Everyone has a different style, and style is directly affected by medium. As I learned about how creative people worked—reading biographies and watching interviews—I noticed a pattern, and that was that creative people are often heavily involved in the material aspect of their craft. I used to think that it was enough to type away a great novel on Microsoft Word, maaaaybe printing it out on paper to edit it.

But writers and paper have always been tied together. The more I explored the physical aspect of paper and ink, the richer my imagined world got. I was suddenly able to see the world I had in my head with my own eyes. And that helped ground my world in reality and tangibility.

Some movie stars are the same way, wanting to know all about how the camera works, and many musicians aren’t just pulling notes out of thin air, they’re building amplifiers from scratch and balancing sound levels in the recording studio themselves.

My dream has always been to publish a novel, but I also dream of drawing. Whether that’s illustrating books or just sketching on the riverside, I want to spend the rest of my life making pictures. What kid doesn’t love a book full of pictures? I don’t think we grow out of that, I think we just rationalize a lack of pictures, saying to ourselves that a block of text is somehow more mature than a book full of color. But you need to stay connected to that child inside you.

That’s why I’m introducing the Instagram artist account I’ve cultivated for two years now, called @zudlow. It’s a collection of the pictures in my head that have made their way onto paper. As I built my drawing habits, drawing every day, my writing habits started getting stronger as well! I started keeping a moleskine-style notebook and stopped making excuses about being limited by time or space—I can write or sketch anywhere I want to now!

Now I take a holistic look at creativity, and everything is happening at once—drawing, writing, and reading. I’ve stopped making excuses about how I don’t have the time to write or sketch. Write every day, draw every day, make art every day, keep #goodstudiohabits!




Writing for Children

Short post today.

I experienced an incredible shift in thinking when I started teaching: I realized kids are simple. I don’t know how I thought I was writing for children before I started spending every day with them. But the more time I spent with them the more I realized that I could benefit from adopting their mindset.

Children’s stories are simple and the images are strong. Contrary to what the adult world seems to teach, the mark of intelligence is simplicity, not complexity. Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” The critical gaze of children really does test of whether we do or don’t understand something.

Teaching English will force you to think more simply. At the beginning I would rely on complicated examples to define a word. Now I keep it in as few words as possible—If I can put the meaning into one word, I consider that a success. For example, when I started teaching I would define damage as, “When something gets broken but not entirely broken, maybe it still works but there’s parts of it that don’t work anymore.” Now I would define damage as “Hurt or break.”

I’ve started taking the same approach to writing for children. I cut out words and characters if the story can handle it. Simplify. Make bold. Strengthen symbols by cutting off everything that doesn’t need to be there. Kids look at books for the pictures. Make as many pictures with as you can, keep it simple, and don’t flatter yourself with heady diction.

Another thing that helped my writing is to start illustrating again. Here is some of this morning’s work.

Hard Work


I remember the beginning of my writing journey. It was fun. It was something that other people weren’t doing. I could spend hours in my story world, carving characters and scenes out of nothing. Paper was like marble, and somewhere in there was an angel!

Writing got harder and harder. I started growing up, living more in my head. I was less focused on building exciting scenes, and more ambitious about spending pages describing madeleine cookies. I wanted a two-page scene to become ten pages, so I could spend time sculpting out more significance, more meaning. A deeper-feeling story. I wanted a story that would jump off the page and become real and dance before the reader’s eyes like pixies on the forest floor, conjuring Cottingley Fairies like a laid-back birthday party magician.

It turned out to be harder than all that. The first thing I had to overcome was the desire for complexity in stories. Simple is the hardest thing in life, and if I wanted to start finishing stories again, good stories, I’d have to keep them simple. Children, lacking a realistic concept of time, have no patience, and that’s why children’s books are so easy to read. I would have to take my stories less seriously.

The second thing that I had to accept was that writing is WORK. It’s not a frolic, it’s not a fantasy. If you want to get things done, you have to work hard. I suddenly see an old man materialize on my desk, in a rocker, a wrinkled face and a pipe, and he says wisely, “Hard work is its own reward!” and then vanishes in a poof of tractor smoke. It’s true, but not in the sense we believed when we rolled our eyes as teenagers.

