Hello!

I’ve got some big news to share, so let’s get to it! I wrote a graphic novel! And even better, I get to work with the amazing team at Graphix Books to bring it to readers! Here’s a little bit about the series from PW:

Ken Geist at Scholastic/Graphix has bought, in an exclusive submission, in a two-book deal, Jess Keating‘s first graphic novel, Bunbun & Bonbon, which launches a younger graphic novel series for beginning readers. The chronicles of an adventurous rabbit and the fanciest talking candy in the forest is a buddy story about exploring together. The first book is scheduled for fall 2020; Kathleen Rushall at Andrea Brown Literary Agency negotiated the deal for world rights.

I’m so incredibly excited about this new series – it’s been one of the hardest secrets to keep! As a lifelong lover of comics, it feels particularly special for me to be working on these books. I’ve been known to talk a lot about the value and importance of graphic novels and comics, and will stand for exactly zero nonsense about how they “aren’t real books”!

Since this is a new format (officially, anyway) for me, I wanted to share a little bit about the experience in case it was helpful to you! My hope is that these tips will help anyone looking to try out something big and scary, that feels very much outside of their usual wheelhouse, or (perhaps) what people might be expecting of you. Whether you’re trying out a new genre or format of writing, working in a new medium as an artist, or just generally trying to live a well rounded, exciting, and diverse life that includes a lot of new experiences, maybe these tips will help! Here we go.

1 Embrace beginner’s mind. 

When you’re trying to do something different, it’s easy to get frustrated. I mean, stuff is kind of more fun when you’re pretty good at it, and seems less fun when you’re not so good at it. If you can’t get more than two feet off the ground, rock climbing isn’t going to be the thrill you hope for. The view is going to suck. But! The things you learn in those first two feet are absolutely necessary, and you won’t get to any great view without them.

I’ve found that one of the keys to getting past the annoying “first learning stages” is to fully embrace beginner’s mind. Tell yourself that it’s okay to be not good at something, because (obviously) – you’re new at it! Would you expect yourself to sit down and play a perfect Beethoven piece on your first day at the piano? Of course not. (But yeah, you’d probably be frustrated, because you want to, and your skills just aren’t there yet.) The next part is to allow yourself to feel that frustration. You’re allowed to want to be better or more skilled! It’s good that you can see that you’re not there yet – it means your taste and goals are solid. Trust the process, but don’t beat yourself up over the path you’ve got to walk.

2 Get very, very comfortable being uncomfortable.

If you’re familiar with me on twitter or in rambling blog posts, you know I’m big into fitness. I absolutely love it, and can easily say that my training has impacted my creative life more than almost anything else. I do weight training, kickboxing, yoga – you name it – but I can still distinctly remember the day this truth hit me: the discomfort that you feel when you’re training your body isn’t a thing that ever stops. It sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it? You’d think that eventually, you’ve worked so hard and trained so much that all of these difficult moves or exercises will stop…being difficult. That it will just one day be easy.

That’s the myth! This was definitely my belief when I first started in fitness: I thought it was easy for my trainers. But everything shifted when I realized that was pretty much the opposite of what ideally happens. You don’t get more comfortable with the exertion of whatever task you’re doing. Your form improves. Your mindset sharpens. Your confidence goes up because you’ve built enough evidence for yourself that you can actually get through this. But the actual physical “oh ugh, this is so freaking hard, I’m going to die!” that you experience in the moment of doing something difficult? That doesn’t go anywhere. (And if it does stop being difficult in at least some ways, you’re by definition not working hard enough for growth.)

Does that make sense? The minute I realized that all of that discomfort wasn’t a hindrance to my goals – but rather, the goal itself – everything shifted. The obstacles, the difficulty, the process that makes you uncomfortable: that is the path. It’s not a barrier to it. If you’re going to live of a life of stretching yourself into new territory and experiences, that discomfort needs to become your best friend. You can’t view it as a sign that you’re “not good enough”. The best trainers in the world still sweat and pant and play little mind games with themselves to get through a session. (And then, they do it all again the next day.)

