Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The value of time away from your work... by Barbara DiLorenzo

I love coming up with a book idea that feels solid. If it is strong enough, and I feel a real connection with the characters, I jump into the long process of building (or problem solving) a story using words and pictures. A brief outline of the plot comes first, followed by thumbnail sketches scrawled loosely on a micro storyboard. After this stage, I try out my idea on fellow artists, friends and family members. Sometimes glaring errors pop up and I realize it's time to revise heavily, or possibly rethink the idea. Was it as good as I had imagined? But sometimes folks seem to resonate with the concept, and I feel a green light to move forward. Usually my thumbnail drawings are hard to read, so sometimes the refined sketching stage flags new problems with the plot or the characters. The more I revise and work on a book dummy, the more I lose my perspective on whether certain moments work or not. If I am trying to pull a book together to submit to a contest, I will doggedly work on the drafts without a real break, in order to make the deadline. And that is usually when I run smack into a wall. I show the dummy to someone after weeks of hard work–expecting that their reaction will directly correspond to the huge amount of work I did. (I worked so, so, so hard=they will love it.) Only, normally, it doesn't happen this way. The person recognizes that the pile of pages is a labor of love. But for some reason, they don't love it. Why? Sometimes it's because they don't understand it, and I think, "How could they not understand it? It's so clear to me!"Of course it's clear to me. I'm immersed in the project. I don't know anything else as I sleep, eat and breathe my new book. I have no perspective.

This problem is the result of not stepping back from my work. If I paint a watercolor painting, I constantly work up close, then step back to check everything makes sense. I encourage my art students to take breaks and put their work up across the room from them to see it from a distance. Yet when making books, I sometimes neglect this crucial step. Every book on writing says some version of this. Step 1: Write the best book ever. Step 2: Put it in a drawer and forget about it. Step 3: Start a new book. Step 4: Eventually return to your first book after months away, and you will see it wasn't as amazing as you thought. Step 5: Revise like hell and listen to feedback that makes sense. Step 6: Rinse and repeat until the book doesn't stink. 

Recently I felt guilty about taking about a month away from a book project dear to my heart. I planned to tackle smaller projects and clear time for the big book project. But the small projects kept dragging on and on, and I finally used up the few weeks of free time I had planned to finish the big book project. I felt guilty and frustrated. But amazingly, the extended time away gave me what I never give to myself–perspective. Suddenly I saw the plot more clearly, and in no time I had thumbnails scrawled across most of the pages. Although I had waited longer to get started, I was actually working faster and with more clarity after the time away. 

I point this out only to help other bookmakers, struggling to hammer a manuscript or book dummy into shape. Sometimes all you need is a little time away, and then the work becomes clear. You can see exactly what needs help, as well as what is truly working well. 

Illustration Blog: Paint & Paper
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  1. Loved this post! Last night I went to the Steve Light talk in NYC. My big takeaway was to have more fun in my creative life. I should give myself freedom to play, as well as work. Perhaps combining these two lessons will help keep my mind open creatively. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Excellent subject, Barbara! Sometimes we get so drawn (pun intended!) into our work that we can no longer remain objective.We become almost robotic in our rendering and forget how what we're doing affects the entire piece. Fresh eyes are always a good thing, whether it's your own after time away, or someone elses.

  3. Great post! I struggle with this issue also: remembering to walk away from my work to give it some space as well as some perspective for myself. Also building in some extra time into my process to allow for this vital step. BTW: I love the illustration and text you've chosen for this post.