Have you ever watched ‘Hoarders?’
Sometimes I feel like a mental hoarder. But instead of keepsakes, old newspapers, dead pets and trash, I’m piling away side project after side project into the back of my brain, refusing to throw anything out. I can feel myself drowning in a sea of ideas for movies, graphic novels, books, internet videos, cartoons, tv shows, movies, movies and more movies. I’m going to go ahead and assume this plagues many people, especially those who are constantly inspired to create. To start, let’s try to pin down what exactly a ‘side project’ is. 2 things…
– A side project is not a hobby, because it is something with a goal, an end product. A hobby is practicing guitar, a side project is writing a rock opera about “War of the Worlds”.
– Money is not the point. If you find a way to be generously compensated without having to sacrifice any creative aspects, then congratulations you just won life. If this is a red flag, if you see no point in putting work into something that has no guaranteed compensation, then close this tab.
Here’s a well written article from the head designer at Spotify about how side projects in visual and product design led him to opening his own studio, and eventually a job at Spotify.
“Side projects are great because you don’t need to know anything. You get to be a beginner because no one is watching you and there are no expectations,” he says. “If you don’t have an idea, don’t stress about it, just go do something else. It’s this attitude that it doesn’t matter that allows us to be inspired and to work on only the things we truly want to work on.” -Tobias van Schneider
A side project should be a free-wheeling experience, something you do to inspire, challenge and fulfill yourself. Here’s an excellent video about a man who took 13 years, from childhood to adulthood, to finish a video game. In the clip you learn about his struggle with his own ambition and stubbornness, but ultimately and admirably, he finishes the game.
Keeping it all Together
This is where I start to fall apart. I have google docs, sticky notes, and iphone messages recorded by Siri at 3:00 AM full of ideas for side projects. It can be overwhelming knowing where to start, what’s worth using mental energy on, and what’s even realistic. But here are some tips I have found worked for me as I sifted through these projects.
– Make a list of all your side projects – Order them by feasibility, and how passionate about them you are. Write them down on paper, and give them some tangibility. Ideally, you will cross off a few of the more fleeting and uninspired ideas
– Get others involved – Show them your list and don’t be embarrassed. There’s a high chance they’ll see something on that list that makes them say “I want to help with that because that idea is rad.”
– Set a goal – Pace yourself realistically. Look at how long it will take to plan and execute your idea, give yourself a little contingency, and get started. Take as long as you need, but promise yourself to finish it. The more effort you put into something, the higher the chance you’ll see the whole project through.
I’d say I’ve finished 10 percent of all the side projects I’ve wanted to do, which I actually consider to be productive. Most recently, I’ve been teaching myself Cinema 4d, a 3-D modeling program. To help teach myself, I’ve embarked on little ‘side projects.’ Most recently I told myself to finish a render of the old firestation we work in. And about 15 hours later…
It’s easy to be jaded creatively and to be overwhelmed seeing how much creative content exists on the internet.
Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to the work of others. Let yourself be inspired instead. When you embark on a side project, know that what you are working on, is truly your own. Put yourself out there, be enthusiastic, and hopefully my three tips will help along the way.
Cool side projects of note: