Trust Your Future Self: The Art of the Graphic Memoir // D. Boyd
As part of our guest edited month exploring publishing the emotionality of sharing writing, D. Boyd writes about her writing process and grappling with one's challenging but rewarding thought processes.
It's funny to be writing about my process because I'm making it up as I go along. I spent five years writing and drawing Chicken Rising, my first graphic memoir. Ready for further punishment, I've finished the script and begun the dreaded pencil stage of a second book. As I schedule the workload, my jaw drops ever further, the inking stage a year away. Fortunately, I've learned a few things about keeping the panic at bay, the most important being that the panic must be kept at bay.
At the outset of writing I gave myself a loose deadline. Setting goals is crucial, but early on, rigidly enforcing too strict a time limit is counterproductive to getting really immersed. It's important to resist becoming overwhelmed with what lies ahead. While I'm the writer, I mustn't worry about the workload I'm giving the artist.
I begin by trying to remember as much as possible, from deeply personal, transformative experiences to Harvey Wallbangers. Vast lists are obsessively assembled into potential story groupings and the writing begins. With my teenage diary as a resource, I try to maintain the awkward reality of how we behaved and what actually happened, instead of the more flattering, embellished memory enabled by the absence of a record.
At first, the script is a dull, skeletal, scattered bunch of nostalgia. SometimesI become discouraged at this point, but I've learned that if I keep lovingly massaging it, like a sculpture, it will eventually take form. If I'm anxious, it becomes stiff and pedantic. Also, I ruthlessly edit; since the medium is visual, economy of word is essential. I try to find every opportunity to show instead of tell. I avoid all over-arching narration.
When the script is completed, I develop characters and do storyboards—and then, the pencil stage looms. Recently I felt that familiar deep wave of panic, self-doubt and despair, wondering if I could pull it off again. To boot, my drawing skills were rusty. Defeated before I had begun, I started down that crippling impostor syndrome path. Then I remembered the crux: the reason I'm doing this is because I want to; so then, want to. Yes, the schedule will be a brute. Yes, I will encounter numerous panels that I will have no idea how to draw and I will pull my hair out and probably cry a little. But enjoyment of the process is crucial to its flow— so I must step away if something really isn't working. Later, I'll fix it—skills improve as I go along. And somewhere, far down the line, awaits the inking, shading, and laying in of the script. These stages require their own set of psychological tactics to ease my brain, but I'll leave that for when I get to it.
I've learned that the whole process can be enormously rewarding, satisfying and cathartic—as long as I trust my future self to solve the problems I'm presently stumped by. (Gee, thanks a lot, says future self.)
Originally from Saint John, NB, comic artist D. Boyd is author of Chicken Rising, a graphic memoir (Conundrum Press, 2019), nominated for a 2020 Doug Wright Award, and illustrator of VE1XE, a graphic poem chapbook written by RM Vaughan (Frog Hollow Press, 2019). With the help of a grant from Canada Council for the Arts, she is at work on her second book.