Passion Projects

Give Yourself Permission to Suck

Lately I’ve been wanting to experiment with different things. Things I feel like I’m late to the game on. Like learning how to play the guitar, write music, make videos, record podcasts. While these things aren’t out of my reach, I know that there are a lot of people who have been at it for a far longer time than I have.

The one thing I have consistently done ever since I was a kid was write. I don’t know if I”m a natural writer persay, although this is something my writing mentor once said to me. The late great Les Plesko, who was an inspiration to all his students, had this amazing memory for all his students’ work. And he was always encouraging, no matter how bad you felt your work was.  I remember writing this email to him expressing my insecurities about being a “real writer,” and here’s his response:

“Yeah well I’m insecure about writing too, and I’ve been at it a little while now. What is a literary person, anyway? Anyhow, when you write, you are always already WRITING FOR REAL, you know what I mean? But in any case, all the above is fairly irrelevant. The FACT is that you are a terrific writer (you’ll just have to take my word for it, but I’ve had a thousand students, literally, so I kind of have a feel for it). So, anyway, just keep writing, okay? Anyway, what’s the other option? Not to? Eventually, you’ll be sorry you didn’t pursue it.

And PS: Every writer starts the same way, that is, not having written before. As far as reading, so, keep reading! Listen, you’re a swell writer; keep going.

And I did keep going. And guess what? I got better at it. And while there’s a lot more to learn, I feel like I am a far more decent writer than I used to be.  

While writing will always be a part of my life, there are other things I would like to try out for size.

For me, it’s able being in touch with the wonder and joy of the world. And yes, we live in terrible times. Perhaps it’s an act of resistance to find the wonder, joy, and pleasure that this world has to offer.

So I am giving myself permission to suck. To get past the fear of being bad at something. Not just to eventually get proficient at it, but to actually enjoy the act of sucking. It’s freeing to try something for the sake of experimentation and leave self-judgment at the door. And in turn, I give you permission to suck. Try it, it’s a lot of fun.

For every one thing I am decent at, there are about 2 million things (or more) that I suck at. The possibilities are limitless at sucking!

Treat Your Creative Projects Like They’re Clients

Last month when I was in Chicago I attended a Creative Mornings talk with Charles Adler, one of the co-founders of KickStarter. He talked about this illustrator who created a crowdfunding campaign to fund an art project and asked for very little money.

The reason why he wanted to do this was not necessarily because he needed, say, three bucks from his friends to draw a couple of illos, but that it created a social obligation to sit his butt down and draw! From the mouth of Charles:

“Financing, or capital, provides social pressure to complete a project.”

I makes perfect sense. Why do we finish side gigs and cast our personal projects aside? Why is it so hard to keep commitments we make with ourselves to finish that book, or comic strip, or song? Because there’s very little social pressure to complete these things.

In a perfect world, we’d be passionate and wholly focused to our craft. But in real life, we’re pulled by a messy jumble of obligations and distractions, at at times, a lack of internal motivation. So what if we tried treating our creative projects as clients? Here are a few ways to go about it:

Create a Production Schedule
I’ve just recently started using Trello to keep track of my tasks for my fiction writing and my blog. Trello is an easy way is free project management software that helps you stay organized and on task. Similar sites are Asana. You can create different to-do lists and then move them over to different stages of the production. It’s pretty rad and best of all, it’s free!

While I haven’t been able to stick to it 100 percent, it’s a start. Creating deadlines for the little things, such as finishing a scene in a story, or drafting a list of literary journals to submit to. Start small and level up.

Set Firm Deadlines
If you don’t set firm deadlines for yourself, it’ll be harder to make progress. Linking these to events or contests helps a ton. Is there a reading you need to prepare for? Are you in a writer’s workshop and need to submit pages? Or is there a fiction contest coming up you’d like to be in the running for? Maybe you can post snippets of your work on Tumblr and commit to posting on the regular.

Pay Yourself

And in the most literal sense, the difference between a “professional” and an “amateur” is that a professional gets paid for their work. So why not pay yourself?  A few months ago I committed to spending 15 minutes every morning. I kept it up for a good three months; it was awesome! But then I soon fell off the bandwagon. So I recently started paying myself five bucks (yup) for every 15 minutes I work on my short stories. I use this app called Digit, and I just transfer money into my Digit account, which I’m a huge fan of.

