Now that Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras is out and available for people to get their hands on, I’ve started shifting back towards the three playwriting projects I have on my docket. I’m having to relearn what it’s like to start a new play. In a way, each play’s process is different, but, having been immersed in my artwork and illustrations for Cowgirls for so long, my playwriting is like a muscle that’s been out of exercise. I’m rebuilding from sense memory. However, I’m also trying to make the process better. There are some differences in my life as well, so I’m having to navigate those. I’m not just trying to relearn how to write a play, but figure out how I write a play, when do I write, and what tools do I use?
Have any of you seen that meme going around that says, “You have the same number of hours in the day as Lin-Manuel Miranda”? Some people get inspired by something like that. I don’t. It’s totally infuriating and sets an unrealistic standard. Yes, I have the same number of hours in the day as Lin-Manuel Miranda (like 24?), but I certainly don’t have the same number of hours for creative work as he does. There’s this great infographic from the site, Info We Trust, that displays a color-coded breakdown of how various poets, scientists, novelists, and composers structured their days. They have colors for “meals and social,” “Primary Work,” and “Making Ends Meet.” Very few of the creatives listed have segments of “Making Ends Meet.” Their “Primary Work” is what makes ends meet. Lucky ducks. Seriously, it amazing to see.
What I consider my primary work, playwriting, does not make ends meet. My skills, literally, do not pay the bills. So, like many others, I have a day job. It’s a day job I enjoy greatly; it’s exceedingly better than my retail day job I used to have. However, I’m having to learn how to write in the time afforded me. As stressful as my retail job was, my schedule was all over the place, but I’d randomly have time to write. For example, maybe some days I’d work at 12 pm. I’d drop off Jack at daycare at 9 am and have the morning to write. Or, I’d work at the day job on the weekend and have a random weekday to spend at a coffee shop to write. I’d have blocks of uninterrupted time. That was good. But also stressful. Very stressful.
Now, my day job is a consistent schedule. Yay! I work from 8 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Easy. Consistent. But I don’t have the random blocks of time. There are no random mornings off. If I have a weekday off, it’s because there’s a holiday and my family is home with me. I don’t have “writing days” anymore. I lived on writing days. They were my days to catch up from all the days I was exhausted from working retail. But now, every day can be a writing day. It’s about finding the structure that works best for me in a daily routine that’s consistent.
I’m learning how this works. I’m learning what a weekend at home with the family looks like. I’m learning what being an evening writer instead of a morning writer is like. I’m learning that I prefer herbal tea while writing rather than coffee... What? When did that happen? *Sip* Ah...
Here’s what my days look like now. What about you? How are you finding time to do your “Primary Work” when you have to make ends meet?
Take care and now, more than ever, be excellent to each other.
The day is here! Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras is now available for purchase!
It’s been a long road full of self-doubt, self-exploration, and a lot of fun. When I first envisioned this “simple” book, it was a project that I thought I’d get to “someday.” I don’t know if I believed I’d ever get to it; there was always something more important to work on.
This book is special. This book came out of my love for my son, Jack. When Joe Bishara invited me to write a play for children, I scanned through my list of ideas and the most appropriate one for a play was actually an idea meant for a children’s book. As you can probably guess, that was Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras. I knew I’d be writing the play specifically for Jack, so I made a list of what a play written for Jack would need:
Jack is intensely excited for the play! He asks about going "backstage" a lot. He can't wait! After I created the play, I decided to change that play back into the children’t book I had originally wanted to write. It’s been a long process, but it’s here, it’s real.
What’s been most difficult in this process, I mean, beyond overcoming the self-doubt, was actually finding a process and a workflow. This was my first time creating a children’s book. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about process, but there weren’t too many that were helpful. I spent a lot of time reading children’s books, even without Jack! I read them, trying to understand how many words to put on a page, how large my words could get, how simple my sentences should be. I learned there’s no hard and fast rule for this. There’s no real pattern. A lot depends on reading level, so I went back to the reason for writing the book and concentrated on creating the book and its text for Jack at his level.
I did have a lot of difficulty with the text of the book. The original book idea was very, very simple, but I had expanded it into a play. I liked the expanded characters and new plot of the play. I had to find some way to take that expanded plot and stage business and whittle it down into a simpler story. It took a lot of time. Each time I read the text, I cut it down more and more. Even as I was finishing the artwork, I’d cut the text down.
It would have been ideal to have the text completely frozen while working on the illustrations because it turned out I needed two more drawings than I had storyboarded out. And making last minute revisions to the text meant making last minute revisions to the illustrations. Live and learn.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed drawing as much as I have. I’d missed having drawing in my life considerably. Having finished the book, I haven’t drawn as much. In fact, I’m starting another play. It’s been so long since I’ve started a play, I’m re-learning how to be a playwright again!
There’s a lot of talk about labors of love and this book is truly that. It was conceived of love for my son and created through my love for my son and my love for drawing. Yes, I made it for Jack, but I also made it for me.
Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras the children’s book is now available.
The play premieres in March! For more information, check out CATCO’s website.
I’m almost finished with the children’s book version of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras! I mean, it’s finished, I’m just awaiting approval of the final file versions. I printed a couple of proof copies and made some slight adjustments here and there, moving images a little, fixing a couple of typos that were missed in all my extensive editing sessions... It’s so crazy to finally hold this book in my hand. Jack has heard the story about four or five times. The first night we had a copy in the house, he wanted to read it again immediately after we finished. So, that’s good, right? He knows that I wrote the book and the play for him. This morning, he said, “Your play is very special.” You have no idea, kid.
The play version is also moving right along. There’s a cast, and the designers are finding ways to bring the animals to life. I’m getting more and more excited as we get closer and closer to the production. I know Jack is already excited about seeing the play.
For the start of the new year, my wife and I had a “family production meeting” in which we discussed the projects that we’d each be focusing on this year. I have three in particular. The hard part is adjusting to a new lifestyle and schedule. Having spent 8 years at a retail job with a constantly shifting retail schedule, I had created a particular way of working. Now, I have a new day job with a set schedule, and I’m having trouble adjusting. What does it look like to get the creative work done with my new schedule? I’m not sure yet, but we have a couple of ideas. It’s going to take a lot of teamwork for each of us to finish the projects we’d like to complete. There’s a lot to balance.
Happy new year, and let’s get to work!
As always, be excellent to each other.