Accomplishment-producing Habits

My last post discussed how I’ve put myself on a 90 day deadline to create my children’s book. I don’t know how far away that is right now (I would assume somewhere in the low 80s or high 70s), but I’ve been jotting down some thoughts that would help guide me along the way. I thought I would share some of those things that will help keep me on the straight and narrow while focusing on my goals.

Let’s start with sincere honesty: I don’t have the creative imagination to pull out a sharpie and create someone or something that will illuminate paper and speak to the reader. But with enough effort and practice I still genuinely believe even the most ambitious goals can be met. It’s just going to have to take some focus. Below are some of the things to keep in mind that I think are going to help with managing my goal approach.

Understanding my daily habits: I need to focus on time. This ranges from lost time to lost productivity, and good energy habits to bad. An example of this would be watching TV. It’s not a bad thing to sit and unwind for a time, but to drift into a lost night without doing anything? We’re all guilty of that from time to time.

Setting short goals: The best way to make progress is to accomplish a lot… often. Anything, all things, start making goals. Some good goals for me will be creating a rough draft layout of the next page, or even just a rough draft of one character sketch that could be used on the page. The simple act of progress is a great goal. An example of this is if you are trying to lose weight. Walking a mile might be the better goal. You’ll achieve that goal 100 times before you get to the weight loss goal you set.

Speaking of the next… Personal Health: live healthy. This sort of thing is admittedly harder. It’s a real habit breaker if you aren’t already in a healthy routine. Health has an incredible amount of benefits. It’s great for energy, mood, positivity, and discipline. People who are healthy have more motivation to do whatever is in front of them.

Practice moderation. This can’t be emphasized enough, especially when someone is being creative. I have found that some of my most productive days are when I am completely sunk into my project. The music is going and I am in the zone. I work like a dog and love the struggle. That energy is clearly passion at work. But you know what happens? I go a whole day or two or three or more (!) without achieving the same kind of production. My best days are when I am engrossed in my work. My best weeks are when I am doing a little each day. 1 good week is 7 good days.

This one might be the hardest: Reject self doubt. This creeps up all the time. It’s heart breaking. I’ve learned to deal with rejection. I am actually not too bad at that. Perhaps I am fortunate. When someone says no, I usually think to prove them wrong or do better. But rejecting myself? That’s the worst. Self Doubt is the absolutely hardest thing in the world to handle for me. The best way to beat self doubt is just to do it. Fail in front of yourself. Fail. Not kidding. Drawing has been such a difficult experience. So many lessons have been agonizing. But most artists that I have been learning from all say the same thing, “It doesn’t have to be perfect.” And you know what? They are right! And you know something else? I got better, despite my obvious doubts. And despite my terrible results.

My favorite one might be this (and clearly something I am not doing right now): Shut Up. Listen, take something in. Find the value in what you see or hear, or who you are talking to. The best kinds of people, the most intelligent, and the most accomplished are listeners. You know why, because listening is the best way to make the most of all of your resources, even if they don’t seem like good ones.

My last is: Know why you are doing this. I should ask myself this all the time. I don’t do it enough. Why am I doing this? I know the answer (kind of). I am creating a children’s book to share as much as possible. Share what? Share this story and more when I make them. I want to share positive stories, thoughts, fun, imagination, creativity, and as many playful experiences as possible. I want to put a smile on someone’s face. Happiness and wonder is an experience that sometimes loses its value. It’s not lost on me. The Why is to Share. Simple.

The last one gets me on the straight and narrow more than anything else. It’s my real fuel. It makes the feeling of my motivation legit. I hope this was a help to you. Thanks for visiting.

90 Days Away

This weekend I made a spur of the moment conclusion that I was 90 days away from finishing my children’s book. I didn’t say anything until yesterday about it. The few people I told said, “Great!” “Really?” and “I’ll hold you to it.”

Not because they didn’t believe me, but I realized something needed to be said. I have been working on this project off and on for a year now and though progress was being made, there have been less and less updates on the work itself. I spent a lot of time chronicling my development in learning how to draw (always going to be a development I think) and I used a lot of that time as motivation to keep going, but the book was slower, more deliberate, and decidedly difficult. My limitations have been extensive and I’ve had to work around them. Its hard tackling a creative project with a flawed short term logic based strategy plan.

