I have a friend who wants to draw. She’d love to be an animator, or create graphic novels. The problem is she hasn’t drawn anything yet.
She’s aware of this. She’s exasperated. She has the desire. She is talented. She has great ideas. She just can’t seem to get anything done.
The other night we talked about it. Motivational funk is actually quite common. Every craft feels it, even sound pros.
Have you been in this situation? Would you like to record more sound effects, but can’t find the time? Do you want to start building a sound library but just can’t seem to get going? Or perhaps your sound blog’s publishing schedule is trickling away.
I’ve been there. I’ve stalled. I’ve bailed. I’ve lost focus.
The good news is that there are nine quick fixes to beat motivational funk. They’re simple. They’re easy.
So, in today’s post I’ll share why motivational funk happens, and nine ideas that help you get out there recording more sound effects.
Two Reasons Why It’s Hard to Get Things Done
You have great ideas.
Perhaps you have a novel concept for a multi-microphone shoot. Maybe you have an idea for a fresh sound library. Right now, though, the project is merely an idea. Maybe it has been for months, or years. Is this a problem because you’re not creative?
No. It’s not a matter of expertise. Talent is overrated, as far as actually delivering work is concerned. What the issue, then?
It doesn’t matter if you sketch, blog, record sound effects, or knit. The problem is the same:
- It’s hard to get started.
- It’s hard to keep going.
Everyone in any craft has experienced this at some point. And, while craftspeople use creative tools, the solution doesn’t have much to do with creativity. That’s different. I wrote about kickstarting your creativity in an earlier post. That’s about finding ideas.
Instead, this problem has nothing to do with creativity. It’s about translating those ideas into action. It’s about beginning and persisting.
Neither are easy. This is incredibly frustrating. Identifying why seems impossible. Finding a solution is elusive.
Why does this happen?
Why Motivational Funk Occurs
There’s a huge emphasis on productivity in our society. Often our worth is fused with how many tracks we cut, and how fast we do it.
Productivity isn’t bad, of course. It’s how things get done. However, it creates problems with field recordists and sound editors. Why?
Our profession is a craft. Field recording and editing are framed by precise practices, but only become fulfilling when creativity is applied. What does this mean?
It means that it’s hard to create your best work on demand. Productivity doesn’t mesh easily with creativity. The result is that the duty to provide predictable results battles with creativity’s need for free, unrestricted craft. Add creative guilt or exasperation to that, and projects can be churn in quicksand forever.
Any sound work involves complicated, protracted effort. It makes sense: it’s a profession that involves exacting measurements when recording, and detailed alignment when cutting. It takes 8 to 10 times the duration of any sound effect to bring it from conception to a fan’s ears. I explained in my e-Book, Field Recording: From Research to Wrap that the recording process involves no less than 5 steps: research, scouting, pre-shoot, shooting, and post-shoot.
And what if you want to share your work? Selling Creative Sound explains that to share sound well you need to mould a bulletproof sound library, then research, contact, negotiate, and sign only the best partners.
The point is that this all takes time and focus. And with every delay, a project’s focus risks evaporating. The reason I wrote a 30-day quick-start guide for each of book was to help speed sidestep this risk.
Don’t worry, though. This isn’t fatal. In fact, field recordists and sound designers have powerful tricks that fix these problems. I’ll share these in a moment.
First, let’s look at six types of motivational funk. Then we’ll see how to dodge them.
6 Types of Motivational Funk
Why do we abandon projects?
- Stuck in the “idea phase.” Ideas are seductive. Brainstorming is energizing. But exciting plans cooked up with friends at the pub often seem less thrilling the next morning. This is the classic case of liking the idea, but dreading the work.
- Distractions. Text messages, phone calls, social media, email, YouTube, blogs. Diversions are endless. They’re easy to access. Let’s face it, they’re far more fun than doing the work. They’re instantly gratifying, after all. Creating the 489th whoosh in a 5K sound library? Not so much.
- Consistent output. Any project worth completing needs time and effort. It takes stamina. Real life responsibilities intrude. Distractions lure us. Maybe you clocked 60 hours at the studio this week. Working the weekend on your own project isn’t appealing now.
- Fear of success. Every victory brings a responsibility to build upon it. Each success carries a correspondingly larger risk of failure. Why not avoid it all? If you don’t try, you can’t fail, after all. This mentality is so common that it has a name: self-handicapping.
