Monday, January 13, 2020

Monday Motivation: More Doing, Less Screwing

Although I've resolved not to do any New Year's Resolutions, that doesn't mean that I don't have an overarching goal for this project in 2020. Sure, I'd like to get a bunch of specific things accomplished (click here for specifics), but it's finally getting through my thick skull that none of that will happen if I don't abide by one simple rule:

More Doing, Less Screwing
  • Less screwing around wasting time on the internet
  • Less brain screwing, over-analyzing Every Single Thing
  • Less screwing up, without learning from it and realizing it's an inevitable part of acquiring experience & building skill
  • More screwing up - if that means you've dived in and actually tried something new
  • More relying on all the dozens (if not hundreds) of articles & videos you've seen already - rather than screwing your brain with more research (with little additional return)
  • More time dedicated to accomplishing something - even if only in 5-15 minute increments
I'm realizing that I've wasted, literally, months - and in some cases, years - researching every possible way to do just about every thing that needs to be done on a model railroad thinking that somehow the Perfect Article which, of course, contains The Answer is just one more book/magazine/video away.

But The Answer never presents itself that way, because there is no "answer" - there is just Practice.

More Doing

I'm beginning to realize that most of the time I've spent doing so much research has resulted in little more than Analysis Paralysis. The antidote?

Less Screwing

Quick case in point - Scenery

I've become pretty adept at benchwork, trackwork, and wiring probably because (surprise!) I've done it so many times. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes for some confidence. And comfort - I've seldom gotten any layout beyond the wiring stage. It's just easier to stay in the comfort zone or, worse, just start over.

Now that I'm at the scenery stage of this layout (and no way am I going to start over) I reverted to an old habit:

I loaded up on books, hoping against hope that SOMEthing in them would make it EASY to do scenery. That, somehow, I’d find the key to doing it “right.”

I even went so far as to distill all that information (which quickly became overwhelming and near impossible to manage) into an outline. Talk about being left-brained!

But here's the dirty little secret: No amount of information is going to make it easy - and, counter-intuitively, often the more information you have, the less able you are to actually do anything! Too much information can be confusing and even conflicting.

Once you educate yourself on the basics, you have to Just Do It (to coin a phrase), and do it again (and again, if necessary). Only by More Doing (and less brain screwing) do you develop skill and - eventually - proficiency.

For example, and by way of contrast to my scenery book collection, I only have one benchwork book, and a couple of books on DCC wiring (I highly recommend the one by Lionel Strang, btw). Trackwork research was just a few articles in MR back in the 80s. I learned those skills from actually doing them rather than reading about them.

Now, far be it from me to discourage you from research. For some folks (and perhaps all Armchair Modelers), that's a big and enjoyable part of the hobby. And when you're brand new to something, it's generally a good idea to learn at least a little about it before diving into the deep end. Treading water is fine for a little while, but you'll enjoy the water a lot more if you learn how to swim.

If you're new to the hobby (or have been "in" the hobby for years, but haven't built a layout yet), I highly recommend one of the beginner's how-to books - one that shows you how to build a small layout from start to finish. I still refer to Sassi's "A Realistic HO Layout for Beginners" since it's so straightforward (and includes New England related scenery and structures).

While such a book gives you a great overview - and is all you really need for your first layout (and may be ALL you should get if you're prone to Analysis Paralysis) - if you want to dig in just a little deeper, the "Basic" series of books produced by Kalmbach are a good choice. There are "Basics" books on benchwork, wiring, trackwork - and, my recent favorite (pictured above), "Basic Scenery for Model Railroaders" by my old "friend" Lou Sassi.

But for a complete treatment of all things scenery-related, you can't do better than getting a copy of the Bible:

Despite - or perhaps because - I have multiple editions of this book, I've only recently been doing any actual scenery. It's all too easy to get overwhelmed by all the information & never get started. And I'm not even getting into all the information available on the internet, in both written and video form. The Information Age can be a left-brain nightmare, if you let it.

The main point of this post is to encourage you to NOT let it. If you tend towards more (brain) screwing, you'll tend towards less doing. You've probably already done enough research. And if haven't done any research at all, search the internet (briefly!) for a basic article from a source you trust, or a You Tube video with lots of recommendations (TrainMasters TV & Model Railroad Academy are good places to start). 

And then go do it. Try out the technique. And if you mess up, trust me - you'll probably spend less time REdoing it than you spent researching it. Bonus: you'll have learned something and built skill you can use for more doing in the future.

The key is to find a balance between the screwing/research and the doing so that you don’t make obvious mistakes, but feel confident enough to start building experience and skill. 

Here's to More Doing in the New Year!


  1. Hi Chris. Well said. I have found myself in the same "funk" I have started a new layout with the mind set of just get it done. As I get older I know that if I don't do it now it won't get done.

    1. Hey Ken and thanks for your comment! Yeah - mortality has a way of kicking us in the pants every once in a while. Just Do It!

  2. Great thread. Also, whether I like it or not, I frequently have to learn through mistakes. If I never make my first attempt, I will never get past it and get to the second (or third) attempt... when I learn and get it right!

    1. Thanks! I know it's cliche - but it's for a good reason: if at first you don't succeed, keep trying. It may not be the only way to learn, but it's certainly one of the most effective ways to learn!