I know I’m not the most generous boss on the planet, but hey it’s enough to get me working. And how much you pay yourself can be tricky. You want to pay yourself so little that you’d prefer to forgo the cash and take a nap instead, but you don’t want to pay yourself so much that you can’t afford it. I did the math and if I wrote for a minimum of 15 minutes 20 days a month, that would be $100. And if I wrote for an hour 20 days a month? That’s $400.

Give Yourself a Bonus
If that seems like more cash than you can afford, you can set up a reward system instead. Like treat yourself to a video game or some fun gadget once you put in X number of hours. You can also treat yourself to a bonus on top of any money you are paying yourself.  To be honest, the $100-$400 I pay myself to write fiction may be too hefty at the moment, so I may switch to a “bonus plan” instead.

Give Yourself a Performance Evaluation
I know, it’s starting to get super nerdy. But why not check in with yourself every few months to see what progress you’ve made, how you can improve, and what you can check? There’s really no need to beat yourself over the head what you have yet to accomplish, and the mountain of work that lies ahead of you. Don’t forget to celebrate the small wins, too!

While it may seem like a pain in the rear, treating your creative project like a client could help you make serious headway. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Making the Most of a Lull

So after working like crazy for a good long while, about a month ago I hit a bit of a lull. One of my clients was occupied with another project, my part-time onsite job with my old employer was tapering off, and another outlet stopped their paid content. You know, that is just the way of Freelance Lyfe, and a lot of the time you have zero control over that kind of thing.

While I had been working hard to keep my head well above water since last fall, it as my first lull and found myself with more free time than I had ever imagined.

And you know what? I started to get super anxious. All that spare time allowed my neurotic thoughts to creep up. What a waste of mental energy, amirite?

But whatever you do, DONT PANIC.

You could squander time quibbling over whether you did something wrong, or if your days as a if you should look into getting a part-time gig, or back into the 9-5. But you know what, unless you absolutely have to, all those negative thoughts are just wasted energy. Focus instead on what you can be doing with all that free time. You can even think of it as a gift.

Get Mo’ Work
If you need to get your hustle on, tap into your network to see what kinds of job opportunities are out there. I’ll go in greater detail about creating a CRM, or Customer Relations Management System, that will help you keep track current clients and potential leads, in a later post, but you’ll want to tap into connections you’ve already linked up with, which you’ll most likely have an easier time securing work.

Even if you have a lull, when it comes to consistent, ongoing work, if you can, you’ll want to keep your same pay scale as when you were busy. But what if you really need the money? I still say stick to your guns as much as possible, because when the work does ramp up again, you’ll be quick to drop the lower-paying clients. Plus you might not be as motivated to do your best work. That being said, you’re ultimately doing a disservice to both you and your clients.

For instance, I have a price range I would ideally like to charge per article, which can vary according to the type of outlet (i.e., a corporate client versus a consumer blog), word count, and the amount of research and interviewing is involved. I’m been tracking the time it takes me to write an article since I began freelancing full-time last fall, and I have an idea of how many articles I can take on in a given week. Of course, this isn’t a perfect science.

It’s also a good opportunity to go for the clients and type of work you really want to do. Who are your dream clients? What was lacking in the work you had been doing?  Having a lull is kind of like clearing half of your slate, and having half a clean slate to work with. Kind of exciting, right?

Work on Yo’ Passion Projects
Okay, you know that project you’ve let fallen by the wayside, the one that you treat like an ugly stepchild? Well, don’t lollygag. Now’s your time to get crackin’ on what you really care about. Now when I sensed a lull coming on, I reached out to some outlets that were hiring to secure more work. But I soon stopped myself.

When I first started freelancing, I had thought about doing the minimal amount of work to get by so I could focus on finishing the first draft of my short story collection and working on this blog, but work ramped up quickly and I was reluctant to decline work, especially as I was used to having a day job.