So, if you’re feeling that general sense of discomfort because you’re trying something new, or building a habit in your life, don’t resist it, and don’t expect it to change. It’s a good thing. It means you’re growing. The tasks don’t get easier, you just get stronger (which also means that to keep challenging yourself, you need to keep embracing beginner’s mind as you start new things, muwahahah it’s literally never endingggg!)

3 Comparison is the thief of joy (and also productivity). 

We’ve all heard it, right? It’s a horrible feeling to compare yourself to others whom you believe are leagues “ahead” of you. There’s a few things inherently wrong with that phrasing, though, which bear mentioning. For starters, there is no real “ahead”. You don’t have anyone else’s life, and your paths are going to be entirely different. You can’t be behind something that isn’t linear or chronological.

But, of course – we all do it.

I’m a big fan of what Marie Forleo says about comparison, particularly that she refers to it as “drinking the comparschlager“. It’s dangerous, it’s frustrating, but the worst part is (to me): it’s ridiculously unproductive. I will get zero accomplished if I allow myself to sink into that mindset for long.

Here’s an example: so I’ve got this new graphic novel series coming out. It’s a new format for me professionally, and with that comes the usual learning curves. Working on it was (and is) one of the best creative experiences of my life, but it was also a very dangerous thing creatively, because the opportunities to compare myself with others were everywhere. First of all, I’m working with some of the most talented people out there. They make all of the books I love! From designers to editors to colorists – they’re just jaw-droppingly good at their jobs. This kind of thing can be paralyzing or motivating – your choice. (I try to aim for motivating, or in the very least, inspiring.)

Secondly, graphic novels have always been my favorite format of book, and I’ve amassed a pretty amazing group of favorite cartoonists and creators in my head that, for lack of a better term, completely rock my world. When I was working on Bunbun & Bonbon, it was terribly easy for me to look at other outstanding cartoonists, and begin to compare myself to their awesome work (that they’ve been working on for years, no less!) Phoebe and Her Unicorn is hilarious! Mr. Wolf’s Class is stupendous! And don’t even get me started about the absolute ‘don’t look too close or you’re go blind‘ mastery of Calvin & Hobbes, Dogman, and the Telgememoirs! (Sidenote: Dogman and the Telgememoirs is an excellent band name.)

All of those creators (and many, many, many more) are so insanely talented, it’s intimidating, right? And whatever field you’re aiming to explore, you will always find yourself looking up to the experts. And thank goodness for them, giving the rest of us hope that those incredible feats can be accomplished! If you can frame your experts as inspiration, it can be much easier to move forward and keep your eyes on your own work.

But most importantly, here’s the thing about everyone that you might feel inclined to compare yourself with: they aren’t you. Their job is to tell their stories. Yours is to tell yours. Whether it’s art, or music, or science, or cooking, your voice is uniquely yours, and no matter how much you would attempt to twist yourself to fit into some parameter built by another’s success, it would never really fit. You’d feel out of place, because it’s not really yours to embody. That’s a crummy goal and a waste of your time!

However, it is perfectly normal to compare yourself, especially when you’re having a down day. So if you find yourself in the position of scrolling through Instagram, or browsing a bookstore (trust me – it happens!) and feeling like you’ll never measure up, try giving it a real voice. I mean it: I want you to say out loud, the most ridiculously whiny, petulant, bratty thing you can say about yourself, in the whiniest, most nasal voice you can summon, and make sure you name drop someone who you see is awesomely great in the process. “I’ll never be as good as the greatest bestselling artist of all tiiiimmme, waaaah!

The more you can sound like an annoying kid who wants to stay up late, the better. Stomp your foot. Cross your arms. Pout. Do that irritating whine-unggh noise that kids do when they don’t get their way. Make it really loud, and supremely whiny. For as long as you can stand it. (You’ll see that even two minutes is hard for this!) Bonus points if you can manage to do this in a mirror and keep a straight face.

Why? Saying it out loud like that – so you can really hear yourself the words – does wonders. First of all, it’s funny. Like, seriously funny. Here you are a grown person, whining really loudly to yourself in an empty room about how unfair it is that you aren’t somehow transplanted into this other expert’s mindset and experience and skills. Saying it out loud like this works so well, because it gives you the freedom to actually voice your deepest fears, but at the same time directly reminds your more “aware” side that you’re being kind of ridiculous.