- Self-doubt. Some creators are convinced of their ability. They laugh at criticism. These people are the exception. “The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt,” wrote Sylvia Plath. That’s incredibly common. Is our work authentic? Is it true to our vision? Will people respond to it? Is it any good? Each of these thoughts can kill a project. I wrote about these perfection pitfalls last year.
- External motivation. School deadlines, broadcast delivery windows, and publishing dates demand we get work done. Why? There’s a consequence to inaction. In fact, some people work best under pressure. There’s one major problem with this: it’s not self sustaining for craftwork. Why? When these pressures are removed, nothing happens. There’s no incentive to create. Procrastination is closely linked with this.
Have you experienced any of these? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. They happen easily. I’ve felt every one of them.
Fine, but how do you grasp that drifting idea, capture it, and guide it into a completed project?
9 Ways to Beat Motivational Funk
The solution depends two things: knowing how you work best, and using tricks to get work done. Here are ideas:
Find your rhythm. No two creators work the same. I get up at 0500, work alone, and continue without interruption until about noon. That works for me. Your system may be different. You may work better with cohorts, or in crowds. Discover your working rhythm and demand it.
Deny yourself. Do you find yourself wandering to Facebook? Planning a quick peek that turns into endless hours of browsing? Sometimes it’s best to deny temptations. Turn off social media alerts. Use extensions like Chrome’s StayFocusd to block tempting websites. Bury your mobile in your sock drawer. Without temptation you’ll get more work done.
Don’t mulitask. Related to the previous point. Multitasking doesn’t work. Avoid.
Focus on the work, not the tools. You may find yourself delaying a project waiting for the perfect plug-in, or better microphone. Yes, they may improve your work slightly. However, delaying work is a far greater threat to your project than the benefit new tools may provide.
Split the work. Having trouble suiting up to record another session of cafe crowds? Does work seem boring? Do the 50 takes you have scheduled seem overwhelming? Divide the work. Do 25 instead. This isn’t an excuse to do poor work. Instead, it’s a trick to get you out there doing anything instead of evading the work completely. The satisfaction of completing 25 takes is far more powerful than failing to capture 50 by recording only 35. Start with small, accomplishable tasks, then gradually build upon them. The reward for getting a smaller portion of work done propels you to do more next time. There’s a reason that the Couch-to–5k running system works. This idea is also known as “baby steps.”
Trick yourself. Create a reward system. Promise yourself a treat or bonus if you get the work done. The result? It creates a Pavlovian effect that encourages you to keep working.
Divide tasks. Dave Allen is the author of one of the most influential books on productivity, called “Getting Things Done.” The idea? Break any project into its smallest “actionable steps,” list each in order, then tick them off.
Let’s say a client needs a 18-wheeler tractor trailer recorded in a week. That’s overwhelming, but not if you snap off each task. This has the effect of making each one seem far easier to complete. It also gives the shoot scope. For example:
- List the client’s requirements.
- Research vehicle models.
- Decide on vehicle model, and alternatives.
- Research mic arrangement and recording technique.
- Call rental shops for mic availability and prices.
- Compose request/offer for driver/truck rental.
- Post request/offer on trade forums.
- Compose request for assistants.
- Post request for assistants on forums.
- Research shoot locations.
- Scout locations.
- Decide location.
- Create shooting list and call sheet.
- Assemble gear.
- Rent gear.
And so on.
Wear different hats. David S. Goyer, screenwriter for the rebooted Batman films, believes that creative work is best done in waves:
Try to resist rewriting until you actually have a rough draft done. I know it’s hard, but you have to have two different hats. For the first draft, just get a workable draft done – even if you think some of the dialogue sucks. It’s so much easier to revise once you have a road map.
What does this mean for field recordists? Record common sound effects together. Don’t mix your metal clatters with your water Foley. Staying with the same props allows you to pull deeper performances from the sound effects. I shared a similar method of sound effects mastering earlier.
Don’t break the chain. Jerry Seinfeld shared his secret of becoming a better comic with software developer Brad Isaac:
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it, and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.
According to the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 66 days to form a habit. Keep the chain for that long, and your problem with motivational funk will vanish.
A Change in Perspective
Remember, don’t let this stress you. This most important thing is to not let these pressures prevent you from the most important thing: beginning.
If you think about it, you already have the hardest part in your grasp: you have an idea. You’ve used your skill as a sound pro to design a captivating idea. Now, all you have to do is take a step.
It doesn’t matter if that step is small. Plan out and record a single sound. Find your rhythm. Tomorrow, capture two. Deny distractions, and multitasking. Focus on wearing a single “hat” at a time. Use a reward system to take you to day three. Continue, and don’t break the chain.