Well guess what? I’m in a really situation to focus on my passion projects. And the best part is that I didn’t really have to let go of anything. I’ll be doing the whole digital nomad thing for the month of June, and am in Chicago. I’ve got a lot I want to explore while I’m here, including biking through the neighborhoods, eating delicious grub, and working on my collection of short stories.

If you want some time to focus on personal projects or to just enjoy yourself, I find it helpful to create a bit of structure. For instance, maybe you can spend a morning block of time to do your freelance work, and then spend the afternoon focusing on your personal stuff. And set a specific time. I have lied to myself by creating a loose structure. You just gotta stay accountable!

Enjoy Yo’ Self!
Give yourself permission to chill. You earned it. And even if you didn’t, so what? Do it anyway. Go check out a museum in the middle of a day, or go out for a leisurely lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s okay not to be focused on making the dollars 24/7. In fact, you’ll probably gain some perspective on the role work, having a career identity, and making money plays in your life.

Now for work-oriented people such as myself, this may be easier said than done. I tend to turn anything and everything into a project. I will eventually learn to chill out and have less on my plate, but to be honest not sure how to go about it. Does that sound strange? Oh well.

So yea, make the most of your lull. No need to fret or despair. I guess it’s important to remember that no one client is responsible for your financial well-being, professional development, or sanity. You are. 

Illustration by Viet Vu 

Stop Treating Your Creative Projects Like Ugly Stepchildren

About a year ago I launched a 40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project challenge. It was a way to inspire others (myself included) to sit their butts down and focus on the creative pursuits that matter the most to them. Like many, I struggle with giving love to my projects. Instead, I treat them like ugly stepchildren.

The funny thing is that there’s nothing major stopping me from working on my stuff. In many ways I’m in an ideal situation to devote quite a bit of time to what I love to do. I’m single, I don’t have any kids or aging parents to take care of. I don’t even have any pets.  And most important, I don’t have a career that requires putting in 80-hour weeks. In fact, a lot of my life choices are geared toward carving out time to work on my personal projects.  (more…)

Five Artistic Challenges to Boost Your Creativity

//Special guest post by Steven Ray Morris//

Getting motivated is tough, but the only way to motivate yourself is to just do it. Since working full-time often allows us to shirk off our personal creative goals, I got in the habit of signing up for various artistic challenges to help give me the motivation I needed to get started. Notably NaNoWriMo helped me write my first novel in a month, and during the RPM Challenge I wrote and recorded an entire album in a month. These challenges are tough, but they make you feel good too encouraging me to continue creating even after they were over. So here are five artistic challenges I want to share with you that will boost your creativity! (more…)

How to Make Storyboards that Don’t Suck

By Dax Schaffer
All artwork courtesy of Dax Schaffer

Have an idea for a movie or music video? Even a script maybe? Here are some tips from artist extraordinaire Dax Schaffer on storyboarding for beginners:

1. Every project is different.
You can always break the rules when it makes sense to. Make sure to adjust yourself to the team and style around you. When working for a client, you are trying to accomplish something in their head as well as your own. Boarding helps visualize this for people who may sometimes not be as visually versed as yourself.

Be patient and remember that what you do is a specialized skill. Your goal is to communicate a vision so that other people can understand it before you or a team arrive at a finished product. Film—and especially animation—is expensive; that’s why we create a blueprint that can be easily changed.

2. Don’t just do talking heads.
And by talking heads I mean “medium wide” shots. Always think about camera placement and how it affects the emotion of the scene. Storyboredom is a great place to learn the basics of storyboarding.

3. Don’t get too attached to a board.
No need to overwork it. It’s a sketch, a blueprint to help you find your way to the finished product. So be okay with throwing out a scene if it isn’t working and starting anew. That’s the point of storyboarding.

4. Remember all the elements you are juggling as a board artist.
You are planning cinematography, acting, and sometimes designing characters/environments for the first time. You have to do it all well, so make sure you keep it all in the back of your mind. If you’re working in animation, this is especially true, and on some shows board artists are also used as writers (i.e., Fish Hooks, Steven Universe, Phineas & Ferb.)
Being Late to Class Storyboard 01 (ver3)

5. Keep in mind depth.
You need to sell the fact that characters are existing in a believable space. In other words, know perspective (there is no way around this, you need to understand it). Changing placement of the different components of a composition can help create a stronger image too. Make sure there are foreground and background elements to enforce this. Place characters and the “camera” in a way that cutting back and forth makes sense (180 degree rule).

