Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Becoming a Creative Jedi

You know how whenever just about anyone first hears that you make picture books, their immediate follow-up is, "oh! I've always had this idea for a picture book..." Guess what? - Me too. Having ideas and getting them on the page are two very different beasts. I have a baby animal petting zoo of ideas, but growing them into full-fledged manuscripts and dummies is a job for the Mother of Dragons. As an illustrator first and an aspiring author at present, I've struggled to write to the finish. Stringing those ideas together like pearls feels impossible. Or, at least it did. 

I was going to call this post something like "Harnessing Your Creative Morning Magic." Since today is May the 4th, it is now, of course, titled "Becoming a Creative Jedi." 

I'm early in my training, but after years of trying to harness my frenetic creative energy, I've been successfully nurturing two Jedi-level mind tricks to conquer my personal Darkside.  It's my goal to help you harness your Force.  After all, we're our only hope.

Lesson 1: Commit Your Life

"A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one, long time have I watched. All his life, he has looked away to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing." --Yoda 


Today is all we have. You hear this all the time, but for me, one day, it clicked. I like big pictures. I like minutia. Like many artists, it's the mid-field that gets me in trouble. I can ace my to-do list in the morning, make sure to get to bed at a reasonable hour a few days a week, write for a bit here and there when it feels good, and hit the gym Monday - Wednesday, but somewhere along the way, things fall apart. I have lofty and grand "somedays" in my mind, but they distract from the simple beauty of my to-day.

Putting this together at last, I set myself to task. I decided that I was going to dedicate myself, body, and soul to the making. All I needed to do was have One Perfect Day. For me, a perfect day means not forgetting to eat until I'm mumbling and mad at 2 in the afternoon; it means working out, so I'm tired enough to go to bed at a decent hour, that way, I can get up out of bed when my Muse is ready to go at six am. With ONE PERFECT DAY activated in my life, I never miss sitting with my Muse because they've grown tired of waiting in my studio while I sleep off a 2 am TRUE CRIME binge. ONE PERFECT DAY means living the life I imagine a writer to live, and the key here - is writing every day. 

Every night I sit down with a little black book and plan my ONE PERFECT DAY. Everything serves the books in some way. I am happy and fulfilled, and for the first time in my life, my mind is where I am, what I am doing - here in the studio, where I'm living my most profound commitment. 

As an aside, as an artist living in a pandemic with a spouse who is in close quarters too, sharing my OPD plan with my husband has eliminated the daily struggle for creative space I've had since last March. Everyone in the house knows that I have a perfect day ahead of me. No one expects me to go to Trader Joe's with them at 11 am on a Thursday anymore. Jedis do not go to TJ's before noon on a weekday. They are in training. 

I challenge you to attempt ONE PERFECT DAY. Design your day to serve your Muse and your purpose. Take it up with complete sincerity. I'm convinced you'll find it astonishing what your Jedi can do. 

Lesson 2: Ask the Right Questions

"Which way is the right way?" Ezra asks as he steps inside the Jedi Temple. 

To which the tiny wise master Yoda responds, "The wrong question, that is."  



For years I have worked half-heartedly following THE ARTIST'S WAY, by Julia Cameron. The thing that stuck with me was Morning Pages. I do them when I'm struggling emotionally or artistically, and they always help. In the past month, I've started using them as my figurative lightsaber. This idea came to me, like nearly all my good ideas do, during morning pages. For those who aren't familiar with the practice, morning pages are simply three pages of longhand, a stream of conscious writing, done first thing in the morning upon waking up.*

"They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind - and they are for your eyes only." - Julia Cameron

I've come to realize that my natural inclination when I hit a creative snag is to talk about it. I grew up as an apprentice to my fine-artist father, and now he lives downstairs in my house - he's clever about this stuff, so is my chef husband and my mom, who all live here too. My best friends are all writers and illustrators of picture books, and they're all just a phone call away. 

Guess what writing is not? Writing is not talking about it. I've been living with this nasty habit, and I hadn't even recognized it. The only way I can access my Muse is by talking to them. The less crazy way to do that is through longhand writing three pages in the wee hours of the morning before I'm fully awake. 

When I'm writing my pages, I intentionally open myself to asking creative questions and answering them. I do it half paying attention, letting my subconscious run the show. When I finish the day's pages, I take out three highlighters, turn to yesterday's pages, and highlight each sentence or thought I scrawled about my book. I highlight each new idea with a different color. Then I type those ideas out and cut them into strips. Like spaghetti confetti, I toss the strips into a bell jar on my writing table. If I hit a wall in my work, I fish out a strip of paper or three. The answer is almost always sitting in that jar at my elbow. I've never experienced anything like this magic; I'm almost nervous about sharing it, lest it stops working. Unseen, it's hard to believe a creative force exists, but wave your hand, and read what you wrote yesterday. Just like that, your manuscript will bend as easily as a stormtrooper under the spell of Obi-Wan. 

I have tried to access this process with my conscious self. Nope. Doesn't work. I 100% believe I'm more brilliant in pages. That's where I meet my Muse. The Muse is your personal Yoda, and you ask the wrong questions, you do. 

I hope that these two practices can come alongside you on your journey to control your Force. 

I want to remind you of one critical Jedi thought you should carry in your pocket all year, not just on this particular day. 

In this business, I find there to be a fair amount of doomsaying. I was a member of SCBWI when the publishing industry was convinced the Kindle was going to send us obsolete, and again when no one could fathom how you'd possibly sell a graphic novel. If your Muse is there for you in your studio on your ONE PERFECT DAY, do NOT second guess them! 

"Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future." --Yoda,

I wish you all the best as you set out to conquer your Darkside, and, of course, today especially, May the 4th be with you! 

Below you'll find a bit of an early draft to something a nerdy, struggling writer once hoped might turn out cool.


Amber Alvarez is the illustrator of Diana Murray's WILD ABOUT DADS, published by Macmillan Kids books, and the forthcoming MY MAGIC WAND, written by Pat Mora, and published by Lee & Low Books!

See more of her work at AmberAlvarez.com and on Instagram @SheSureisSketchy

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