The handy thing about a 9 to 5 job is that it’s a perfect excuse to not do the thing that you’d supposedly rather be doing. Sure, we all say we’d rather be pursuing our passion projects, but the actual nuts and bolts of that pursuit are more complicated because it involves motivating yourself to sit down and actually do work. That’s especially difficult after a full day of doing work for somebody else, especially with Netflix right there calling your name.
For me, getting any appreciable work done on my scripts during the workweek was a lot like getting pandas to mate. I mean, I guess it wasn’tthat much like it because at no point did large Asian bears fuck in my apartment. But much in the same way that it takes a very specific and carefully controlled set of conditions to conceive a baby panda, it also takes considerable effort to get me to be willing to write anything of my own after getting home from a day of writing things for The Man. I could usually count on guilt tripping myself into working on one of my scripts one or two times a week – and whenever I did I’d be battling a self-congratulatory voice in my head the whole time:
“Woah, look at all the progress you’ve made tonight! That’s almost half a page – which is an awful lot to write after spending the whole day at work. You need to pace yourself, champion; why not hang up the spurs for the night and fire up your PS4?”
That whole “pace yourself” logic doesn’t make a lot of sense when it’s applied to one of your passion projects – “You better pace yourself; God forbid you should achieve all of your dreams at once or something!” And yet, I kept listening to it, and my scripts ground along at the pace of approximately one page per week. I've managed to convince myself that I’d be a prolific and energetic writer were it not for this lousy job sapping all of my creative energies and holding me back. But now I've been given an opportunity to find out if that's really true or not.
Last week at work I found out that the open ended full time freelance job I’d been doing for the past eight months had just gotten a lot less open ended, and Friday wound up being my last day at the office for the foreseeable future. As of this Monday I have returned to funemployment’s welcoming embrace; another Summer of George is upon us. But I’ve resolved to do things differently this time around.
I treated my last stretch of unemployment as sort of a social experiment designed to test the human capacity for leisure. I was a fearless laziness pioneer determined to find out just how much sleep the human body could tolerate, how long and how deeply a man could immerse himself inGrand Theft Auto V, how much peanut butter and Baja Fresh my system could tolerate.
While many of my high school classmates had begun raising children, I on the other hand nearly became nocturnal over the course of a 13 month stretch of funemployment – going to bed at 4:00 AM, sometimes not getting out of bed until 2:00 PM, and writing absolutely zero new scripts in the time between. I reached something resembling Total Leisure and found that it was a pretty hollow achievement – waking up knowing that I had absolutely nothing to do all day besides feed myself started to become less freeing and more depressing. When I landed another 9 to 5 job it was practically an intervention; now that I’ve lost it I’d just as soon not repeat that whole experience.
I’ve heard a few stories about people who quit their jobs to work on their passion project full time, waking up early, taking half an hour for lunch, grinding through until 5 or 6 at night, every day. The story ends with this yuppie folk hero saying something ruggedly individualistic enough to be in a commercial for designer jeans, like: “I was willing to do that every day for the man – why wouldn’t I do it for myself?”
I always wondered where I’d be in life if I’d had that attitude the last time I was unemployed. How much good work could I have produced if I’d spent the better part of a year devoting five – hell, three – full days a week to working on the thing I wanted to do? How much closer would I be? Close enough to never have to write “CUT TO an exciting montage of gameplay footage” again?
Raymond Chandler had a really elegant system for motivating himself to write, wherein he’d set aside a period of time in each day where he had to abide by two rules:
1) You don’t have to write.
2) But you can’t do anything else.
This past week I’ve been waking up at 9:00 every day so I can practice Raymond Chandler’s system. My PS4 stays off, as does my WiFi, leaving me to spend extended periods of time sitting in front of an open FinalDraft document either writing or staring at my ceiling. Sometimes I take a long lunch, and on Friday I knocked off a little early, but already I’m taking this way more seriously than any job I’ve ever had.
We’ll see how sustainable this is. I was able to stay motivated for this first week, but it’s always easy to motivate yourself to do something new and interesting for seven days. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up before falling victim to the siren song of Total Leisure again – so I guess I need to finish a script and get famous before that happens.