WWB #6: Don't be afraid to learn new skills

On day 6 of my 30 days of world-building, I take a breather and extol the virtues of learning new skills.

WWB #6: Don't be afraid to learn new skills

A curious thing has happened since I started my 30 days of world-building exercises. When I shared my post on creating timelines with markdown on Facebook, one person commented that they wished they could code. I've also had people express admiration for the maps I've posted, which quite frankly has shocked and humbled me.

In both instances, I have to admit that I am self-taught. My academic qualifications are what Australians like to disparagingly call 'useless arts' degrees. At university I studied, English, history and archaeology — humanities, not technical sciences. I was often belittled with the widely held view that my degrees prepared me for a life of asking, "would you like fries with that?"

I learnt to code because I wanted to. It was an intellectual itch I wanted to scratch. I wanted to learn how to create a website. It was 2004 before Wordpress was a thing , and you had to do it yourself. So, I picked up a book by Kevin Yank and learnt PHP and HTML. From there I was hooked, I continued because I enjoyed it, and I soon found the skills helped with my day job when I became a technical writer in 2005. Following PHP, I taught myself JavaScript, Python and Bash. I use programming languages almost every day — sometimes for work, sometimes for my creative pursuits, always for fun.

Similarly is my skills in art and design — assuming I have the right to call them that. I had to develop desktop publishing skills because I wrote a book for my sister as a present, and needed to learn how to create a typeset PDF. That started me down the rabbit warren of Pagemaker and Photoshop. For this, I enrolled in a short course at RMIT covering QuarkXpress, Photoshop and Illustrator. I learnt the tools, but not the art. To learn design, and things like colour theory, I mostly spent my time reading tutorials and books, then watching YouTube videos when that became a thing. Design doesn't come naturally to me, but I guess I do a passable job in 'painting by the numbers', and emulating the work of my betters.

As for drawing, that's somewhat new to me. I drew (poorly) as a kid, my fine motor control is lacking, and I have poor spatial awareness. I persist because I enjoy it — and I don't want to pay someone else 100s of dollars per map to do it for me. Slowly, agonisingly so, I've improved. I've read tutorials, watched people on YouTube, and looked closely at the work of others who create the type of maps I like.

I guess you could say I'm a jack of all trades, and indeed a master of none. I'll never write code as fast or as good quality as a professional developer. My maps and book covers will never be as good as what a professional designer can create. But, at least they are mine, and I can be proud of them as passable artefacts of my creative process.

The alternative, of course, is to throw money at the problem. That's perfectly valid. Learning and practising skills take time, and if your time is worth more than your money, then, by all means, pursue that strategy. Yet, commissioning is also fraught with its own set of problems. Not only is it expensive, but artists and designers seldom transfer copyright, or original files, to their patrons. Being beholden to others is not something I want. What I create is wholly mine, unencumbered by licence or restrictions.

I also do this on the cheap, my computer is a five-year-old model, and I've swapped out the expensive software for more affordable alternatives. I've even managed to combine my interests, as you'll see with many of my tutorials. Never think you have to have expensive software or gear to be creative. All you need is imagination, and the willingness to learn, adapt and use what's available.

So, don't be afraid to acquire new skills. Don't waste years like I did being riddled with self-doubt. I've learnt the hard way that much more in this world gets done out of sheer bloody-mindedness, than raw talent alone. Enjoy your time, practice, be prepared to learn, be ready to suck. Persist, and I promise you'll improve.

For those of you following this series, I want to thank you for your time. I also want to encourage you to be creative, in whatever pursuit you happen to love.

Okay, so this was something different, but equally valuable. 6 days done, 24 to go.