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The Artist in the Office Interview: Jeffrey Yamaguchi

March 1, 2010

Jeffrey Yamaguchi is the author of 52 Projects and Working for the Man, and runs the 52projects.com website, all about projects and project-making. His day job: working in the online space at a book publisher.

What are some of the ways you have stayed motivated for your creative work while working a day job?

Earlier in my career, I would say that the sheer drear of my day job work is what motivated me to pursue my creative work on the side. Sometimes, of course, I would just be fully and completely down about the day job, and would get nothing done. But on my better days, I was really fired up to get to work on my side projects — I knew I could find fulfillment there, so I carved out the time — on the clock, even — and focused on the creative work, and the more I did this, the better I felt overall — yes, even doing the dreary day-job tasks.

When do you do your creative work? Do you have any rituals, schedules, etc.?

I used to be able to do an amazing amount of my creative work on the clock — I was covertly a most efficient worker. I would hurry through my day job duties, and then use the time I had opened up for myself for my own creative projects. Now that I’m a bit further along in my career… as I, and I hate to say this, but as I get OLDER, it just doesn’t work like that anymore. When I am at work, I have to be pretty focused on the day job tasks at hand. So one thing I like to do these days is stop off at a bar or a cafe right after work for a half-hour or an hour, and just get some writing done. I’m still sort of in work mode, and I haven’t yet walked in the door at home and realized how tired I am, or how I have to get dinner going, things like that.

Are there things you did during your workday to stay inspired? Like you ever done your creative work at your day job—if so, how?

Honestly, the best thing I could do was my workday duties well, and fast, without wearing myself out too much. If I did the opposite of that, I would just get disgruntled and tired, and so I would get nothing done, not on the clock, and not off the clock either. It took me YEARS to figure that out. At one of my past jobs, I was literally The Disgruntled Guy. It was one of the most unproductive periods in my life. The really funny thing is I am still friends with a crew from that job, and when we are all out together, I always think, and sometimes say out loud, why do these people even like me — I was such a horrible, miserable person to work with… a real forgiving bunch, that group.

Have you considered freelance? If not, why not? If you have, why aren’t you doing it full-time?

I have freelanced before. It didn’t really work for me — I spent too much time stressing about getting the next job, so even when I should have been just working on an assignment or enjoying some down time, that stress would gnaw at me. I never felt that freedom that many freelancers enjoy and embrace, not that they are completely free of stress, but they just manage it better. I was never really able to get to that point. And I also have to admit that I like going into the office — talking with co-workers, working with people, working on that stable 9 to 6 or so schedule. When I was freelancing, there were days when I felt isolated, and it was harder to keep a normal schedule — it seemed like I was working until all hours of the night… Again, I just didn’t manage it well.

Why did you decide go into publishing?

I love words, and everything that you can do with them, how you can tell stories with them, and how you can share those stories. Format, medium, package — this is all evolving, and yet some things will stay the same as they have always been. The “industry” may go through some tough times — all industries do — but words, they are just going to keep on flowing. Words are old, and new, constantly evolving and evoking and surprising in their limitless combinations. Words are forever, and they are ever-ascendant. Publishing to me is about words. It is a creative space that I really enjoy working in and feel inspired by.

Are there any issues that have come up with working in an industry related to your creative work? Can you talk about the positives and the negatives?

On the positive side, you really get to know the industry well, and that kind of knowledge can allow you to be smarter in your own personal dealings. The connections you make and the people you meet really allow you to form a powerful network. You have incredible access. On the negative side, sometimes you just know a little too much — knowledge that might lead you to feel negatively about certain things. And of course having both your day job and your side project creative work in your head all the time can start to become a downer and weigh you down — you can go through periods where you just want to think about something new, something different…

Any thoughts you would like to share to someone who is thinking that they should get a job related to their creative work? Any advice?

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do — and even now, if you asked me, I can’t just say, “I want to be a writer.” What I do know is that my career and my side project work used to be traversing two very distant parallel lines… over time, those lines have started to angle in towards each other… I don’t know if they will ever actually intersect, but I am always working to get them closer and closer. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of hard work, a lot of failures, a lot of mistakes, a lot of smack-downs, a lot of wrong turns… my advice is to constantly think about how both your efforts in your day job AND your side project work can help get those paths tracked closer and closer. As progress is made, you start to see how efforts on both fronts begin to help not just one or the other, but your overall goal of whatever it is your are truly, deep down trying to accomplish.

 

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