Will I get bored with this layout?

It’s a question I saw online, one that reeks of magic bullet thinking. In essence the question really asks will this thing make me happy? The question reflects a myth we’ve all adopted in some form: that happiness comes from a source outside ourselves rather than from within.

Will I be happy in this job? (You might but you might not.)
Is this the right car for me? (It could be but maybe not.)
Will I like this neighborhood? (You could, or not.)

We all want the magic bullet. The guarantee that we’re making the right choice because, I mean, what if we’re wrong? (Oh the horror!)

Model railroading has a terminal case of magic bullet thinking.

Is this the right scale to work in? (Maybe. What do you want to do in that scale?)
Should I use grid or L-girder benchwork? (I don’t know. Does it really matter?)
Will more track make this plan more interesting. I’m afraid operations will get boring quickly. (Hmmm…I’m biting my lip now.)

There is no stinking magic bullet. It’s a lie and a sham.

Looking for a guarantee you’ve made the right choice is a way of avoiding the responsibility that comes from investing yourself in making something work. If things don’t pan out, well, gee, you’re off the hook. It wasn’t your fault, you got a raw deal. You should have added that extra track or chosen a different modeling scale. Anything but understand the true power in the situation is in your ability to choose whether you’re happy or not.

Of course that’s scary because once you understand that your attitude is the real determining factor in how much you enjoy the craft, you’ll quickly run out of excuses and things to blame.

I don’t know if that guy will be happy with his layout design (I hope so because it’s a very nice one) but he’s sure to receive lots of magic bullet solutions to play with.



  1. Matt


    The question should not be “Will I be bored?”. Instead the question should be, “What inspires me?”. This is the central problem of the hobby. The need to follow a herd and be granted approval.

    What should I model, whatever inspires YOU, not the masses. I think if you ask that one question, you have the true magic bullet. You ignite a passion to tell a story. Shame is, few adopt this mind set.


  2. mike

    Well said Matt.


  3. Simon

    Bugger. Matt has said what I wanted to say, but has also said it more eloquently than I would have managed.

    But he is spot on: find your true inspiration, and you will be happy for life.
    (And that inspiration may lead you to fill a basement with miles of flex track, and to focus on operations. That’s ok, if it is what you are inspired to do. No point following high-faulting finescale ideals if they require more time than you are likely to have!)


  4. Chris Mears

    Matt has really hit the nail on the head with his comment. I doubt I could improve on his thoughts here.

    We have so many different clinics on how to lay track, airbrush paint a boxcar, or build scenery but so few on how to find inspiration and how to pursue it once we’ve found it. If we can expand on the conversation and share more about what inspires each of us modellers perhaps we can help others to identify in themselves what they find inspiring. Starting out, new to the hobby, or designing a layout can be a big task. Sometimes it seems like those legends in the hobby always just knew what they were always going to do and the translation of that vision into a successful layout was so effortless that it really discounts their journey to what we all see. Perhaps we further complicate this by refusing to stop our work half-way through when we discover that what we’re building isn’t turning out the right way?

    I find I’m encouraging myself to have a more clearly defined set of goals for each model and each layout. Those goals don’t always need to be a finished version of either. If I keep building after I’ve hit that mark, all the better. If not, that’s fine too. Perhaps a Mears-y interpretation of your deliberate practice advocacy Mike?

  5. mike

    Excellent points Chris. We really don’t give the idea of the journey enough credit, preferring instead to focus on the product oriented result (i.e. the layout). Although I’m still contemplating this line of thought,and as we’ve discussed, if one is unclear about a direction or path to follow, how does one proceed after the needed skills have been acquired and the issue of committing to a potentially long-term project has been resolved.

    That public discussion is virtually unknown in our ranks, largely I suspect because there are so many personally motivated variables in play. How does one offer such advice, when advice may not be what’s needed? Our discussion, and your comment above, of sharing stories about our own journeys seems a far better way, one that gives the listener space to bring his own thoughts. We can do far better.


  6. Simon
  7. mike

    “…you are taking us into uncharted waters as far as the hobby is concerned.”

    Uncharted waters are always the most interesting to explore!


  8. Chris Mears

    I’m keen to head out into this sea as well.

    On inspiration, I realise I’m looking for a story to tell. This might not be too different from the journalist or documentary filmmaker’s approach and I’m keen to learn more about how they find their stories. Where they’ll use the written word and photography I’ll use small models but we’re all trying to draw attention to a vision we had. I tend to dialogue with myself a lot, it’s the quirky way I’m wired. Questions like those asked in the Actor’s Studio are so direct and independant that they return both an answer and a measure of introspection gained while trying to present the answer we share.


  1. What’s that smell? | The Erratic and Wandering Journey - […] good friend Mike Cougill has made another insightful post, on finding the “magic bullet“. But regular commenter Matt has…