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A Story about a Story
Hello. Welcome back.
I’ve been busy lately working on some promotional stuff for the UK release of Agent 9: Flood-A-Geddon! (Which came out yesterday.) I was asked by the amazing UK publisher Picadilly Press to write a feature story for a blog called the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. The thought of doing this kind of thing always terrifies me because my first thought is always I’m not a writer. Even the sheer fact that I’m writing posts here where my words are center stage and not my art unnerves me. But I try not to let my fears stop me from pushing myself beyond my comfort zone and growing as a person and a creative. So when they asked me to write a blog post, I said, “Sure.” I’ll write something, and hopefully, it won’t be terrible.
At this point, most smart people sit down and start thinking about what they will write. But not me! No, I forget all about it and get distracted working on other promotional materials like drawing videos and videos of me talking about Agent 9 (More on these in a future post). Then the day the story is due, I get an email asking if I can turn it in by the end of the day or, at the latest, the next morning. I immediately reply that I’ll have it to them by the following morning and launch into PANIC MODE!
I sometimes do my best work in PANIC MODE when I no longer have time to worry and overthink things. When all I can do is sit down and write something. ANYTHING! Because not turning something in is worse than writing something terrible. I’d much rather people think I’m a terrible writer than an irresponsible human being.
To the typewriter, I go! I started writing about growing up with an overbearing father and how drawing was my escape. But halfway through, I decided I wasn’t ready to talk about that. That’s a heavier story for another day and another place.
Thankfully, there was another story I could tell. One that still involved me drawing as a kid but had a more positive spin. I spent the next several hours writing the 400 to 600-word story, and to my surprise, I don’t think it’s terrible. But I could be wrong. It’s probably best not to overthink it. Just do the work and put it out. I can’t get better at writing if I let my fear of writing stop me from, you guessed it, writing. And honestly, if it’s terrible, it won’t be the end of the world. I think too often we, or at least I, tend to over-catastrophize what could go wrong when in reality, everything will be fine. And even if my worst fears are realized, and it’s terrible, it’ll still be fine. It’s not like it’s life or death stakes or anything. It’s a blog post.
So now that I’ve brought you up to speed on the inner workings of my catastrophizing brain and you know the backstory, here is the story I wrote about a story which can also be found at FCBG.ORG.UK:
A Story About a Story by James Burks
Hello. I want to tell you a story, but what type of story should I tell?
I could tell you a non-fiction story about how I started drawing as a kid by reading and copying the pictures in a Garfield comic strip collection that belonged to my dad. I became obsessed with Garfield, so much so that I had a plush Garfield that my Granny crocheted clothes for, and I loved dearly. I drew Garfield all the time, even at school when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. My third-grade teacher could have been upset, she could have told me that there’s no future in art, but instead, she asked me if I would teach the entire class how to draw Garfield. The thought of doing this terrified me because I was very shy, but I also knew deep down inside— I must do it! So with my nervous stomach in knots, I said, “Yes.” I spent the entire weekend practicing what I would say and preparing my presentation. Visions of me failing filled my head, but there was no turning back! On Monday, I got up in front of the class and did the unimaginable. I didn’t fail! And I didn’t just teach everyone to draw Garfield; I also threw in a Charlie Brown. Because, even in the third grade, I was an overachiever.
I could tell you a happy story about the day I was accepted into an internship at Warner Brothers Feature Animation, which led to a career in animation that has spanned twenty-seven years and counting. Or how I had dreamed of working at Walt Disney Feature Animation after seeing the animated movie Beauty and the Beast and did. How I’ve worked on films like The Iron Giant and The Emperor’s New Groove or television shows like Wow Wow Wubbzy and the Powerpuff Girls. Did a simple story about an orange cat who hates Mondays and loves lasagna make this possible?
I could also tell you a fictional story about a super-spy cat who must stop a crustaceous supervillain named King Crab from melting the polar icecaps to build his worldwide water park—a story filled with action, comedy, and adventure! A story I wrote and illustrated called Agent 9: Flood-A-Geddon! Which also happens to feature an orange cat. Is this coincidence?
The number of stories I could tell is as endless as they are different: Sad stories. Funny stories. Short stories. Technical stories about the inner workings of complex doodads. I’m an expert on all things doodads. I could tell a story with only words or no words at all, or maybe one filled with panels and word balloons, but here’s the thing, they are all stories! Who’s to say that one has more value than the others?
There are different types of stories for different types of people. There will be kids who love reading books with hundreds of pages filled with all kinds of words and those who love reading graphic novels with not so many. There might even be a kid who achieves way more in life than he ever thought possible after reading a comic strip about a cat named Garfield. And that makes for one incredible story.
Thanks for reading!