S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. Welcome back to working, I’m your host. June Thomas
S2: and I’m your other host, Isaac Butler,
S3: and I’m yet another host, Karen Hahn.
S1: You heard correctly, all three of us are here today because this is a very special, creative advice episode were the three of us will offer some advice, accept some advice from each other and possibly even critique some advice.
S2: Yes. And one of the reasons why we’re doing this advice centric episode is because next year, in addition to our regular episodes of working, will be releasing some shorter episodes that focus solely on creative wisdom. And we wanted to give listeners a taste of what those episodes might be like. Karen, since you’re our newest host, do you want to tell our listeners more about these new episodes?
S3: I would love to. So the new episodes will be called Working Overtime, a title that Isaac came up with and will release those episodes every other week, starting on January 13th. Like you said, these episodes will be all about creative wisdom from a variety of sources. For example, we might read a book about writing and discuss whatever best practices are in there. A book like on writing by Stephen King would be a good contender. Other times we might offer our own advice to a listener who needs it, but our goal will always be for listeners to walk away with something useful, something that will help them with their creative work.
S1: Yep, and we should see it one more time that these will be additional episodes on top of our usual ones. You’ll still hear regular episodes of working every Sunday, which will typically feature an interview with a creative person and know that we’ve gotten that announcement of the way. Let’s dig in to our first topic for this episode, Isaac. Do you have a piece of creative advice for us to chew on, or will you be seeking advice from Karen and me?
S2: I’m going to start with the question for the room or the Zoom, a question for the Zoom. I am in a phase where it’s time for me to creatively recharge. The book is done. It’s literally being printed as we speak, so there’s nothing I can do there. I’ve finished recording the audiobook or narrating it as the previous day I’m about to wrap up my freelancing for the year. My grades will be in at the end of next week, and so now’s the time to start thinking about and planning how I will creatively recharge in order to stave off or at least dampen the inevitable post-show depression that sets in when you finish a big project. So I am wondering, what do you all do to recharge creatively and how do you keep yourself from getting down in the dumps when the party’s over?
S3: At least on my part, I will say these are both, I think, relatively privileged answers. But whenever I finish a big project or hit like some kind of milestone, I think that tends to keep me from feeling depressed about it is celebrating in some way, whether it’s like having like a small get together with friends, going out for a nice dinner or even like especially, I think with the holidays like managing to travel somewhere. Obviously, right now, that’s not really a viable option. But were we not in the middle of a pandemic? I would say putting yourself in a new environment somehow is usually the way that keeps is usually what keeps me from feeling down in the dumps and feeling like I have had some kind of meaningful break from working.
S1: Mm hmm. This is such a great question and a really important one, I think, and I would love to know if any of our listeners have tips for us on this. You can write to us at working at Slate.com. Some of the productivity nerds that I follow have started to program sabbaticals into their work schedules, and I think that’s a nice way to frame it for yourself. You need a more extended version of the thing we used to do after putting an issue of a print publication to bed, which in my experience at least was to go for a drink and not to talk about the magazine for at least one night. For me, it would be doing something different from whatever I’ve been taking all my time with, and all the better, if it could be something that made me feel like I was spoiling myself. So I would say whatever you think is most fun was the thing that just makes you happiest going to a gallery, playing a couple of video games all the way through a blowout dinner with your wife. Whatever makes you feel happy and takes your mind off work for a couple of days, or you’re lucky for a couple of weeks.
S2: That’s that’s great. That’s great advice. I maybe since we can’t go anywhere during the pandemic, I will book a ticket on, you know, like a Elon Musk rocket to space or
S1: something like that. Don’t do that, Isaac. Don’t do that.
S2: No, it’s not a bad idea. OK, yes, that’s true.
S1: Too far, too far.
S2: Too far, too far. All right. Let’s move on to Karen. Karen, what do you have for us this week?
S3: Well, one advice question or advice topic, I guess that I thought about while preparing for this episode is that I feel like we get a lot of advice on how to do things, especially creative things when we’re younger. For instance, like there’s a classic essay advice where it’s like you need to outline it, have your intro, your middle and then your conclusion, and then you restate your case from the intro in the conclusion. And I it’s not that I don’t necessarily use that kind of advice anymore, but I wonder how well that sort of thing has an age like. I wonder if you guys remember advice that you got, that you were kids that you either immediate or like. This doesn’t work for me or somehow have held on to you all this time.
S1: I wish I had gotten more advice as a kid. I feel like I got hardly any. And partly it was that I was the first person in my family to, like, stay on at school after the age of 15. And I think the knowledge that my life was going to be really different from theirs made my parents reluctant to hand out life tips, which of course, made me crave them all the more. And then the kind of education that I got was very classical, which at least in the case of the school that I went to involve very little actual like tip sharing. We never diagram sentence. We never I never learned that thing about how to outline an essay until I basically saw it on YouTube, like it just wasn’t part of of my formation. I think the closest that I got to all that was a neighbor who was really strict about good manners and was very insistent that I should know all those things. And it’s not that I think that knowing which fork to use for which course or how to address a bishop is all that relevant to creative work.
