My Christmas Gift To You (Or, "On Making Candy Canes")

I've always wondered what kind of gift I could give to everyone at once, over the internet. 

The "over the internet" part automatically eliminates physical goods, or else I'd give you all candy canes. And not because it's a seasonal treat, but because I absolutely love candy canes (I really do -- they're my favorite candy. I like sucking on the long end and spinning it around until it's made a sharp point. In fact, it's the only way I can eat candy canes. At this point, it's a compulsion). And to share something I love with you is the point of giving a gift. 

So that leaves something digital. I don't write video games, and long ago gave up writing software. I'm no musician, and to watch me on video is a chore. So that leaves me with something written.

But what? Yet more stories about my foibles and misdeeds? While those are fun and definitely get laughs, they're transient. I don't want to give you a transient gift. I want to give you something that matters. 

So, I'll give to you this holiday season a lesson I learned this year. It's not just "a really good idea" or "a lesson you learn until you forget about it" -- it's something that hit me like a brick and won't ever go away, forever. And it's something I wish I'd learned -- not just heard, not just thought about, but genuinely learned -- when I was young.

It's not "don't make mistakes" and it's not "don't make the same mistakes I did." In fact, it's the opposite. It's actually "Please make mistakes." Mistakes and the screw ups are part of the process. 

"The process of what?" You may ask. The process of anything. Making things, drawing things, writing things, trying things. You are supposed to fuck it up. You are supposed to take a hard fall when learning to ride a bike or draw the wrong line in a drawing. It's part of the process. 

And what's more, the mistakes and the screwups don't extend solely to missteps or falling or screwing something up. Sometimes, the mistake is waiting too long to start and having to rush to the end. Sometimes, it's starting way too early and learning midway through a new parameter or constraint that makes you start all over, which you could have learned if you just waited a minute. 

And that's the point. You're supposed to screw that stuff up. Sayings like "It's not the destination, it's the journey" and those sorts of things exist because they're true. Indeed, they are platitudes -- simply sayings and advice that are so overarchingly true, they hardly apply to you when you hear them. They're not things that you feel when you read it. You don't take them in, you don't internalize them. You basically hear them and in your head, it sounds like "I told you so." 

But I really learned that lesson this year. And I can't take out the thing inside me that makes me feel what I feel when I think about it, and then put it in you and make you feel what I feel. All I can do is try to put into words what I'm feeling, so I hope this works:

You can't have a candy cane unless you put sugar into the machine. 

It's all part of the process. You take the sugar. You put it in the machine. Out comes a candy cane.

Every step of that is part of the process that creates the product. Remove the sugar or the machine, and you can't have a candy cane. And that's the trick -- if it takes you six hours of agony, staring at a blank page to get started writing your book, or drawing your first panel of the comic book, or striking that first chord of a song, then it takes you six hours.

That time is part of the process. The procrastination, the hemming and hawing, the research, the noodling and doodling and humming. It's who you are. It's the machine.

And sometimes, you gotta put the sugar through it to get the candy cane at the end.

The sooner you embrace this fact -- that all of it is the process -- the sooner you can get to work making and doing what you want to make and do. And as you do that, you can begin fine-tuning the machine, taking out bits you don't need and streamlining the process to be more efficient.

But not until you realize that the process is the process. And once you do realize that, life gets better.

I hope this helps, because it really helped me in my life. I cannot tell you how much, because to try would be to fail. But know that my most sincere wish this year is that you can take this idea, think about it and accept it, because I want YOU to be happy. That's your present to me.

Merry Christmas.