“Where do you get your ideas from?” “How do you choose which book to do?”
The short answer is, I don’t know?? Or rather, I can’t explain it. Or RATHER, I don’t think the real answer will be helpful, or even make sense, to anyone else except me.
Personally I don’t think anyone should worry so much over when or where their ideas will manifest. They will come.
But before we understand what I mean when I say “chillax, bro”, let me address a couple of assumptions about inspiration:
“If I don’t figure out how Inspiration with a capital I works, I will never find it. I will never be a real artist.”
What I’m referring to is this prevailing idea that that there’s a mystical Ideas Machine inside your head you need to find that, once you activate it, will instantly and forever feed you ideas, confirming your destiny as a creator. I mean, isn’t that the core implication behind “where do your ideas come from?”? It implies that there is a routine that all seasoned creators have obtained; a hidden knowledge to be passed down; a videogame-like skill to be levelled up to. Basically, people who ask this question… who don’t ask it solely out of plain, mundane curiosity… are looking for a clue to unlock their Ideas Machine.
What ends up happening is like the hundreds of Pocket articles I have read that tries to crack the code of what makes a start-up manager or self-made billionaire Productive. You wake up at 4 am. You drink the purest herbal tea from the Organic Highlands. You use the Pomodoro. You put robots in your brain. It’s hopeless. How one person finds inspiration or productivity is so individual that really, there is no One True Answer. No guaranteed process. No Ideas Machine.
This is the danger zone, imo. You know why? People who draw or write for fun (usually as a hobby) never ask where ideas come from. They just draw. They just write. The first time the question enters a hobbyist’s mind is when they transition from creating for themselves to creating beyond themselves; that is, to put up work for an audience, to get a book deal, to start a creative career. Some people remain stuck in this questioning stage and panic over whether they are a real artist who can make money if they can’t find the mystical Ideas Machine that seasoned creators seem to have. And we already know that doesn’t exist.
Which is why I think there’s no need to worry about the time and place of ideas/inspiration. There’s no need to find a process, or to base your capital value as a creator on the production of ideas. Just chillax bro. Eat a delicious meal. Watch a Netflix movie. Lie down on the grass. Laugh with your friends. Be cheerful, live well. As long as you’re living on this planet and experiencing the joys of society like Uncle Karl says you should, your brain will know what to do. Inspiration will come.
TL;DR be patient. Trust yourself. And eat your favourite dessert sometimes.
Marx recognized that the science of capitalistic economy, despite its worldly and pleasure-seeking appearance, “is a truly moral science, the most moral of all sciences. Its principal thesis is the renunciation of life and of human needs. The less you eat, drink, buy books, go to the theatre or to balls, or to the public house [ Br., pub], and the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you will be able to save and the greater will become your treasure which neither moth nor rust will corrupt — your capital. The less you are, the less you express your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life and the greater is the saving of your alienated being. Everything which the economist takes from you in the way of life and humanity, he restores to you in the form of money and wealth. And everything which you are unable to do, your money can do for you; it can eat, drink, go to the ball and to the theatre. It can acquire art, learning, historical treasures, political power; and it can travel. It can appropriate all these things for you, can purchase everything; it is the true opulence. But although it can do all this, it only desires to create itself, and to buy itself, for everything else is subservient to it. When one owns the master, one also owns the servant, and one has no need of the master’s servant. Thus all passions and activities must be submerged in avarice. The worker must have just what is necessary for him to want to live, and he must want to live only in order to have this.” (link)
P.S: UNCLE KARL IS TELLING YOU TO TREAT YOSELF. That’s praxis!!
Here’s another quote I like that’s also relevant, but less “destroy late stage capitalism” and more “wow isn’t the world beautiful”:
Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.
That’s my answer for “Where do your ideas come from?”. The ideas comes from being alive. To develop and grow that garden of ideas – that is, life – , you have to immerse yourself in it. Not for money. Not for comments or followers or social media. Not for external confirmation that you’re a Real Creator. But for your own joy. For the love of living. When you immerse yourself in the garden you lose yourself. That’s what Henry Miller is talking about.
When you give in to the garden, it gives back to you. Being alive is inspiration. Inspiration is being alive.
“How do you choose which books to do?” is more esoteric. I think the answer is more a Reimena Yee thing than it is most artists’ thing, though people like T.S. Eliot have come pretty close to describing my answer:
I choose the book which compels me.
This thing is not easy to describe. I don’t know. I am not sure if other comics creators operate primarily like this, or think of their work this way.
It’s different from the feeling
It’s all of those feelings, but there’s an edge to it.
I have a few ideas in the backburner. Some of them are books I want to do. Some are books I really, really want to do. And one or two of them are books that compel me.
The sensation is like finding the perfect pet in the animal shelter. You see a dog or cat and come back to it over and over again. You can’t explain this feeling you are feeling, this deep-in-the-gut instinct that you’re meant for this animal. Eventually, you listen to your gut, you take the plunge, and you bring it home. Turns out, you’re right.
That’s what I mean by “compelling”.
There are certain books which I return to over and over again. In the beginning, the special book plants an imagery in my mind’s eye, then it plays it repeatedly. If this doesn’t stop after a year, and if I still feel like I’m meant for it, I accept my calling and take it.
But accepting the book comes with the simultaneous feelings of excitement and fear, joy and resignation. When I actually work on it, there’s not really a hyperfocus or overexcitement. It’s more like I’m listening to what it wants to be, and I carve it into existence slowly. When I feel the joy it’s not exactly self-indulgent… more like relishing in a purpose. It’s work. It’s a calling.
Sometimes a calling will be equated to passion. People talk about passion like it’s a feeling that burns and consumes you and motivates you to work through unreasonable hours or expectations. You know, the passion that exploitation thrives in. That’s how you know you are a Real Artist, they say.
But I have never felt passion like that? When I experience passion, I feel that I love the work. That I want the calling to happen. But there’s no anxiety in it. I don’t feel that I must get it done quickly or cater it for mass appeal, though I do have a preferred deadline and a hopeful expectation for an audience who will appreciate my hard work. But even if I break the deadline (maybe it has to be delayed another year) or end up having no support/audience, I am not worried. I just think “Well, it’ll happen regardless.” or “Yay, it’s already real. I am glad I did it.”
It’s got no fireworks. No algorithmic hurrah. No romance. I don’t go Natalie Portman Black Swan over the calling. Is that unimpressive? I don’t know. I only know it’s purposeful. And that it feels right. Maybe the word is not passion. Maybe the word is trust.
Maybe passion and trust are two sides of the same coin.
That’s all part of the “compelling” I feel for some books. They are the ones I don’t worry about because they are the ones I know will happen. So I pick them and give them the love and attention they ask for. It’s not a one-way relationship either. When you give in to the garden, it gives back to you.
So really, the answer to both questions is “I don’t know.” Because like, if you boil down my answers down to their most blase they are basically “Enjoy your life” and “Do what you like” – which are good answers in general, but don’t say anything about marketability or success or finding validation in an external party like a publisher or art director. They are useless answers.
Maybe they are not.
*The featured image has no relevance to this post. I am just too lazy to draw something new for my rambling thoughts.
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
PCAF, July 29 – 30
Papercuts Festival, September 17
Australian Cartoonists Association, October