Around January 21 of this year I started what I call my one-week projects. The idea was to finish and “publish” one creative project every week with the intention of getting better at finishing things. I have a hard drive full of outlines for screenplays and novels, scraps of ideas, and partially written short stories. They probably number in the hundreds (though I haven’t taken an official census). Meanwhile, the number of things actually completed numbers in the tens.
I didn’t create any official guidelines for my one-week projects, but I did have some vague thoughts which I’ll make more specific here.
First, that they should only take between four and ten hours to complete (and preferably closer to, or even under, four). That’s because these are supposed to be a sideline, not my main gig. I’ve got other work: a non-fiction book contract, my second novel in rewrites, and the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival chewing up most of my summers. Four hours should be enough to knock out something substantial—an article, a blog post, a very short story, whatever—and that’s less than an hour a day for the week. And if it stretches into ten? That’s what the weekend is for.
Second, they should be, in some sense, publishable, and have to be published to count. And by published here I mean “put out in the world.” A blog post counts. A link to Facebook counts. A short story submitted to a market counts. Anything so long as actual people in the real world can get access to it and interact with it, for better or worse.
Why? Because that’s apparently my number one issue with finishing. I can knock out an email to a friend in a few minutes because it’s private. Tell me you’re going to put that same email on the web for the world to see and I’ll revise it and qualify it and polish it until it’s perfect—or more likely, become paralyzed at the thought of all the work it still needs before it goes public and just shelve it instead. No kidding, I have abandoned Facebook posts mid-sentenceSo putting stuff out for the world to see is the essential ingredient of finishing. For me.
Third, they should be creative in some way. Press releases don’t count (unless they’re April Fool’s jokes). Odious tasks, however rewarding they are to clear off my task list don’t count. I admit there’s a lot of room for interpretation here.
Fourth, and finally, they should arrive weekly. That’s the name. Again, the idea is that these are a sort of basic, creative hygiene, like working out or doing the laundry. You can’t just let it languish undone for too long.
So how have I done?
Not great. But better than nothing. I managed to knock out four one-week projects (in nine weeks) before I got swamped with deadline pressure and HSF pre-production. But I learned some things: 1) the scope of my ambition gets me into trouble, and 2) I’m wildly optimistic about my productivity.
There’s a Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin has to make a model dinosaur for class the next day. His mom asks how it’s coming, and he holds up something in his hand which she looks at dubiously, asking, “Is that it?” And Calvin says, “That’s one of its teeth.”
Yeah, that’s me.
My first four one week projects:
- Euler’s equation t-shirt — I actually sold one of these (thanks, Dad!) and bought two more, one for myself, one for Stephanie, bringing my total sales to three. But that’s not the point.
- Secret Identity — A Shakespeare-themed, interactive fiction.
- Raspberry Pi running Rust — A really difficult way to make an LED blink.
- Murder on the Big Nothing — Another interactive fiction, this one a murder mystery, of sorts.
Of these, all but the t-shirt fail (at least!) one of my four criteria. All but the first took more than one week (and far more than ten hours) to complete, and the third isn’t really a creative project. They did all get “published” though, so that’s something. I’ll dissect these in more detail next time (specifically, where and how I got into trouble with them, and how I think I can improve the process going forward). But for now, to end on a bright note, this post is one-week project number six (last week’s post was number five), and it’s the first one-week project to arrive just one week after its predecessor. Progress!