S3: So it was like that extensive. Yeah.
S2: How do you address a bishop where I hold on God?
S1: I’ve forgotten. I think that’s your excellency. Or is it your grace? Notes your grace? It’s your grace. Okay? Yeah, yeah. But it was the knowledge that rules are there to make everyone feel comfortable. Not so much to make sure that the old guard isn’t upset, but more to reassure the new arrival that they’re doing the right thing. That really plays out in a lot of different areas of life, so maybe that’s the only creative advice that I’ve carried forward, even if it doesn’t really seem that that’s what it is.
S3: I mean, to interject really briefly, I do feel like I don’t think I will ever really need to know how to address a bishop. But having good manners, I do think, is like a very valuable skill to have, like in talking to anybody in a creative field, talking to anybody in your life, not even work related. It’s important to be considerate.
S1: Yeah, totally. And actually, you know, as I think we’re going to be discussing later, we all have to reach out to people. We have to, as you say, we have to interview people. We have to make contact with strangers. These are all things were the again good manners are about using, you know, using forks or saying your grace. They’re about treating people fairly and just making people feel comfortable. And that’s hugely important.
S2: Yeah, I mean, I don’t remember which fork goes with which they want, but that’s definitely like there’s a ritualized shell of it that I think is less useful. But the idea that like, you know you what treating people with respect looks like is different depending on the context. And there are certain codes and you can learn them and then it just gets easier for everyone involved. I think it’s really, really important. You mentioned something else there, actually, that I didn’t have originally as one of my answers to this question, though, but I do think it’s actually really useful if you want to write is learning how to diagram a sentence is actually incredibly useful, like learning how to do and be like,
S2: learning how to break a sentence down into its parts of speech. Because then it makes it like you can learn very easily like what someone sentences are doing if you want to learn how to imitate that and sort of absorb it into your toolbox. I just I want to I want to go to bat for diagramming sentences. But, you know, I got a lot of very practical advice about reading and writing and outlining and note taking that, you know, follow me for the rest of my days and certainly help me get through college. You know, it’s like it was it was a good foundation when you just didn’t feel like working too hard, you know that you could, like, fall back on that. But in some ways, I feel like a lot of the really important advice I got was when I was an actor as a kid at the Studio Theatre in Washington. You were a child actor. I was a child actor. What? You didn’t know that? No. Yeah. Anyway, so. Well, you know, I was the only kid, right? Like, this was an adult professional workspace that happened to have a 12 or 13 or 14 year old kid in it. And the next youngest person was like the follow spot operator, who was a junior in college, who was interning at the theater. And so very quickly it was made clear to me that the expectation was you’re in a room with adult professionals and they have to get their fucking work done and you have to act like they act and behave like they behave and adhere to those norms. And so I just learned a lot about professionalism very early on. That was like super helpful. You know, like you, you have to do your work and take care of your end of things in part. Because otherwise, the whole thing falls apart, but also to be respectful to these people who are also working hard, like you have to know your lines so that you’re seeing partner can do their job or, you know, you have to kind of give up the ego and subsume it to what the production needs. You have to be on time. You know, all all of these sort of, you know, very basic things were drilled into me very young because, you know, you only have a few weeks to put a show on and there’s not enough time for a little kids bullshit in the midst of that. And I feel like even though most of the time my work now is me alone or me with my dog chili, you know, at the small desk set up next to my bedside table. But but I still feel like all that stuff’s really important of like meeting deadlines or, you know, just taking care of your end of stuff and not making other people have to wait on or for you. Because even publishing something in Slate is a complicated machine that involves like five or six people doing various things, and you don’t want them to be waiting on you.
S3: You know, yeah, that’s totally fair. And I completely agree with like, it’s the it’s a group project mentality, right? It’s like that’s why there are so many great project teams out there where it’s like when you’re the only one who does all the work, it’s like it sucks. Like, you want to make sure that if you are in a group, you are pulling your weight. All right. So I think, well, I can’t believe that you’re a child actor and it didn’t know. But anyway, it is true.
S2: You didn’t know that either.
S3: I know I. I can’t I don’t know how it didn’t come up in all the times that we’ve talked, but it’s June’s turn now. Gene, what do you have for us?
S1: OK, so I have a piece of advice that I got from the Agents and Books newsletter, which is written by Kate McKinnon. So she said in publishing, it’s almost impossible to set some goals because you have no control over them. You alone cannot control whether an agent offers you representation, but you can send queries. You cannot control if you get a book deal, but you can do the best editing writing you can do. You cannot control if you hit the list or get picked for a best of. But you can promote your book as best you reasonably can. Making peace with what you can control is also something you can aspire to. So super great, super practical advice, but I think it really resonated with me because I’m one of those people who finds a lot of motivation in setting targets, you know, set number of words written every day, certain number of interviews done in a week. But I’m also aware that it’s possible to lose sight of why you’re tracking things. You know, if an interview requires a lot of preparation, it’s maybe better to do more reading than to meet your goal of two interviews that week. I guess my question to both of you is how you manage goals. Do you find it useful to set goals for yourself? And when do you think targets like this get in the way?
