choosing a direction from too many options

Where I realize that working on too many things at once makes it hard to finish any one of them.

So, there I was, blithely flirting with YouTube addiction, looking up videos about storyboarding for my Batteries project (the one with the piranha), when YouTube’s silly autoplay-some-random-video thing started playing this video without warning, titled “The drawing advice that changed my life,” (by Struthless).

Since I’d been feeling a bit stymied by life of late, I was a little curious about life changing stuffs…

Turns out, it’s a vlog by an Australian artist who felt like he was being super creative, but felt “scattered” and not going anywhere despite being creatively active. He had all these ideas and projects, but not much forward motion.

Meanwhile, the guy he was working for and his wife were making a name for themselves making sculptures of a dog and a rabbit in different social situations. The same dog and rabbit each time, sometimes larger than humans, doing something mundane, like drinking coffee together.

You should get the story from the source (at the link above), but the gist of the video for me was … really quite immense. The moment he said the word “scattered,” I realized he was describing exactly how I’d been describing myself for a while, regarding my own creativity: Super busy on lots of things, but apparently not moving much.

Only a minute and a half through a ten minute video, I realized I was dividing my time between so many projects I loved, I wasn’t getting any of them done.

So, mind already blown by this dude talking on a porch, I’m continuing to watch the video for …

The Advice

He had been whining to his boss/friend that he’d been so creative and busy with so many things, but without the success his friend had, and his friend comes back so eloquently:

All you’re doing is laying a single brick in a million different houses and expecting that one day it will magically become a mansion.

In other words, “scattered”. Like me.

The solution given to him by his more successful friend?

Just draw the same thing over and over for a year.

So the guy picked a thing, in this case a scavenging local bird he empathized with. He would draw this bird over and over … until it bored him. So, sticking with the plan, he decided to keep drawing the same bird, but in different situations, with different messages or jokes.

Before he knew it, he had created a theme, a niche, a character in an ongoing social story. Bricks in the same house. Again, I suggest you get the full story from him, because he tells his story better than I am, and he goes into a lot of the why and how of it.


What it meant to me, as a writer (a kind of artist, I think), is that I was in the same boat and needed a similar solution, which came a little later on, while journaling (personal whining to my future self) about this thing I just realized I was doing to myself.

(I’m hoping I’m not alone in this or I’m going to feel silly talking about it…)

The Plot

This is going to sound odd (as if anything I write here doesn’t), but it hit me that I need to make the same decisions with my life that I make while creating my characters‘ lives.

What I mean is, asking myself this question, repeatedly:

What decisions from the myriad of possibilities available will move the plot along?

My Real Life’s plot, for my own personal story. Because, whether we’ve thought about it or not, when we’re old and not long for this world, we tend to look back and see that our life is a story, too!

It doesn’t matter if we’re writers, we’re still writing our own story. And when we get to the end, do we want that story to be about a whole lot of . . . nothing?

The Decision

So, just like with Struthless in his video, it’s down to Decisions:

To decide on a direction means realizing I cannot go in all the directions I want to, chasing all the passions I’ve held onto, simultaneously. Shy of creating my own multiverse, expecting that I can plot my way in all these directions and think I’ll reach one destination is thoroughly unrealistic.

And ultimately doomed. And my subconscious knows this. I’m sure that’s where that feeling of being lost, scattered, hopeless, or unprolific is coming from.

I’m only just realizing this is the feeling of a plot line pausing at a crossroads, with several roads branching off into their own directions. One for each passion I’ve wanted to follow. I get the feeling that crossroad has been there for a long time, maybe since childhood.

And I recognize this feeling from my writing, too! It’s the feeling of indecision while plotting, knowing that if I can’t decide right now I can’t continue writing this story. I’ll have to put it down and try to put the passion and excitement I have for it on hold. This is frustrating. I don’t want to lose that energy and momentum!

The thing is, Real Life works the same: the longer I put off deciding which road to take, I’m taking none of them. Just like with my characters, I’m going nowhere, despite how hard I’m working, because that work is split between too many things.

Meanwhile, while I sit at the stop sign with my motor idling, time is dribbling past like water running into a storm drain. And as I watch, one or two of the many roads before me fade and pop out of existence, perhaps even a favorite one, out of lost interest, or lost opportunity, or out of sheer frustration or hopelessness.

And if I sit here long enough, letting enough time dribble down the drain, all of the roads before me will eventually do the same thing. Damn, my characters didn’t have this problem, did they? Well, yes. They did, actually. Those were the stories I eventually moved into my Inactive folder, with sadness, because I knew there was little hope of opening them again.

Is that what I want for my real life story?

Do I want my story ending without much action, without a hero, or a climax? That’s barely a story at all. No one, not even (insert deity of your choice) would want to write that story for us. What is the point of being born if we waste it on a non-story like that?

No. Despite how far down the road I’ve driven, it seems to me Now is the perfect time to decide on the plot of my own story. To decide on the ending so I can figure out in which direction to go to get there. And then choosing the dream or passion that will propel me there.

Just like a writer must do for their characters.

The Passions

Making a decision on a direction means choosing only one Life Passion that will take me there. It seems that life–fictional or otherwise–has physics, too, including forces and momentum. Each passion pulls the story in different direction, just like the passions of my fictional characters.

It won’t be easy. I’ve carried some of those passions around for a lifetime, like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language; or traveling the world; or programming the next great computer application, like a fluffier, nicer version of Skynet…

Sacrificing a big fat bunch of my life’s passions, along with the physical debris that goes along with some of them, will probably make me cry–perhaps from relief! All I know is that this RL character needs less weight on her head, and a clearer direction to steer.

