Saturday, January 13, 2007

making literature, making a living

More often then not, when I'm introduced at a book event I'm described as a prolific author/illustrator. While it is usually meant as complimentary (at least I hope so) I always wince a little inside. Just because a person (especially someone in the creative field) creates many works doesn't necessarily mean they are any good.

Of course, I am extremely grateful that I have been able to be so prolific. But the truth is, I have to be. I depend on it. If I don’t produce, I quickly drown--mortgage, health insurance, medical bills, groceries-- everything breaks through the rickety dam of my paying books.

Which is probably why I was so affected by Linda Sue Park’s speech about creating your best work . I didn’t go into children’s books for the money (who does?); and it goes without saying that I want everything that I do and publish to be the absolute best of my ability. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes my creative juices flow out of desperation for the cold hard cash, that compromises are made to get contracts, and sometimes work is rushed when bills are waiting.

To be able to make a living in children’s books is a gift, but one that is dearly paid for. And is compromising quality one of the unavoidable taxes? That is the question I struggle with when the projects are over and the bills have been paid. Could I have done it better? Should I have done it better? Was it my very best?

The answer is always yes and no. Everything I’ve done probably could’ve been done better. But it was the very best I could do at that time. And while that’s not quite satisfactory, it’s enough to make me try again with another book.


Disco Mermaids said...

Thank you for this post!

- Jay

Blue Rose Girls said...

Nice post Grace. I often fear in a few years I'll run out of steam because I've done too many books. I don't know how many times I've been absolutely desperate for that advance to arrive!


Agyw said...

Grace, this is most definitely a concern of just about every writer and/or illustrator, I know, including moi.

I've not made money yet (that learning curve, balanced by my family and means) but when there's that leap off the precipice, it has to be SOME kind of contribution as opposed to honorarium, which seems to be what most of us get caught up in.

Even those I know in a prolific mode (having a few books and articles under their belts) have difficulty because the reality is even when you make a "living" sometimes that paycheck isn't as timely as one would like. You have to meet you deadlines, but the shoe isn't always the same size on the other foot.

Also going through a bit of a creative crisis here. I've never cared for my work. I like "pieces" of it. When Elsbet Vance found her stride with Celtic Knots and illustration, I thought her work sang. I've recently realized something about how I actually "see" as well as what I "like" about my work. So the next few weeks will be spent to see if those observations can overcome some of those inner feelings. Does that make any sense?

I mean there will always be that disparity between what's in our head and what's on our paper (and in publishing, what's printed). Just enough tension keeps us striving to be better, all we can be. When there's too big a gap...
I guess it's about being the best that you can be RIGHT NOW. The last two projects, I've been very pleased with, one I have a letter of revision for and the other some editors really liked the whole thing, if I changed the format. If I'd attempted those works a few years ago, I have no doubt they would have been out and out rejections. My thoughts and abilities were not up to par.

I have no doubt also if I let them gestate a bit more, a few years they will sing, because I work too durned hard and it means that much to me. But here's the thing. I want to get these done and move to the next thing. So letting what I can do, the very best that I am right now, has to be enough. (and there's always that option that I can try and it doesn't quite click). Still here's the thing.

I need to make some kind of a living at this, and finding the balance between art, communication, and career is as fine an art as between home and career, heart and soul. Giving all I can RIGHT now will have to be enough. The question isn't that you're the best, but the best you can be. I don't know enough about you to say if that's true, but I know when I see your work or read your words, I don't ever feel short-changed. (and if you were a fella, would prolific be an issue? You're absolutely right about that anomoly. If I spend a lifetime learning how to make that masterful calligraphic mark, how can anyone fault me for the amount of time or how often that mastery is exhibited? It's an arbitrary measure.)

Okay, too long, too verbose and probably too muddy. I think we should all wrestle with whether or not our work is settling in on their laurels, what we "know" will work. I don't see you doing that at all, and it's wonderful that you take it out and look at it. It could also be that my seven year old absolutely LOVES your books, and I'm a fan as well. Or just that you're too hard on yourself.

Agyw said...

P.S. Grace, thought you'd find this interesting... Look down the list, there's a familiar name. Seems I'm not alone!

Anonymous said...

You've captured me within the first couple of sentences, on this one. As an illustrator just starting out I'm often looking at others work and wondering how they do it. How can so-and-so be published continually with work like that and myself not once? Is it my style? Is so-and-so just that much better than I am? With all my how to books, and groups like SCBWI I'm not getting anywhere. If it wasn't for this dream of mine, I'd give up, toss in the towel, and go cry in a corner. I am determined though, good or not, I hope not the latter, I do hope to one day be illustrating full time.

Thanks for the post!