S2: I think goals are really complicated. I think it’s a really complicated thing because it can really help you or to really destroy you. You know, I do think that this was something that someone told me as a young director that you need to have figured out what to you is success. Prior to the show opening. Right? Like what to you would mean this is a success and write it down because it’s easy to get lost in other ideas of success, right? You know, whatever it like, you want to be reviewed by these outlets and that to you as success, whether the review is positive or not, because you can’t control whether the review is positive, right? Or you know you want to sell this many tickets, just whatever it is, and that you write those down and keep those in mind so that once you get lost in the show, you know, once the craziness hits, you don’t get too swept up in it. You actually have already figured out what your goals are. And I do think with now, I never did that, and I should have the reason why I’m saying it. It’s good advice, but I never did it and I and I should have, you know, and I probably need to do that before my book comes out. I do think that it’s useful to keep as the goals, the things that you have some control over. I’m going to finish a chapter of this book in the next two weeks. That’s a goal. And then there’s stuff that’s not under your control, but still requires action on your part, like I am going to place a piece in the New York Times. OK, well, you actually don’t control that because you’re not the editor. But you do have control over like you have to pitch a bunch to make that happen. So to me, actually, I am going to get an agent is a perfectly fine goal because it requires action on your part, whether you reach it or not. But like my book will be, a times notable book of the year is an absurd goal because like, you can’t do anything about that, you’re just setting yourself up to go crazy. And so I do think we need to be careful about the goals we set. But part of the goal being a little outside of your control is OK, if that will motivate you to do things to get closer to it.
S3: Yeah, I mostly agree like it is OK. I think the only tough part or the thing that I think a lot of people have trouble with is accepting that you don’t have any control over the parts that you don’t have control over and then not being upset when that result turns out to be something that you don’t want it to be, which I think is the hardest part with with really any field. It’s having to field rejection and understanding that part of it is not actively your fault like part, especially like, for example, like in pitching you pitch an idea that you think is good to a publication. The editor says No, it’s hard for you to feel like it’s not your fault that the pitch didn’t get taken. In some cases, it may kind of be true. Maybe your pitch isn’t fully fleshed out enough. But in other cases, it’s like they already have a piece like that they’re writing, or it’s just not a movie that they want to cover, or they just don’t cover things from this kind of angle. And being able to understand that even though most of the time you will not get that explanation why and accept that it isn’t totally your fault, I think is the toughest part of that.
S1: Yeah, that requires I mean, it’s clearly good sense, but it requires you to bring a kind of cold calculation to something that’s so wrapped up in emotion and feelings. And, you know, sometimes knowing something and being able to just feel it are different things. But I think the more we can just remind ourselves of what you know, what you’re able to to control and doing the things that you can do. Yeah, yeah, that’s super useful.
S2: One of our goals is to have a couple of AB breaks so that our show continues to be funded and we can keep making it, so let’s take a quick break and we’ll be back with more creative quandaries, maybe a bit of wisdom to. All right, we are back, and it is my turn again. I wanted to play us all a voicemail from actor, writer, director and friend of the podcast Chris Eigenen,
S4: a piece of writing advice that I got. And I don’t know who originally said, I think it might have been Hemingway, but perhaps it was never. And you’re writing day when you finished a chapter or you finished a scene or something like that. Rather finish your writing day when you’re almost finished with the chapter so that when you sit down the next day, you know exactly where you are, you know exactly where you’re headed. You can have a little bit of runway way to sort of prime your day.
S2: So I’m wondering what you all make of this, do you leave your stuff a little unfinished? Does that sound useful? But part of me thinks this might give June hives. You know, because she’s such a planner, I don’t know. What do you what do you all think?
S1: Actually, I totally love this. And no matter how disciplined you are or how well you organize your work, you have to start the day up again with something, and it always takes a while to get back into the swing of things, to kind of reconnect with where you were. So if you know exactly what you’re going to begin with, that would surely save a lot of unnecessary processing. So even though, yes, I think it would be very difficult for me to not finish when I know where it’s going and I’m ready to, like put a big full stop at the end of the paragraph. I’m so persuaded that this is a great idea. I will go as far as to say, I’m going to try this, but do you think, Karen,
S3: I like, can’t do this. If I can finish something, then I will do it. But I guess the unfinished aspect there is like I will finish a very rough draft of what I’m doing. And then tomorrow, the next day, it’ll be coming back to it and then fixing it up, tweaking it to make it work better. But I like being able to conclude something at the end of the day. This is something that I struggle a little bit with as a freelancer, like when I was still in the office, when it hit five o’clock, I was like, I’m done, I’m leaving, even if it’s not done unless it’s like a deadline or something like that. But as a freelancer, you kind of can just keep working and keep working. Luckily, I do try to stop working like between five to six and make sure that I’m not doing any more, quote unquote work for the rest of the day and have some time to recharge. But generally, I like to finish at the end of the day, finish what I’m working on and then at worst, revisited the next day.
