Get Something Done This Winter Break

Dustin here at the front desk, ready for the holidays and all of the downtime that comes with them. Something tells me I’m not alone on this. But before we all head home for a few weeks, whether that’s really home with our families or just back to our own personal blanket forts in the dorms or our apartments, let me ask; What are your plans for the break?

Aside from gorging on Netflix and Goldfish crackers instead of going to class (I’m pulling from personal experience here), does anyone have plans to continue, maybe even start, some artistic project?

Something else I’m probably not alone is that for a while now, I’ve had this big project in mind. I’m a writer and, for me, my big project was a novel. It’s something I’ve been messing around with for two years now, not making much progress, but doing a little bit here and there. Well now, I’m happy to say, I just finished the first draft of it after 5 weeks and my Winter Break is now going to be focused on revising and rewriting.

Finishing this huge project, or at least finishing a draft, did amazing things for my confidence and productivity and I thought I could share the process here in hopes of inspiring someone to tackle their own big project head on. So just like I did 5 weeks ago, let’s jump right in.

First things first, let’s identify the project that you want to complete. Maybe it’s a painting, a song or album, a script, a multimedia piece, it could be anything, really. The point is we all have something we’d like to do, something we’d like to create, that we’ve been putting off because of class or clubs or catching up on Orange is The New Black. No Judging here. Like I said, I’d been fooling with mine for two years and then, bam, 5 weeks and it was done. So find your project, that one thing that wasn’t just for a class. The thing you really care about. The thing you need to make.

Personally, I get a lot of help from knowing how hard it’s been for other artists to complete their own projects. The above image came from Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist,  which is filled with great, simple advice. The best thing I took from it was the idea of holding myself accountable for this project.

After all, the point of all this was that I wanted to get this thing done, I needed to finish a draft, so that I would have an actual, tangible thing to work with. Our ideas always sound great in our heads which is why it can be hard to put them to paper because they never quite come out the way we want them to. But honestly, leaving them to roll around with the rest of our thoughts doesn’t do anybody any good. It just allows us to keep putting it off. So I want to give you the trick that helped me make myself accountable. It’s really simple, and while I found it in Kleon’s book, it originally came from none other than Jerry Seinfeld.

The idea is to make a calendar for yourself, I used the front page of my notebook, and to put a big X through every day that you work on your project. How much you work on it each day is up to you, but it should be manageable but still a good amount of work. Don’t take it too easy on yourself but you also don’t want to set yourself up for failure. In those 5 weeks, I wrote about 1700 words a day. That came out to around 7 pages, which I could do in about an hour by the end of the month, and after those 5 weeks, I had a 254 page draft of my novel. 

The calendar trick is great because it’s a simple way to motivate yourself. Once you’ve gone a week straight without missing your work for the day, you don’t want to screw it up. And remember, it doesn’t matter if the work you’re doing seems mediocre or bad or even awful, the point is you’re just getting the work out, doing a draft, so that, again, you have something to actually work with rather than just the perfect idea in your head.

For my project, I was also able to take advantage of National Novel Writing Month or Nanowrimo which was an extra dose of motivation for me. And there are opportunities like this everywhere, not just for writers. Check out your department’s office and try to talk with someone who is knowledgeable on the subject you’re working on. Come see us in the Portfolio Center and talk with your Creative Industry Advisor, get some advice, and then get ready to spend your break not just working, but creating something that’s important to you.

I know we all love our breaks, I totally do and I’m looking forward to spending time with my family, but hey, I have things I’m working on too and there’s no reason that a job or family time should get in the way of that. The fact is, 24 hours is a lot more time than it seems to be, and if you’re like me and you can put in just an hour a day working on something that you love, why wouldn’t you? By the end of my 5 weeks I was looking forward to it because it’s what I want to spend my life doing. So don’t try to find the time when you’re free. Make the time. Do it when the rest of your family has gone to sleep if you have to.

5 and a half weeks ago I wasn’t sure that I would be able to finish this whole draft, but I did and it didn’t kill me. That’s why I know you all can do it too. So get out there, get started, and keep at it. In the words of somebody-I-don’t-remember-but-the-words-stuck-with-me, “You’ll never be less busy than you are right now.” So get on it and in a moth’s time, you’ll thank yourself that you did.

Happy Holidays Columbia and Good Luck!