It’s time for another studio self-reflection, as part of an ongoing effort to be more present to and open with my creative development, and encourage others to do the same. In this entry: The winter can be a long, tough stretch, but sometimes good things come of it.
By the end of last year, I began a commitment to live by a new self-narrative and new scripts. …So of course over the long night of winter I dredged through the past.
For example, I started the quarter feeling that my drawing – a steady natural outlet when I was a child – had become stagnant and under-reliable. With the fresh success of my writing routine in mind, I identified that, not only did I lack a consistent drawing practice lately, I never had one. In my memory of childhood, drawing just sort of …happened, without me trying; as an adult, it mostly came in fits and starts as needed for individual projects. Given my intention to be a visual storyteller, this drawing gap seemed worth addressing.
Thanks to rounds of iteration and a bit of wandering for fresh perspective, I find myself now with a simple, playful daily sketchbook routine. I wouldn’t say it’s been transformative as far as my craft goes, but it certainly feels better. And already the new routine, along with ongoing daily journaling, have helped shake loose old assumptions about myself in relation to the craft – beliefs that have made some projects unnecessarily more difficult, beliefs that when brought to light don’t seem at all worth upholding anymore. I cast out the old in favor of something new.
I had a similar but different experience in my writing this quarter. With a big script recently drafted, I wanted space away from the project but not the writing routine it had inspired. My solution was to shift focus for a while to old story projects shelved years ago, in case any of them could be salvaged. I was somewhat wary about this at first, but I was also struggling in the dark days to come up with exciting new ideas. Fortunately the whole thing turned out to be more fun than I expected.
During their original lifespans, these shelved projects had simply tried to do too much, to be about too many things, and at the time I had neither the heart nor the steady hand to cut them down into tales I could feasibly tell. Returning to them now, it was shockingly easy to hack away at them. I mean, they were already as good as dead. I cut at their excesses until there was barely anything left, and then I rebuilt the stories that remained with the fewest pieces I could manage.
The results were promising. One of the projects, meant as a long-form piece, is now in step outline form and ready for further development. I’m surprised by how much I like it. The other, an episodic project, isn’t quite as far along, as it turned out to be three distinct stories instead of one, and I couldn’t decide which of those to continue with (if any). Still, one out of two – er, four I guess – isn’t bad?
When the time came to return to the big project, my experience with the old stories proved more useful than I expected. Yes, I got the space I wanted and kept my writing routine active in the meantime. But I also found it easier to play dangerously with the big story – in particular, with problematic elements that before felt non-negotiable. Burdensome stones had turned to clay. So far, the new changes refine and strengthen the project in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. I anticipate more changes to come.
It’s fascinating to me how that works. Ad hoc elements that allowed me to finish a draft in the past turn out to be the very things holding it back in the present – and I only learned how to address them by dabbling with “failed” old work. My childhood drawing habits sowed unfair expectations that undermined my practice as an adult – a reality I only saw by sitting intentionally with parts of myself I meant to leave behind.
In Selfcarefully, author Erin Segal discusses the ways that practicing self-care can impact you. Your nervous system, that jumble of end-to-end extension cords, can interpret deep-rooted positive change as danger. In the face of that change it can scream out for everything to stop and command that you go back to more familiar ways – even if they’re less healthy or aligned with your goals.
In the dark, cold, sleepy, isolated days of pandemic winter, it can be especially hard to resist the call. I certainly struggled this winter, probably much more than this essay suggests. And there’s significant privilege in the fact that I can focus on matters this high on Maslow’s hierarchy. But the point is that the struggle is indicative of progress already made.
What my winter experiences suggest to me is that essential progress can also take place within the struggle itself. Sometimes we can leverage the obstacles we encounter to achieve something meaningful.
I’m just thankful that anything good could come out some of the darkest months in an already dark year.