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The Secret Project.

It's mystery shrouds it's brilliance. It's power grows in obscurity. Unknown to any but it's original creator, it lies in silence, waiting for the moment to strike out on an unsuspecting but overly grateful public (i.e., the Great Unwashed).

What is this Secret Project?

Its that thing you're working on late at night or early in the morning. (Or if you're particularly dedicated, during lunch!). It could be a screenplay. Or a short film. Or an idea for a series. Or maybe even something that hasn't even been invented yet. Whatever it is, it's yours – its a secret – and no one will ever see it until you're ready to reveal it's magnificence.

I stole the title of this post from here. I like the whole article (especially the part about always designing the logo first), and it pretty much expresses the way I feel about my own creative endeavors. Except that he says that it's not the end that matters to him. I'm probably too young to undertand this, having only started (not finished, that's kinda the way these things go) a couple of secret projects myself, but I really REALLY want to see this project of mine finished. There's a lot of satisfaction you can take from completing something and saying "I did that."

But, there is one big problem with secret projects, like Jim mentions:

… eventually it will be unleashed onto the public. Once every word, every design, every last nuance has been worked out to your satisfaction. Once you've copyrighted it and protected your master work from being stolen by anyone else (This is the another reason for keeping your project secret – you've got mounds and mounds of paranoia that someone might "steal" your brilliant idea (silly, once you realize that everything has already been done anyways). Only once you're convinced that your baby can defend itself will you allow it to leave.

What happens, is you get so trapped into keepin your project secret, that you do ALL the work without any input or influence from others. And you get exhausted. Burned out. After a while, you wonder how in the world you were able to delude yourself into thinking you'd be able to pull off such an undertaking by yourself. And then you start to criticize your idea, wondering why you ever thought it was worthwhile.

I'm convinced that this problem is a direct result of cutting yourself off from the constructive criticism of those you have around you. Let me elaborate:

I was in architecture school for a while, and one of the most important things in an architecture education (any creative education really) is the criticism you recieve from your instructor and your peers. You don't have to agree with the things others say about your work, but listening to them allows you to view it from another point of view. The most valuable thing you can learn in trying to finish a secret project, is to be able to handle constructive criticism. But that's the problem isn't it? How can you subject your idea to criticism, and still keep it a secret?

I have two parts to what I think is the solution:

1) Let a couple people see what your working on. Develop relationships with other creative people whose opinions you respect. Createan A-Team of insiders and get feedback from them. Tell them to be as honest as they can. And frank. Beating around the bush is a waste of time, so if they've got someting negative to say, tell them to just be out with it.

Learn to seperate criticism of your work from that of yourself. When someone is making a negative remark about something you've done, they're not trying to take a jab at you. They're giving you valuable feedback. You don't have to agree, you don't have to take their advice, but considering it -actually weighing their suggestion on it merits- is the best way to view your project with a fresh perspective.

2) Surround yourself with things that inspire you. Bookmark the webpages of artists (writers, photographers, illustrators, web designers, anyone) you admire. Keep a morgue (see the second paragraph of that article) of things that got your attention.

Seek out other creatives, in fields different from your own. One of the most inspiring things happened to me the other weekend. I ran into a buddy of mine from the architecture program a couple months ago, and we told each other we oughta get together sometime. We promptly didn't. After a couple of months went by, I finally looked the guy up in the phone book, and left a message on his machine. After another couple of weeks he got back ot me. We scheduled a saturday afternoon dinner at his place for a couple more weeks down the road. By now it ought to be obvious that the both of us were pretty busy.

When the designated day finally arrived, my friend and his wife served a wonderful dinner of dutch-oven cooked chicken and potatoes, followed by a great pinneapple upside-down cake. During the meal I mentioned that I was writing a screenplay, and that caught my friend's wife's attention. Apparently, she'd recently finished writing a novel. I could only gasp at the magnitude of that kind of undertaking. This woman has two children under 4 year old, and yet in spite of all the mothering involved in seeing to these kids, she's managed to find the time to write an entire novel.

But wait, there's more:

After dinner, we moved out into the living room to talk and play with the kids. In the corner was one of the most unique chairs I'd ever seen. I asked where it came from, and my buddy answered that he built it. Only he didn't just build it, he designed it. So this guy, a student in the Master's architecture program, with a 40 hour a week job, and a wife and kids to pay attention to, was able to somehow design and build one of the coolest chairs ever to grace a lining room floor. He then showed me a bedside table that he designed and built, and I swear, the thing could probably sell for at least $800 in some upscale furniture store. His wife told me he's got a writing desk out in the shed he's working on.


Keep in touch with people like that.

And keep your secret project moving.


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