Sarah McIntyre: Learn how to embrace your mistakes

With more time on our hands, is it the moment to write that novel or create perfect art? Author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre explains how to make amazing work by starting off with bad ideas

The Big Issue: If we know we’re not the best artist and can’t create perfect pictures, what should we aim to create?

Sarah McIntyre: It’s not always the perfect drawings we really connect with (and possibly share on social media), it’s the pictures that make us laugh. Or the ones that feel relatable. I’d say, rather than trying for perfection, aim for connection: draw something that makes your child smile, or gives granny a good belly laugh. Sometimes the drawings where we’re being a bit silly turn out to have the most life to them.

Why is perfection not the most important goal?

When we aim for something epic – like creating a 300-page graphic novel when we’ve never even drawn a comic strip before – we inevitably get lost on the way. Maybe we run out of energy, or our drawing style changes over the years, before we’re even finished that one massive project. The difference between a wannabe author and an author is that the wannabe starts books, but the author finishes them. And the secret to finishing books? Make very short books! A finished eight-page book beats an unfinished novel.

How can we learn to embrace our mistakes?

We need to learn to forgive our work, embrace it with a sort of inner hug. If a child was struggling with their maths assignment, you wouldn’t yell at them and throw them out on to the street. But we do that with our drawings, we get angry and crumple them up. Treat your drawing like a child, give your drawing time to grow.

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What materials do we need to begin?

Whatever’s at hand, even a biro and post-it note. All you need to make a book is to fold a sheet of paper. And the difference between an unpublished and a published book is that there’s only one version of the unpublished book, and a published book has copies. So when you’ve finished, find a photocopier!

If we don’t have good ideas should we start with bad ideas?

Yes, take a bad idea to an extreme, and that can make it very funny! Or add a little twist, and something boring gets a whole new life. Maybe remove people from a setting and replace them with animals or monsters or aliens. When I set out to write the picture book that became Grumpycorn, I I had a tight deadline, but no idea for the book at all. So I I wrote what was happening, just to start writing something: “Once upon a time Sarah was trying to write a book but she had no idea what to write.” And then I thought, what if I was a unicorn trying to write a book?

Now the story about a unicorn with writer’s block is one of my bestselling books!

Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn by Sarah McIntyre is out now (Scholastic, £6.99). Visit Sarah’s website for free step-by-step drawing guides and find her series of #DrawingWithSarah videos on YouTube