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Train hard, fight easy.
How the 80-20 learning curve can be the enemy.
An artist’s kryptonite is an uncontrollable love for arts supplies—and I still weaken at the sight of pencils, markers, paint, and above all, sketchbooks. Thick, hardbound covers or large metal spirals books full of blank pages of promise, with just the right tooth. These portable canvases are just the thing to unlock the genius inside us. Provided we use whatever colorful materials purchased while strolling the art store aisles. Who cares if you have a stack of unfinished sketchbooks at home—this one is bound to be “the one.”
Sketchbook users run the spectrum.
THE PRODUCER. They work their way from the first to the last page. Most of us hate them outright, or despise them behind a veneer of admiration.
THE NOODLER. Leaps around a sketchbook without a care. Pastel here, color pencil there, and ballpoint pen elsewhere. It doesn’t matter, they just love making art—and never finishing sketchbooks.
THE THINKER. Sketchbooks are strictly a place to develop ideas for an end goal—never for pleasure. Pencil and fine-tip markers are their weapon of choice.
THE SKETCHER. The greatest lover of new sketchbooks. They begin every page intent to codify their ideas for a bigger project, but myopically distract themselves by overworking sketches and run out of time to work on their project—but check out this drawing!
None of these are inherently good or bad, just reflections of the artist’s creative process.
There’s an axiom in elite special forces units, “Train hard, fight easy.” This applies to most things in life, but it’s a fair bet that when your life’s on the line, it carries more weight. It’s also the difference between proficiency and mastery. With most things, 80% aptitude is proficiency, while the remaining 20% is the long road mastery. For things I’m interested in, or I need to make money with, I’ve been fortunate to reach that 80% mark quickly. And historically, my ADHD brain conflates proficiency with mastery—be it my waning desire to continue, or an urge to learn something new.
I considered drawing comic books work, not art. Like a worker on the factory floor, thinking about milling hydraulic manifolds after hours was a no no. Fun Fact: fabricating and assembling hydraulic manifolds was my first job. So when artist friends warmed up, cooled down, and drew for fun, I didn’t understand why they keep working. Drawing was a machine I turned on and off when I needed to use it. I didn’t recognize that machines needs maintenance to function. Nor did I see was how it hampered my progression—how it made the fight harder.
No matter the circumstance, friends and peers I admired drew non-stop. One art college friend, the late John Paul Leon, was the hardest-working artist I knew—he drew all the time. JP also was the best of our generation. He drew much more than on just the comic pages every week. If art is war, you wanted JP on your side. Today I posted the latest Big Story Podcast episode with the amazing Wilfredo Torres, and he draws all the time too. He was clear that he needed this additional drawing time to experiment, decompress, and maybe discover something to use down the road. Check out the audio version episode below.
My time as a comic book artist was amazing (fantastic, astonishing, incredible–you choose the comic book adjective), but if asked to pick two things to do differently, they would be; fill those sketchbooks and write more. Ignore proficiency and pursue mastery. I have applied this approach to my writing practice to improve my level of proficiency at every turn. I now write sketches in smaller books. No longer drawing the world, but describing it. This desire for improvement is why I do the Clarion West Write-a-thon challenge—so the actual fight on the page is easy—well, easier.
Now that I’ve mentioned the Write-a-thon, it was a wild six weeks of challenges and growth. With 32,519 words written, and my return to literary expression and adventure, I couldn’t be happier, but I’m glad it’s over.* Clarion West surpassed their $20k fundraising goal, with a $24,547! Thank you to those who donated. This money will fund writing workshops, sponsor deserving writers, and pay for skilled authors to teach.
* While the writing for Write-a-thon is over, I’m drawing the unlocked Stretch Goal characters. I’ll send a notification link when they’re up.
The novel writing continues! I knocked out 20% of the initial Ghost Fleet draft for WAT22. At my current pace of 1500–2000 word-per-day, I should wrap up the first draft in October. Then, armed with one self-edited novel, the first-draft of the sequel, and a rough outline for the last book in the trilogy, I’ll query Blackfire to agents to land a book deal. I also have a couple comic book project in the works, these newsletters, and all the sketchbook writing possible.
Finally, last week I mentioned a goal to unify my digital profile, and now everyone can find me by the same handle, jalexmorrissey. The website has changed and Twitter, Instagram are next. Some social media followers may have to subscribe to a different account, but I assure you it’s me, not a bot. I will post about the change repeatedly on this platforms to walk everyone through the process. This collects three Instagram accounts into one and two Twitter accounts into one. I also spells the end for the Facebook account. The Big Story podcast site becomes a page on my website later this week, and this newsletter will fall under the Big Story moniker—so be prepared for a new trade dressing. I’m sure some folks will shake loose in the transition, but I’m willing to risk it in the name of efficiency and sanity.
Wish me luck and I’ll see you on the other side!
All the best,
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