Still, I just opened up and said it. 90 days. I think I said it only a few moments after I told this to myself. That’s always how I worked.

By saying something, I made it real. It wasn’t a day dream. It was a reality. And part of that reality goes a real world commitment. So I have had to kind of piece together an approach to how I am really going to make this all come together 90 days from here. I’ll have to put together some kind of a routine or strategic approach to get things done. Being creative is fulfilling and fun, but sometimes you have to meet the deadlines. I can’t meet one without one being made first. I have it… April 11th.

To Reach One Million

This post is a little unusual for my blog considering I’ve mostly been documenting my progress on learning how to create my children’s book. It’s been one year since the process has begun (349 days to be exact). I can say with absolute certainty that my book will be done in the first half of 2015. It’s a bit behind schedule, and I have a few more hurdles to clear, but I can see some day light as I get into scribbling the second half of my words into pictures.

My outlook has admittedly changed. It’s always been the same goal (to complete a children’s book) but everything about my venture evolved into something different at the same time. Writing and drawing has so much become a part of my routine that not working on it can sometimes leave the day feeling unfulfilling. It’s pretty safe to say that given the opportunity I would do this for a living.

It’s because the community of artists, illustrators, and writers who I’ve crossed paths with has been nothing but gracious and appreciative. To date, I have not gotten one piece of negative feedback from family, friends, and strangers. I’ve been encouraged by those who have followed me online, and visited my website. I’ve sampled pieces to adults and children and received the same response: They want more.

I don’t anticipate a line around the block forming for my first children’s book. But whether one appears out of the blue or not I will get on with writing my next. It’s just something I’ve come to love. It’s something I will do regardless of whether I sell one or one thousand copies.

In the end, my goal has evolved into this idea in mind that I don’t want to make a million dollars from this. I’d love to. I mean, who wouldn’t? Imagine: do what you love and make a million dollars? That’s an easy answer, but I hate tainting my little goal with something so intrinsically covetous.

I’d hate to one day tell a friend “I started writing children’s books to make a million bucks.”

That’s cheap.

But I have come to the enjoyable conclusion that I want to reach a million people. That’s what I’ve gotten from all this feedback. I want my stories to reach one million people. The money from that? I don’t know. I hope one person takes my book (or books) and shares their copy with 10 people. That’s how much I am thinking about the buck on this idea.

That’s my ever growing drive: to share. Share as much as possible.

This is book one and I’m 65% of the way to completion. So pardon me now if one day I start hocking the crap out of my story. I could really be annoying. But trust me, you can have it for free (if I can swing it). I won’t be doing it because I want to take anything from you. It’s too much fun thinking about scoring on a share. I find myself smiling when I think about what it would be like to give.

Overthinking It

It was this week one year ago I made it a goal to create a children’s book, words, pictures and all. I didn’t create this blog until about 5 weeks later, but the process had already begun. I wanted to give myself some time to see if this was going to be an honest effort or not before posting my progress online, but eventually I got my blog up and going. Trust me; I have seen a few ambitious blogs created that didn’t get more than a half dozen posts and then nothing. I didn’t want to be that kind of person.

The first few weeks were terrific. I took numerous baby steps every day. I began writing, only a few lines. The next day I wrote a few more lines. The day after that, I wrote several stanzas. I began to build brick by brick a story that had legs, and with enough time I had something substantial.

I also went to the book store and found several lesson books on how to draw. At first it was remedial stuff, like how to draw a proper sphere and square. I had to learn the basics of perspective (which I still am terribly at) among other things I take for granted on a daily basis. Eventually I was character building. I was created faces and bodies with expressions and feelings.

After a couple of months I still had no children’s book and I had no characters. However, inching along the way I was making credible progress. That was in the winter, and winter is approaching again. So why have I put in nearly 12 months of work and still no children’s book as I stated I would do? I don’t feel like a failure. In fact, I am very proud of how far I’ve come. I grew. I learned something. I learned a new novice skill (drawing), I’ve created a rough draft story (and I’m sticking to it!), and the goal of creating a children’s book has still not escaped me.

