One major factor in initiating, developing, and feeling satisfied by a side project is creativity. Both my own interview subjects and the stories detailed by the Do Lecture’s Side Project Report consistently highlight either the subject’s desire to simply write/make/create/design/build or their desire to do so in pursuit of their own goals (rather than solely for their employer).
For the purposes of this blog lets assume that creativity is simply the process of generating ideas, both good and bad, of simply creating stuff. You can generate those ideas and things in all kinds of ways and it assumes no skill or proficiency. I could easily create new compositions at the piano despite my total lack of skill, although I suspect my wife would swiftly bring the process to an abrupt end. In my interviews so far we’ve met bloggers, cooks, adventurers, educators, and organisers – they’re all making something despite differing levels of technical proficiency.
Creative Expression + Accomplishment
There is something inherently satisfying about making something, about realising an idea into actuality. That might be a new recipe or an event, it might be a blog post or an educational intervention. It is simply satisfying to make something, know you were instrumental in its creation, and feel like you’ve accomplished a goal. Furthermore that new thing exists not because you were told to make it so but because you chose to make it so. You have exercised your agency in the world. This links us back to the Personal Passion element of my emerging model for Side Projects.
Accomplishment and creative expression are wonderful feelings in and of themselves, but they’re the gateway drugs of the world of side projects. Next come recognition, acclaim, mastery, and maybe even reward.
Acknowledgement + Mastery
Once you start making things and basking in the simple wonder of having actually made something you may start to crave the acknowledgement of others – that might just be family and friends, it might be other practitioners of your activity. You might start to seek recognition of your efforts or skills, you might start wanting feedback. After gaining recognition and feedback you might seek acclaim for your work. You may not seek any of this, many people are apparently content to simply create away without acknowledgement, but for most of us a little bit of recognition can be empowering.
Acknowledged or not, we also like to get better at something. Many of my interview subjects highlighted the skills they sought to develop or those they had ‘accidentally’ got good at along the way. Becoming good at something, developing mastery, is powerfully rewarding. Noticing that you can achieve good products in a fraction of the time it used to take you, realising that you’re reaching a bigger audience, finding that previously fiendishly difficult challenges are now approachable, even routine, is a fantastic sensation. This links us to the Professional Competency element of my model – even if our new skills are not part of our day job we can still develop them to a professional standard.
Before I talk about reward, I really need to stress that for everyone I’ve spoken to so far money or economic reward has never been the priority purpose of their side project. Most wouldn’t turn it down though, although some would turn it down if it compromised their vision of the project. Financial reward is just one form of reward. Indulging a love, making something, learning something, proving something, these are all far more compelling rewards. Money can complicate things in terms of vision and ethics – but it can also provide resource to take the project up a level.
I think reward links us back to the final element of the model – Tomorrow’s Plan – why are you doing this anyway? For the love of it, because you needed to express yourself, because you hoped it might become future career path or an element in a portfolio career?
Tips for success
Getting the most out of your creative expression:
- Look at what others are doing. Given the proliferation of project blogs and zines there is plenty of inspiration out there.
- Initially just soak up inspiration. This can be from your own field of interest, or any other that catches your eye.
- Then start to look at what you might learn from; whose work do you admire and why? Whose work serves as a lesson in what you don’t want to do?
- Then reach out and ask questions; how did they do that? where did they learn that? what tools or materials have they used?
- What skills or techniques seem to make the biggest difference in how effective/credible/impactful a project of your type is? Is it social media marketing that elevates a blog or great photography?
- Pick a skill to deliberately cultivate, go and seek the expertise you need (either online or offline), and see what difference it makes