It’s fitting that there’s an entire section on relatability in this part-cartoon, part-essay treatise on struggling with the muse. Skip To The Fun Parts is so deeply relatable for any creative who’s ever suffered from self-doubt — so, every creative — that it feels like Dana Jeri Maier has been watching me try to work and procrastinate and hate myself for not being superhuman. Most importantly tho, this book is her way of saying “I see you and I understand what you’re going through.” And honestly that’s a really valuable thing to have.
The short essays on the steps of the creative process are broken up by Ms Maier’s cartoons and doodles. The cartoons are as eminently relatable as the essays, tho I found the doodles to be a little less so. They’re filler, and they’re fine. Preexisting fans of Ms Maier’s work will love their inclusion here. Will they make fans out of people less familiar with her work? As someone who tends to place more importance on words than art, I can only safely say that her essays, at least, have made me take positive note of her work overall.
It helps, of course, that we’ve both lived and worked in Washington DC and its surrounding neighborhoods. So much of her life as described in this book feels intimately familiar to me, as she discusses commuting to a desk job, the impact of the pandemic, and how all that affected her creative work. But even divorced from these specifics, this book has lots to say about the joys and terrors of working in a creative field (tho mostly, let’s be honest, the latter.)
Because it’s hard, y’all! Book criticism is easily the least complicated of the creative work I do, and even that struggles to overwhelm me on the regular. At present, my weekly newsletter is a shambles, and I haven’t done any writing for role playing games in weeks! I’m a mess! But this book helped me feel less pitiful and alone. Other people have felt this defeated, too! And, miraculously, have come out the other side feeling better and happy and with, gasp, finished work in their hands!
And I’ll be blunt, this book was the perfect (short) length to get my mind off my troubles for a bit while still helping me feel productive. I mean, I read it with the intent of ticking off another box in my book criticism column, but it felt genuinely helpful in encouraging me to tackle my other creative work, and to forgive myself for not being perfect. It’s weird, too, the amount of pressure I put on myself, given how little money I make from the process. The book inspired me to ask, via its similarly titled chapter, “Who am I creating for?” Yes, there are people who pay me a pittance for what I do, but the main person I’m trying to satisfy is myself, and I really ought to be kinder to me, just as a general practice.
Anyway, this book is the perfect pick-me-up for the overwhelmed creative in your life, who definitely needs both a little break and a reminder that they’re not alone in feeling tired or frustrated or burned out. It might not solve any other problems, but just knowing you’re seen, in an industry that can often feel very solitary, is tremendously meaningful.
Skip To The Fun Parts: Cartoons And Complaints About The Creative Process by Dana Jeri Maier was published May 9 2023 by Andrews McMeel Publishing and is available from all good booksellers, including
And there’s the whole cycle of how I feel toward a work once it’s done and dusted and out in the world. From seeing everything that I wanted to be better on through (usually) feeling that it’s pretty well ok. Vividly remember identifying the cycle when I was doing a monthly project for the bookstore where I worked; now I know to look for it, and that in itself is helpful.
I vividly remember putting my first published book into my friend’s hands, and having her open it and immediately finding the ONE typo. Lawd. That said, I’m used to random editors mangling my work because SOMEHOW, sentence fragments are more acceptable than a sentence with three clauses.
Practicing letting these babies go is just how I’m preparing for my actual children eventually growing up and leaving me, or so I console myself.