How many decisions do you make for yourself?

That’s not a title by the way, it’s a genuine question — I’m interested.

I’ve been writing a one-line diary for a few years, and every now and again I come across an — often tear-stained — entry from  a previous year which says something like “I’m not sure if I’m making any decisions for myself” or “I don’t feel like I’m ever doing things because I want to do them”.

It’s always jarring to read those words in my own handwriting. I don’t really want to live a life where I’m not making my own decisions or doing things I want to do. But most of the time I don’t think about things like that, I just get on with it — and I guess that’s the point. Reading those entries can cause me to get lost in a spiral of questions about how many of my decisions are made unconsciously, and realisations of how much of my life is lived on autopilot.  

I think that’s the reason there has been an explosion in mindfulness apps and books in the past few years. A lot of people are feeling those things and asking those questions, so taking a few minutes to turn autopilot off and check in with ourselves feels precious and important — and it is. But I think having an autopilot is precious and important, too. 

More often than I find diary entries which question if I’m doing things for myself, I find entries that say “I need to trust myself more” or “I need to follow my gut” — and that’s exactly what making decisions on autopilot is. We’ve been crafting and honing our intuition from the moment we were born. Every tiny experience we have is logged, and each time we’re faced with a new choice our brain accesses and processes those previous experiences instinctively, at an imperceptible rate. Our intuition allows us to make decisions without conscious thought.

Every new experience strengthens our intuition, and every time we trust our gut we trust ourselves. I’d like to say I’m going to trust my gut more and question myself less, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to. At the very least though, I’m going to try to feel safe in the knowledge that: “At any moment, you are exactly where you want to be, for better or worse.” — James Altucher

I wish I could think more like a two-year-old

One of my favourite things to do at the moment is play with my two-year-old niece, Indi. I played with her for a while yesterday, and in that time we: made all of her sick toy animals better, organised a pool (tiny bowl) party for the animals, “baked a cake”, took a nap, sang songs — changing certain lyrics to poop, and plaited (knotted) my hair like Elsa from Frozen. Then Indi asked me to paint her nails. 

I didn’t have any nail polish, and wasn’t sure I should be painting a two-year-old’s nails even if I did. So instead I brushed my finger carefully along each of her nails. When I was done she held her hands out in front of her face to admire and judge my work. She carefully examined each individual nail and her smile grew bigger and bigger. “They look beautiful, don’t they?” I asked. She took a deep breath, considered her answer for a moment, and whispered “yes”.

I wasn’t sure what colour I’d painted Indi’s nails, but I could tell that she could genuinely see it. In the same way that she could genuinely see the snow — that she completely buried me in later — falling in our kitchen last week. Her imagination blows my mind and I wish I could steal even a tiny piece of it for myself. In my experience, working in a creative field can often make you feel like the least imaginative person on Earth.

I recently read an article that said by the age of five we’re using 80% of our creative potential, but that will have declined to just 2% by the age of twelve. They didn’t go past the age of twelve, but I’m guessing that my creative potential percentage is not too great at the age of thirty-five. I’m not sure how they measured “creative potential”, but I personally don’t think that it does fade as we get older, it just changes. 

Everything that exists is a product of human creativity and imagination, and not much of everything that exists was made by five-year-olds. Our imagination and creativity definitely become more grounded in reality as we get older, and we do have to exercise them in the same way we have to exercise the rest of our brain. Which is why I’m so grateful that I get to hang out with Indi, and so excited to do it more. Watching her imagination in action is the best exercise for my own. I’m hoping that if I hang out with her enough, one day I’ll be able to see that snow falling in our kitchen too.

I get really sad after good stuff.

It was so easy to realise that I get really sad after good stuff, but it can be hard to actually deal with it. Knowing why something happens doesn’t automatically stop it happening, in the same way that knowing why you feel certain things doesn’t stop you feeling them. I can also get really good after sad stuff, which is much better, but can also be hard to deal with.

