Before we jump into the blog, I want to say thank you again to everyone who helped Sprout reach its initial funding goal in just 2 days! It’s exciting to know that I will get to bring this book into the world because of all of you. Y’all are the best, seriously.
I recently began a Kickstarter for my debut kids’ book, Sprout. It has been going well, but what most people don’t know is that I spent two years before this trying a million other ‘passion projects’ before I found one that clicked. Herein is the story of my many flailing attempts to find the illusive perfect passion project, and some advice for how go about it better than I did.
[A quick note: a passion project, for the context of this post, is a creative project you work on in your free time for some personal benefit. It can serve as a way to explore a new medium or type of content, to challenge yourself creatively, to improve your artistic skill set, or just for fun. However, passion projects can also be stressful if mismanaged, and it can be hard to figure out the right project for you, since the options are almost literally endless.]
Part 1: The passion
I spent the last couple of years throwing myself at a slew of things that I thought of as ‘passion projects’ at the time: selling work at an art fair, challenging myself to draw for 100 days straight, participating in art shows, running a Patreon, etc. The work that I created for each of these ran the gamut from surrealist watercolor paintings to digital cartoons. Basically, I was scrambling to find the kind of work would make me happy, with no clear strategy of how to do that. Watercolor skulls not doing it for me? Let’s try…oil paintings! Of clouds, because I sure do like clouds! All of these projects ended in frustration, and left me feeling confused about myself and my work. Eventually, the obvious occurred to me: none of these projects were rewarding because they weren’t about anything important to me. I was so caught up in the format of the projects that I didn’t spend any time thinking about what I wanted to SAY with them. I took a break from making art (which did NOT cause me to implode, I am happy to report) and spent some time thinking about what I want I want to make my art about. I realized that most of my ideas revolved around storytelling, so I began to think about what kinds of projects I could make to tell stories (spoiler: it’s not oil paintings of clouds).
Passion projects can and should be a way to challenge yourself artistically, but when trying to find the right project to tackle, remember that ‘passion’ is the important part. If you’re going to spend a bunch of your free time working on something, it should at least be something you are interested in or care about. You don’t have to draw flying robot llamas just because all your favorite artists do- maybe you’re more into submarine llamas, or are passionate about llama civil rights. Whatever your interests, give yourself time to figure out what you want to say with your work, and then think about what kind of project will best help you say it.
Pat 2: The project
Once I picked out my first story idea to tackle, the next step was to figure out the best way to tell that story. A graphic novel? A video? Several painted cows in a field by a freeway? There were many options, so to narrow it down, I gave myself some ground rules to guide the decision. For this project, I knew I wanted to do something that I could complete by myself in a set amount of time. (This ruled out big projects like a graphic novel or a game, and long-format projects, like a web comic.) I also wanted to have a tangible product at the end (which ruled out a video). I made these rules because I didn’t want this project to become too overwhelming- I wanted it to be something I could finish within a few months and then share with people. Based on all of this, I opted to turn the story into a kids’ book.
Laying some ground rules for yourself will go a long way toward making sure any passion project is successful. Ideally, your passion project will be a healthy balance of achievable and artistically challenging. Once you have an idea that you care about, consider what you want to get out of the ‘project’ part of this: do you want to learn a new skill, create a product that you can sell, try a new medium, etc? Once you have those goals figured out, give yourself some rules to make sure the project is doable and won’t become overwhelming. (Can you really build a 10 foot tall paper mache model of Lin Manuel Miranda in your free time? Do you want to risk being stuck with his giant paper mache arms haunting your garage when you get bored with the project? Consider carefully.)
Part 3: The doing it
The idea for Sprout bounced around in my head for a long time before I finally got up the courage to start working on it. I was scared to commit fully to it, and scared of failing, so I procrastinated. Finally, I found several ways to motivate myself: Inktober and Kickstarter. First, I decided to start the book during Inktober, which forced me to spend a solid chunk of time getting the details ironed out beforehand. Then, once I had a good start on the project and had been sharing my progress with friends and family, I decided to Kickstart the book to set up even more accountability to finish the project in a reasonable amount of time. (I fall firmly in the ‘finished, not perfect’ camp, even when it comes to passion projects.)
I am a pretty self-motivated person, and certainly would have made this book without those outside factors, but making myself accountable to other people gives me some extra encouragement to finish Sprout according to plan. If you think you might need a kick in the butt to start or finish your project, find a way to make yourself accountable to other people: enter your work into a contest or challenge, find a supportive community online, or try crowd funding.
Part 4: Make it happen, cap’n
Listen, the most important part of any passion project is that you DO IT. Stop waiting for the ‘right time’ to start. Stop waiting for someone to give you permission. You just have to make it happen for your own peace of mind. One of the most rewarding aspects of tackling a passion project is that it lets you prove to yourself that you can make something awesome from scratch. You’ll also broaden your skill set, build grit and self confidence, and end up with a pretty cool thing to share with the world (like Lin Manuel Miranda’s giant arms). Whatever that half-formed day dream of an idea in your head is, find a way to make it happen, starting now.