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  • Writer's pictureElana Duffy

Creativity in your work is selling up, not selling out

If you read this blog, chances are that you're a business-minded go-getter like my fellow contributors. You probably also have a decent-sized creative streak. Not me. I'm nearly all creative streak and not so much about the business sense. But I'm lucky enough to work for Present Tense whenever they need a researcher, editor, or niche blog post because they can see the opportunities to add a unique element to their clients’ projects. And while I usually believe that the work I do for them can be a bit outside my wheelhouse of "trying to make it as a successful novelist and/or TV writer," I find I’d recommend similar experience to all my artsy-fartsy types.

Yes, working as a hired pen/keyboard/lens/sculptor/etcetera can be a draining gig. Not as much in a back-straining, hard labor kind of way, more in "wishing you were finishing your rock opera script instead of spending all day punching up Power Point presentations on synergy" kind of way. But those of us with literary, artistic, or theatrical dreams have to do what we can to pay the bills while we work our way towards making it. Not only that, but I've been doing just that for a few years now and have solid evidence that we really aren’t that different after all, and we can even learn from each other.

So for the creative side in all our lives, here are three solid tips to making a task “outside your wheelhouse” feel more comfortable, maybe even great:

Be empathetic. So maybe the presentation, TV commercial, or design you're working on isn't your dream gig. Maybe it isn't even the kind of project you think is all that good of an idea. And, just maybe, it's a nightmarish job that has no merits outside the fact that you're being paid for it. Wherever it falls on that scale, it's still a job that needs to get done. More than that, it's a job that somebody hired you to do because they needed help getting it out there. But this isn't truly your project and the person/people whose it is have reasons for wanting what they want. If you look at it as helping someone with their idea more than a job you have to do, then someday when you hire people to work on your project or story they will have the same attitude.

Work your own way. If you're like most of us creative types, you tend to have little quirks that help you get the juices flowing. Maybe it's a specific food, time of day, or funny hat that you wear that helps you brainstorm best. In my case, for example, I write best with a burrito in arm's reach, a classic film on the TV, and after 10pm. The point is, we're odd ducks when it comes to our processes (for lack of a less clichéd word), but it can feel strange applying your foibles to a more corporate kind of project. The first time I ghostwrote an article on marketing, I spent all day hemming and hawing without finishing a sentence because I was trying to work like a "professional." But once the sun went down, Twelve O’clock High was playing in front of me, and I ordered myself up a number six from Taco Loco, I had 500 words on the page in no time flat. You have to get things done your way, no matter what the subject, client, or context. Even in a 9-5, you can do little things to keep your creative mind active. Tacos are great for lunch, too.

Don't focus on the money; focus on where money can get you. People tend to try and put your work in terms of dollars earned. "Sure, you may not love working on that slideshow deck, but at least you'll have a sweet paycheck coming to you at the end of the job," they'll tell you. But also remember if we prioritized money we probably wouldn't still be trying to become writers, artists, filmmakers, and/or mimes well into our adult lives, even if it’s just our side job or still a pipe dream. And no kid grows up saying “I want to work on a trade floor so I can have a good number on my bank statement,” they say “I want to be rich so I can build a spaceship and go to the moon”. We don’t focus on just having money in the bank, we focus on why it is there. So don't focus on the money to motivate you, focus on what money can mean. More art supplies, more funding for your short film, a new piece of the set for your play, or even a couple of burritos for the next time you get a chance to work on your own projects. Whether it’s a tedious slideshow project or 200 cold calls, the money earned is the means to the end and the project is just the means to those means.

Now for some of my fellow imaginative types, all of this may conjure up those two dreaded words: "selling out." But that's a phrase for teenagers and people who've never had to pay rent in New York City. Not to mention you'd be surprised how doing work for other people can help you with your own goals. Even if it just inspires you to work harder on the latter so you don't have to spend as much time doing the former. Plus, there are bonuses of learning new things you might not have otherwise thought of. I love working for Present Tense, and for their clients. They let me do cool history research stuff, learn about robots, and see the process of book publishing and what success can look like by helping others with their projects.

And I can take all of that, mix that knowledge with my own work, and take that to the bank.

Paul Mooney is a contributing writer to Present Tense LLC. With a background of film, screenwriting, advertising, and a healthy dose of the Marine Corps he has many stories to share. He is a freelance writer and producer living in New York City. You can follow some of his other writing on Task & Purpose, and some of his witticisms on Uniform Stories. Paul is also the writer and director for Vetted, a television comedy highlighting the follies of veterans transitioning in NYC, and edited the first Present Tense ebook.

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