Monday, October 28, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #37: Trust Your Gut

One of the trickier things to do when you're a writer, illustrator, or any kind of artist is deciding when to listen to criticism and when to follow your gut.

In general, I would say always follow your gut.  Your gut is the part deep inside you that knows what's what.  When you head is confused, your gut is not.  It's your compass, basically.

I love the story of author/illustrator Ian Falconer, create of Olivia.

When he first submitted Olivia to publishers, they LOVED the art (who could blame them) but not the story.  They wanted Mr. Falconer to allow someone else to write a story for his character.  He didn't go for it.  He sat on the book.  A few years later, he was contacted by an editor at Simon and Schuster who admired his illustration work in The New Yorker and he took Olivia there.

He followed his gut and it paid off.

But there's also the example of film director M. Night Shyamalam.  He was riding a wave of hits with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs.  He gave his script Lady in the Water to some producers he had worked with before, and neither of them liked it.  They saw all sorts of issues.  But did he listen? No.  Was that movie a super flop?  Sure was!  He followed his gut and it did not pay off.

Now, I'm not blaming him really.  He believed in his vision.  He listened to his gut.  Unlike Shakira's hips, sometimes the gut lies, or rather, sometimes the gut has different tastes then everyone else.

Remember last week when I showed you the three different samples of the cat illustration I was working on?  Well, there's a story there.  Here's the short version.

I was asked to create some illos for a story.  A sort of illustration audition.  In my eagerness I whipped out three styles and sent them off right away.

As I was waiting to hear back from my agent about what the author thought, I started to feel icky about one of the styles - I'll call it, the Commercial style.  I preferred the Bold/Simple style and I hoped they would pick that one.

Nope.  The author liked the Commercial style best.  D'oh!  So I worked up a dummy and did a two-page spread in the commercial style.  I did my best and it looked good and professional, but I didn't love it.

Usually, when I finish an illo - I love it.  Or if I don't love it, I fix it until I love it.

Because my gut was uneasy about the situation, I made a choice.  I would create the same scene in the style I preferred and submit both of them.

So I did.  And I LOVED the second one.  I explained to my agent that the first one didn't sing to me, and the second one was more ME and I felt like it was a better style for the manuscript.  We agreed to just send in the Bold/Simple style.

Will I get the gig?  Who knows.

But even if I don't, I learned a couple things:

One, as an artist, I'm always going to produce better work if my head, heart, and gut are all on the same page.  And Two, don't rush yourself.  If I'd given myself just one day to sit with the three samples I made, I would have never sent the commercial sample at all.  I would have realized that it wasn't a style I wanted to work in and no one would have seen it but me.

Now, all of this is not to say that you should not listen to other people's opinions about your work.  I think it's super important to have a network of people who's opinions you trust to give you feedback. But you usually know when it's feedback you agree with or feedback that makes you feel icky.    The gut knows a good point when it hears one.

So believe in your work, trust your gut, and fingers crossed that you'll be an Ian Falconer and not M. Night Shyamalan.*

*No disrespect to Mr. Shyamalan.  I LOVE The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village.


Johnell DeWitt said...

Oh me too. Love all those movies. Signs is probably my fav. Very good advice. Thanks.

Mirka Breen said...

I changed the ending of a chapter book manuscript at the almost-universal urging from my betas and critic-partners. I wound up with a manuscript that fit conventions but was just one of many like it. What had been different and, to my mind, amazing- was now just OK.
No, I never sold it, and I sort of don't much care.
is the cat image on the left the one the author chose first? You peaked my curiosity. Would love to read the end of this tale, or tail...

Julie_c said...

Johnell - Thanks for the comment. I think The Village is my favorite out of the four, but I can't deny that The Sixth Sense was awesome.

Mirka - I won't tell you which one the author originally chose, but I will say that the author is fully on board with my preferred style. I think when I fleshed the whole scene out it was obvious which one had more spark. I'll let you know if it pans out. Thanks for the comment!

Ruth Schiffmann said...

This is a great post. I'm right in that place now, and this is a great reminder. Thanks for sharing your experience and I'm glad that it sounds like things are going to work out.

Julie_c said...

Thanks Ruth. I think, in the end, things always work out even if they don't feel like it at the time. :)