Today I was focused, disciplined, and seething with inspiration. I sat down to work at 9, read briskly through an 8-inch stack of newspapers, outlined my next episodes, and started writing. By supper, I'd hammered out two tight scripts. April Fool. I didn't get anywhere near my work. I forced myself up at 8 after not nearly enough sleep so I could work on my "Diary" entry for Slate. Writing and illustrating these daily entries is surprisingly labor-intensive. The more time I spend writing about what I did the day before, the less time I have to lead an exciting, diary-worthy life. And not leading an exciting, diary-worthy life makes it take longer to create interesting entries, so that each day the cycle intensifies and I feel like I'm being sucked down a self-referential vortex. I've developed a twitch in my left eyelid from sitting so long in front of the computer. I spent the afternoon hand-lettering the title for a French translation of my book Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For. I also went to the bank and the post office, did two phone interviews and, in a last-ditch attempt to create at least the illusion of accomplishment, vacuumed my office. The French title of my book is Le Rejeton des Lesbiennes à Suivre, which, as far as I can tell, means "the offshoot or sucker of lesbians to follow." One of my phone interviews was fun, but the other one was of the "so when did you start cartooning?" variety. For some reason banal questions knock the wind out of me, and I can only muster banal answers. I try to tell myself the distractions of my day are all part of the process, that the strip is gestating even as I'm bantering feebly with the postmistress. I know that's true, just as I know that I won't be able to start writing until my anxiety about the deadline reaches critical mass. But it doesn't reassure me to know this. Which is fortunate, because if it did, I'd never get anxious enough to begin. There are certain signposts that indicate I'm starting to settle into the work. Reaching for my thesaurus is the point of no return. And when I take my full-length mirror down from the wall to pose for a sketch, I've attained full steam. But I can't induce concentration by picking up the book or the mirror. The impulse has to arise spontaneously. My creative process is a tidy model of the First Law of Motion. Once I've summoned the force to set my resting body into motion, it stays moving. The manic phase of my cycle kicks in, and I'm able to work in a highly focused state for long stretches. I would probably keep drawing in an ecstasy of crosshatching until the strip was entirely black, if it weren't for the necessity of mailing it out at a certain time. But knowing all this doesn't make me feel any better. Unless I'm in a trance at my drawing table, I'm convinced the day is wasted. Maybe I'm just attached to my suffering, as Sparrow, the self-improvement junkie in my comic strip, would say. Once someone gave me that self-help book The Artist's Way. It said creativity doesn't have to be spasmodic and painful and that if you can manage to get out of your own way, inspiration will flow from you effortlessly. Despite the fact that I know better, I found this snake oil pitch very seductive. It was like watching an abdominal machine infomercial that promises a six-pack stomach on only two minutes of exercise a day. Strangely enough, I just bought one of those machines.
Alison Bechdel writes and draws the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which appears in over 60 publications. Her latest book, The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For, is hot off the press.