I don't think there are any cheat codes, unfortunately (but if someone finds them, please tell me)
On the meta level, I think familiarity with the literature around 'deliberate practise' is helpful (here, here). It's not enough to 'just do it a lot'; you need a high volume of quality practise, and 'deliberate practise' is an attempt to give a definition of 'quality'.
On the object level, I think that the 'rationalish' path of learning to draw is the "design" style of learning. Designers have to draw things that don't exist in a realistic way so that costumers/modelers/sculptors have a good reference to work from. These artists who specialise in design have essentially created 3D modeling and rendering software inside their head. They can choose a lens through which to view a scene, and understand how that affects the appearance of parallel lines. They have a library of primitive forms, like rectangular prisms, spheres, and cylinders, and can manipulate them by extruding, shrinking, cutting and merging. They have a huge library of basic 3D models, like human figures, animals, vehicles, and everyday objects. Then they have rendering algorithms: an understanding of how light reflects from different surfaces and give objects colour, texture, and form. During this process, paper is used as a buffer to hold your current progress, because you can't remember all the details at once.
With that in mind, two resources I have found helpful are How to Draw and Draw a Box. "How to Draw" is an awesome introduction to the "3D modeling" approach to drawing. It has a big emphasis on perspective, which I agree with. "Draw a Box", while free, doesn't have any where near as big a focus on perspective, which I think hurt my progress.
Even if you're not interested in design, I think this sort of foundation is helpful for any kind of 'realistic' imaginative drawing. Animators have 3D models in their head so that they can pose their characters over time. As do comic book illustrators.
I just want to make sure you didn't gloss over the part about the Scott Robertson book. Seriously, if you don't have it and you're trying to get in to perspective or technical drawing at all it's worth every penny.
I'm an artist who learned to code, but I have some resources that might be helpful!
Pixel Art Tutorials : http://www.pixeljoint.com/pixels/tutorials.asp
Awesome drawing video tutorials: http://www.ctrlpaint.com/library/ and http://www.proko.com/library/
Ultra excellent article on drawing BASIC SHAPES and getting good at it: http://autodestructdigital.blogspot.com/2014/02/wield-weld.html?zx=e6fbad1764b0f695
If you'd like to invest in a great drawing book, I really recommend this one. I love art instruction that is systematic, and breaks things down in logical ways (great for those coming from a coding perspective), and I feel this book does that. https://toptalkedbooks.com/amzn/1933492732
My main advice to learn how to draw is basically:
Practice drawing the primitive shapes everything on earth is made up of. Mainly: Spheres, Cubes, Cylinders.
Start looking for those basic shapes in everything you see.
When drawing something from your imagination, draw it absolutely as basic as you can, with those main shapes.
Add details with those same 3 steps of identifying shapes and relationships. DONE
Drawing isn't a mystery, you can approach it like code. Everything is logical and can be measured and simplified and then applied on paper in logical steps :)
Another piece of advice that I don't think is very popular: Practice by copying. For people who have always been an 'artist' since childhood, guess how they started out? Copying and tracing from stuff. It's a great way to get your hands trained and muscle memory going. If you're apprehensive about drawing because you never have, tracing and copying works really well as training wheels. OK IM DONE haha, sorry for a million edits.
Anyway good luck, hope you have some fun with it!
ok i got two for you! ive been using these books to teach myself in my free time when i have downtime from my classes! they work great as guides to teach you fundamentals of figure drawing and perspective/ environment drawing.
Your friend is sort of right about the pen. It can help do away with the "chicken scratch" method of drawing by forcing you to be more confident with your lines but you should stick with pencil for now.
I'm mostly self-taught as well (although I learned a bit from Watts Atelier until it got to be too expensive) and the sheer amount of information out there can be really overwhelming. I mean, there's so many things to learn: perspective, line weight, figure drawing, portraiture, landscape, etc.
What definitely helped me is realizing that I'm never going to stop improving as an artist. That means that I'm going to have my entire life to hone my skills. Even if you have to unlearn a lot of bad habits, you've still got plenty of time to practice slowly, deliberately and mindfully.
If you understand that you've got your whole life to get better, it's easier to formulate a strategy to get better. You've got to think about this in the long term. That means taking a month to work solely on anatomy, another month to work only on perspective, another month to work on tone and values, while always revisiting the skills that you've already cultivated.
For example, I've laid out my artistic goals 3 months in advance. That means that for the next 3 months, I'm only focusing on anatomy and gesture/figure drawing. My daily schedule this week looks like this:
*1, 2, 5 and 10 minute gesture/figure drawings
*study/copy hands from Bridgeman's Constructive Anatomy book
*draw 50 hands
*spend about 10-15 minutes drawing hands from memory and comparing them to the references I was using earlier
*work on something fun
If I have extra time, I'll work on some more anatomy studies but it depends on how busy I am with work/life. After this week is up, I'll move on to arms, then the core, then legs, head, etc, following the same setup I've made. Maybe the next 3 months, I'll move on to perspective drawing but I haven't thought that far ahead yet.
If you're confused about where to start, just pick something that you're the weakest at and start drawing that. It's a grind and you're going to be producing hundreds, if not thousands of drawings but that's the way to get better.
Like I said, if you start thinking in the long term, it gets less overwhelming. I'm gonna link some resources that really helped me out.
Perspective Made Easy
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Fun With a Pencil Actually, anything by Loomis.
How to Draw Kind of a technical book but goes into really great detail about perspective
Watts Atelier Highly recommended. Watch his figure drawing videos. Also, if you can spare the cash, join his online school. It's fantastic and very structured course in drawing. Definitely look into this if you have trouble deciding what to learn next.
Proko This guy has great intro videos for figure drawing. I think he learned at Watts Atelier as well.
New Masters Academy They have a ton of great videos about everything. Definitely look into Glen Vilppu's figure drawing series. He's the god of figure drawing.
Alphonso Dunn Really great pen and ink tutorials
Sorry if I overwhelmed you (ironic, considering your original post) but I just wanted to share some stuff that's really helped me develop a schedule and get better. Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to help you a fellow art student out.
TLDR: You have plenty of time in your life to get better, so make a schedule and stick to it.