Process Notes and Drawing Waves

I am finishing a book. All the fun parts of finishing the book are over already — I have written the book and I have drawn all the pictures and re-written it and drawn all the new pictures. The stuff that is left is boring: sorting and re-formatting the images, emailing chunks of the story to people who might want their identities protected, writing pages and pages of endnotes, fact-checking, etcetera. My creative spirit is a little smashed-in. I feel claustrophobic.

I am working on a few essays, but suddenly, essays take me longer than they once did. For example, I just spent three hours this morning on an essay (about owls — uncomplicated, dull owls) that I began over a year ago. This is not like me. I am a person who gets things done quickly. I get the thing done, and I put it out in the world, and I let it burn up, and I start something new.

But lately I am stuck my mind-house (go with it) with all these longterm projects that are experiencing simultaneous failure to launch. It’s like I suddenly have several 30-something kids eating my cereal and putzing around the living room and refusing to get a job. What ever happened to the easy, non-millennial pieces of writing that would grow up, come to maturity, and leave my computer all before I had a chance to kiss them goodbye?

My solution is to publicly challenge myself to update my blog with process notes for the next twenty-three days. (After that it is the winter holiday, and no one is going to read a process journal, self included.) I do well with “challenges,” you know? Like, say, a 30 Day Healthy Eating Challenge, or a Challenge Your Chi Week, or whatever. I freaking own that shit. I enjoy rules and parameters. They eliminate the ambiguity. 

So I want to make something every day, and then write a little something about why or how it was made. This, I think, is what most creative-types use their blogs for anyway. I have wasted fifteen years of digital space trying to figure out the meaning of life in a text box on the internet. Maybe I’ll find the meaning of life in my dumb year-long owls essay instead.


For a long time, the idea of drawing waves or open water freaked me out. The texture was too much for me to bear. Now, though, I’m feeling excited about it. I’m working on an essay about water, and I’ve spent quite a few pre-winter afternoons sitting up against the cement steps on Lake Michigan with a sketchbook trying to draw the waves. 

I learned three things quickly about the waves: (1) The direction of the ridges has to be consistent (you can’t have thirty sets of curvy lines going every which way, even though the waves make you think that such a thing could or should be possible); (2) Waves are big in the front and smaller the farther out you go (I know that seems obvious, but somehow it isn’t); and (3) Water takes on different colors based on how close it is to you.

Here, for example, are some waves that I think are close to the right shape, but the colors are off. I didn't create enough variance, or mute the colors in the distance. These, on the other hand, are closer:

Sill, though, I didn't use enough color. Water is less blue than you think it is. It's got yellow and orange and brown in it.

I love how water won't stay still for you. It has no interest in really being seen. It wants you to leave it alone. In that way, it tickles me that I can't pin it down the way I can get, say, a bird to sit on the page.