6. Have fun. Make sure you enjoy your work. If you don’t enjoy it, other people sure aren’t going to.

About Dax: Dax is a storyboard artist, animator, and illustrator living in Los Angeles. He is pretty tall and likes Dr. Who, maybe a little too much.

Other articles in the “Don’t Suck” series:
How to Make a Music Video That Doesn’t Suck
How to Make a YouTube Series That Doesn’t Suck

How to Level Up on your Creative Projects without Burning a Hole in Your Pocket

If you’re like me, you get tons of ideas for creative projects you want to work on. I oftentimes feel momentarily possessed, jotting down ideas and business plans without much restraint. Right now what consumes my free time (besides idling on my couch, eating potato chips and thinking about working on things) are blogging, writing fiction, and exercising. If I had an infinite amount of time, which nobody on this planet is privileged of having, I would venture into making music and joining a roller derby team. First world problems, am I right?

I don’t think of myself as a very ambitious person. I certainly don’t aspire to cure cancer to to solve world hunger, but I love getting knee-deep making stuff and making sure I have enough time for what I love to do. So how do you level up on projects that could potentially take up a lot of time and resources? Here are a few ways to help you get started:

Example: Learn to record music.
Well, 20 years ago you essentially needed to have access to top-notch audio recording equipment that only professional engineers in the industry could afford. These days, all you really need is a computer, home audio recording software, and a few basic items.

Step 1. Start Small.
Schedule some time each week to work on your project. I had started a 40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project series, which offers some parameters on how to approach working on your project. Find free or very inexpensive ways. For instance, if I want to learn about home audio recording, I can watch videos on YouTube the Pensado’s Place or fiddle around with Garage Band on your computer.

Step 2. Give Yourself a Time Limit.
After X amount of time, access how your progress and your interest. Is the momentum still there? Do you still want to keep doing it, to invest more, and to keep learning? It’s totally okay if you don’t feel like doing it. You can either drop it, take a break, or try to figure out what’s working and what’s not. If you want to keep working on it, proceed to the next step.

Step 3. Level Up.
Alright, so you are getting more into recording music. What to do now? Allocate a little more funds and time to the project. If you were spending 30 minutes each week before and zero money, maybe you can spend an hour each week and invest in a USB audio interface for a few hundred bucks.

Step 4. Borrow Stuff.

If you have pals who are into the same things as you, ask them if you can borrow equipment or buy their used wares. Or you can join a meetup to meet fellow hobbyists. You can also hunt for used equipment on Craigslist, Freecycle, or at one of those rock ‘n’ roll flea markets (yes, they exist). When I started getting into roller derby last year, I was able to loan gear during practice until I felt committed enough to spend $300 on my own gear. I waited close to a year before doing so. I would’ve felt bad throwing money away if I bought all that gear and didn’t end up using really.

So the idea is that you eventually “level up,” gradually spending more time and resources into the project. Ideally there should be a natural momentum.

Hope this helps get you started. Have fun! 🙂

What project are you working on, and what are some challenges you have for starting out?

40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project: Making the Most Out of Your Weekend Getaway

As some of you may know, me and a few of my pals are knee-deep in Round 2 of the 40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project. I’m been really getting into my fiction writing  that I haven’t been updating this blog as much (apologies, dear Cheapsters)! For those new to the challenge, here’s a checklist to get you up to speed.

One part of the challenge is to go on a weekend getaway with your project, meaning an entire weekend dedicated solely to what you love to do:

Create a Schedule and Structure:
A few questions to ask yourself:

-When are you going on your weekend getaway?
-Where are you taking it? Are you going to mix it up and get your work done at a few different sites?
-What will you be working on?

