I had a pretty good idea for this year’s Inktober. I decided to make a flipbook of scenes from various sidescrolling video games, in which the protagonist would traverse the page from left to right as the pages are flipped. One page a day for 31 days. I think it’s a cool idea, and I was excited by the prospect of once again bringing my passions for drawing and video games together as part of a fun project.
I got started. I cranked out the first four pages. The first one went well! It only took me about an hour and a half to do the whole thing. Then the next one took quite a bit longer. The next one? Even longer. The fourth page took an entire evening to get done. Despite my best efforts to try to limit my time and the amount of detail on each drawing, I found myself spending more and more time on each one, and the level of detail got more and more complex, as well. You know, the exact opposite of what I had intended!
Not only was the project really starting to drag, it turns out I wasn’t enjoying it, either. At another time, it may have been really engaging work, but I found myself falling prey to the same mistake I make again and again: overcommitting to too many big projects at once. I overwhelm myself with work and commitments until I have no flexible hours in my day and end up making myself miserable.
To put this into perspective, here are all of the things I like to do, or that I’m currently working on, that generally find their way into my schedule:
- Drawing (comics, sketches for fun, sketches as gifts or commissions, etc.)
- Writing (blogs in the moment like this, as well as other, more long-term projects)
- Digital art for a (mostly) secret project
- Poster designs, record-keeping, and website maintenance for Cape Championship Wrestling
- Trying to keep the Mike and the Ninja web presence current
- Promotion for Six Legs, No Heart/exhibiting at Comic Cons
- Some freelance work here and there, although I do a lot less of this than I used to for the sake of time
- Planning for and promoting my Extra Life 2017 video game marathon
I also have a day job that appreciates me showing up with some semblance of energy, and a wife who might occasionally enjoy spending time with me. Oh, and friends and family. I have those, too. And I get jealous when I hear about all of the great entertainment my friends and family have time to take in. In the average week, I play a couple of hours of video games, maybe watch three TV shows, at most (half-hour shows, at that, and while eating meals, which is something I have to do, anyway, so do those even really count?), and maybe read 20 pages of a book a week. That’s it. That’s all there’s time for. That’s not even enough time to be inspired by anything.
So anyway, that’s a lot of projects, right? Here’s the problem. I will come up with a new project and schedule it into my routine, without any consideration for the five thousand other things already scheduled into my routine. I’ll say, “Oh, I need to be drawing every day. I want to write a new blog five times a week. I want to create at least one new digital asset a day,” and so on. I plug so many things into my day that the only possible outcome is failure. Then, here comes Inktober. I add it to the schedule. In addition to all of that stuff I just mentioned. I pile on and on and on, and expect myself to simply have the time to do it all, when I’m already not getting half of the things in my schedule done. Expectations are inevitably not met, and I get frustrated and disappointed in myself. In reality, there are not enough hours in the day to do it all, do it well, and stay both physically and mentally healthy. It’s not possible. It’s not. All I have to show for my efforts are stress, unhappiness, suffering quality of work, and a bunch of incomplete or neglected projects. It doesn’t help that I am also super slow at writing and drawing.
This probably raises the question: why do I do this to myself? I think there are a few things at work. I guess it’s pretty obvious that I really like to create, but that’s not all. You can create and not overwhelm yourself. I also think I’m trying to overcome feelings of inadequacy and irrelevance by throwing every project I can think of at the wall. It’s workaholism. It’s fear of being forgotten. It’s fear of not being good at what I do. I don’t think I’m bad, but then I go and compare myself to the cream of the crop and all the talented professionals I follow on Instagram, and whoops, there goes all my confidence.
Oh, and speaking of Instagram, I’ve also allowed myself to be consumed by social media and the idea of constantly having to post stuff to keep myself and my “brand” (if you can call it that) on everybody’s mind. Keeping that page reach up. Keeping those likes and retweets piling on. Which, they don’t, by the way, because I don’t have the body of work or pedigree (or luck) necessary to amass a lot of followers. I don’t have it, and thinking I do is putting the cart before the horse. It’s all a big trap, and my efforts are going nowhere. (Outside of entertaining the friends and followers I do have, in which case, I appreciate your support very much.) I’ve let it become work, not fun. And people aren’t dumb—they can tell the difference. They can see that I’m going through the motions, rather than posting with passion and real purpose.
When I started working on comics regularly, all of my inspiration came from cartoonists who make daily comic strips. Daily cartoonists literally have to draw every day. Not only because their medium demands it, but in some cases, their livelihoods depend on it, as well. I adopted their habits, but I apply them to all of my projects at once! The differences between them and me are that my livelihood does not depend on my creative outlet, and they are only working on one, maybe two projects at a time, at most. That’s where I have gone wrong, and the realization has been setting in for a couple of months now: just too many projects at once. I still think it’s important to write and draw every day if I can, as those are the foundations of most of the work I do. But, that doesn’t mean that every piece of writing or every drawing must become this huge, purposeful project that then takes six months or more to complete. And, if I fail to write or draw every day, I see myself as a huge failure. That’s how I operate, and it needs to stop.
The Inktober flipbook quickly escalated from a quick, fun thing that would allow me to practice drawing every day to a fully-fledged project that I cannot actually accomplish at the moment. Like I said, I think it’s a really cool idea, so I would like to return to it sometime later, outside of the time constraints of Inktober and when I have a bit more time on my hands. Or, it may never need to be finished, at all. It all depends on if I’m still passionate about it down the road.
In the meantime, it’s time for me to take three or four steps back, re-evaluate my goals and priorities, dismiss my unrealistic expectations, and allow myself to focus on just one or two things at a time, rather than jumping between so many projects at once and expecting them to all get done RIGHT NOW and be perfect.
It’s time to destroy the monster I have created and enjoy creativity again.