S2: You know, I have to say that one thing I’ve always admired about you, Karen, because you know, we’re friends outside of the pod and have them for a few years. Is that you’re like, sort of not precious about the writing process? And in a lot of ways like I do, I feel like I remember there was one time where we were hanging out with a bunch of other critics and they were like, Oh yeah, and then you do this trick to get yourself started or whatever. And you’re like, I just start at the beginning and then I write, until it’s done. Yep, then it’s done, and then I send it in, which is like the least. There’s no there’s no complexity to it in this where that was like, I found very refreshing.
S3: Yeah, very. It’s very workmanlike.
S2: I guess we’ll never it just like you weren’t going to get so involved and in love with, like tricking yourself. It’s like, No, I just I just start and then I work, Yeah.
S3: I mean, I think that it’s a pitfall that you can fall into once you start taking it too seriously. Then, like your writing becomes not fun to read and there’s a lot of not fun writing out there.
S2: So yes, totally totally.
S3: I guess it’s my turn again. So I would like to talk about something that I think a lot of us have experience with, which is what happens when your hobby becomes a job. For instance, I after I graduated college, I didn’t start writing about film and TV right away. I had a bunch of different jobs and then started doing culture criticism like in my free time, like just because I thought it was fun and then it ended up becoming my job. Being a critic definitely like changes the way that people interact with you, where it’s like, Oh, I’m a film critic and it’s media like, Oh, what’s your favorite movie? You’re like one movie I watch right now. What’s your favorite movie? And then like, I’ve had friends ask, like if I can now no longer watch things without having my critic brain on. I don’t think that’s the case, because if a movie is good, then a movie is good. Like it will make you forget about the rest of your life. But I definitely go through like watch burnout where it’s like, I just don’t want to watch anything right now. I want to do something else. I can’t watch something right now. Have either of you had any experience with this kind of thing, like, how do you avoid losing the love that you have for the work that you had in the first place? And how do you rekindle if you do end up kind of burning out?
S1: This was something that I was really worried about when I got a chance to write about TV because TV has always been my favorite medium, really my favorite thing. If I was on the desert island, as long as I had a TV and some connection so that there was something to what, I think I would be pretty happy. But when I did finally get a chance to write about TV, it just made me love it even more because I got to think about it even more. I got to meet more TV writers. I got to spend even more time watching it, and it just made it even better. And I just think that if you really love something, nothing can kill that. Or maybe the interest will fade because interest do fade over the course of our lifetimes. But just because you’re writing about it, that’s not going to kill it. In fact, really, you’re just getting paid for doing something that you love and what could be better than that? What do you think, Isaac?
S2: I feel like I think I already watched things as a critic before I actually got paid to write criticism about them. Maybe I don’t know.
S3: I like difference being like when you’re watching something you can think like, it’s good or bad, which I think maybe you’re thinking of his me. But in terms of like, Ooh, this is the thing that I’m going to write about, like, Oh yeah, totally this way. Like that?
S2: Yeah, I mean, I would say a few things to me that’s like, really enjoyable, whether I’m. Writing going to write about it or not to be like, Oh, this is the interesting thing about it, I’m going to talk about with my friends, you know, like not not a dissimilar thing, but but and to me, I’ve always found criticism to be fundamentally an act of love about the art form and the people who make it, the people who who watch it, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way when you’re ripping something apart.
S3: I don’t think anyone outside of the field of criticism feels that way about criticism, which is one of the things that’s so annoying to me about it. But that’s a different argument anyway.
S2: We should we should talk about that at another at another point. But you know, the part of it that is hard and the part of it that impacts my love for whichever art form it is, is when the choice is taken away, right? Like when you’ve been assigned something and you have to watch it or you are working on a trend piece about something. So you have to watch, you know, every hallmark Christmas movie that came out in the last three years or, well, recently, you know, I adjudicated a literary prize recently, and so I had to read at least a little bit of 200 books, you know, and it’s like, Wow, that’s not how I like to read. I don’t like to do that, you know, and I don’t like to only read things written this year or, you know, whatever it is. And so that’s the part where it just starts to feel like this thing I love. I’ve ruined it because now I don’t get to choose what I do. And so to me, it’s like trying to reinsert Troyzan agency into one’s cultural diet is really the only solution. And so it’s really like, you know, for example, I was reading all these books and then eventually it had to be like, You know what? I’m taking a break for two days. I am only going to read purely for pleasure or not even read whatever it is. You know, it’s like because you could just get so wrapped up in obligation, an assignment that gets terrible, you know, like. And you can feel it. You know, when a TV critic has to watch a new show every week and they’re just gone through a spate of ones that aren’t good and they’re not ones they would have chosen to watch anyway, you know, it starts to enter the pros, right? So so I do think going back and being like, I’m going to watch my favorite movie tonight, like not a thing that I’ve been assigned. I’m just going to watch whatever my favorite my comfort viewing movie is. I’m going to watch that. Or, you know, I think that’s really, really helpful because to me, anyway, it’s the lack of agency that I’m actually getting angry at, not the work of art itself.
S3: Yeah, it’s difficult to express how much I no longer take for granted the ability to just watch something for fun.