Plan out when you are taking your weekend getaway well ahead of time. You can either do a 4 + 4 + 8 break down like my gal pal Crystal of did (i.e., 4 hours on Friday, 4 hours on Saturday, and 8 hours on Sunday) or an 8 + 8 break down (Saturday and Sunday). During the last challenge, I attempted to do 8 hours on Saturday and 8 on Sunday, which was super challenging for me. I think I may do a 4 + 4+ 8 for Round 2. These are merely suggestions and a starting point, of course. Figure out what works best with your schedule. You can work in your Creation Cave or at a coffee shop or chill out spot. The last go-round I scheduled it while catsitting for my friend.

Treat it Like a Vacation:
Would you double-book if you were going out of town? This is probably the hardest part of the getaway, but you’ve got one of your friends was throwing a rager and you were out of town, you wouldn’t commit to attending, would you?

Take Breaks: The weekend getaway can feel like a marathon if you’re working on mentally or physically rigorous projects such as writing a book or getting into a new team sport, so be sure to take breaks or reward yourself. You can use a productivity timer such as Focus Booster or Internet blocker such as Freedom, or you can jot down what you’ll get to do when you complete X or make Y amount of progress. Reward yourself every so often, too. 🙂

Explore: Take time to try something new, go in a different direction, or spend a little extra time working on something you’ve been stuck on. It’s an opportunity to dig a little deeper on an aspect of your project.

Sticking to it is the most important thing. Just remember: process over progress. Have fun!

photo credit: fantasy via photopin (license)

Join the 40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project Wrap Party

Thursday is the final day of the first round of the 40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project Challenge. Congrats! You’re almost done completing the challenge! To celebrate, we’ll be convening over Google Hangout for a virtual wrap party. We can talk about our projects, the process, challenges, and how to plan for the next one if we plan on doing another challenge in the near future. It’ll be happening this Friday, March 13 from 5 pm – 6 pm PST (8 pm – 9 pm EST).

Here’s a link to our Facebook Group and to the event page for the party.
See you there!

Getting the Most Out of Journaling

For those who are participating in the 40 Days of Dating Your Passion Project, journaling  is probably the most open-ended part of the challenge, so here are some parameters to help guide you in creating the list of questions. I myself feel as if I’ve wading through the muck in figuring how to get the most out of journaling:


You can design the questionnaire portion of the challenge to do any of the following:

-help you structure your dates
-figure out what is blocking you/getting in the way of your creativity
-hone in on what you want to learn
-journal about your one-hour learning sessions (i.e., reading a book, taking an online tutorial)

You can also add a few questions at the end of each week to help you gain focus for the week ahead.


My questionnaire is pretty basic. As my project is writing fiction, I wanted to keep it short and sweet so I could dedicated more of my time toward working on my project. My questions are:

  1. What did I work on today?
    2. What do I plan on working on tomorrow?
    3. What did I learn (any discoveries or pointers?)


Here are some example questionnaires from fellow participants in this first round of the challenge:

Carletta S. Hurt
Projects: Writing a book and an project

  1. What did I do today?
  2. Rate my productivity.
  3. What am I doing tomorrow?
  4. Open – thoughts, ideas, whatever as it relates to the project

Crystal Hammond
Project: Redesigning her blog
Sophisticated Spender

  1. What did I work on?
  2. What did you learn?
  3. What do you hope to change?
  4. What’s tomorrow’s plan?

Other possible questions:
-What was today’s greatest challenge?
-How I can improve tomorrow?
-What did I have the most fun doing?

Here are a few pointers:

Embrace distractions. Achieving focus is such hard work. When I am feeling distracted and it’s tempting to compulsively sign on to Facebook or check my Insta feed, I’ll take a deep breath. If you really need to take a break from your work, you can do some journaling so you’ll be productive in the interim. I like journaling in my creation cave since I’m already in the flow. If it’s getting difficult, I’ll try to take a deep breath at the top of each minute. This helps me stay on course. I’ve learned that it’s okay to literally twiddle my thumbs or stare off into space. I don’t always have to have my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously.

Set a limit. This isn’t something I do, but it might help you if you need a little more structure.  You can write just one page a day or set a time limit. The important thing during this challenge is not so much the results or end product, but the process and what you learned about the way you work and ultimately about yourself.

We’re almost nearing the end of the challenge. Just four more days!

Photo: <<<<<<<<<<<< turn the page via photopin (license)