Act Smart! Good Tools for a Great Career: What I’ve Learned

cni-2016-04Lessons from halfway through

Over the almost-10 years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve accomplished several outward-facing creative projects: a two-person show with four actors (and music! and dance!), a massive crowdfunding project for a local non-profit, and a series of 21, 30, and 100-day projects. What I’ve not done is a lot of documenting of them along the way, so at just over the midpoint of a yearlong thing-a-day project, I thought I’d step back and share what I’ve learned thus far. Hopefully, it will serve some purpose for creating, adjusting, or surviving your own long-term project, regardless of what form yours takes.

1. The perfect is the enemy of the good. This applies across the board, from inception through execution. I have finessed to the point of exhaustion ideas for scripts, books, classes I could teach, and pretty much any other writerly thing one can generate; inevitably, either someone beat me to shipping—or worse, I wore out my own interest in it. If you wait for perfect, you’ll be waiting forever, when you could be learning and growing by actually making something. So yes, a little noodling and meandering is fine, but then commit, and adapt as you go.

2. Do a little every day. Unless you are independently wealthy or fully funded AND have zero personal commitments, you will not have great swaths of time to work on your thing-a-day creative project. So pick something that can be done in small chunks, and then do a chunk a day, every day. If you can, set aside a daily time to work, and limit yourself to that time. I usually spend no more than 30 minutes per drawing, and most are more like 20-minute ventures. That means that they are not perfect, ever, and sometimes, they look really wobbly.

3. You can skip a day. Please, please, please be kind to yourself. Even if you’re fortunate enough to be funded while you do your project, there are going to be days where illness, events, or other forms of Life Coming At You Hard take you out. It’s inevitable, so you can let go. You’ll make up the time.

4. …but beware of skipping two. It may happen anyway, but don’t court it. From experience, I can tell you that it’s much harder to get back on a horse you’ve not ridden for two days than it is one. The chances of abandoning a project grow exponentially with each day you let pass. Plus, if you have a cultural upbringing that involved guilt and shame as motivators, you are setting yourself up for some really yucky feelings, and this is supposed to be FUN, remember?

5. Your project is for you, not for cookies. For my money, the whole point of doing something every day (other than the fun factor) is to build muscle—solid, tough, flexible, sinewy, artist’s muscle. If you’re doing it for kudos, if you’re doing it for fame, if you’re doing it with an eye to make money or a name for yourself, you are setting yourself up for a rough time. Not only are chances good that you will suck the fun out of the process, I can almost guarantee you will absolutely crash afterward. How do I know this? Because it’s happened to me. Twice. (I am stubborn, thick with denial, and a slow learner.) It’s tricky, because showing your work is baked into the outward-facing project, so post away! However, if you catch yourself refreshing your social media feeds to see how many people have “liked” something since the last time you checked—and you checked five minutes ago—maybe limit your time on Facebook.

Do you have a project you’re thinking of starting? The best time to start may have been yesterday, but the next-best time is today. You’ll be halfway through before you know it!

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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: There’s a 97% chance this book won’t speak to you, but on the off chance you are one of the 3% for whom it will, I’m sharing my strong recommendation for I Am That, one of the greatest spiritual books I’ve come across in several years of reading them. A transcription of talks by self-realized householder (i.e., “regular guy”) guru, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, this book eases you into a new and revelatory understanding of self, no religion or spiritual pre-condition necessary (unless you count the willingness to entertain new ideas). Yet the ideas are very simple and straightforward. Just reading the simple message brought me a kind of peace and spaciousness I was surprised by; I’m told by fellow enthusiasts that this expands with time, and frankly, I can’t think of anything more glorious than that. 


Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeaker-layabout who started calling herself “The Communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil, by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.

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