Hard work produces good work. That’s a fact. It doesn’t matter how crappy your story is, or what a bum job you were given, or how low-quality your ingredients for dinner are. If you work hard, what you make WILL be good. So instead of sitting around and waiting for inspiration, or spending days plotting out novel words, nowadays I simply grab my notebook and head to the cafeteria to sip cheap coffee and just write. Write every day. Make art every day. Keep good studio habits. Above all, work hard and your work will be good.

Keep the Gray at Bay


“I’m depressed,” almost everyone has said at one point in their life.

Most of the time, this is a reflex response to the coffee shop being all out of your favorite blend, or the movie you want to see can’t be found online. When something doesn’t really go your way, it’s easy to label that as “depressing.” Of course I say it too, all the time, and I know it’s a meaningless quip.

But it seems that lately more and more people are becoming aware of what depression REALLY is. A sickness, of sorts. I can’t say I’m actually depressed, as I haven’t been medically diagnosed, but when I read about the signs, I slowly nod my head.

It comes sometimes in the morning as a blip on the screen, tiny at first but the morning drags on and you can’t seem to shake the thoughts in your head that you just feel like staying in bed. Negative thoughts, thoughts that nag you that nothing you’ll do can be worth any good so you might as well not try at all. And then it keeps going, won’t leave you alone. You skip breakfast and think about coffee but walking to work, you pass by the coffee shop thinking you’ll skip it for now. Maybe later. You don’t really need coffee…You don’t feel like talking to people. Not your family or close friends. Was it something you did, some bad habit you’ve got that keeps you from keeping your head-bedroom clean? Or is it just chemistry, potions in improper portions inside you? Maybe eating different will help, maybe getting some exercise.

Everything’s gray, the day drags on and you find yourself thinking of night all day long. And when you finally go to bed, your head keeps you awake and you stare at the ceiling and wish for the morning.

And then the next day it’s all gone. But sometimes it isn’t. And you’ve got to find out how to shake it. For me, it’s prayer, good habits every day, and exercise that keeps the gray at bay. If I can wake up early and spend some time on the rooftop talking to God, and then I have some cheese on French bread for breakfast and a cup of coffee, and then that night after work I go to the gym, it keeps that empty vague sadness at the shore. Take a cold shower. Read a book before bed instead of browsing Facebook. Organize an outing with friends for the weekend instead of staying in. I tell myself this every day. And it helps.

I know there are more severe cases than I’ve got, and I can’t pretend to know how to keep those bigger boats at bay. But I do know that for me, if I find myself not even wanting to chat with my best friend, or skipping meals because I feel too much like a blob to get myself going, or if I can’t even bring myself to sit and sketch people walking by on the street, I have hit that gray point and I need to bring myself out of it.

And if you’ve ever hit these gray days, I urge you not to let it eat you, but to try to be strong and find your own fire escape.

R.I.P. Planty

I dedicate this blog to my jade plant, Planty.

For about a decade I tended a small jade plant. It was sort of skinny and not as big as a succulent should be after ten years. But after so many years of “good enough,” it finally went to plant heaven after someone thoughtlessly threw it away.

When I got the news, I was surprised at how unshaken I felt. I asked where Planty was and this roommate responded, “I threw it away.” He said it as though he’d just got rid of a last-night’s-party paper cup, or had just finished sweeping up the pieces of an ugly pot that fell off the garden wall.

It has taken me a few years to realize just why I wasn’t sad about Planty. I recently realized it’s because that plant never progressed, never grew. Years and years being sometimes three, sometimes four, sometimes five inches tall, and then back down to four inches. My life was not better or worse for its departure.

Maybe some other things are like that, I ponder. A story that’s gone for years without being finished. Sketches for paintings that never get painted. Ideas for songs, and passing thoughts about “you know what would make a great short film?” The problem with creativity is that you have a million ideas but you can only choose one at a time. This has always been my ongoing challenge. An idea that takes a second to think up will take a month to complete.

I started working full-time, eight hours a day, five days a week, for the first time in my life. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had and it has me being constantly called on to make big decisions and get stuff done. Nothing can “just happen,” I have to make it happen.

This writer is done playing around. Either that story will get written or it won’t. I’ve stopped talking about getting things done, and I’ve started getting them done. It’s in this spirit that I dedicate this blog to Planty for our time together. But I also dedicate it to that three-four-five inch jade plant as a reminder of what he represented…Perpetual mediocrity, neither hot nor cold, neither rainy nor sunny. The kind of thing that would see me old and unsuccessful, still having a lot of great ideas but never getting them done.

Make art every day! And cultivate good studio habits.