I’ve been in a “creative rut" spiral for a while now. I’ve stopped drawing, writing, sending newsletters, and pretty much everything else. But I have been doing a lot of good stuff. I signed two book deals, I’ve travelled a lot, and . . . well that’s pretty much it. But even though the good stuff is still happening — I signed my book deals last month, and I’ve recently been to Norway and Belgium — a few weeks ago I started to feel incredibly sad. 

I quickly moved beyond sadness and into the bit that I hate the most. Nothing. I was empty and flat and incapable of feeling or thinking anything at all. I saw an unbelievable sunset and shrugged. I gazed out at the ocean and felt dead inside. I ate amazing ice cream and said “yeah, that was OK”. It was not OK.

One of the main reasons I get sad after (and during) good stuff is that same pop-psychology reason which affects a lot of people. WHAT IF THE GOOD STUFF GOES BAD?! I know that doesn't happen very often, and I know that bad stuff happening is OK and I can deal with it. But I still can’t shake that feeling, you know? 

Another not-so-pop-psychology reason I get sad after good stuff is that I stop making and sharing things online. I stop making time for it when life feels good, and I lose all desire to do it when life seems bad. It’s hard to find The Balance. But I’ve realised recently that the way I best deal with being a human who is alive amongst other humans is by making stuff and sharing it.

As I’m writing this a tense and weird energy is building up inside of me, and maybe you too. That energy is me resisting the urge to type the words “so from now on I’m going to draw more, blog more, send newsletters more, and blah blah blah more”. All I’m saying is that it feels like the sad stuff and the nothingness is over with. Hopefully it’s time for me to get good again.

The Week That Was

How to Be Happy (Or At Least Less Sad) was released in the USA on Tuesday, and a few great features about the book have already started to appear. They have really helped me to feel connected to the US release, even though I’m 1000s of miles away, so I decided to collect them all in one place. 

The First Bad Book

This quote is from The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I really expected to love this book, but I genuinely hated it. It feels weird to say that out loud, because I love Miranda July, and almost everyone else did love this book. I also know that you’re supposed to keep quiet when you dislike something these days.

But this book was the worst thing I’ve read in a long time. It felt like everything I hate about the world right now had been wrapped up in a hardback novel, which I also hate. It felt weird for the sake of being weird, “shocking” for the sake of being shocking, and it was full of cold, flat, and uninteresting characters. That was the strangest part from me. One of the things I always loved about Miranda's writing is her ability to constantly create characters that feel human and real.

It was tough to even finish this book to be honest, it actually felt like hard work. There were a few funny or clever lines, but in general I hated it. I think that’s OK though, to hate something made by someone you love. In the same way that it’s OK to love something made by someone you hate. It doesn’t mean I suddenly hate Miranda July, and I’m not going to stop loving her other work. 

We're encouraged to forget that it’s OK to hate things still, and I was going to keep quiet about this book. But hate can be a good thing, and I think men are bad enough as it is, it’s better that I said something.

Am I Waving Loud Enough?

Making and sharing creative work often feels like treading water to me. As if I’m working pretty hard just to stay afloat. I know that my end goal should be swimming, but I’m not really sure where I should swim to. So, I just float. I conserve my energy as best I can and poke my hand into the air, waving. That feels like the minimum requirement: let people know that I’m here. It also helps me to feel like I’m doing OK, and that I’ll figure it out soon. There’s no need to panic.

But, every now and again, I start to sink. The ocean seems much larger than it did, and I get tired. Before I know it, I’m not waving but drowning. I stopped waving — and began drowning — a while ago. On the limited occasions I’ve posted work recently I’ve been secretly hoping that someone would save me, or at least point me in the direction of the nearest shore. But, I know that’s not how the me-someone relationship works. I’m on my own. If I drown, I drown.

