s the exciting stuff. The fights! The angsty conversations! Something exploding! And it’s pretty common for events to take place across a variety of locations in a single chapter, especially if you’re combining scenes.

And many times, a conversation or dialog will end in location A (say, planning a prison break), and then everyone goes to location B (the prison for said prison break). And when I’m writing this, there is an immediate desire to tell EVERYTHING between the two.

Because when writing that dialog plotting the prison break, for example, you’re in a character’s head. You’re zoomed in nice and close, detailing reactions, fears, and giving intricate details to make the upcoming action feel real and pre-planned.

But that level of ‘zoomed in’ is usually NOT what you want when transitioning over to the next big scene (unless your story is really, really heavy into the world-building and treating the location much more like a travelogue – no advice is one-size-fits all)

So when happens to me is I’m giving lots of dialog and detail, then need to move the whole group to a new set piece, and there’s an immediate desire to describe the locations they pass, some dialog and banter between people, etc.

All of this is delaying the stuff I, personally, want to get to a writer and storyteller. And it’s also filler. It’s me feeling like ‘something needs to go here’. And that stuff is also…kinda hard. Imagining the buildings. Describing them, while also not wanting to sound dull.

So many times I’ll have a nice head of steam, the words are flowing, and then it’s like “oh crap, um, ok so now they’re going here, and then here, and then turning down this road, better describe some people they’re passing by, maybe reference a landmark…ugh, what goes there?”

But now? My big trick? My permission to you, even, if you feel you need it? <get there> That’s it. That’s the magic trick.

Jack: “all right, everyone clear on the plan? Awesome. Let’s go raid that prison.”
<get there>
Jack and Bob lurked in the shadows, watching the prison guards loop the grounds.

Once I finish a novel, I’ll then do a search function for any < in the documents, which is how I put notes in for myself. If I can’t remember someone’s eye color, I just type “their <color> eyes” and figure it out later. And inevitably I’ll have like 10 or so <get there> to fix.

And half the time, those <get there> don’t even need anything beyond a little asterisk/special symbol marking a change in time, and then the next section immediately starting. The transition I would normally write *isn’t necessary*.

Because once you pull back from that intricate, personal mindset from the surrounding scenes, and look at things structurally, it just becomes obvious. If nothing happens between point A and point B…the reader doesn’t need to see every step between point A and point B.

The times I don’t straight skip, I’ll need to write maybe a single paragraph connecting the scenes. And during the drafting flow, that paragraph might have slammed me to a halt and taken twenty minutes or more to figure out (and likely ended up being multiple paragraphs).

During editing? Like, two minutes and move on.

By the way, you can do more with notes like this beyond just <get there> even if <get there> is the most common one I use. Not feeling up to writing the fight scene you know goes in a chapter? <fight scene>

Know that characters need to argue about a plot detail but not sure how exactly to do it, and you’re getting frustrated? <the two argue about X, then leave>

I think a lot writers hear constant advice about how “rough drafts are rough”, and that “you can fix it in editing”, but don’t quite realize how freeing that can truly be. When I tell you your rough drafts can be rough, I mean *rough*.

Even for me, I’d hear “rough draft” and think something that was, honestly, 95% finished and mostly needed an editing pass for spelling errors, plot details, inconsistencies, etc. It doesn’t mean that to me anymore.

So there you go. My big secret to powering through chapters even when I don’t feel like it, or ensuring I don’t get stuck on trivial details and interrupt a good flow. Make Future You do all that boring crap during the editing phase. It’s their problem now.

–David Dalglish (@thatdalglishguy) Oct 14, 2020

The whole point is to make the work exist as soon as possible. It will come out kinda ugly, sure. Luckily, editing is easier afterwards.

Also nothing wrong with some wabi-sabi.

6.

It’s frightening to devote pieces of yourself to your book. To consent to the book’s desire to challenge you, transform you, unmake and remake you. But like a lot of things that are worth it in life, it’s a devotion worth embracing.

7.

In the end I think what’s most important is making the thing because you want it. Not solely because it’ll be your ticket to fame, love and prizes (in the form of money or petty validation).

There’s joy in crafting a thing from within you.

Hello, hello

    • Fae
    • December 27, 2020
    Reply

    Love this! Thank you so much for your reflections. I’m a writer, and I’ve also been thinking a lot about the passion that led my work when I was younger. Even though it was often clumsy and undirected, a passion that didn’t know itself, it was a passion nonetheless– and I think in learning more and becoming a better technical writer, I’ve sometimes lost the free-falling, intense joy that comes with just having an idea and wanting to make it come alive. I’m trying to get that back and put aside the logical brain, though professionalism and productivity and “is it good enough?” doubts always threaten to pester more than ever before.

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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