Artist have sketchbooks to doodle in and writers have journals as a way to try out new ideas and grow. Each is willing to have something they produced go no further than that moment. They both use repeatable processes to examine their talents and push their boundaries out a little.
Each bit of code you write or system you put together that isn’t involved with your day job doesn’t have to become a side project. Learning new concepts and testing out hypotheses is the goal. And you need a place where the only boundaries you have is time and your imagination.
‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’
– Arthur Quiller-Couch On Style from On the Art of Writing (1916)
“If I forget the words, they weren’t very memorable in the first place.”
- Willie Nelson, on writing down lyrics source
I use these two quotes because at first you should be willing to do things that are silly, unsafe, or uncool. Make the time to take a crazy thought to it’s practical end and then examine it. Then if you create something that sticks with you, something that is memorable, well then you are onto to something worth exploring a little more.
Give yourself the freedom to experiment with your ideas and the tools available. If you don’t, you are limiting yourself to the current version of you. You cannot grow if you don’t work to remove any limits you place on yourself.
And if an experiment turns into a side project or service, well then great. Just don’t start off everything with the notion that to be a successful exercise it has to become one.