One Drawing at a Time

One Drawing at a Time. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

I realized recently how eerily similar my pregnancy and book making journey have been. I found out I was pregnant on February 6, and on February 13 I began working on my first book with Scholastic. Ever since then, the two journeys have been intricately intertwined.

Both experiences have been rewarding, exciting, and challenging. And both have taught me—or rather, beaten into me—some valuable lessons, the most important being this: Take it one day at a time, and one drawing at a time.

One Drawing at a Time. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Distant Hopes + Dreams

As humans and artists, we often focus our attention on events in the distant future. We set our hopes, goals, and dreams on things that are months, years, or decades away, like having a baby or publishing a children’s book.

We tend to fixate on accomplishments in the future.

But going through pregnancy and the traditional book publishing process has forced me to shift my mindset. There’s a positive reward at the end of a goal (like a button nose baby with Play-Doh toes or seeing your book in a book store), but the day to day journey to get there is a bit of a slog. I still have 3 more months of pregnancy to go and I already feel like I’ve been pregnant my whole life (Declan assures me it has actually only been 2% of my life). And I still have lots of pages, tasks, and deadlines left to complete my current book.

Not only is 9 months of pregnancy and book making a long time, but every one of those days is an unknown. In the beginning, you don’t even know if you’ll get to see the little play-doh toes or printed book at the end. In the middle, you don’t know how you’ll ever make it. And in the end, you’re most likely burnt out and ready for a break.

One Drawing at a Time. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Taking it One Day at a Time

Some days of my pregnancy I feel pretty good: energetic, uplifted, sociable and grateful. And some days I feel not so good: lethargic, irritable, achy, and depressed. These moods can change drastically from day to day, and are mirrored in the process of illustrating my book as well.

Some days the drawing flows smoothly, and some days it feels like everything I draw is terrible.

When I wake up each morning, it’s impossible to know what kind of day it will be. It’s impossible to know if I’ll be able to go on a walk in the woods and notice the beautiful mushrooms popping up among the leaves, or if all I’ll be able to do that day is wallow on the couch in my pajamas staring at the shapes in the ceiling with tears in my eyes. It’s impossible to know if I’m going to be able to fly through inking 5 pages of final art I love or barely squeak out 1 that feels totally mediocre.

With all this going on, here’s my new answer when people ask me “How are you doing?”: I’m taking it one day at a time.

One Drawing at a Time. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Today vs the Future

To make it through 9 months of such enormous change, challenge, and uncertainty, I’ve had to shift the way I think about the future. The plan of giving birth to a healthy baby girl months from now isn’t enough to sustain me in the trenches of the day to day. And the goal of delivering the final book artwork to my publisher isn’t enough to keep me motivated when I hit a creative block. Those events are too far away, too vague, and too disparate from my present day reality. And there’s a heck of a lot of hard work between now and those first moments of holding my baby and my book.

I have to focus on the here and now in order to get to those far-away events. I have to take it one day at a time.

Approaching life in a day-by-day way can help us be aware of our impatience and reveal where we’ve anchored our hopes and dreams. Instead of obsessing about how we hope life to be in the distant future, we can shift our focus to our hopes for today.

And in doing so, we’re actually more likely to achieve our long-term goals. We can’t improve ourselves or make changes to anything 9 months from now. Today is the only day we can improve and change things.

One Drawing at a Time. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

One Drawing at a Time

We can apply this day-by-day mindset to our creative journey as well. We can adjust our expectations for how much control we have over the distant future. Finishing our first children’s book—when it is still just an idea—is in the distant future. Solidifying our artistic style—when we are just beginning to draw—is in the distant future. Filling up a sketchbook—when we’re only on the first page—is in the distant future.

We can’t control the end result of these goals right now—all we can control is what we do today.

We can take it one day at a time. We can take it one drawing at a time.

This day-to-day mindset can help us readjust the way we think about those big goals. Instead of focusing on the continual perceived failure of our long-term goal, we can recognize the small step we took towards that goal today.

Instead of beating ourselves up over and over saying “I still haven’t published my children’s book”, we can recognize that we drew in our sketchbook today, learning more about our craft and exercising our imagination. We’re taking small steps towards that bigger goal.

One Drawing at a Time. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

As Our Dreams Grow

Far off hopes, goals, and dreams are important and motivating. But life is crazy and we can’t control the future. As we work towards these long-term goals, we have to remind ourselves to enjoy the journey.

We’re in it for the long haul, and once you achieve your dream, there will be another bigger dream to aspire to. Once I published my first children’s book, I moved on to wanting to publish another. Once I deliver my baby, I’ll move on to the big, scary world of parenting.

The scale of our goals get bigger and bigger, but our mindset has to remain on today, taking it day by day, drawing by drawing.

We have to notice and appreciate the tiny wins we have every day. As an artist, some days that win may be creating a drawing you love that propels you to new ideas. Some days, that win may be making any mark on the page at all. And some days, that win may be giving yourself a break to rest and recharge.

Adopting this day-by-day mindset is not in opposition to ambition and drive. I believe it allows us to harness our drive more greatly and to achieve more of our ambition than if we focused solely long-term. I have huge ambitions. I have a strong drive to achieve my hopes and dreams. But I know I can’t control the future—I can only control today.

Some days are rough. Sometimes I struggle with my art, feeling unmotivated and frustrated with what comes out of my pen. Sometimes I struggle with my pregnancy, feeling dispirited and broken.

But taking it day by day, taking it drawing by drawing, stops me from ruminating on perceived failure, beating myself up, and giving up. It allows me to keep going.

Taking it day by day also encourages me to notice the small wins. Today I went for a walk. Today I ate well. Today I went to therapy. Today I inked one page for my book. Today I drew in my sketchbook. Today I wrote an essay.

These are not lofty, ambitious achievements. But these small steps bring me closer, day by day, drawing by drawing, to my biggest hopes and dreams.

One Drawing at a Time. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

What if…?

It’s all too easy to only focus on life’s far-off achievements and expectations and how we’re not measuring up to them. But what would happen if we refocused our attention? What would happen if we zoomed in on what we can actually control? What if we just focused on today?

What if we truly saw the drawing we made today and appreciated it for the step forward it is?

What if we took it day by day—what could we get through?

What if we took it drawing by drawing—what could we create?

What if we believed we could do it?

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