Creativity Tip: A Little Something On the Side

As I’ve written before, creativity requires both both sthira and sukha, two concepts from yoga.

Sthira is discipline, determination, habit, while sukha represents joy, ease, daydreaming, flow, inspiration.

If sthira is the habit of working—whether that’s a wordcount or a time limit—sukha is about welcoming the unexpected, about playfulness and fun.

We can’t wait around for the unexpected, and much less for inspiration. Like lightning, it comes when it comes. Creating involves perspiration, another characteristic of sthira. But we also have to breathe in, to play.

A side project can be a shortcut to engage both sukha and sthira.

A side project isn’t part of our main project. It could be in a completely different medium, like visual if one is a writer, or it could represent a shift in tone, comics instead of oil paintings, or it could require a different approach, such as making a collection.

Artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon’s stunning 2010 A Collection A Day is an inspiring side project. She posted a photo or drawing of a collection every day on her blog.

What makes a project a side project?

According to this great piece:

  • Low risk. Our income doesn’t depend on it.
  • Low pressure. No deadline.
  • Love. We enjoy it.

There is final product, which makes it different from a creative hobby.

So we’re back to…

Sthira: we really need to complete it.

Sukha: we have fun.

Side projects become super-charged when they involve experimentation. Trying something new. New things can be uncomfortable, which makes them sthira.

Side projects go corporate

Tech and design businesses, like Hewlett Packard, 3M, and Google have formal programs to encourage side projects.

We’ve all heard about Google’s 20% time policy, but 3M already had a 15% program in 1948: that’s where we got Post-Its.

Not surprisingly, such programs don’t just lead to new products, but to a happier workforce. (Remember: fun.)

When is it risky to take on a side project?

Cartoonist and storyteller Jessica Abel points out the danger of having an overabundance of projects.

Most of us create in the time left over from a day job and our families, between getting to the gym to exercise and seeing our friends. If we don’t define a single primary goal, it is all too easy to fritter away our energy and never carry any of our dreams to completion.

Needless to say, this is discouraging. Finishing is key: not just for our projects but for our identities as creators.

This is why a side project has to be on the side and it has to result in a product. It’s also why it has to be fun.

What next?

Sometimes side projects become your main project, like starting to write a novel when you’re an oceanographer

This year I’ve taken on The River Project, which combines my love of walking and photography, and my craving to be near large bodies of water. When I first considered taking a daily picture of the Hudson, it seemed impossible because of my frequent travel.

Then I remembered that I can try to find the rivers wherever I go.

Divining for water—running water, a stream—what better metaphor for the creative life?

The River Project, creativity

What about you?

Do you have a side project? What is it? How has it helped with your creative flow?

4 thoughts on “Creativity Tip: A Little Something On the Side

  1. I can’t tell you how perfect this article was for me in this moment. I am enjoying a course this semester I chose to take, on the side. It was as though your words described exactly what I am experiencing, yet deeper and more vivid. Thank you for this insight. Also, we are to bring in a word next week to “stump’ the professor…..right away I smiled when I saw your words, sthira and sukha. I’m going to use one of them.

    1. So thrilled that the article spoke to you, Charlotte. Sthira and sukha are Sanskrit words. Let me know if your professor knows them. 🙂

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