Rooms 454-460: Find Your Children’s Book
(your own side project)
In another life, I wrote children’s books. Well, two to be exact. There was Rhymin’ Simon and the Mystery of the Fat Cat and Rhymin’ Simon and the Mystery of the Fake Snake. As Simon would say, “There’s nothing I like better than solving crimes and making rhymes,” which pretty much sums up both books. I don’t even know if they’re still available, except maybe in South Africa, where my publisher told me they were once a hot seller. It’s called Reindert Rympies—en die Geheim van die Vet Kat, should you ever find yourself in Cape Town and need something to read.
I wrote both books while I was a high school speech teacher. It was a side project, something I dabbled in after school and on weekends, and during more television commercials than I can count.
I have always loved the side project, so much that I believe it deserves its own room. I’ve had more projects than I can remember. Herb gardens. Watercolors. Children’s music. Aromatherapy. Whittling. Popsicle-stick art. Some projects lasted for months, some years, others just a weekend, or a long day.
But writing children’s books was one of my favorite side projects, which is why it lasted for years. And it wasn’t just about the writing. It was about everything it took to write the books—all the children’s book conferences I attended, the workshops and classes I took, trips to the library, and pen shopping. It was the whole process I loved, even the early stages when all I wrote were titles on napkins.
I can still remember spending five months writing “If It’s Friday It Must Be Tuna Casserole,” a middle reader book. I also remember giving it to my wife, who read it, then looked up and said, “I like the title.”
She was right. It was horrible, and it’s a good thing she was strong enough to tell me. I tossed it in the trash can and moved on. It was painful, but that’s part of the process. Trial and error. Start, stop, and then start again. In fact, figuring out how to get someplace you’ve never been before is part of the creative magic of the side project.
That children’s book project taught me early on how to ask questions and find solutions. It also taught me to be patient and enjoy the process, which is so much more than the cliché we think it is. Like most writers I wanted to get published from the beginning, but I had no expectations about it, or illusions that I was going to make my mortgage off of it. Truth is, I probably would have made more money in a sweathouse in Bangkok than I did from those two books. In hindsight, that was a gift which taught me all I needed to know about a creative life. Follow what calls you. Figure out what works. Enjoy the moment.
Do that and the world conspires in ways you can’t imagine.
Because of those two small children’s books, a friend asked me to write a spec screenplay for him, which meant no money, and also made no sense. It’s not like writing for second graders is a pre-requisite for writing screenplays.
But sometimes it’s good to be naive, and so I told him why not and turned that challenge into another project. I immediately went and read every screenplay book I could get my hands on, along with hundreds of scripts, slowly teaching myself how to write for the screen. In the end I not only sold that first screenplay, but it was made into a movie. It’s called Airborne. 22 years later and it still occasionally pops up on late night TV, usually in South Africa. They even gave me a cameo in the film. I played the speech teacher, which is ironic given my bad slur and winky eye. As my wife told me, “don’t quit your day job.”
Poor acting aside, that screenplay led to several other sold, but un-produced screenplays and a good 5 year career in the entertainment industry. More importantly, it led to a 20 year creative partnership with one of my oldest friends. It also led to another friend asking me to do a corporate video for a conference his company was having (by the way, the friend was the husband of a woman I met at a children’s writers conference. Also the same woman who ended up hiring my wife as a teacher at her school).
While I had never done corporate videos of any kind, my partner and I said yes to the project. We wrote a script, hired a brilliant cameraman—also a friend to this day—and then taught ourselves how to edit video, all of which led to a 15 year career in corporate communications. As for the friend who hired me for that first corporate video—I am now working with him on a brand new project.
There’s no such thing as accidents when you follow your heart.
What’s most interesting is that I looked for none of it. Expected none of it. I just pursued what gave me joy and “it” found me. That’s the thing with side projects. You never know what will find you or where they’ll take you.
The side project is the Universe’s way of saying follow your heart. Do what your Soul is burning to do. It’s not always going to be to a new career, and believe me, I’ve had projects that have taken me nowhere, like my obsession to be a meter maid, or the time I wanted to be a weatherman in Flagstaff, Arizona. That being said, they all kept me engaged with the world.
And that’s what a side project should do—keep you engaged, which is code for living in the flow, staying creative and following your inner guidance. Do that and you’ll end up exactly where you need to be.
Rooms 454-460: Find Your Children’s Book (or side project)
This room isn’t about writing for children, or learning the piano or scrapbooking. It’s about wanting to get up in the morning and do something that makes you feel connected and creative. It’s about seeking joy.
And for those of you who say you have no time for side projects, or things that don’t move the needle in your financial life, I would argue that you have to make time for it, the same way you make time for food or air.
We all need projects we can call our own. It’s what gives our lives meaning and richness. This is not the luxury of retirement, money or time. It’s the mark of a creative life, and our own individual expression as Spirit.
And for those of you who have more side projects than you can handle, I say kudos to you. It’s an awakened person who has many things to accomplish and plenty of life to explore. Still, I encourage you to be open to other projects. Try something smaller. Or bigger. Go in a different direction. Pursue the inconsequential. Embrace the impractical. Pursue projects out of your comfort zone. Just go with your heart.
Ask yourself what you have always wanted to do that you’ve never done. I guarantee there’s something. There always is. Now, go chase it. Even if it’s only for a day.
Now if you already like the projects you’re working on, try to infuse new life into them. Don’t be afraid to work without deadlines, lists or goals, or if you don’t have any structure to your projects, consider adding some. Take your projects to a different level than where they now exist.
It’s not the project that matters, but how we approach the project. And we should take on our projects from as many different angles as possible, always seeking the ones that allow us to express ourselves with more mindfulness and joy.
And you don’t have to spend countless hours on your project either. I have a writing project right now that I spend 30 minutes a day on. I have another one that takes up only 15 minutes a day. That’s all I can give, but it’s plenty, and just enough to keep me excited about finishing my day’s work so I can get to it.
Multiply 365 days by 30 minutes or 15, and it all adds up.
And you don’t have to finish it tomorrow or next month. It could take one year or ten. Just take your tiny seed of inspiration and start. It doesn’t matter if it’s a children’s book, a screenplay, or the noble pursuit of weather prediction. The idea is to let your life guide you. To scratch the itch. To stay curious.
When you see something that piques your interest, follow it. Let your heart wander unfiltered, taking you wherever it wants to go for however long it wants to be there.
And don’t worry about distraction taking you away from what you think matters. Sometimes distraction is the thing that matters. You won’t know until you try.
The same way you won’t know how magical life can be until you start expressing yourself through the things that you are called to pursue.
Now go find your own children’s book. There’s no time to waste!
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