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Unlock Progress with One Key You Already Have

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Between writing my thesis, editing another manuscript, pounding my next story onto a beat sheet, painting the desert Mando, not to mention the 3D printed Mando armor I painted, I have a lot going on! And, call me crazy, I don't feel like I'm doing enough.

(You're crazy.)

Okay, yes, thank you, editor Morgan.

But seriously! I feel like I should be able to do everything. All at once. All the time. Call it being a woman. Call it America's hustle culture. Call it my ADHD inattentive synapses. I want everything done in one sitting and I want it done perfectly the first time or I might as well throw it away.

And then I watched this little documentary on Disney+ called Light and Magic (2022). If you're new here, hi, yes, hello, we stan Star Wars in this house, and more importantly, we admire the studio who brings Star Wars to life through their progress.

Line Upon Line

For a quick recap, ILM is the film studio Industrial Light and Magic. George Lucas came up with the name because the guys working there worked out of a warehouse, were a bunch of machine shopists, and used light to create magic. Industrial Light and Magic. Kind of Writes itself, huh? (If only writing were that easy. *starts crying*)

The guys at ILM invented the cameras for Star Wars.

Guys. INVENTED. The technology did not exist.

The shots ILM wanted to do, the effects they wanted to create, had so many elements that they needed a camera that could replicate the movements for each shot exactly. That way when editing the shots (on film strips, mind you) and all its various layers, they lined up perfectly.

film crew on set in black and white

These guys were machinists, engineers. They took what they knew and compared their knowledge of working systems to build what they needed. And then ILM kept comparing. They kept comparing the work they were currently producing and used it as a benchmark to improve.

Thus ushering in computers, Pixar, and the

digital age which then led to the use of motion capture and green screens to now standing on digital sets where the background is rendered in real time.

Something that didn't exist in the 70s has been perfected and it's all because of comparison. Now, don't get it twisted. Twenty-first century films can't be compared to films from the twentieth century because there are several steps missing, several layers, several years of improvement unaccounted for (unless we're talking 1999 to 2000).

As much as we want to have the end product, the end result, whether it's to be done with school, earn that promotion, buy that house, finish that book, there is no fast forward button. There isn't even a skip ahead by 10 seconds option. You must complete each step of the process, in its proper order, to achieve improvement. And that is only accomplished through comparison.

Precept Upon Precept

When I start a new project, whether it's a painting or a novel or a construction project, I think back on my most recent work. I mull over what worked and what didn't until I land on what to do differently. I compare myself to me. Not to anyone else. Me. I'm not trying to be like anyone else. You think Walt Disney created a theme park around a mouse because he was trying to be like other film studios? (You should be shaking your head right about now.)

For the 3D Mando build, it took so many layers to achieve the final look. It took sanding then priming followed by first and second coat then detailing then sealing. And even sometimes after priming, I'd have to go back to sanding! Because, by using comparison, the material wasn't what it needed to be.

In writing, there’s imagining, connecting, drafting, revising, then writing and back to revising some more. Comparison allows layers to evolve and it's only over time that layers take shape. Layering creates depth and nuance and story all on its own, just like ILM's history even though they're known for the films the generate.

paint tubes and palette with brushes on a table

Everything happens in layers, and not one can be skipped without compromising everything after it.

I'm so sick of staring at the desert Mando painting that I want to just toss it the dumpster and free up my easel. Every brush stroke requires comparison, for both the promotional image so I get the shades right and my skills so I control the materials better than I did before. And while I'm totally proud of how it's turning out, it's not because I'm talented. It's because I'm used to comparing myself to what I did before.

Talent is the culmination of the amalgamation of knowledge, otherwise known as skill. Skill, or talent, comes from starting at ground zero and building upon it. Doesn’t matter if it’s writing, painting, laying brick, figure skating, or performing surgery. No one starts out being a top golfer. They started with mini golf at a water park. Singers aren’t born one day performing operas. They’ve worked up to it with training. They compare their current ability to their past performance and devise strategies to improve.

We often see people or things, even places, as the sum total of their parts. We don’t see the painstaking effort it took to get there. We didn't see the millions of years it took for the Grand Canyon to form. We just stand at the summit. We just see the end result and say to ourselves, "Isn't it beautiful?"

Compare yourself to the step you were at before. Don't skip three steps ahead and worry about how you'll get to that place. Just take it one layer at a time. Put down one layer of improvement. Then you can focus on putting down the next.

One comparison. One layer. One improvement at a time.

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