Friday, January 18, 2013

In Praise of Plan A

Let's begin with a re-cap of my blog post Death to Plan B.

What Plan B says: I got your back, bro. Go for it.
What Plan B means: You're going to fail, loser. Come move back home. You can live in the basement.

Plan B is not necessarily evil. When it is doing its job, that is, supplying a fulfilling and/or lucrative source of income while also providing time and encouragement to pursue your own creative projects, it's lovely. But when Plan B hisses in your ear to stop writing, painting, or researching ancient Nordic magical encantations because your ideas aren't worthy of the time you're giving them, and instead use your energy to give your already robust Plan B even more attention, then we have a problem. In general, the stronger the Plan B, the weaker the Plan A.

Why is this?

Let's take a look at your typical Plan A:
• silly
• impractical
• appeals only to people like you
• does not provide an obvious and/or immediate income-generating path
• makes you giggly, happy, and giddy
• little precedent for it
• none of your friends have done it
• none of your friends want to do it
• your friends have tried it and failed
• books are written on how many millions have failed at it
• looks strange on your resume
• parents are not able to describe it
• creates hopes of fame and grandiosity followed by waves of shame and self-loathing for allowing you to think expansive, wonderful things about yourself
• requires you attend expensive classes, workshops, conferences, and seminars
• tempts you to travel to places you've never been with money you don't have
• demands that you network with people you've never met

Look at your typical Plan B:
• has worked in the past
• capitalizes on your experience
• exists within an established market
• success is measurable
• affirmation arrives regularly, in the form of compliments, gratitude, and cash
• your parents can mostly explain it to their friends

Who wouldn't want Plan B?

Plan A is that great idea you have, like a post-apocalyptic clothing line, or a diaper composter, or glasses that change their prescription as your eyes change, or shoes that let you bounce like Tigger, or Asian/Dragon themed underwear for women (go ahead and steal these ideas, Plan B has already talked me out of them). Fun, exciting stuff that makes people go: "Cool! Too bad it's totally impossible for people like us."

I'm writing a novel. I've been writing it for eight years. The first chapter won an award. A NYC literary agency read the entire manuscript and said it's not finished. It has some traction out there in the world. I have been three months from finishing the novel for the last two years, writing anywhere from 0 minutes a day (sometimes for months at a time) to 6 hours a day (three times total). Things like work and kids and howling doubt get in my way.

During those eight years I have worked at graphic design almost every day. Kids and howling doubt and writing don't get in the way of work. I work hard, sometimes at night, sometimes on weekends. My design has improved immensely in the past eight years because of the energy I've put into it. I never used to refer to myself as an illustrator, except to say oh yeah I'm pretty good in this one cartoon-y style, but then I drew one cartoon-y thing, then another, and now I've fully illustrated two educational card games (coming to stores near you this spring)!

Here are two cards from one of the games.

Are they not the cutest things you've seen in your life? Thanks! I'm an illustrator! We get better at something the more we do it. We become what we do. If we only put the same effort into our day jobs that we put into our personal creative projects, we probably would have been fired. And if we work to please our creative muse as hard as we work to please our colleagues, our projects won't be shoved into corners of time no one else wants (née 11:42pm). We have to nurture those babies and create time and energy and resources for them. Which is why I'm here to tell you: my novel will be complete in three months. Now, I must go write.


  1. Wishing you uninterrupted (ha) creative momentum. Also, thanks for posting this-- I just squashed a few negative voices in my head as a result. And those cards are fantastic!

  2. Thanks for this. Your account of what Plan B REALLY means? Yep. Oh so familiar, that basement.
    Counting on seeing that novel of yours. Done soon. Which means I'd better get hopping on my book of poems. And then the novel.
    This morning!