The only thing that’s been keeping me afloat recently is my next book. It’s a solid and real thing that I will be able to show people, and I’ve been clinging to it like driftwood. It’s helped me to gather the strength to fight my brain — or my mind, I forget which — and start waving again. So yes, you guessed it, this is one of my semi-regular “Hey Look, I’m Going To Start Drawing And Blogging More Again (I Promise)” Posts. It’s completely for my own benefit, but this is a reminder that I’m doing OK. I’ll figure it out soon. There’s no need to panic.

I’m not drowning, I’m waving.

Miranda July, Kimya Dawson, and Being Brave

I found a quote by Miranda July last week that I’d saved a long time ago. It was underneath a photo of her opening a letter,  like this: 

“This is a picture of me taken in 1996. I am opening a letter from a stranger and no doubt my heart is pounding in a way that is uncalled for. I am 22 and I am just dying to know what this stranger has to say and I’m hoping it will turn my world upside down. Not that my world is so horrible, but I know it will be better upside down and understood by a stranger. It is this desire, to be transformed by understanding, that has pretty much propelled me through every single day since 1996.” — Miranda July

I’ve been propelled through life by the desire to be transformed by understanding too, often without realising it. The lyrics I’ve drawn below are from the Kimya Dawson song Caving In. Kimya Dawson, and this song in particular, make me feel that way. That my world has been turned upside down and understood by a stranger. It still blows my mind that arranging the most simple of words in a particular order can elicit such a feeling, but it can, and sometimes it doesn’t even take words.

I think trying to be brave so others can feel brave — despite your heart caving in — is important. Sometimes other people know you’re just trying to be brave though, because they are too. You can often feel this silent air of understanding, that we’re all just trying to be brave so we can keep each other going. But that doesn’t matter, bravery is contagious, and there is strength in numbers. And that’s what it is about this feeling. We can never truly know what anyone else thinks or feels, because we will only ever experience our own thoughts and emotions. But when we feel like someone else understands we feel connected, safe, validated, less alone . . . brave. There are days when I’m not sure why anyone even bothers to get out of bed, and days when I wonder how the human race still exists. But I’ve started to think that the pursuit of this feeling, that other people understand, is a big part of it.

Anyway, the point is: if you’ve never listened to Kimya Dawson, you should.

I’m flying to Perugia in Italy tomorrow

miranda.jpg

I was going to read this book on the plane, but I hate reading hardbacks, and I imagine I’d hate reading hardbacks even more on a Ryanair plane. I’m still excited about reading this book, even though it’s a hardback. But I need to be at home with a hardback, so I have room to operate. There isn’t really a point to this post, I just wanted to say I’m going to Italy and I had nothing Italian to post. I can only post a photo of my passport so many times. But, even though I don’t have a point, I do have some questions. Like: Why do publishers release hardbacks first? And why does the paperback not follow sooner? And does anyone actually enjoy reading a novel in hardback? It seems like such a terrible format for novels. Anyway, I’ll just take a different book to Italy and forget all about this until I get back. I hope you all have a good weekend.

Always Take The Detour

In 2009 I drove the whole way around Australia in a camper van with my friend Teresa. Driving around a country is my favourite way to see it, because it means you can always take a detour. While we were in Australia taking detours led us to, amongst other things: Stromatolites, Supa Golf, Scenic World, a frisky couple's caravan, a drive-in cinema, amazing deserted beaches, and to Monkey Mia.

Even though it was a dead-end and at least a 5-hour detour, the name was good enough that it seemed worth the drive — we also thought we could probably camp there for the night. When we got to Monkey Mia we found out that it was just some kind of resort, and we definitely couldn’t camp in the car park. It felt like one of those times when the detour wasn’t worth it, like the time our camper van was broken into. But we decided we should at least take a swim in the ocean so it wasn’t a complete waste.

While we were in the water I noticed a grey fin pop up behind Teresa. I shit myself, obviously, and began wishing I’d spent less time skipping swimming lessons in high school. The fin swam round Teresa and came out of the water right in front of her, attached to a dolphin. This is where I should post a photo of that dolphin, because it swam around with us for a while, and we had a waterproof camera. But, the whole time Teresa was shouting “take a photo!” at me I was thinking “but, is that really a dolphin?” — I’d heard sharks are pretty sneaky.

