Sarah McIntyre is a bestselling illustrator-author and she leads our online Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book course. She has worked with writers like David O’Connell (who leads our Writing a Children’s Picture Book course), Philip Reeve, Giles Andreae, Gillian Rogerson, and Alan MacDonald. Her solo picture books include There’s a Shark in the Bath, Dinosaur Firefighters, The New Neighbours and her brand new picture book Grumpycorn.
Here Sarah talks about the themes of creativity and procrastination which run throughout her new picture book and offers some tips on how to ward off distractions when sitting down to write or illustrate!
This book starts with a Unicorn who has the PERFECT SETTING to write his Fabulous Story. …Now, I know from watching writers and artists on social media that having the perfect creative setup does NOT always mean people manage great outpourings of creativity. It’s like getting a new expensive sketchbook and being scared to draw in it and mess it up. People spend a LOT of time trawling the Internet for tips about how to get started, and sometimes spend so much time looking for tips…
and going to seminars…
clearing their desks…
sharing social media photos of their desks…
that they never actually get around to making whatever it is they want to make.
So I could easily imagine Unicorn getting all geared up for his big creative session, where he’s going to write the MOST FABULOUS STORY IN THE WORLD… and then going blank. It happens.
Many of us keep trying to make our setup just that bit better, so THEN we can write the fabulous story.
And that quickly turns into… PROCRASTINATION.
And often it’s because we want that thing we’re going to create be the BEST, most AMAZING thing ever, that we can’t even get started. We’re scared it might be no good.
When you see someone who’s stuck in a rut of procrastination, the natural thing to do is to want to give them ideas. Especially if you’re someone who’s also always wanted to write or draw a story but couldn’t quite get around to it. It’s so much easier to get ideas for someone else! Narwhal, and later Mermaid and Jellyfish, all have IDEAS for Unicorn.
And as they come up with their own plans for his story, he gets more and more grumpy!
So… you ask, what is the secret to avoiding procrastination and getting work done on that creative thing you keep meaning to make? There are NO hard-and-fast answers, everyone is different, and works differently. But here are a few ideas of how to get started, in case they help.
1. Start badly: It’s OKAY TO MAKE BAD BOOKS or BAD DRAWINGS. In fact, deliberately make that bad book or drawing, make it really bad, revel in how bad it is, even make it silly. Don’t let the pressure of wanting it to be FABULOUS scare you. A badly written or drawn page is better than a fabulous page that never happens. As we do bad work, it slowly starts to become better work, and then even good work. But we’ll never get to the place where we do good work unless we do all the bad work.
2. Start small: If the epic book you want to write scares you, try making a miniature book with only eight pages, or write a one-page short story. Draw a picture the size of a postage stamp.
3. Start rough: If that fancy embossed sketchbook scares you, try drawing on the back of a receipt, a post-it note, or old envelope. I’ve heard of a family who covers their dining room table with paper and they all sit around doodling on it.
4. Start messy: If a clean, quiet desk puts the fear into you, try writing in a noisy cafe or on a bus. You don’t need a perfect setup, or the perfect tools, or apps or software to create; start small, with whatever you have.
5. Start playing: Try some story games, such as a Comic Jam and try drawing with friends who also love to draw. If you’re trying to write something serious and it’s not coming out, get your pencil moving by writing or drawing it as something completely stupid. Learning to laugh at yourself and take yourself lightly is healthy, even if what you produce in the end might be serious. Or you may find something jokey or absurd actually works better for what you want to say.
Don’t worry about what so-called Serious Writers might think of your work, these scribblings in your notebook or tappings on your laptop are just for you. I’ve seen actors warm up and they make the stupidest noises before they go on stage to perform something wonderful; those aren’t for the audience, it’s just something they need to do to get started and get over nerves. Do something, get started, make those marks on the page, put those words on the screen, even if it’s ‘I have no idea what to write, and I wish…’.
Here’s a TEDx talk I gave last year, and it sums up many of the themes I allude to in Grumpycorn. I hope people of all ages enjoy this book, and please do leave a review on bookseller pages if you enjoy it!
Grumpycorn is available in hardcover and paperback through supportive and reliable independent bookshop Page 45 (with a special bookplate edition for the first 100 orders!), via Foyles, Waterstones, Hive Books, Amazon, and of course you can request it at your local bookshop or library.
Sarah also teaches our online courses alongside author-illustrator David O’Connell (her Jampires co-author) on Writing and Illustrating Children’s Picture Books.
This blog was originally published on Sarah’s blog, check it out here.