S2: Yeah, totally, totally. And I will say that like part of my fun is not ripping things to shreds like critically, but just breaking them apart at being like, Oh, what does work? What doesn’t work? How would you fix this? Like an and I, my wife and I really love doing that whenever we leave a play because we both used to work in theater full time whenever we leave a show. That’s what the subway ride home is about, because that to us is the joy of the experience, right? But at the same time, we chose to see that show. So like, like, we’re choosing all of that and yeah, the ability to just like not be on assignment about something to just sit down and watch it and have whatever experience you have of it is is a really wonderful thing that it’s hard, easy to lose sight of when you’re a full time critic.
S1: I know have a dream eavesdropping situation. I would love to find myself on the seat behind you in an after you’re on your way home from a play. That’s no my wife and
S2: you can just I’ll give you a preview and we’ll say something like I know I always say it could have been ten minutes shorter, but it could have been having it shorter.
S1: I love it. All right now, it’s my turn again, and I want to share something that came up in my interview with Oliver Berkman a little while ago. So he wrote a book about the finite nature of time, but he also spent years writing a productivity column for The Guardian. It had that amazing title. This column will change your life, so you know he knows a thing or two about getting stuff done. And I asked him what he does when he gets stuck, and he showed a quite basic but amazingly practical piece of advice.
S4: When you’re feeling deeply uninspired, you have to somehow recast the work, or at least a bit of the work that you could do in a way that requires no inspiration at all, that it’s almost sort of mechanistic. One interesting way of doing this, I think, is to think in terms of literally physical actions, right? So what’s the next physical thing that I could do and it might be to sort of. Search for a document online and print it out and read it, or it might be sort of take a piece of paper and walk around the backyard to try to come up with the structure for the next part of what I’m writing. But to think about that, so to really choke it down into small chunks, that’s a pretty well-known idea, but also to try to kind of set them those chunks of any sense of like. Writing or, you know, creating art, that’s that’s a disaster for me.
S1: So I’m almost embarrassed by how useful I find that tip, like if you’re just getting nothing done, you’re just staring at the screen, the keyboard, the walls, no words are coming. Just find a way to write something, even if it’s just one sentence. At least you have a sentence now and the streak is broken. Is that something you do? Or do you have any other tips for breaking through that feeling of I just can’t.
S2: June I’m sorry to bring it back to my book once again, but I’m going to do it because so much of it is about the creative process. And I actually learned about the creative process a lot by researching it because it’s about acting right and it’s about, you know, what makes good acting and how can you deliver a good performance reliably? You know, things like that. And so, you know, a lot of that stuff was being made up from scratch by Konstantin Stanislavski in Russia in the 19th century, and he thought a lot about these very issues. And Richard Bullis Lasky, his student who brought those ideas to the United States, was really interested in this idea of physical action and how focusing on the next physical action, like if you’re lost as an actor, it’s like, Well, just what’s the next thing your character is doing? Your character is moving to a table and pouring a glass of water. OK, so just move to the table and pour the glass of water as best as you can, right? And what he was thinking about there is that actually, you know, the body holds memory is right. So undergoing physical actions is a kind of mnemonic device. So your staging in a show and the lines you have to learn and the emotions of the character, they are all reminding you of each other, right? So if you lose track of what your character is doing or the lines, you can just focus on what the body is doing and it will remind you of these other things. And I think there’s something true about that, right? It’s like in some ways, it’s like if you don’t think about it, like, I have to just write one more sentence, but instead, it’s literally like, what is my body doing to write that sentence? OK, I am putting my fingers on the keyboard, and then I’m just going to do it. Or maybe you need to change physically what you’re doing in order to accomplish that goal. Maybe you need to handwrite that sentence verse just to change it up and then get back into the writing. But I do think focusing on the body and focusing on what your body is doing at any given moment is a really, really useful idea that I do not do enough of because it’s so easy to just think of yourself as a brain and a can you know what I mean? That’s what I am. That’s what I yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially because like, look, where we sit here at these desks, especially COVID, you know, all day where we’re, you know, and so it’s just so easy to get so locked up in that and to just remind yourself like, actually, you’re this complicated organism that does all these things can really be freeing and I think could help move you forward.
S3: Thinking about it in that respect makes it more embarrassing for me to have to admit that I am very bad at breaking things down into smaller parts like you. You very nicely complimented me, Isaac, earlier on being pretty simple about my work process. But I feel like sometimes it is to a detriment to me because I feel like sometimes I end up just sort of banging my head against the wall until something happens, rather than taking a step back and sort of breaking it down just my pieces and figuring out what I can do. It’s like maybe a symptom of having being told that I should make like to do lists as a child where it’s like when you make them, it’s like just the task. It’s not necessarily you breaking it down into subtasks, like a recipe. You’re just thinking like, make the cookies. It’s not thinking about, like getting the milk, like mixing these ingredients and putting in the oven, turning on the oven and making sure it’s all on. It’s just make the cookies, which can sometimes seem really daunting. But anyway, it’s a good reminder to me to try to break things down a little bit more.
