This profile on me by Dan Jackson in Thrillist was originally supposed to be about Arlo Finch and Launch, but grew into a bigger piece on the many different projects I tackle simultaneously.
John August presides over a mini-empire steered by curiosity, fortified by experience, and fueled by brain power. With only 24 hours in a day, the multitasking writer of movies like Charlie’s Angels, Big Fish, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory scribbles out scripts for big budget Hollywood blockbusters, outlines sequels to middle-grade fantasy novels, maps future episodes of his hit podcast, designs apps for other creative professionals looking to optimize their time, and finds time to invent fonts. If you were granted a golden ticket to tour the laboratory that is his bald head, you’d find a jolly team of meticulous, laser-focused Oompa-Loompas.
That’s not really accurate, though. My inner Oompa-Loompas aren’t laser-focused. They’re a rowdy bunch fighting for control of my various gears and levers, each with a different idea about what the factory should make.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better at managing them, in part because I’ve recognized that I am them. There’s not a me separate from my interests and fears and jealousies.
I’m the product of these competing impulses, not the master.
But I’ve gotten good at recognizing when an Oompa-Loompa has an interesting idea, and then marshalling the forces to try it.
“I’m really curious about how things work, and generally the only way to know how things work is to actually do the thing,” he tells me over the phone one morning. “Rather than planning the thing or reading up about the thing or interviewing someone about how the thing works, I’ll tend to just start doing the thing and then figure it out as it goes along.”
I don’t second-guess whether it’s a good idea, or get fixated on what might go wrong. I don’t ask permission. I just assume I’m not any worse than someone else, and I’ll figure it out. That’s how I started writing my first script, my first musical and my first novel.
But I also leave a lot of projects half-finished. Sometimes they finally come into being years later (Writer Emergency Pack), yet often they don’t (an animated short; a new stage musical; my next directing project).
Giving yourself permission to move on to a better idea is tough. You’re always wondering if you’re one draft away. This will be the one that does it.
But as I look back over the past 20 years, most of my successes — both creatively and commercially — have come from the projects I was excited to do rather than the projects I felt an obligation to start or finish.
I’ve also had things I love fail. It’s heartbreaking.
But the projects I never really cared about? They’re worse in a way, because it was just wasted time.
If I have any general recommendations, it’s to aim to fill your day and your mind with interesting things, even if it’s messy and unfocused. Or as the article puts it:
It’s like watching a dancing bear juggle knives.
Such a life is unlikely to go quite as planned, but at least it’ll be exciting.