I have always had a love/hate relationship with fan art. In one way, I enjoy celebrating my favorite movies/books/TV shows by making art inspired by them (you know I can never resist a good Frozen or Song of the Sea doodle). In another respect, I feel like fan art is unproductive for me. After all, I could be spending that time working on my own projects, rather than just indulging in someone else’s fantasy. Recently, I’ve been thinking of my book/illustration work as my own sort of fan art: fan art that I create based on my ideas and creations. A book, after all, could be considered fanfic that one person makes of the ideas swimming around in their head.
Which is not to say that my work is so amazing that it deserves fan art. It’s not. Certainly not to me, who works on each book for years. Years. Which can sometimes lead me to feel a bit stuck. Trapped even. So I thought, if I’m here anyway, why not enjoy the view? Celebrate it even? It’s an interesting way to approach working on my books. It engenders a mentality of cheering myself on, getting excited about the worlds and characters I create, and letting that enthusiasm spill into the work itself.
Thinking of the work as “fan art” or “fanfic” also necessitates that I be a fan of my own work. Which is far easier said than done for me. Too often, I am critical and judgmental of my work, rarely taking time to step back and just enjoy it, much less say “wow, this took a lot of hard work, I’m proud of this.” Just typing those words makes me laugh. In some ways, letting myself be a fan of my own work is an act of faith. A symbol of belief. A belief I so rarely feel. The belief that this is not all complete and utter garbage, that the book is worth finishing, that there is something magical and fantastic in there worth celebrating. Even if it’s a little thing. Oftentimes, I have to find a single idea that I like. Just one. I can then hold that idea up as proof, to tell myself “see, this is worth all your time and hard work.” A lot of writing (and painting), at least for me, is telling myself that it is worth it. That it is not all worthless bosh. And neither am I. I know, I have frighteningly low self-esteem, especially when it comes to my work. But that’s one thing that always pushes me to be better. To work harder. Practice more.
But that mentality isn’t healthy. At the very least, it’s only effective in small doses. Too much negativity and self-chastisement and I get bogged down. And that, more than anything, is what causes my creative blockages. My own mindset. The good news, however, is that mindsets can be changed. It might take time and practice, but you’ll get there. Choosing to treat yourself gently and with kindness can be difficult at first. I still struggle with it daily. That’s why oftentimes, it’s easier to start with one thought. Say, “I get to write fanfic of these interesting characters in my head!” instead of “I have to make myself write at least one scene today,” or what have you. If I can see my creative work as an enjoyable opportunity, rather than a difficult obligation, or a task I’ll never measure up to, I’m much more likely to produce better work. It’s the whole carrot vs. stick scenario. And we all know that carrots are much healthier than sticks. Unless perhaps you’re a beaver.
Be nice to yourself. You deserve it. As does your imagination. Give your own creative ideas just as much value and power as you give to your favorite books/movies/TV shows/etc. if not more. They deserve it. After all, your favorite book started out as just an idea in someone’s head. Same with every movie, TV show, comic, song, etc. They were all just ideas once, that someone believed in and honored with their hard work and time.
You are capable of incredible things. And I say that in full knowledge of the literal meaning of the word. Something that you can’t believe. Not yet, anyway. You are stronger than you think, more creative than you let yourself believe, and capable of more than you’ve ever imagined.
I believe in you. What will you create?