S1: Yeah, the recipe is a really good kind of comparison point because, yeah, make the cookies. I don’t know how to do that, but if it’s, you know, assemble the ingredients, turn on the oven. Mix things together. That’s much that just feels so much more doable to me. And that’s, you know, we’ve talked in various ways about how it’s weird, but we have to trick ourselves to do things that we’re like basically begging to be allowed to do. Yeah, and that’s one of the tricks that works for me.
S2: So what you’re saying is if, like you got one of Paul Hollywood’s technicals and it was like, make the shortcrust pastry or whatever, you just have a nervous breakdown.
S3: All of those challenges are a complete nonsense to me where it’s like, I don’t know what that is. If Holly was like, Make this pastry you’ve never heard, I’d be like, I can’t do it. I physically can’t do it, which I think is something we don’t think a lot about with Bake Off, where it requires actually quite a lot of baking knowledge before you go into it. None of these people are total baking newbies. Anyway, that’s a different podcast. Turn to you, Meghan, next week for our Great British cooking show podcast. OK, it’s time to take another quick break, but we’ll be right back with more conversations about creative advice.
S2: Hey, listeners, this is a quick reminder that we always want to hear from you. Is there a piece of creative advice that you’d like to share with us? Or maybe you could use some creative advice from us? We would be happy to help. Either way, you can write us at working at Slate.com or even better. Give us a call and leave a message at three zero four nine three three w o r k that is three zero four nine three three eight nine six seven, five and eight if you’re enjoying this episode. Don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts. All right, we are back and it is my term once again, so I wanted to share this advice because it was something that came up in book research, but it didn’t make it into the book. I had to cut it. And this is from a different student of Stanislavski, whose name is if Jenny Vakhtang of. And it’s about the purpose of rehearsal. But I think it’s really applicable to whatever your sort of daily creative work is. OK, so this is a quote here. No rehearsal can be productive unless it provides material for the next rehearsal. It is in the intervals between rehearsal that the creative work of processing the material is carried out in the subconscious. Inspiration is the moment when the subconscious mind has combined the material from previous work and without the participation of the conscious mind, molds everything into a form. And I really love that because I really think it captures this thing about being like deep in a project. Whether you’re researching your writing or whatever that like part of what you’re actually doing and it sort of connects to Chris’s advice earlier is what you’re actually doing is like setting out this beautiful banquet for your mind to do work, you know, to eat it and do some work with it while you’re doing other things, whether it’s sleeping or going on a walk or taking a shower, you know, whatever it is that like, to a certain extent, the work we do actively is to stimulate the work we do passively in our subconscious. And I was just wondering what you all made of that.
S3: I mean, I think it’s something that’s hard not to think about recently, especially with all the discussion around like Bad Art Friend, because it’s like, I don’t think any of us are like, Oh my friends, so kooky. I’m going to like, I only hang out with them to write about them. It’s just like forms later on. You’re like, Oh, I have a friend who sort of behave like that. It’s sort of like when actors like do interviews and they’re like, I based some of the mannerisms off of people, friends that I have who are sort of like this where it’s not that you were friends with them initially because you thought they would aid your work. It’s just it. It’s all these parts of your life that coalesce into something like you just keep growing throughout life. This is maybe too simplistic a way of looking at it, but everything that you do informs everything that happens after that, you know? Does that make sense?
S1: Yeah, absolutely. Totally. Yeah. And I think I know the experience that Washington love is despite the ongoing Mustang of you can never think of. Yes, is describing where it’s almost as if your subconscious is coming up with ideas that your conscious mind has no responsibility for. I’ve really only been able to take advantage of that when there was like a decent interval between coming up with an idea for a piece and having to deliver it. And I guess theater is a particularly rigid form of art in that regard. Like certainly more rigid than writing. You have a schedule for when you’re going to rehearse, you know, and you’ll be getting input from the director when you might get new pages of. It’s a new work. Like with writing or composing or maybe even writing code or the creative things, there’s less structure. So I’m all for anything that can bring some focus to that project. I’ve also tried a technique called sleep thinking I think the name says it all to
S2: with the name does not say at all. What is sleep thinking?
S1: Sleep thinking? I guess it’s a new age thing where you are. You have a question that’s bothering you. It could be something banal, like where the hell did I put that key? Or Where did I put that $500 that I’m sure I own somewhere? I had it somewhere that’s never happened to me, but
S3: like I was gonna say, that’s a lot of money.
