~ By Jennifer Lohmann
With five published books under my belt (one a National Reader’s Choice award winner and another an RT Magazine Seal of Excellence pick), I should be pretty confident I can write. I mean, I’ve done it before and people seem to like my books. They buy them and they say nice things. So I can write.
Inevitably–and we all do this–I get to some point in a new project and think, This is terrible. Or, I’ll never finish. Or, This won’t be as good as my other books. I’ll disappoint my readers. Y’all know these voices. Or, as the book Make it Mighty Ugly by Kim Piper Werker, calls them, “demons.” Werker’s major demons are fear of failure, self-doubt, and perfectionism. She lists minor demons and what they all have in common is that they are all sinister voices telling us half-truths that block our creativity. Her advice: making things that are purposefully ugly helps beat back those demons (there is so much more to the book and I recommend you read it).
I picked up Make it Mighty Ugly last week on the advice of a friend to use for a library program. When I started reading it, I realized that I’d already been participating in a project where I knew the results of my creativity would be something ugly. And I had benefited from the awesomeness of it.
My friend and amazing coworker Amy Godfrey runs the Durham Comics Project. The idea is simple and powerful: teach people to tell their stories through comics. I promised Amy a comic for the project, always with the disclaimer that I couldn’t draw, not even a stick figure. Amy told me it didn’t matter and I pretended to believe her.
When submission time came, I went to one of Amy’s Drink & Draws with the express purpose of making my comic; I wasn’t going to participate in any of the comics games. After all, I can’t draw. I sat down at the end of one table and drew my comic (which you can see here).
And drawing my comic was so much fun that I sneaked my way into one of the comics exercises (a panel pass, if anyone here does comics). The next month, I went back to the Drink & Draw and drew more comics. My people (and the monkey I drew) were still stick figures and they were still terrible, but I’d given up caring. I was having fun. I was pushing the boundaries of my creativity and it was awesome.
Drawing comics was more than simply making something I knew would be ugly–though that was freeing in and of itself. Drawing the comics (especially in the sometimes backwards and restricted way of comics exercises) challenged me to tell stories in a new way. I learned how to confront a partially told story and twist it to make it my own. I learned what details needed to be in the panel and what I could leave out–and what I could discard because I couldn’t draw it but could draw something else that would work almost as well. I learned how to explore the different meanings of a word to fit both the comic I was given and the word I was assigned.
All this creative magic happens even though I know what I put on the page was crap. The doing matters more than the done. For the two hours of the Drink & Draw, my demons are silent.
When was the last time you let yourself be creative without worrying about the outcome? What did you make? Was the experience comfortable or frightening? Or both?
Jennifer Lohmann is a Rocky Mountain girl at heart, having grown up in southern Idaho and Salt Lake City. When she’s not writing or working as a public librarian, she wrangles two cats and a flock of backyard chickens. The dog is better behaved. She lives in Durham, North Carolina. Find her atjenniferlohmann.com, on Twitter as @iferlohmann, and on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/iferlohmann.