I’ve started so I’ll finish — getting to the end of a project
I’m currently working on drawing the last few pages of Carrie’s Cough, and as I work I’m thinking about what I am doing to craft the book. Although I’ve sketched, drawn and coloured almost every page, the book still feels like rough stone, or lumps of clay still to be formed. It’s only when I get to the end — a battle that can be hard-fought but worth the pain and struggle — that I can stand back and look at the rough shape I’ve pushed and shoved together and see what it looks like.
When I’m in the middle of drawing a book, I can’t see the wood for the trees. I’m intimately involved with every tiny detail, and detached from the whole. It feels like building a house by concentrating on the contours on the face of each brick, one by one, contemplating the reds and purples of fired earth, and only stepping back and seeing if it looks like a house when you have put the last slate on the roof.
When I’m in this intense state I feel both acutely lost and disconnected from the story, and intimately involved and invested in each panel as I draw it. I have to trust that my past self has thought it all through — what goes on what page; how it all flows. It’s at this stage when I start thinking about other things to do that might feel more fun and rewarding; and, inevitably, the next book which is just sitting there, written, and waiting for my attention.
Nikki and Ian from the Comic Arts Festival Podcast were asking the other day about how best to deal with the temptation of working on new ideas when you’re trying to finish your current project. How do you stay focussed? How do you keep the motivation there when there are other, newer and sparklier, ideas waiting for your attention?
I replied saying that Sophie and I are usually thinking and discussing our next three books while working on the current one. Oddly enough, that seems to keep me focussed, because my reward for finishing this book is to start the next one — by which I mean physically putting pen to paper. But I’m always thinking ahead, and collecting reference for future stories when I see it. In some cases I need to draw out a rough so that Sophie has something to work from to write the words, even though I’m still working on the current book.
Working on several books at once
One of our unborn books is a young adult adventure story set in the burning heat of an unusually blazing summer, and it involves a long train journey from one end of the country to the other. Sophie and I retraced the fictional steps of our character for real last summer, and recorded everything we saw for later – despite the fact that we won’t start on that book until after the next one. Every hot day I make notes and sketch people in their summer clothes. When I’m on the train I’m jotting down overheard conversations on my phone, so later I can populate the carriages with people doing crosswords, discussing restaurants and making phone calls streaming with office jargon.
Another of our (as yet) gestating books is based at the turn of the 20th century. Sophie and I have been visiting museums and other resources to take photographs and absorb the atmosphere of the time, from suffrage to shopkeeping. We are discussing talks we might do alongside it, how we might market it.
A third book takes place in a music shop. While in Manchester recently (on a research trip for the Edwardian story), we came across a large shop window full of ukuleles, keyboards, guitars, and percussive ephemera. We stopped to film the selection of things they had on sale, to remind us *much* later. We probably won’t start that book until 2020. But when we do, we will have all our reference stuff and ideas ready to go.
It can get confusing, and it does mean that the book I’m currently working on feels more like icing the cake than finding and mixing the ingredients. But every book has to go through these stages, and I have to go through them too.
Sophie has pointed out that when I’m about half way through drawing a book I start to go through a period of doubt that anyone will be interested in it. I can’t see it clearly as a story, because I only know it now panel by panel. I feel uneasy, even though deep down I trust that Sophie and I must have picked this tale for a reason. I think, were we wrong to think this was a good story? Will other people get it? And when I finally colour the last page, and Sophie and I go through it as a complete story for the first time, it shocks me. It reminds me of why we did it, and I feel a relief that it *is* good after all. Or, at least, we think it is!
It takes a lot of sticking power to get to the final page. I try and stop myself from reading it from the beginning before I’ve finished. The doubt phase I go through would mean wanting to redraw too much of the book, and I have to stop myself from allowing that kind of nonsense. That way madness lies — if you keep looking critically at what you’ve created before you get to the end, the end will never come. Just keep ploughing on and when you’ve made the final mark, *then* go back to the start and make changes.
And don’t worry about getting inspiration for your next story before you’re ready to use it. It’s good to have lots of ideas! And when the current book is grinding you down, do a bit of preparatory work on a future tale for a change of scene, before coming back to it refreshed. As long as you finish it, there is all the time in the world to work on the next ones. Enjoy the process and stick to your guns, and it will reward you in the end with something you feel proud of.