S1: It’s like other money. So, you know, it can be as banal as a literal question Where is this object? And so you, you you set an intention before you go to sleep and you wake up, theoretically, at least with the answer in front of your eyes. And for something banal like that, you got kind of it’s a very clear whether it works or not. Did you remember where the key was? Yes. Maybe it worked. No. Then it did. Definitely didn’t. But I also think like if you are just pondering, you know, a creative question, then it is is really about setting intention that it’s in the back of your mind. It’s just kind of playing across your active brain at some points. But if you don’t set the question, you definitely won’t get the answer. Kind of thing is that what do you mean, do you think, am I got the right, the right stream
S2: to 30 percent? I mean, I think he’s saying that one thing that I think he’s saying here is that just like part of the creative process is actually outside your control. Like, it’s not in the conscious mind. You can’t actively think your way out of every creative problem you’re having. Which I find really helpful because I don’t know about you all, but I have the tendency when I’m having a creative problem, just be like, I will just sit here and work at it, work whatever working means, usually getting angry at myself until the solution emerges. And what he’s actually saying, you know, his response is actually like. No, no, no, the most useful thing you could do right now is to take a break and walk your dog, like just do some things that your brain can so that your mind can do its own work that actually doesn’t involve you on some level. And I find that really refreshing because I do feel like over the process of working on this book and all the other stuff I’ve had to do over the past couple of years, the value of taking breaks, which is something I think is, you know, hyper productive Americans were taught to be ashamed of, but that actually the value of taking breaks is very high.
S3: I wish American culture had more breaks in it. Like every time we make jokes about, like all other countries having built in like shorter days, longer breaks while more vacation, it’s like they’re doing fine. Why? Yes, yes, we do this.
S1: Exactly, exactly. And I was just about to say, Karen, I’m slightly embarrassed about what I was about to say, which was, you know, one of, I think, one of the positive aspects of remote working at the beginning, especially, we were actually encouraged to go out and take a walk. And like, it was crazy that we previously, I guess by extension, had been encouraged to sit there from nine a.m. to 5:30, at the very least. And, you know, craziness, of course, it’s good to take breaks. Of course it is, and probably more than once a day if we’re spending the rest of our time, just sit and stare in a screen.
S3: Yeah, I think a lot about there’s a company that I worked for those nine or six and they’re just a vacation for the longer workday was like, Oh, well, we give you an hour for lunch. So and it was like, No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Like that hour is in the eight hour workday. Like, it’s not extra time that we get and nobody would take it anyway because you’re just sitting at your desk. What are you going to do anyway? Yeah.
S2: Well, Karen, actually, I think you have our next question, right?
S3: I do, indeed. I wanted to talk with you guys about something that I only really encountered recently, like being in online media. A lot of the work has been like trying to get stuff out pretty quickly. Having like a 1000 word piece done every day. But in working on my book, like the approaches that I took when I was writing these shorter pieces like Just don’t work anymore. I like I have to find different ways of working on this, which has been fun to figure out, like what works for a short project versus a long project. I’m curious if either of you guys have any tips about working on projects of different lengths, like do you have any creative advice that specific to a short versus a long project? Also, I should say, I do want to talk more about my book, but it hasn’t been officially announced yet, so I can’t go into more detail. But rest assured, I feel like I have said this on a previous working episode that I will talk nonstop about my book once I am allowed to. But rest assured you will know more in the future to know.
S1: Good to know. OK. So I think I’m going to be the first to answer here because I want to get in our old friend John King, because I find the idea of lung projects absolutely overwhelming. I absolutely freeze when I’m faced with something big and epic because it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger with every second that passes, at least in my head. So I always have to think of, you know, a chapter is just a series of segments are segments, is a series of ideas. And I guess in a way, you know, a series of sentences and a series of letters. And that makes things much less intimidating for me. It also helps with the flow, like the more you can see things as part of something that’s connected to what comes before and what comes after. And you can kind of feel the momentum, the better. Almost certainly, the work will be certainly more compelling, but that’s really hard to visualize unless you can see those constituent elements. What do you think, Isaac?
S2: Yeah, I mean, I think that when you’re doing the marathon of a longer project and really a book is a series of marathons, there’s like getting to the end of the first draft. Is one marathon getting to the end of the copy at it, you know, it really is. It’s not sprints at all, right? Breaking it down into its constituent parts is absolutely the most useful thing that you can do. But it’s worth saying that, you know the writing itself is breaking it down into constituent parts of chapters made up of paragraphs. A paragraph is made up of sentences. You know you’re going to outline whatever it is, but also the creative process itself can be broken up into a series of, you know, bits, a series of things that you can then sort of move linearly through, whether it’s like, OK, these are the things I have to do for research, and then I have to watch these movies and then I have to outline the chapter and then I have to write the chapter, you know? And so you’re constantly giving yourself, well, there’s a couple of things that go on there. One is you’re constantly achieving something which is kind of great, you know, like you’re constantly achieving a bunch of little. Things, which gives you nice little bursts of I don’t know, is it serotonin or dopamine or whatever? You know, it’s sort of like a side questing in videogames. It’s sort of like, you know, you got the look, for
S3: instance, the longer version of The Witcher three.
