Today I would like to talk about the value of creative side projects. I know, I know, you are likely already saying, “Dan, I’m swamped. I have zero energy or time for a side project.”
I didn’t either, until I took on a huge side project this week. Let’s explore why taking on more creative work can sometimes jumpstart a stalled creative process.
I would define a ‘side project’ as pursuing an idea that is separate from your normal work, and may not have any immediate strategic function. You aren’t pursuing it because you think you can make a lot of money quickly.
Rather, it is an exploration of creativity itself.
For a novelist, a side project could be crafting a series of poems.
For a musician, it could be designing and making their own furniture.
For an artist, it could be learning to play the banjo.
Last Friday, with zero preparation, I suddenly decided to start a daily vlog. A vlog is basically a ‘video log,’ much like a video diary.
For the past week, I have written, recorded, edited, and published seven videos. This is all in addition to my normal workload and personal responsibilities. Here are the videos:
Let me summarize the good and the bad of doing this:
- The bad: Each took about four hours to create. Like you, there is no way I felt I had 4 extra hours of creative energy that was unused each day. Yet, I found the time/energy every day for the last seven days.
- The good: The work has fueled me creatively this week — I have felt so enthusiastic about creating. Doing videos is a lot of work. Doing daily videos is kind of crazy. That level of commitment, that kind of a deadline, creates an excitement around the project, which is really gratifying.
Okay, let me use this example as a way to explore the value of side projects for your own creative work:
Focus on Meaning First
By a “side” project, I don’t mean “insignificant.” So often, our daily professional and personal responsibilities are defined for us. From the moment we wake up, we know where we need to be, and what we have to do. Perhaps you dream of doing something else — stretching a part of yourself that feels neglected.
A side project is our chance to address something we believe in deeply.
For my vlogs, I used this opportunity to tackle deep topics that I rarely see discussed. The first 6 vlogs covered:
- Anxiety and your creative work
- How to get out of a creative funk
- How to manage guilt around creative work
- The reality of how to get good at your creative work
- Why copying is okay in your creative work
- Jealousy and your creative work
You can see a trend: one theme (creative work) approached from many angles. I tried to focused on aspects that I rarely see addressed… talking openly about being jealous, having anxiety, and working through guilt. These are day to day realities for many professionals.
Every Moment Can Be a Creative Moment
Because I have a daily deadline, I’m looking for creative moments all around me. These do not have to be complex things. So far, many have been simple actions:
- My cat doing something cute
- The sunrise
- My kid turning on the light in the morning
It has been fun to view the world in this manner. With every moment as an opportunity to create.
The More You Tell Stories, The Better You Get At It
These videos are produced quickly, but each tries to tell a story. Consider the difference between:
Telling one story per week (52 per year)
Telling one story per day (365 per year)
How much better will I get at storytelling in a shorter period of time doing this?
I actually had the experience this week of needing to fill some space in a video, and realizing that I was hungry for hot dogs. So I filmed the process of going to the store, walking down the aisle, picking out the hot dogs, cooking it and serving it. Doing so was filled with lots of creative decisions about what to film, how to film it, and how to edit it.
Maybe your side project will have nothing to do with video. But regardless of what your creative focus is: learning to tell a story even better is at the crux of it.
A key element of storytelling is honesty. In these videos, I have challenged myself to be more honest. In the very first one, I admitted that what kickstarted the series was seeing someone else’s video, and feeling envious. So I took action.
I rarely hear people say, “Boy, was I jealous of someone today.” Too often, we hide that part of ourselves, we mask it, we posture around it. Admitting that felt freeing. That I turned it into something positive felt even better.
Most of the videos feature my home, because that is my every day reality… I work from home. Does it feel exposing to show this? Not really. But I did have to think about it for a moment, and I consider that in the edits. Where is the line for me? I decide that every day.
I also talked about how elements of the videos themselves were copies of another filmmaker I follow: Casey Neistat. I don’t want to take credit for his work, and wanted to explore the value of copying in the creative process, which I did in the second video.
Three Tips for Embracing Creative Side Projects
If you want to pursue your own creative side project, here is my advice:
- Choose something you are passionate about that isn’t strategic. This shouldn’t be a “get rich quick idea.” It should be something that feels good.
- Create tight deadline. Without deadlines, you will obsess over quality, and never share your work in progress.
- Find a small group of collaborators who can give you feedback.
In a mastermind group I run, one of the members talked about hitting a period of burnout. But then, a creative side project left them enthused and full of energy. My reaction was this:
“Isn’t it funny how creative work is sometimes the solution to overwhelm?”
In the age of overwhelm, sometimes the path forward is not to cut away, but to do more… more of what fuels you.
Will I continue these videos? For now, yes. I’m going to try. It seems as though the benefits far outweigh the costs; but the real value is this:
I wake up excited to tell a new story each day.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
What creative side projects would you like to fill your days with?
And of course, please subscribe to my daily vlog on YouTube!