When He’s Right, He’s Right.

May 4, 2009 at 2:57 am (Uncategorized)

Those of you who regularly read DoctorDi know that I realised a few months ago there  has to be a graphic element to my manuscript. I’ve done a few preliminary sketches, and the truth is, I’m  just competent enough to be dangerous to myself and others, like a learner driver taking the family car without permission. I don’t have the necessary skills or experience to be alone behind the wheel, but I’m not completely without ability, either. It would be better – or at least would have saved me some time – had I no capacity for drawing at all, but I do have a bit. Just enough that for a little while, my desire to maintain total control of my MS (for I am nothing if not a natural control freak) lulled me into the false hope that I may be able to do these drawings myself. I did well in Art in the early years of high school, I told myself. Hell, I even topped my year in the seventh grade (some accident of assessment, I seem to recall, whereby the written component was weighted more heavily than the creative) – I can do this!

Insert wailing alarm bells.

What a trap it was shaping up to be. I showed a couple of people my sketches – my friend S and Darkling Catherine –  and basked in the warm glow of their surprise and enthusiasm for what I had done. I also showed them to Llew, and was vexed almost into violence when he refused to pat my head and keep the glimmer of hope alive. He was clearly uncomfortable with the idea that I was thinking my drawings might be good enough to use as anything more than rough storyboards for a professional artist’s guidance, and I resented his discomfort. I resented his doubt. I wanted him to tell me I could do it, and he wouldn’t. It made me fume, and it made me seek approval elsewhere. What I was doing on some level was stockpiling emotional ammo: they say my drawings are good; they say I can do it; you’re the only one who doesn’t believe in me. So, so unfair, and so badly untrue. Llew believes in and supports me unconditionally. As a writer. And therein lies the rub.

I am not an artist, and I do not have the skill set to complete the drawings I need done. I know it, deep down I always knew it, but I resisted accepting it because there are immediate implications that are potentially hazardous and expensive: now I have to bring someone else into this. They will probably require payment. There will be copyright issues involved in reproducing their work should my novel eventually find its way to publication. It won’t just be mine anymore. The last is a petty and emotional consideration, but it’s there. I’ve worked full-time for two and a half years on this manuscript. I have put my heart and soul into it. It is part of me, and I am surely part of it. And yet… I mainly only wrote it for other people to read, that was always the hope, the dream driving its creation – that someone else might find it compelling or interesting or funny enough to read – so it was always a pretty flimsy certificate of ownership I had pinned to my puny chest. I always hoped it would one day pass from my hands into someone else’s – so what is this idea of an artistic collaboration if not part of this limitless chain? 

Anyway, when I went to that seminar at UTS a couple of months ago, there was an illustrator on the panel who very much spoke my language. You may remember how excited I was in the post I wrote afterwards; it was such a relief hearing other people talking about some of the themes and ideas that inform my own thinking. I wrote down his name and web address, and then I just got on with the business of actually fixing the manuscript and getting it to where it needs to be. Then yesterday, Llew and I went for a walk and a coffee while Darkling Catherine slept off her hangover at our place (she had a wedding nearby on Saturday night so got ready and stayed the night here at Chez J). We sat down, and Llew said, “I’ve been thinking about your drawings. I’ve been trying to figure out what was making me so uncomfortable about them. And I think you do have some talent, but they’re not good enough.”

I tensed, nodding down at the cafe floor. 

“They’re not good enough to be part of your book,” he continued, ” because your manuscript is a professional piece of work. It is of a very high standard. Your writing is of a high standard. And your drawings, while they show a bit of promise, are clearly the work of an amateur. They don’t fit with your manuscript because the standard is so uneven. They will compromise the overall credibility of your work. People will look at the drawings and assume the writing is to match, whereas in fact you are a professional writer and not a drawer at all. They’re good drawings for a beginner drawer, but you need drawings at the same standard as your writing.”

It was like a fog cleared in my mind. All the ego attached to my wanting to do the drawings just vanished. Llew was right. It was so obvious when he explained it like that. And I felt a great wave of relief. My drawings aren’t good enough for my book. Yes. That’s true. And the decision was made right there. The next wave that came was of excitement. Writing is such a solitary process, and here now I have the opportunity to collaborate with an artist in order to see my novel reach its full potential. Oh wow, how good is that?! I reminded Llew of the illustrator from the seminar. We hurried home, and spent a good hour or so on the guy’s website, checking out his work. I sent him a long email explaining my interest in working with or at least meeting him, and although I haven’t heard back from him yet, I’m hopeful I will. Because if he’s not the artist who ultimately comes on board to work with me, someone will, and perhaps this guy will help point me in the right direction. Even if he doesn’t want to get involved himself, he’s part of a community of artists and will hopefully be willing to help me navigate their world. I do hope he’s interested, though. It feels right, and so does Llew’s advice. Thanks, Llewie! And keep your fingers crossed, friends, because a new phase has just begun. Let’s keep going, shall we?



  1. litlove said,

    A few years back I co-wrote an academic book with a colleague of mine and it was a fantastic experience. We kept each other going, provided mutual support and critique, did the bits the other found hard to do, etc. I do understand that urge to be sole owner of an artwork, but I can assure you that collaboration has lots of wonderful merits, too.

    And my husband is often right in a frustrating way – essentially because he doesn’t always find the right words to express himself. I’m very glad your husband found the exact right way to say it.

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    Fingers crossed! I’m so glad that Llew was able to put it in a way that made things clear for you. I hope that the collaboration goes ahead. If not, wouldn’t it be an option for the publisher to hire an illustrator when the time comes? I don’t know the process for adult novels that have a graphic component, but that’s how picture books work.

  3. doctordi said,

    I think you’re right, Litlove, and I’m glad to hear your own experience was such a positive one. Llew and I have similar hiccups, don’t you worry, and this could easily have been another one (my hackles were up the second he started speaking…), but he shrewdly incorporated enough appeals to my vanity that I was disposed to give him a fair hearing…

    And you know, if it ever gets picked up by an agent or publisher, that will involve collaborative effort too – by the time a book hits the shelves, just think of the number of contributors behind its physical creation.

    And Lilian, yes, he really did pull it off with top marks. It was crystal clear. Such a relief. Yes, I think that is an option certainly, an illustrator being hired later on. I guess if I can’t persuade anyone – still nothing! sob! – that’s exactly what’ll have to happen. Assuming, of course, that there is a ‘later on’ in which I have a publisher for this thing.

  4. doctordi said,

    The illustrator wrote back! I am so, so pleased, delighted, actually, although it sounds like he may be too busy to commit. Damn. Still, in the event that he begs off signing up himself, he really does seem like such a lovely chap, and seems to want to help in some way, that I’m sure he’ll at least point me in the direction of other illustrators. This, my dears, is progress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: