If you can stick with this post all the way to the end, you’ll find my little bio where it is clearly states that “author/illustrator” is not my day job. Most days I get up a little too early for my taste, and head into Manhattan where I work as a set designer for television. Mostly, I work in talk shows, having spent the bulk of my career doing late night shows like Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman. When the taping wraps, I go home, kiss my wife, pat my kids on the head and head up to my attic studio where I make books for kids.
Sometimes (almost never) I’m asked how the day job informs the night one. What have I learned working in TV that applies to making books?
Sense of humor is one answer. I think I’m irrevocably scarred … sorry skewed—(either works actually) from years of designing weird sets and goofy props. Late night humor and the way the writers craft their comedy has had a big influence on me.
On the illustration side, I’m heavily influenced by the way the camera is used to shoot a scene. I try to set up scenes in my books using time-honored camera shots like using wide establishing shots to set a scene or close-ups for comedic moments.
I think the biggest takeaway has to do with pace. I’ve got one book out on the shelves (go get yourself a copy) and more to come but I still can’t get over the difference in pace between writing/illustrating a picture book and making a daily television show. It really messes with me.
At my day job, I get multiple scripts a day that I need to break down, sketch out, draw up, and then source any necessary props or create them from scratch. Every day. We produce a show, sometimes two, every day. And then we come in the next day and do it again. What this all means is that there’s very little time to plan and strategize. When I’m handed a project, I make a plan and I go. It really trains you to problem solve and think on your feet. There’s no rehashing. There’s no switching direction midstream. There’s just a steady march towards getting the set or prop to stage for rehearsal and, later that day, the show. That same afternoon we tape a show and it’s over. My set or prop gets used on air and then…Done. Whole new show tomorrow. You move on.
Having worked this way for so many years might explain why the open-ended, no time-limit, move-at-your-own-pace process of creating a book is difficult for me sometimes. So much time to rethink and revise. Don’t get me wrong. I see the benefit of it all but I sometimes think too much time is… well… too much time.
So, when I find myself going in circles on a manuscript or illustration, or endlessly staring at a blank page, I implement day-job rule:
Do it in one day. Get it done TODAY. Pick a path and move forward. Whether it be an outline, a picture book manuscript, or a chapter of your novel — see it through to it’s conclusion. Get it to stage before showtime.
Ultimately, you might choose incorrectly. You might not love every sentence you write that day and I’m certain there will be details you’d like to change. If you picked the wrong story path, you’ve at least narrowed down the possibilities of where your story goes. You certainly wont be staring at a blank page. That’s progress.
The beauty of this is, unlike my day job, the show is not over and done at the end of the day. You do have tomorrow to edit and revise. For me, the best making-a-book timeline is a mix of the two. Hurry up and get it done and then slow down and take your time to make sure it’s perfect.
If you find yourself stuck on your latest project, give it a try. Set yourself an end-of-day deadline and pretend there’s a national tv audience and a grouchy host waiting for your work. I can almost guarantee some progress by day’s end.
Here’s the bio I told you about at the beginning. I knew you’d make it.
By day, Jason is a set designer for television, with credits that include Harry, The Meredith Vieira Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Late Show with David Letterman. By night, Jason is an author and illustrator of children’s books. You can find his debut picture book, MR. PARTICULAR: The World’s Choosiest Champion on shelves in bookstores everywhere. See Jason’s work, both illustrations and set designs, at jasonkirschner.com. Follow him on twitter @jason_kirschner. You can also read more of his blogs and some of his friends’ at DrawntoPictureBooks.blogspot.com.
Jason is giving away a copy of his debut picture book, MR. PARTICULAR.
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