I’ll just blurt this out much the same way I do when I begin a first draft of anything… My best friend died of cancer in 2006 and I’ve been trying to write a novel about it ever since.
It started as poetry. Who knows where that came from, I don’t know the first thing about poetry, but for some reason I began hearing poetry the day she died. I even took an online poetry class to try and learn how to write it because frankly, it was annoying that I couldn’t get the words out coherently.
After I put a couple poems down on paper, I stopped hearing them.
But then I had a nagging feeling that I needed to write something more. About our friendship, what it had meant to me, and how losing her had affected me.
I started writing a memoir. As much as I love memoirs, I only read memoirs for several years because no other form of literature could compare, turns out I couldn’t write one. It’s possible I was better at writing poetry which, trust me, means it was terrible.
I’m not 100% sure where the idea came from, I think I was listening to a podcast and graphic novels were mentioned. I had never read a graphic novel, but instinctually I knew that was how I was going to tell the story of my best friend.
By now, several years had gone by since her death.
I recalled seeing the animated movie Persepolis which was adapted from a graphic novel and decided to read it for myself. The straightforward, heartbreaking and humorous way it was written, along with the stripped down black and white drawings gave me hope that I could do this.
Even if only to distribute amongst our close friends, it was something I was determined to accomplish. I got to work. I did an outline, it was roughly 30 pages of short, triple spaced sentences. So easy, right?
And then I started drawing. Holy shit.
Drawing is hard.
I’ve drawn in one capacity or another my entire life. But, I was cocky thinking black and white ink characters would be so much easier than rendered, realistic characters. And maybe they are for some, but being “easier” isn’t the same as being “easy”. Also, I’d been painting for roughly ten years at that point and hadn’t actually drawn much. My muscle memory was testing me.
After months of working on the first couple of drafts, my cockiness long gone, I realized the importance of this work and put everything I had into it. It was the most difficult work creatively that I had ever attempted.
It was the most difficult work emotionally I had ever attempted. Every draft, every drawing held memories that could potentially trigger a breakdown. I learned to allow myself a few moments to cry it out and then I went back to work.
Four years later, it became the most physically challenging work I had ever attempted. Over a period of several months, pain crept into my hands to the point where I couldn’t hold a pencil long enough to draw anything. I could no longer paint. I had trouble applying makeup, doing dishes, buttoning my shirt. Sometimes it was an ache. Sometimes its was sharp pains. Sometimes my hands would shake. Occasionally the pain would travel up my arms and into my shoulders.
I had to stop drawing the book.
I was six months away from completing it.
I don’t want to use the word depression lightly, but it was depressing. It was defeating. I had never been more proud of anything I had created. I had never been more excited or felt so confident about a project and then it was just sitting there collecting dust.
That was three years ago.
After seeing an occupational therapist who gave me some exercises to do and new postures to consider, I began to get better. Depending on the day, I can now draw for maybe a half hour before I have to stop. The pain isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s almost always there to some degree and instead of ignoring it and pushing through the pain, I have to move on to something less stressful on my hands.
I feel like I’m back where I was when I first started seven years ago. Doubting my abilities and overwhelmed with the thought of not being able to finish what I started.
It’s hard to find motivation when you’ve lost your confidence. It’s hard to sit down at the drawing table knowing you will be forced to get back up in 20-30 minutes because of pain.
I’m doing my best.
I fully expect it will take years to complete, but can you imagine the feeling of not letting anything stop you from accomplishing your goal? And by “anything” I mean a minor, slightly debilitating pain that could be much worse and I am full of gratitude that it’s not, ok?
This blog is for you to follow along on my journey to completing my first, and maybe only, graphic novel. I hope when I’ve entered my last post here, you’ll be able to read all about one of the greatest people I’ve ever known, my best friend Shahnaz.