December 2021 Self-Reflection

It’s the end of the year and time for a fresh studio self-reflection, part of my ongoing effort to be more open with my creative development. In this entry: fall reflections improve self-management, gradually.

If you’re curious, peruse previous self-reflections.

At the start of this quarter, I was drifting. I had recently overworked myself and become lost. In my recovery, I wondered how and why I was unintentionally subjecting myself to self-harm, despite no longer working for someone else. Even when fully in control of my days, I was drifting out of sync with my goals and turning to overwork as a(n unsuccessful) way out.

I searched and reflected, finding that the source was from some complex mix of past experiences, personal affinities, and cultural values (and probably more). Thus there were a number of different ways I might try to understand and approach the problem. What I found most useful was framing it as a personal management gap, a disconnect between how I intended things to go at the outset, and the way I carried out and kept sight of those intentions over time.

One of my overarching goals over the fall was to explore and try to lessen this gap. Given the complexity of its origins, I approached it from several directions, both in mindset and how I structured my weeks.

Illustration of Tyson walking through billowing clouds before a starry background

At the mindset level, I made a commitment to be more present to and accepting of my creative mark-making, to allow my drawings to come out however they happened to do so. This was instead of my apparent norm of prescribing specific outcomes ahead of time (usually based on another creator’s work or style) and judging / restarting whenever things didn’t turn out “correctly.”

Administratively, I added a weekly face-to-face studio check-in with my life partner and took a deliberate shift away from hours-tracking as my primary gauge of weekly studio success. I also tried to set myself up to have fewer unfinished to-do items by the end of each week, even if that meant making a shorter list than I was used to.

Accompanying this more abstract internal work were two ongoing studio projects: a new weekly “for fun” illustration practice, in which there was no obligation to generate finished or shareable end results, and resumed story development for STAR KIT, which took a new viable direction through visual scripting. There was also a small helping of for-hire design work mixed in.

Close-up illustration of Tyson walking through billowing clouds before a starry background

The results have been promising. I don’t feel so bad about creating for myself as I have in the past. I’m more willing to draw things that I’m nerding out about, which makes the act of drawing an act of affirmation and exploration. I like this. I’ve also done all but make final art – meaning page layouts, dialogue, and panel descriptions – for every page of STAR KIT’s first four chapters, about 120 pages. The story feels stronger and better realized than ever.

Also: I’m no longer as focused on maxing out the time I work each day or week. This has felt occasionally strange, as time worked has been my go-to gauge for years. But thanks to the change, I seem less likely to fall into desperate directionless grinds; throwing myself at a seemingly hopeless task for extra hours has become a less compelling strategy now that total weekly time is merely a number.

Without time as a central measure of success, I’ve freed up space to be more present and strategic, to focus on the most purposeful tasks related to my goals during any given week. It’s the sort of thing that seems so obvious now that I’ve put it into practice.

Additionally, I’ve found that tying strategy to weekly conversation better reflects my human needs; it gives me added accountability and a sense of collaboration, even though my studio work is still mine alone to carry out. In a similar vein, I’ve become more likely to accomplish all or nearly all of my to-do’s by the week’s end, which is subtly strangely satisfying – it offers one small reminder that I really am getting somewhere each week, even if it can feel achingly slow otherwise.

Under-painting illustration of Tyson walking through billowing clouds before a starry background

The meaningful successes of this quarter are unmistakable. But, I still have mixed feelings about the quarter overall. My progress felt oddly sluggish; the first several weeks of the quarter were muddled as I stumbled through reflections and into my new strategies and mindsets. Plus we’re still in a pandemic, and the world remains in rough shape.

Put differently, I’m eager to continue this new way of walking the path, but the change so far has been slow, and I feel weary.

It makes this an especially good time to pause and consider what’s on the horizon. I anticipate a fuller, less transitional quarter using these new mindsets and methods starting in 2022. I’m excited to fully draft Book I of STAR KIT. I’m curious, too, about ways that my experiences in self-management may be useful to other creative folk in similar positions as myself. My story work remains essential to what I do, but I sense an additional impulse to be of more direct service to those whom I wish to see succeed.

It’s still too early to say what exactly the next year has in store for me, or me for it. For now I can trust that I’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other, as best I can.

These self-reflections have become a recurring part of my process. If you’re curious, peruse previous entries.

Published by Tyson

writer/illustrator • heartfelt fantasy adventure comics for middle readers & kids-at-heart • current project: STAR KIT

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