Jessica Abel is a prolific comic book author, a writer, a cartoonist, and the chair of the illustration program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. I became aware of her through her excellent blog. When I discovered she wrote a book about creative focus, I knew I wanted to learn from her.
Abel conducts workshops in creative focus, so her approach is very hands-on. The book is very hands-on, too. Each chapter has homework that applies the skills she talks about in the text, practical activities that will help you implement a different way of preparing, thinking, and working. I confess I haven’t done the exercises—yet—but I see how readers don’t fully benefit from just reading the book (you’ll just forget and work the way you always have); if you want to increase your focus (and productivity), you have to change the way you operate. The exercises enable you to implement successful creative strategies.
Growing Gills is subtitled How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life. It’s not a quick read. Transforming your creative life takes time.
The 19 chapters cover topics such as identifying passions and obstacles, idea debt, open loops, self-compassion, prioritizing, and breaking down a project into manageable tasks.
The book is divided into four parts.
In Part 1, So, What’s Stopping You, Abel identifies and defines what prevents creatives from finishing projects.
Part 2, Build your Custom-Powered Exoskeleton, covers goal-setting and creating a system to schedule your tasks and track your progress.
Part 3, Aligning your Today with your Tomorrow, helps you build a creative routine with enough flexibility that you don’t ignore your other life responsibilities.
Part 4, Falling Down & Getting Up, tells how to get going again when you get stuck.
Growing Gills is well-written by an established artist and writer, who understands the challenges of a being a creative, and has helped others overcome hurdles to productivity. It is well worth your time to read it, but do the associated activities to actually grow your own gills.