S2: Exactly. Exactly, exactly. You know, and sometimes you and Jennifer need to go meta jin who can tell you whether your love is real or not. Anyway, so classic. Not only is it doing that, but also when you think about like the whole book or the whole play or the whole whatever, it is completely overwhelming. But if you can just focus on the small thing in front of you and then the next small thing in front of you and then the next small thing in front of you, that’s so much more accomplishable and it’s so much better to like just be able to carve through that now. You also have to create time to zoom out and look at the whole thing to make sure you’re making the progress you need to make, right? But in the moment when you’re sitting down at your desk, just focusing on the immediate task ahead of you, I think is really, really super helpful. The other thing is like, you’re not going to love it every day, you know what I mean? Like, there was a part writing my book where I was like, Oh, this is a job, and I am mad at my boss right now, and I am also my boss. You know, like, you’re not going to love it every day, and that is OK. But finding ways to enjoy it and to keep yourself entertained, whether it’s with the writing itself or just how you’re approaching your process, I think is really useful. I changed up the way I wrote the book multiple times over the course of it because I was just getting bored of the way I was, was writing, you know, or like I remember an interview with, I think it was David Foster Wallace who was talking about how, you know, he had to keep moving where he wrote, because eventually, like the procrastinator he urge would take over. And so, you know, for that interview, he was like, Right now I’m writing on the floor of a children’s section of my local library or, you know, whatever it is just to like, change the environment. I mean, all that stuff’s harder to do during COVID, but like finding ways to reinvigorate it and make it enjoyable. Again, it is important because it is a long process.
S3: I completely agree. OK, now it’s time for our final question or piece of wisdom. June What should we end on?
S1: OK, I’d like to end on a question that we sometimes ask our guests. It comes up all the time for obvious reasons. The question is, what do you do to avoid burnout?
S2: All right, June, I’m going to push back at this question because I do not think burnout is avoidable unless you’re wealthy. I just don’t think it’s avoidable unless you’re wealthy. I don’t
S3: agree. Yeah, yeah.
S2: We treat burnout as some kind of failure on our part, as opposed to a natural response to the demands of being a creative person and a freelancer in late capitalism where we all have to produce more and more and more for less and less and less money. I am working for jobs at any given point. I am writing books, I’m writing freelance, I’m teaching and I have this podcast. I have a seven year old child. My wife has a very demanding job. We’re limping till the end of the year, and that’s true. Every year December comes and I’m like, Why do I feel like I got hit by a truck? And I’m like, barely limping to the end of the year? Except this year I realized I feel that every year. So I think the trick is actually to be kind to yourself when you are burnt out. You have to pace yourself to avoid burnout. Of course, sometimes you can’t do that. And so when it happens, you just have to be kind to yourself to recognize that that’s what’s going on and that you cannot actually force yourself through it. You have to create space and time to take care of yourself. And if you have a deadline, for example, to record a holiday episode while you’re feeling really burnt out, then you know, my practical advice is to schedule something that you can look forward to a vacation, a party concert, tickets to something in the future and be like, OK, when I’m done with this, on the other side, is this other thing, and I’m really looking forward to that. That’s that’s my advice.
S3: I completely agree, and I think that’s kind of the problem, right? Where it’s like to not get burnt out. The solution generally seems to be don’t do the work that burnt you out for a while, which is really something that you can only do if for that time you can afford to not be making money, which for a lot of us is not true. And especially in the last year and a half, I feel like I’ve had more and more conversations with my friends and peers where it’s been like. Have I just been burnt out for the last three years, which I think is a true of all of us, like, it’s not that you hit Bruno and then you have to do something like you can hit it and just stay in that state, which I think a lot of us have because the demands of the jobs that we have, I mean that taking a vacation is not easy, for example, like when you have paid time, this is just getting it to, like, support your union speeches. But like, like if you have paid time off, then the game is where can I take these days in a way that won’t later mean that I can’t do something else? Mm-Hmm. For example, most of the time you’re going to be traveling in Christmas and New Year. If that’s where all your vacation days are going, then you can’t use them throughout the entire rest of the year, at least not in a meaningful way. That’s not just like I took one day for a longer weekend. If you have unlimited paid time off, then that system, even for me, at least when I was in it was worse because it means I can theoretically take any amount of days off. But I have to account for everyone else is working around me. The fact that, like managers need to know that in the schedule, they need to find someone to cover you. And it’s just not easy to find a break unless you quit your job. And even then, once you’ve quit, it’s like, Oh, I need to find something else to help me live my life. Would I not realizing this is not an answer to the question How do you avoid burnout? It’s just we’re all burnt out and we all hate it.
S1: Yeah, absolutely. I agree with you both. I guess. Yet a void is probably the wrong term. I guess minimize kind of move out of those or ameliorate. Oh no.
S3: So make clear we don’t have a problem with your question. It’s just like no culture.
S2: Oh, I have a problem. Well, one thing I do think is, you know, particularly if you’re a freelancer with a lot of different kinds of work is just moving off. One to the other does help to something like taking breaks and everything. But like, you know, like my Thursday is spent working on this podcast, you know, like, that’s then when I go back to writing or whatever, I can at least feel a little refreshed because it’s using different muscles. Yeah.
S1: That’s a great tip to end on, we hope you’ve enjoyed the show. If you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcast. That way, you’ll never miss an episode.
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S3: Thank you so much to our fabulous producer Kathmandu’s, who does more for us than you will ever know. We’ll be back next week where we’ll discuss our creative New Year’s resolutions for 2022. Until then, get back to work.