102 - Knowing what a project isn't


Hello and welcome to The Spark & The Art creativity podcast. Thank you for subscribing to our weekly podcast, where we alternate between interviews with creative folks from all different career levels and insight and inspiration episodes. All with the intention you’ll get what you need to get your creative projects started and, more importantly, finished.

I’m your host Tucker and this week we're going to talk about knowing what a project isn't.

When people ask you what you're working on it's often easy to tell them. "It's a graphic novel about a dragon and her pet spoon", "it's a triptych of paintings depicting the stages of digestion" or "it's a documentary web series exploring pizza toppings".

In our interview with composer Alec Harrison he describes using a ‘what it isn’t’ technique when working with film makers to find out what kind of project he’s working on. It’s Alec’s job to find out exactly the director needs for their film but often they’ve been stuck in production mode for so long they may lose sight of what it takes to describe a project to a new comer. They know everything their project is down to the second. So Alec asks the director what the project isn’t. 

Let’s go back to the director of the pizza toppings project let's put some isn'ts around it. It isn't about north american toppings. It isn't serious. And it isn't about everyday toppings. So the music will be whimsical, worldly and have a sense of celebration to it. Good job now there is a direction to go in.  

So that may not have been the best example but these kind of constraints can be fantastic for getting a project going or getting one past stuck and onto finished. I once read a book about writing for animation and the advice they gave was if you are stuck deciding if your story is in a world full of dogs or a world full of cats just choose one and move on until it doesn’t work and come back to the other. It’s most likely not that important a detail if you are waffling about it. So instead of asking “Why is this world filled with dogs?" ask “why isn’t this world filled with cats?” you’ll get different answers.

I spent the several years purposely not writing love songs. So when I’d be writing a song and started to add a romantic relationship I’d remind myself “This isn’t a love song.” A couple examples of this are on my CD the song Born To The World tells the story of the singer explaining that they are born to their town. They are born to this simple home life. While the listener is assumed to be a world traveller out in the world living a different kind of life. It could have been a love story of the singer explaining why they can’t be with the other person even though they are madly in love “I was born to this town like you were born to the world.” But I always felt like it was too easy to typical to add the love song aspect to it. If people read that story into the song that’s fantastic all songs take on their own story once they bounce around in the listeners head anyway. But I didn’t want to clearly spell out a love story. I did eventually write songs about love but I went a long time very purposefully saying “this isn’t a love song.” may I should just write a song called “This isn’t a love song.” I wonder what it would be about.

I even had to put some isn’ts around the podcast to get it started. It isn’t just and interview show. It isn’t just about professionals. It isn’t meant to be a business. It isn’t meant to give actionable tips and promise results in 90 days. It isn’t about pizza toppings or cats. 

Here’s where you get to do some thinking

  • Are you stuck in a project because you don’t quite know what it is?
  • Do you feel in a rut because you are doing the same things again and again?
  • What would happen if you said what a project wasn’t going to be when you started? 
  • If you can think of three things you want your project to be can you also think of three things you don’t want it to be?
  • Do you have someone you trust who can lovingly tell you what your project isn’t?
  • Can you truthfully tell yourself “What this isn’t is … working.” and move onto a new project? 

If you know someone who is making a documentary web series about pizza toppings I’d love it if you shared this episode with them because what are the chances of that and it would freak them out completely. Or if you just thought of someone you know who could use a little help figuring out what things aren’t the easiest way to share this episode with them is to send the url TheSparkAndTheArt.com/102 the hardest way is to send it to them as a text message transcribed in emojis. 

You know I had a few iTunes reviews all in a row the other day and we jumped up into the top 30 Design shows. So reviews really do help. I still don’t know how but Apple seems to like it when they are happening so other than sharing the show a really easy way to make sure the show gets found and help others is to to the TheSparkAndTheArt.com/iTunes and leave an honest rating and review.

Here is one from CM in the US.

"Tucker is thorough and funny in his podcast. I listened to episode 85 “Creative Habits, Creative Rituals” and it gave me some really great ideas on how to ‘summon the creative dragon’ as he says. He had some good tips that I can’t wait to implement”

Thanks CM I really hope it works for you and because of your review we bumped up in the charts. 

Thanks for listening and remember: You won’t the the art without the work and you won’t do the work without the spark.