The dolphin swam away after a minute or so, and we got back into the camper van to carry on with our journey. The moral of this story is, you should always take the detour. Swimming with a dolphin is at the extremely good end of the “things you might find on detours” scale. But it’s surprising how much can be hiding down an unfamiliar street, or on a different route home. Contrary to popular opinion, curiosity did not kill the cat — it was a shark disguised as a dolphin.

How to Get a Book Deal?

So, I have no idea How to Get a Book Deal. But, despite that, my third book will be published in May. I’m writing this post because I often get asked “how do you get a book deal?”. Most of the other posts on this subject seem better than this one will be, to be honest. They all know the “secrets” to getting your book published, and I’m afraid I don’t. But I don’t think there are any secrets, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan that will ensure you get a book deal.

Most “secrets” are things you know already anyway, or things that you could figure out for yourself. That doesn’t make them any less valid, but they’re definitely not secrets, and they’re definitely not guarantees of success. So while this isn’t a post that will tell you How to Get a Book Deal, here are a few things that I think will help while you’re trying.

MAKE GOOD (HONEST) WORK AND SHOW IT TO PEOPLE
This is the most important point to me. I was approached by publishers for my first two books, and both books only exist because I made work and put it online. I put the word “honest” in brackets because that part isn’t essential, a lot of bullshit gets published too. But making honest work is important to me, and I think it should be important to you.

BE A PERSON THAT SOME PEOPLE KNOW
This follows on from the first point. Publishers generally want authors who already have some kind of “following”, which makes a lot of sense. It shows there’s a genuine interest in you and your ideas, and it shows there’s probably some kind of market for your book too. The only way to attract that interest is to make good (honest) work and show it to people.

GET AN AGENT, NOW
I didn’t get an agent until after I’d signed my third book deal.  I wasn’t sure how it worked, or if an agent would want to sign me. But it’s actually an easy process, you approach agents and ask them to represent you. That’s it. I’ve been signed with my agent for a little while now, and I can’t believe I managed so long without one. As well as dealing with negotiations, money, contracts, and all the other bits I’m really bad at, she provides amazing support and some great ideas that will help to make my books better.

CREATE RATHER THAN WAIT
Always be thinking about — and working on — your next idea(s). It can be so easy to sit around waiting while your idea is being pitched, or your contract is being drawn up, or your book is being printed. But I think it’s really important to keep producing work during those moments. It keeps you excited about creating and sharing, and it limits the chance that you’ll end up worrying or stressing about your book being pulped because nobody will buy it.

BE PREPARED TO SELL YOURSELF
This is something I’ve only recently realised and began to feel comfortable with. As well as being naturally shy and not very self-confident, I assumed that publishers take care of everything promotion related. Publishers do a lot of promotion work, but the person who can sell your book best will always be you. That doesn’t mean you have to relentlessly shout “please buy my book!” at people, although that can sometimes help.

BE REALISTIC
A lot of people assume that writing a book will make them rich, it won’t. Or at least it’s very unlikely that it will. Realising that early on is essential, because making books can be very hard and time consuming — which brings us back to the word “honest”. If you want to make books it should be because you have things to say that you believe in, not because you want to make a ton of money and quit your job. Although that would be nice.

IF YOU DON’T ASK YOU DON’T GET
My mom used to always say this to me, which is probably why I still ask her for sweets every time I see her. But while I was writing my new book I realised the same logic applies. If you want to know how agents work, ask some agents. If you’re not sure if your book cover sucks, ask a person whose opinion you trust. If you think someone would write a great intro for your book, ask them to write it. It’s an old cliché, but the worst that will happen is that they’ll say no, or not respond, or swear at you — The best thing is that they’ll say yes, and they quite often do.

So, with that in mind, please buy my books?

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