Because it is ridiculous. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone. You’re the only you there is. That spot is taken, so there’s zero competition. You already own it. And no one can take it from you. Let it out, give it a voice, and do your best to see your comparison as a really tricksy little gnome on your shoulder, whose job it is to stop you from working.

Do not let the gnome win!

4 Drill in the basics. Again and again and again.

What?! Another fitness metaphor?! Noooo! (Sorry.)

But it’s true! So you’re embracing beginner’s mind and you’re doing your best not to compare yourself, but you’ve also actually got to develop the habits and muscle memory to get good at what you’re aiming for. There’s a lot to be said for some simple pushups! In a creative sense, this could mean doing freewriting sessions just to get the ball rolling each day, or maybe a page of sketches, doodles or life drawing. A pianist plays the scales. A tennis player practices their swing. If you’re not certain what those basic drills are for you, a good hint is found in the actual name that you’re striving to take on. Writers write. Artists make art. Musicians make music. Chefs cook. Get your verb on, in whatever way makes sense to you, and do it as often as you can.

Your accomplishments in life are built from your average day. They’re not born from frantic, one-time sessions of creative brilliance (though, those can occur from time to time – they will still only show up if you give them a place to do so, which is why habit and discipline will always mean more to me any motivation.)

However you can, build a basic structure into your day to support your goals. (Baby steps count!) Repeat the basics often. Warm up. Stretch. Make it as non-negotiable as you can. Do your pushups.

5 Let yourself believe it. 

Maybe the biggest point yet. You can do everything “right”, but I tend to believe that this life reflects every crack in the mirror. Your drive and confidence will be tested, and you’ll pretty much be challenged at every turn. But if you don’t have a very basic belief that your particular dream is possible, I think the job gets infinitely harder. You’ve got to buy it.

There’s a lot to delve into here, but my best advice is to write out your story. As in, literally list the things that you believe about yourself, and in particular the things you’d like to do or accomplish. What are you actually telling yourself on a subconscious level? Watch for phrases like “oh, I could never…” or “well, I always seem to…” or “only people who X get to Y…” Generalizations like this are usually either perfection trying to cut you down and stop you from trying, or unexamined remnants we’ve picked up from childhood that don’t hold true.

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, so try to do a little digging about where you actually stand on what you believe is possible for you. And, if you happen to uncover some not-so-flattering beliefs that don’t support you, flip the script. What would you say to your very best friend if they had a big dream? Would you tell them “nope, sorry, you’re definitely not gonna be able to figure that one out, ya big nincompoop!” or “Hmm.. have you thought of setting the bar a little…lower?”

It can actually help to think of a dream like a potential love interest here: saying to your friend “maybe you should just settle for the guy who doesn’t know the difference between ‘your‘ and ‘you’re‘ — he’s nice enough and doesn’t smell that bad!”

In both cases, with dreams or significant others, you’d never tell your best friend to settle. You’d never tell them they can’t work hard and use their brains and talents to figure out their way down the path to a goal. You’re not saying it will be easy – you’re just saying it’s not impossible. Hard is not impossible.

That alone – the ability to actively tell yourself “well, it’s not impossible” is a wonderful start. You don’t need banners and confetti and Tom Cruise looking you in the eye whispering that you can do it. (Though, sure. It wouldn’t hurt, I suppose.) You just need to make sure you’re not shutting off your possibilities before you even begin. As much as you possibly can, explore the barriers and boundaries that you set for yourself, in yourself. 

And then put them where they belong. There are enough road blocks on the journey, you don’t need to be one of them!

I hope this has been helpful! As with any and all of my tips, please disregard absolute anything that doesn’t resonate with you. The only real advice that is ubiquitous is that there is no advice that suits everyone, so I promise I won’t be offended if these words don’t quite match with what you need. But if they do, or if I can help in any way, don’t hesitate to shoot me a question on Twitter. I’m happy to send support and good vibes in any way I can!