There’s a big white table in the back of our office. On most mornings (the one’s where I didn’t lose the fight to my bed), you’ll find me there with a sprawl of white notecards scattered about and a laptop open. And hopefully, there’s a blinking cursor on a page where I’ll leave sentences, organized into thoughts and dialogue and actions.
The truth is, by the time the work day begins, I will have already accomplished all my personal creative goals for the day. By the time I sit down for “work,” my mind is firing on all cylinders. Not only does this sideline work fulfill me personally, it gives me a vital creative outlet for those days when I’m not finding that fulfillment between 9 and 6.
I don’t want to go far into my personal writing ambitions, but it involves writing screenplays that I’ll direct one day (anyone have half a million dollars?). This is more about why I do it and how I go about it, because I think it applies universally to whatever creative side hustle you have going on.
Why I Do It:
The farthest extent: There are a lot of rewarding moments working at Matte Black. Probably even more than most jobs. But with any job, it isn’t all fun and games and cocktails all the time. There are challenges working with other people, communicating with clients, and fighting for your right to create. This is where your sideline creativity can creep in and give you the big boost you’re looking for. I need to give myself the freedom every morning to push ideas wherever I want them to go, with no outside input. Brian Eno once said, and I’m paraphrasing, that you should “take an idea to it’s farther extent, and then retreat to a more useful position.” The mornings are for me pushing ideas as far as I can. The work day is for finding a way to apply those things, in a relevant way.
It’s important: I’ve got things to say and creating a product driven video for a skincare line or athletic brand, while each awesome in their own right, isn’t a platform for me to say those things. And it’s not just poignant melodrama I’m writing to make into a film one day. One day it might be me fictionalizing what I see around me in the coffee shop. Another, it might be a silly music video treatment about adult gymnasts and sometimes it’s an article about sideline creativity for Shape Shift (whoa, meta!). However you want to use this time is up to you. What matters is that you get to say what you want to say and you get to say it how you want to say it.
How I Do It:
Hot showers: Jeff Laub, from Blind Barber already touched on this elsewhere in the issue, but he’s right. Before I step into the shower every morning, I consider what scenes I’m about to write. And then, as that hot water pounds down on me, I meditate on them. It’s a white noise that inspires and awakens ideas, allowing you to focus on nuance. Yes, I may or may not be a part of the California drought problem. No, I will not be a part of the solution.
Disintegration loops: When I sit down to write, it’s about carrying that meditation from the shower into the process. To do so, I usually listen to music that is less lyrical and more musical and minimal. William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops have been a constant for me. You might prefer something else entirely: Kanye yelling at you, Miles Davis’ improvisations, or a film score. Hey, whatever works!
Side note: if you haven’t listened or read about the Disintegration Loops history, you should change that immediately.
Reinventing the process: On a daily, weekly, and monthly basis I get dissatisfied in what I’m writing. I either want to be working on something else, think what I’m working on is stupid and won’t mean anything to anyone else, or a variety of other self-deprecating thoughts tend to creep in. Of course, this could be an indicator that what you’re working on isn’t worth the time. But for me, I don’t usually get down the road with projects unless I’ve mulled them over for months beforehand, meaning in spite of the dissatisfaction, I know what I’m writing is worthwhile and important to me. When this is the case, but motivation to write is hard to come by, I look for ways to change the process around the page, and not what’s necessarily on it. It could be as simple as working in a new environment, or it could be as complex as taking my scenes off of a digital outline and then physically writing them onto notecards, and then laying them out across the big white table at the office; “seeing” the film instead of just reading it. Giving yourself new stimuli around the project can stir up a new excitement for what’s been there all along.