As it becomes clearer and clearer that the t’s have been crossed and the final timestamps have been logged, it’s hard to process that another huge project is starting to come to a close, and more importantly, the work that I needed to complete was saved, uploaded, and I clicked the final, “send,” button to seal the deal. That’s a two-year investment starting to come to a close, and it feels weird.
As I make more and more complicated things as an artist, and as they become more and more difficult to finish in a single day, the imbalance of time-investment vs. reaction to the finished item is a lot more than it used to be. I made my first zine in 1993, and often, I would “make” the zine overnight, and we could be sending it to print the next day. (Later, with the advent of 24 Hour Copy Shops, the zine would be printing within an hour of being completed.)
It was sort of exhilarating. So much of what appealed to me about DIY was that it was instant. The reaction was immediate, you could become a “band” immediately, and within weeks you could have a tape in the hands of friends. How cool is that? The spirit of DIY allowed you to cut out any process you didn’t want, and YOU could be THAT person at any time you wanted.
And then, you get a little older, and then you start to want to make things turn out a very certain way. And that is usually born out of not being able to get it right because of your “rapid” production cycle. So, you start recruiting other writers, and suddenly it takes longer. And other artists, so even longer. And maybe a collaborator? Even longer. And soon, what you could do in a few hours takes weeks, months… and then…
Well, the quality IS much higher, in the end. Any time you can farm out work that you can’t do well to a person who can, and the two of you work together to make a thing, and the thing becomes stronger. I’m not saying that you have to collaborate on things. But, for example, if I want to make something with a woman’s voice, I must work with someone with that kind of voice. (I don’t have it.) If I want someone to play guitar well, I must work with someone who plays guitar well. Etc. The final product might not have been made ENTIRELY by me, but we worked together to make something better.
I’ve done a few of these, over the years, where stuff took months to make. It’s a long process, but fun to see it go from nothing to something in that time. I’ve done one or two that were full year investments. (And, I guess you could argue, my radio and zine making lives are multi-year investments, even if the products are more immediate.)
But this one…
Quite a while ago, I contacted a friend I wanted to interview. But instead of an interview, he sent me a script, and an offer: let’s see what we can do.
It took MUCH longer than it should have. It became something that it wasn’t intended to be. And the final product is something that the both of us are quite proud of, even if it got a little delayed.
Very quickly, the crew became much bigger than just the two of us, and as the project grew, we kept it all simple. It was entirely handshake agreements through production; we only brought in paperwork when we realized we might actually finish. It was the first time I turned around a feature-length script in a short period of time, and the first time I ever did anything like casting. The production work was at least 10 times anything I’d every attempted before.
I hit a huge snag, after most of the primary work was done, where I completely ran out of gas. The primary writing was done. All the filming / recording was mostly complete. We were basically down to nose-to-the-grindstone work, which largely meant I had to lock myself in a studio, tune out distractions, and churn. And after all the initial work was done so quickly, I didn’t realize how much energy I’d already burned. I would sit down to edit, stare at a screen, and watch my mind go blank as I tried to process what I needed to do next.
I approached the problem from a number of angles. The Merlin Mann approach. The “Reward System” approach. Halt production on all other creative work, and zero in on this alone. Ignore this project entirely and see if that worked. Nothing was really helping, and as the days began to turn into weeks, and months, I began to worry that, maybe the inspiration would never return. I even began thinking about how I could break the news to my collaborator that I would have to pull out, it was getting so bad.
And then… all of this happened.
I became strangely productive the second the world shut down, and in the last couple months I was finally able to work through the block that I was suffering from. It was like, as the world was shutting down, it took with it the block that was preventing me from moving forward.
Pretty quickly I went from completely stalled out to being essentially done in less than a couple weeks.
The creative process is, and always will be, fascinating to me, and if I understood it more, this post would probably be a lot shorter. I would feel differently if I didn’t like what I made, and I would certainly worry more if I didn’t already have faith in this thing as a completed work. But it has been emotionally complicated to sort out why it took so long to do, and how I will take that knowledge with me into the next thing I make.
For this, I worked with a ton of people, and they made it as good as it is. They made this sound cool, and and brought the level of performance up to make it all work as a whole. When I try to think about all of this outside of it, I’m impressed with everything they did more than anything. Soon, I’ll be able to say a lot more, and I’m sure you can probably guess where all of this is leading to.
But this post is more about trying to unpack having a clear desktop. I have a lot of tiny things on deck, and a few things that will take a little bit of work, and then will be done. But aside from these things, I have no big project looming, outside of cleaning my garage. There’s no work that’s intimidating me, and I have the freedom to make (or not) whatever I want. I’m writing more than I have in ages, and I’m thinking about what could be possible in new ways. I’ve even been approached about a couple of things, too. It’s all very exciting.
I can never fully clear my plate. For some reason, I can always come up with more work to do, and I feel a little weird if there’s “NOTHING” to do. But for now, there is this sort of calm. No immediate deadlines, nothing feels pressing, and I have a job, so I can walk in circle for a while, TCB, and come back to all of this at the end of summer.
But if I could only tell you about some of the ideas I have for my next act. Can I hold out on something that takes 5 years to finish? 10? 20?
Or will I just make an endless string of ‘zines that I can wrap up in a day?