Reading this excellent post on Brain Pickings,
featuring an inspiring and wise address to students by Bill Watterson, inventor of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, on the subject of creativity and life etc, I was struck by his declaration that “My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.”
It made me wonder what my job was if considered in those terms. As a Children’s Writer/Illustrator, to keep things ticking over and my life muddling along on an even financial keel I have to come up with two ideas a year. That’s right, TWO. Call that a job??
But before you roll your eyes and groan, there is a caveat to that statement. I have to come up with two publishable ideas, two workable, saleable, marketable, appealing, enjoyable and downright inspired ideas a year, and I have to continue to work at that level year after year. I hope that makes it seem a bit less of a breeze.
Oh, and of course I actually have to do the artwork.
I’m not trying to make it sound like it’s hard grind or anything, and I’m not trying to elicit your sympathy, just to add a bit of perspective. Of course it’s a great way to earn a living. Of course it’s wonderful to get paid to do something you love, something that expresses who you are and something you are bloody good at. Don’t think I’m not grateful every minute of every day to whatever powers made this life circumstance possible, because I am!
But it does involve work 😉
Obviously, to arrive at the aforementioned two successful ideas a great many lesser ideas have had to be jettisoned, often after a great deal of (mentally) strenuous refining. Ideas have to pass a lot of tests before being allowed to proceed to the next stage of the selection process, and likewise to the next and so on. It’s a war of attrition, weak ideas go to the wall. The few that make it through your own rigourous selection process then have to make it through that of a potential publisher, which is often predicated on a quite different set of not readily predictable criteria. However good your idea might be, they might already have a book about tap dancing rabbits coming out next autumn, or the editor you worked with may have left and the new editor might want to establish herself (it will be a her, this is children’s publishing and for whatever reason, it is 99% female) and you may not be part of her plans.
And then, though a publisher has given your idea their full backing, it can fail miserably when exposed to the buying public. Then, obviously, it was a deeply crap idea all along and you may not get published again for a while as you are obviously a purveyor of deep crap of the unsaleable kind. . .
So, even if your inspiration and appraisal apparatus is firing on all cylinders, the nuggets it produces might still be duds. . . ( I do so love a good mixed metaphor . . )
Well, as you can now see, it’s a hard life after all here on the creative coal face, hacking out my two ideas a year and you should all feel really really sorry for me and send me flowers and money and cake, don’t forget cake. . .