26 May Mammoth Lessons
today I’m going to talk a bit about the realities of living & working as a creative. I use that word rather than “artist” because “artist” often feels like such a loaded word. to me, it conjures up beret-wearing, cigarette smoking, one-hour-a-day working painters… and that’s not a good description of myself or my friends who work in music, fashion, or film. we are creative professionals. we put as much time, effort, and care into our crafts as any doctor, carpenter, or business person. and like an entrepreneur trying to start a small business, we often find ourselves working multiple jobs. the job during the day that pays the bills, the “night” job that fuels our passion.
in our lives we run into many obstacles to practicing our craft and improving our art. social obligations, family commitments and the necessity of employment are probably the three most common. these are not necessarily bad things – in fact they are often the very things that inspire us. but they can absorb the time that we need to practice our craft, be alone with our thoughts, and create art. but how do we find the space to do this? it’s something that we all struggle with.
last fall I got very, very busy with editing work (i.e. the “day” job). it was great to have multiple projects to work on, but it had the negative effect of using up any time to pursue my craft. not being able to write for weeks in a row actually made me pretty cranky. I was frustrated I wasn’t spending the time I knew I needed to on my work, but it in order to make my deadlines it simply wasn’t an option. but the jobs paid well, so I promised myself I would use some of that money to further my creative endeavors.
but what to do? should I make a short film? take a trip somewhere exotic to write? winter was approaching and my thoughts began to drift to snowboarding. should I go live at Stevens Pass for a month? what was the way I could best maximize the experience for creativity, yet still remain available for work? after all, I still needed work the day job.
then, during one crazy 14 hour day it came to me, what if I were to rent a room in Mammoth Lakes? I’d lived in a ski town before and if the cost to rent was similar – I’d be able to have a room for six months. it was a bit of a gamble, as I had no way of knowing if the snow would be good, or my work situation in Los Angeles would allow me to leave town enough to make the expense worthwhile. (sometimes I can work remotely, sometimes I need to go into a facility).
it didn’t take me too long to decide this was a risk I was willing to take. even if I was only able to use the room for a couple weeks, it would still be less than renting a condo – and like the National Parks, I figured that there would be an intrinsic value just to knowing that I could leave LA whenever I wanted.
plus I had this experience back in 2012.
“so in mid-April I went to Mammoth for a couple of weeks. I’d go ride in the morning, come home, take a nap, get up and start to work. I’d do some editing, then I’d write, then back to editing. I found that I was getting just as much accomplished as I would have working in Los Angeles.
talk about a “hmmmm” moment.
if I could be that productive AND snowboard everyday…why wasn’t I doing this more often?
that my friends, is question I’m still working on answering.”
six months ago I decided to put that question to the test. I pulled the trigger and renter a room in Mammoth Lakes. this really was an experiment. I had no way of knowing if it would work on a practical, social, or creative level… but now that my time there has ended I have some answers.
was I able to live and work in Mammoth while maintaining my personal and professional relationships in Los Angeles? I suppose the answer is a qualified “yes.” there was one longterm editing gig that I had to turn down in order to live this lifestyle. but for the most part I was able to work remotely or schedule my trips around shorter gigs in Los Angeles.
but initial reason for embarking on this journey was to give myself space to be creative. I wanted a retreat where I could focus on writing and let’s be honest, go snowboard whenever I felt like it. so was this a success? was I able to find the creative energy to make new work? did my body hold up for multiple days of riding in a row? yes and yes. the last six months have been very productive on the writing front… and I had some great days on the snow.
here’s a list of what I completed, in rough order based on how long I spent on each:
• one feature screenplay
• three feature treatments
• one novelette
• ten 3-4 page scene exercises
• three grant applications
• eleven 1/2 hour TV episode pitches
• two short screenplays
• one feature pitch packet
• one web series pilot
it’s worth noting that I was still writing when I was back in Los Angeles – so it’s not like this work was only done in Mammoth, but having the ability to focus for a week on nothing but snowboarding and writing was pretty dang incredible.
overall, I would say the experiment was a success. I was able to work, write, and play in both Los Angeles and Mammoth. I’m incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity and hopefully will be able to replicate it in the future.
what about you all? does anyone else do the “getaway” method of creating? what other tricks do you use to make the space to practice your craft?
p.s. see the entire photo album here.