It’s time to look back and appreciate all the effort I invested in this personal project and of course, my accomplishments so far.
Start — “Try it for a month”
After I transitioned from engineering to design, I always heard people (from the design world) talk about storytelling: tell compelling stories to pitch clients; tell stories of users when design a website; and tell stories when communicate with teams.
What did they mean by “tell stories”?
Well, I never thought that stories can live in places other than movies, novels and storybooks. Therefore, I found it very confusing when someone asked me to communicate with others by “telling stories” — “Huh? Are you asking me to write a novel or something?”
Maybe I’m just slow-minded, but I struggled hard for so long but just can’t grasp the gist. This was probably the original motive that eventually led me to this project.
I dug up books, learning about stories and techniques to make good ones. I joined Toastmasters, a public speaking club that lets me practice communication skills, including storytelling. They have given me good clues on storytelling in general — provide clear main points and context, talk about them in a way (mostly narrative) that your audience can follow along, and depending on occasions, make your stories more exciting by having special setups, adding twists and turns and using role play or other techniques.
I think it would be fun if I can do something, as a routine, to keep the practice going.
A Learning A Day, a blog I’m subscribed to, was a big inspiration. For years, Rohan Rajiv the blogger, has been posting daily thoughts on business, technology and a variety of other topics. I decided to do the same — start with daily writing. After all, writing helps organize thoughts and plots, which are important for story crafting.
I was able to write for two consecutive days, before gave up. I found out that, as a non-native English speaker, this was really hard for me: On one hand, I didn’t know what to write about; on the other hand, I just didn’t have the desire to write in English every day (I don’t even do much writing in Chinese! It’s my native language). My daily writing project went nowhere. I felt defeated and sick of writing just for the sake of writing.
After that, I took a long break. Then, another idea struck me.
I’ve been loving doodling ever since I was a kid. I used to copy characters from comics, draw my own characters, and make up stories among them. I never went deep into it. Over time, doodling has degraded to a hobby that I can occasionally only think of.
I thought, hey, how about daily doodles with writing — doodle interesting things, thoughts, or whatever, and write about behind-the-doodle stories? Doodles can be a great tool to help me visualize what to write.
So the experiment began, with a name “A Doooodle A Day”, a sketchbook and a black pen. I cleaned up my abandoned Instagram account, and started posting there every day.
I was afraid of not being able to do it long enough, so I stuck a note onto the sketchbook cover — “Try it for a month”.
I knew from past experience that, if I take this project too serious and stress myself out, I would not be able to do it for very long. So, I’m very flexible about the project workload: If I have plenty of time, I will doodle nicer and write more; if not, a simple doodle and one line will do. At the beginning of the project, action was most important, not necessarily how well I drew or how long I wrote. I was satisfied as long as I did it. I still stick to this principle till this day.
Every day, I captured at least one interesting topic, doodled it and did some writing in English. 30 days passed without notice. I won!!!
My first doodle on 07/19/2015:
Story: After my boyfriend and I moved in together, our weekend became Chinese food festival. I have more drive to look up new recipes and #cook. I made chicken stew, and they were delicious! I cooked extra so that we can use them for our lunches next week. Let the new week come!
Wedding ring shopping kick-off:
Story: After more than five-years’ long distance relationship, literally thousands of miles apart from each other, my boyfriend came to the USA from China to join me. Compared to that, the decision of getting married is really not that #big. We officially kicked off our wedding ring shopping today, starting from browsing online catalogs. It’s not easy for me, because I’m kind of the tomboy type of girl and I think whatever is fine, as long as it’s not too ugly. But my boyfriend is very picky on this, he insists that mine should be the ring of dreams, and his can be something simple and cheap, because, well, guys are simple. Seems the shopping journey would not be as short as I imagined. After nail this down, we will just need to schedule an appointment with the local county clerk office to get our marriage license and hold a simple ceremony, which in total, should not take more than one hour. Both our families are far back in China, and we don’t have the time or money to plan a big party, so this would be it. We may make it up later with families, or at an anniversary. Imagine a big party when we are 80 years old :) We will probably go to eat something nice afterwards, celebrating it with a couple of friends. Simple, but happy.
Another month passed, then another and another. Finished my first sketchbook. I was on fire. More months passed.
Starting out, I didn’t have any particular topics or themes to doodle, mostly just capturing interesting things in life.
After my first sketchbook was done, I felt like writing about other topics, such as observations and thoughts on designs, work, tech and others. Of course, life happenings were still important, but I began only capturing the ones that were interesting enough and worth memorizing. My topic coverage expanded, a lot — I even used it for book reading notes. Now, this is still the direction that I’m going with.
Since writing is my major focus, typically I’m not willing to spend more than 30 minutes on the “doodle” part. But, once in a while, I’d like to take some time to draw a topic I love. I feel great when I flip pages and see my old cool doodles.
Millennium Falcon from Star Wars:
A doodle to celebrate Vincent van Gogh’s birthday
Interesting learnings on how a perfect food shot is done
Am I ever out of topics?
You bet. My brains are drained pretty often. If I have nothing to draw, I browse news to find interesting topics. Going to news places and attending interesting events, like museums, also feed juices to my brains.
Connect the “dots”
My diligent work in the past 9 months has brought me close to 300 doodles, as well as more than 40K words in writing. I can tell that I’m getting better at both doodling and English writing. Most importantly, when I approach a topic, I can better organize my thoughts and articulate.
Steve Jobs said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Right after I started A Doooodle A Day, I can’t help but think more than once: Is this thingy really gonna be helpful to me?
The answer was always: “I don’t know. I’ll see how it goes”.
Recently, I’ve been working on designing an enterprise application. At one point, I needed to write how each potential user type will use the application in high-level idealistic scenarios. Only after I put together draft scenarios of 3000+ words (and on target) in one day, did I realize how much my doodle project has helped me — I can’t even imagine I can write that much English that fast.
My doodles about life happenings made their marks, too. I picked some memorable ones, and printed them into magnets and cute photo books. How nice that I can keep them in such tangible ways! By the way, I highly recommend Social Print Studio and Chatbooks for their excellent products!
Other than that,I doodled as I read books. After reading two books “Articulating Design Decisions” and “Essentialism”, I had a nice collection of 15 doodles. I strongly recommend Articulating Design Decisions to any designer who wants to take your communication skills to the next level, and recommend Essentialism to people who are looking to achieve more in life.
Reading doodles for “Essentialism”:
On to the next sketchbook
A few days ago, I started my third sketchbook.
One of the reasons why I’m able to keep “A Doooodle A Day” going, is that I’ve found a method that works out for me: doodling + writing. I feel very lucky.
So far, it is one of the few things I can proudly say that I do persistently. Most others ended up nowhere. When I was a kid, I learned playing electric piano and formal painting, it didn’t take long before I stopped. Last year, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to do 20 push-ups everyday, well, I did maybe for a week and totally forgot about it after that.I tried doing diaries, but I haven’t been able to do it day by day for more than a week, even though I started writing diaries many times.I had many personal projects that I was not able to keep on doing.
Sometimes, I feel really sad for not being able to continue those projects: What if I could have finished off some of them and even mastered some skills that I used to learn but stopped — if those “what-ifs” were not just “what-ifs”, what big accomplishments would I have achieved already!
However, another thought hits me: Shouldn’t we just keep exploring, experimenting and looking for what we love and can do? That’s the real life, right? A Doooodle A Day has been so much fun. For now, it’s my way to leave some marks in my life.
Follow my A Doooodle A Day at instagram.com/yingyingzux