I can tell you now with 12 months experience my biggest hurdle was not learning, not resources, not time, not my friends distracting the heck out of me (Never!), it was my over thinking mind. Every time I picked up something, a magazine, a book, an article, saw some genius breakthrough in literature, I over thought. Every time I learned a new small illustration line… I over-thought. Every time I realized I had to tweak something in my project… I over-thought. My story was a great idea. It was a terrible idea. It was a perfect idea. The drawing was bad, the characters were not up to snuff, the color was poor…

Let me do a whole panel from sketch to finish and see how it looks!

I thought of everything and that’s been my biggest hurdle. In retrospect, my best days are the ones where I sit down to scribble something up and work with it. Start with nothing and finish with something. The feelings of progress in these little crumbs have always been the best. Baby steps! Instead of slaving over how to get things right (which is perhaps the most exhausting aspect of creativity), I’ve got to become better at how to make lots of little some things out of lots of big nothings.

The other day I started drawing my character, Silly, sleeping in bed. The first sketch was dreadful. The next was better. I went to bed. I woke up. I put it on the tablet. I scribbled more. I doodled him a couple times in layers. I pieced him together. I didn’t illustrate this beauty that was flawless stroke by stroke. It was clay. It’s not perfect. It’s still not perfect. But it’s not supposed to be. It can be played with. That’s what creativity is: Play.

I’ll continue my work on this children’s story. I will finish it. It will never be complete. I’ll call it done, but I will always go back and do more, even after it’s shared or published or who knows. Published for me has become hard concrete word for “what I‘ve got so far”. And that makes me comfortable.

I can’t even remember the last version of what Silly sleeping in bed looks like. It’s fuzzy. It’s kind of nice recalling it that way. I’ll try not to over think it.

Backgrounds and Photography

I’ve been considering a number of options recently regarding the process of my illustrations. The joy of drawing my characters has been a tremendous experience, but I am not nearly comfortable with backgrounds. Backgrounds are a whole other half of the work that really needs to be put into my children’s book. It’s something I needs to be addressed while working on this story.

I looked up lessons on the construction of backgrounds and discovered there is much less to offer beyond general character sketching. I understand that tye eyes are fixed mostly on the activity in the front and in many popular children’s books the background does not even exist. I can think of a few such as Elephant and Piggie or You Are Not Small. But backgrounds can be world creating if they are done well. Perhaps I am over emphasizing the point because the books I just mentioned above are best-sellers. They connect well with readers, and I personally love them.

Then, randomly, I decided to give something out of the blue a shot… photography… mostly, manipulated photography. I thought it would be a great experiment to incorporate photos into my story and use them as backgrounds. When I thought of this, I said to myself: why not use the world around you to tell a story? Why not use the imagination- not to depart from the real world- but to play within the confines of the real world?

Sure that means I am going to have to do a lot of picture taking, but that might just be part of the fun- a little adventure that goes beyond my desk and couch. I have also been testing out a few apps to use with my photography to help manipulate the images I take to help soften the contrast between my characters and the world they will be playing in. It’s a lot of cartooning apps. I take a photo and then run it through a filter.

I worried that it would be like taking a short cut, but I was listening the other day to an NPR Radio interview. I have no idea who was being interviewed, but the professor speaking was going on and on about how nearly every medium in today’s society was modern. Everything from movies to music was refurbished, revamped, and an improved experience. But reading was not. He said it would be wonderful if writers started using the media available to enhance the experience of the reader. I still love my reading, don’t get me wrong. Picking up a book and disappearing into the pages is fascinating. But what about picking up a children’s book and for 9-15 minutes, playing with the actual world we live in everyday, just with a few imaginary characters? It was about 10 o’clock at night last Thursday that I heard that interview, and I thought: I am going to give this a shot. After all, isn’t this just what it all is anyways? Just playing?

We’ll see how it goes.