The cool thing is, I’ve noticed something about those endings when I’m writing a story:

  • Oftentimes the ending I was aiming for turns out to be a miss, and the ending I get is a lot better, because my characters bring something unexpected to the table.
  • Sometimes it’s not as good.
  • But in either case, I still have a story in the end.

It seems to me real people deserve one just as much as my characters do.

Where we poke fun at one fine fallacy that keeps us from enjoying our full potential, because we don’t know any better.

“I can’t … “

You can put just about anything after those two words… I can’t draw. I can’t swim. I can’t write. I can’t fly. I can’t drive a manual stick shift. I can’t roller skate. I can’t juggle wombats.

I don’t know when we first pick up that phrase, but I imagine for most of us it was pretty early on. And those things we learn early on are hard to shake, too. Like shyness, or comic books, or an aversion to broccoli.

I remember as early as kindergarten, there was already that peer pressure to compare our creative work with the work of others. We look over and notice the next kid’s finger-painting has a nuance ours can barely aspire to. And that little girl can stack blocks in a more collinear fashion than seems natural.

The embarrassment at such a young age, when adults expect so much of us, like remembering the order of words, or this staying vertical on two too tiny feets thing. It’s simply so much easier to sit down, stick our lip out, and give up on the whole idea to save ourselves further embarrassment.

“I can’t,” we say. I wonder who taught us those words?

Well meaning (or clueless) teachers or parents might tut-tut and simply agree with us, offering thoroughly unhelpful comforts, like “I guess your sister got all the talent for that in the family,” or “you’ll never make a living doing that anyway,” or “I’ll never get that paint off the cat.”

Actually, I think I heard the middle one later on, regarding something I could do… never mind.

Perhaps we gave it a really good try, but the right mentor wasn’t handy at that moment to ease us over the one tiny bump to “I can”. Perhaps we were on our way there, but some jealous person decided to insult our efforts at a sensitive moment. Perhaps we simply lost our patience.

And “I can’t” was ready.

My Can’t

I know, I’ve been there. In fact, to illustrate my point, I thought I’d publicly pick on a person who has claimed her whole life that she can’t draw.

“All my people look like stick figures,” she’d say, completely ignoring the popularity of XKCD, or the guy who trained Matt Murdock. No, wait…

I won’t name any names here, but– Okay, it’s me! Are you satisfied?! And I can’t draw! [pause for Non-drawers Anonymous greeting] “I’m a writer,” I say. “I don’t need to draw stuff” [sits down dejectedly.]

Then one day I write this cute short animated script about a boy and his dog, and some strange piranha, and a girl in a box… It’s a kind of an apocalyptic love story. You know the kind.

It had workshopped really well and I was getting excited to see it made into a PIXAR-like short… when I realized I don’t know how to make that process happen. I don’t know any animators, and we’ve already established I can’t draw.

My palette is a keyboard; my canvas a text editor.

Still, if I could somehow get someone interested, I thought naively, the cute story wouldn’t go to waste.

So I went looking for ways to get the project some attention. Actually, I’m still looking. But along the way, I fell across The Storyboard. I was intrigued by the rough sketches, used by the best directors and animators to plan a movie or an animated film.

I noticed that most of them looked all scribbly and stuff … so, perhaps even I could … no. Well, maybe.

Wanna See Something Pathetic?

(I knew you would. Sadists.)

So I tried my hand at this thing. I bought a sketchbook at the Dollar Store for a buck, because that’s how much I thought this venture would be worth. I drew a horizontal line halving all 50 pages of it in ink. And then I got to scribbling.

As predicted, I ended up with round-headed stick figures on squirrely bits of scenery (I’m okay doing buildings and stuff), like this one:

I know, right? Ugh~!

Oh, the derision and laughter I endured. (I can be pretty awful, to myself.)

But then I thought, I’ve gone this far, I should “stick” it out … (hehe). In the end, it would take just about all 50 pages (100 panels) to cover the entire story.

And Then Something Happened

Let me back up ten panels…

One day, around panel #90 or so, I began to notice something weird happening: Somewhere along the way my characters’ heads stopped being Charlie-Brown-round. They started looking human, with expressions and stuff.

I flipped back and realized, against all odds, I had drawn the same thing so often–badly–that my fingers had slowly rebelled, and through muscle memory or some other magical hokum, they began to draw things more better. More real. More cute. More like the way I saw it in my head:

Okay, not phenomenally better, I admit. But enough to make me realize I needed to go back and re-draw all of the round-heads to match the later ones. Once I got over the shock.

Somehow, through practice or patience, I had taken my first humble step towards The Impossible: I felt I was drawing!

So, I’m currently redrawing a lot of panels for consistency, noticing my background settings had improved, too. I’m still not sure where to find an interested animator who wants to bag a cute apocalyptic short–with piranha–for their demo reel, but at least I’ll be prepared if I ever fall in a pond with them (the animator, not the piranha–I hope).

There’s a moral to this story somewhere . . . Oh, yeah:

If you think you can’t do something, something you feel you might actually enjoy doing? Try it. Try a bunch of times. Maybe 100. Be easy on yourself, use cheap materials, be messy (fuck perfection), do small things–a lot. Just do it for fun.

Eventually you will see: You are awesome at whatever you practice. Practice doesn’t really make perfect, practice makes it happen.

And I believe in you! ^_^


P.S., if you’re an animator and curious? I’m planning on sharing the storyboards as an exclusive on my Patreon page soon. And/or the script. I’m still figuring out what people want to see there. ^_^