This is another one of those blogs in which I talk myself through a problem I have. I hope that it is helpful for me, and maybe for you, as well.
When I was a bowler in high school, there was one particular Saturday afternoon in which I was the only member of my team who could make it, and the opposing team only had one guy show up, as well. While our absent teammates’ handicaps played into the scoring, it was, essentially, a one-on-one match-up. My opponent was a nice kid a couple of years younger than me. Quiet, no trash talk, no hot-dogging. He was just there to bowl, like me.
I had a not-so-great day on the lanes. A strike here or there, a bunch of splits, and I couldn’t pick up a spare if a dude was standing at the ball return paying me money to do it. I think I carried a 160 average that year, but if I had to guess my scores that day, they would have been probably 115, maybe one good game at 170, and 137. Meanwhile, my opponent, a developing bowler in his own right, had a career day. If his average was 140, he bowled a 210, a 180, and a 190-something that afternoon. While my opponent wasn’t much of an underdog, he was an underdog. And I was beaten handily.
At the end of the third game, I sat, dejectedly, changing my shoes at the scoring table. My opponent approached and said simply, “You lack consistency.” He wasn’t being mean, just offering a critique of my afternoon. He was so correct that I didn’t know how to respond. I just sighed and said, “Yeah.”
Lack of consistency. It has dogged me my entire life, in any effort from sports to creative endeavours. In sports, like bowling, softball, and dodgeball, my quality of play was inconsistent, full of great performances and drop-dead, never-want-to-play-again performances. In creative stuff, I take these huge breaks between output. For example, Mike and the Ninja spent eight years as a back-burner project that I never worked hard on for more than a month at a time, until I finally dedicated myself to finishing the project. My work on the recently announced indie game, Staff and Shadow (which you should follow on Facebook and/or Twitter, by the way), has suffered from a similar pattern of behavior. Although, I haven’t neglected Staff and Shadow out of ennui like I neglected Mike and the Ninja—instead, I’ve lacked discipline and respect for the project, taking on too many other side jobs I didn’t realistically have the time to do. It’s hard for me to tell people no, even when I know I don’t have time. And again and again, Staff and Shadow would take a backseat to another, less intimidating, less long-term task.
Even this no-good blog is is a victim of inconsistency. The honeymoon period of January and February, and that surge of New Year’s energy that accompany them, are well behind us, which means the blog has gone dark. It’s funny—I look back on my previous two years of no-good blogging, and I find that a disturbing trend has surfaced: each year, the blog was strong in January and February, but then activity fell off in March, and then posts were sporadic for the rest of the year. The same is thus far true of this year, as well. The March lull is due to Cape Comic Con preparation (both for our booth, and for the show as a whole), which normally kicks into high gear in late February and into March and April. However, that doesn’t explain why blog activity doesn’t resume after the convention. It’s all about lack of consistency. If I don’t stay consistent, not only can I not get better at anything, people won’t be able to stay interested in my work, either.
So, how does this happen? Three things:
Stretching Myself Too Thin
I talked about this in a blog I wrote last October, after I attempted the Inktober challenge, but quickly realized I didn’t actually have the time or energy in my day to do it. I cram more things into my day than what my schedule allows, and then get upset with myself when I don’t get it all done. This also results in me working on one project for a while, but falling behind on everything else. It creates an inconsistency loop in which nothing gets the proper attention. I like working on a few things at once, as it allows me to stay versatile and still be productive even when I’m stuck on something. But I overdo it.
I’ll spare you the euphemism: “distractions” translates to “video games.” They’re really my only vice. (Well, video games and salt. And sweets. Listen, forget I mentioned vices.) Objectively, I don’t even play video games that much when compared to truly dedicated gamers. But relatively speaking, I play too often in the time I have available. In the evenings, I’m tired and my focus is shot, and Amanda and baby are usually in bed by around 8. When my chores and responsibilities are done for the day, choosing video games is frequently an easy, carefree alternative to working on creative endeavors. The video games become a habit, and suddenly, the creative stuff I want to do doesn’t get touched for a couple of weeks, and I lose momentum and fall out of my groove.
Working on big and/or long-term projects is scary. They are huge commitments that can ultimately fail, go unfinished, or go unliked or viewed as incompetent by the people I hope will like it. The fear of starting and getting things just right can be paralyzing. Why fail when I can just not try, right? I get it in my head that I’m bad at whatever it is I’m doing, and just stop for a while.
How to fix it? Well, I’d like to believe I’m making progress. Again, three things:
Reel Myself In
I started working on this after I wrote that blog last October. I always want to do too much, but the things I love and that I think I’m best at are writing and drawing, so I’ve narrowed my focus to those two things. I’ve also officially placed a stoppage on any incoming freelance work (aside from the jobs already in-progress) so I stop moving passion projects to the back burner at the prospect of some extra income. Suddenly, the time to put consistent work into my projects is gradually freeing up. The only downside is that I feel like I’m not helping people, but I believe there is a balance in there somewhere.
Video games are a fine pastime, but moderation is important. Video games need to be a reward for progress and a job well done, as opposed to an alternative to work. I take the easy way out too often. Partaking of other people’s stories is great, but creating my own is ultimately more important to me, and nobody else can do it for me.
Everybody fails. I’ve failed, you’ve failed, that guy over there has failed. I will fail again. But, every failure is also a learning experience. There’s no sense in not starting a project out of fear, because even if it’s a failure, I will come out a better person, and I can take what I learned from that failure and do better the next time. Being afraid of failure is no longer an excuse. Also, what if it isn’t a failure?
Time to get to work.