Adam J. Kurtz's Unsolicited Advice
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“Don’t forget to rest this weekend, or you’re gonna feel like shit on Monday.” This is the kind of real-talk directive that you’ll find in author and graphic designer Adam J. Kurtz’s planners and journals. Filled with creative tips both grand and mundane, Unsolicited Advice is a personal pet project for Kurtz — he writes and designs the calendars himself, self-publishes, and then packs and ships them out of his living room. The 2015 edition of the calendar launched mere weeks after the publication of Kurtz’s first book, One Page at a Time.
Kurtz spoke to us about time management, building a mini-empire of creative projects, and slowing down often enough to find the inspiration in everyday.
What do you tell people who have writers block? What do you do when people come to you seeking advice on how to be creative?
I struggle with the idea of a creative person. The subtitle of my book, A Daily Creative Companion, was not my idea, and I was a little unsure of it. I hate the idea of creativity as a have/have not thing. We’re all creative. If you’re alive you’re creative. Being human is a creative experience. It just depends on how you define it.
I think when people have writers block it’s because they’re putting so much pressure on themselves to be creative that they just forget to actually be creative. For me, my best stuff happens by accident. It’s like, I tweet something or I’m about to, and then I think, “Wait. Save it. Print this. Write this down.” I email myself a lot. I text myself. If you text yourself it waits a few second and then buzzes you back, so you can see your idea twice.
Do you carry a journal or a diary, too?
I do have several notebooks that I cycle through—a lot of scrap paper. I’ve been doing a project for three years called Week in Scraps. So I’m always carrying trash and ideas and garbage on me at all times. But yeah, I think creativity is always there. Just don’t think. Just do. Make it.
This is very helpful advice for overthinkers.
I think the book is dumber than people might expect. I think people think, "Oh great, this book is gonna help me with my writers block or help me with my art." But the book is just going to help you to remember to be a person. Like, the book tells you to take a deep breath. The book has pages in it that say, “Don’t do anything.” “Just sit down in the shower. Just sit.” I think people will be surprised by how weird and how real this book is.
Has anyone gone through the book and done the actual program?
Yes. The book has already been published in Brazil. They rushed it out in Portuguese first. It’s been out for about three months, and it’s on the bestseller list. Totally nuts! People are doing it. The book is full of hashtags, so people are posting and tagging me. People are doing the book in ways that I’ve never anticipated. I’m not a great illustrator — I’m more into words and writing, but people are drawing beautiful art in my shitty book. Seeing it is just incredible. I check that stuff meticulously. I’m going through and liking Brazilian people’s posts. I’m getting really great drawings, really unique responses. I love it. It’s one more fun thing for me to obsess about on the internet.
Do you think the internet is a hindrance to creativity?
Yes. The internet is wonderful for reasons we already understand. But the internet sucks because you see people putting out content so quickly that you think you’re supposed to do that too. And so you rush ideas out instead of saving them to make something bigger and better. And the truth is, I do that with my personal work. I’ll rush products out that aren’t great or designs that are stupid and it can feel really great and real in the moment. But there are definitely people who care more about keeping up with social media more than they care about actually making things. And it’s sad, because it’s usually great stuff.
The other thing is that some people are really great at Instagram, and I’m like, “You’re a photographer! That’s a book!” People always say, “I wish I could make a book” and it’s like “Look at this book I made. You could have done this. Your tweets are a book. Your tweets are poetry. You’re already writing!” People forget.
It’s more like “I’m good at social media” or “I’m putting this thing out there.”
Yeah, “I’m pumping this stuff out so fast that I’m not even looking at it.” I think that can be difficult. We’re too fast. This book and a lot of my projects are just tricks so that I slow down. I feel like everything I’m making is sort of me telling myself what I need to hear and then letting other people in on it. My boyfriend saw a copy of the book when it was printed, and he looked at it and said, “Uh, so babe, are you going to do this?” He totally called me out. It was like, “You need this book. You basically created your own little savior.”
So are you going to do it?
Do I have to?
Yeah, you do! And keep a diary of keeping your diary.
That might be too many layers. My brain might explode. I’m going to do the book too, and I think it is going to help. Reminders of taking deep breaths and drinking enough water. I work in advertising. We forget to take a deep breath a lot of the time, especially when you live in New York. We all do.
This book is the opposite of the internet and New York. This book is what I wish I had when I was fourteen, and that’s the cool thing about it. It’s made for adults but it’s the perfect teen journal. This is the kind of book that your aunt buys you, like, “That’s cute.” And then you get to the page where you’re asked to fill in your own tombstone and you’re like, “What?” It’s cooler than it looks, so I think it’s a good gift for your cool weird sister, or your one friend who’s a little off.
I think if Daria was alive she’d roll her eyes, but then she’d secretly like this. People love Daria and I don’t know why they haven’t done a movie yet or brought the cartoon back. I think now the nineties are back, so pretty soon the 2000s will be back, and I’m so ready. I don’t remember the nineties, that was fifteen years ago. But bring back Daria. Bring back Michelle Branch. Where is Michelle Branch?
I’ve heard that you’re a Michelle Branch fan.
Truthfully I know exactly where she is at this exact moment. [Laughs] No. She’s been recording. She had a third album that got shelved, which is really sad. But she leads this wonderful creative life where she had a bakery, and she was doing an online cooking show. She has a cool daughter and she still performs all the time. She may not be Katy Perry, but she’s still making a living doing her art. That’s what I want for myself.
I mailed her a copy of the book and I wrote her a letter that said, “I find you really inspiring. That you’ve made a life out of being really honest, never hypersexualized.” And she was never trying to be the number one pop star. She was just like, “I’m gonna make a couple of records and do this until I can’t.” That’s what I want to do. I want to keep making stuff until I can’t.
Did you hear back from her?
Yeah! She loves the book.The coolest part was that she Instagrammed it. You know what? I don’t care about the book deal or the translations. I got my Michelle Branch Instagram. If this book tanks, that’s fine.
You should put that on your gravestone.
Yeah, the gravestone is just gonna be a screenshot of her Instagram. It’ll be my book, and, like, kale juice, and her glasses.
Are you contemplating giving up your day job?
People keep asking me that. My boss asked me that. I don’t know. The really wonderful and freeing thing about this setup I have is that I have a day job. So this doesn’t have to be my job, it doesn’t have to be good, I don’t have to sell it. I have friends who have online shops — really cool, inspiring shit — but that’s their job and they have to hustle for it. I love that I can make a stupid pencil or a matchbook, and it doesn’t matter. I have a paycheck coming in, health insurance. I’m at the point now where my shop turns a small profit, and I could get into wholesaling or brand it to hell, but for now this is just my hobby — an extension of myself. And that’s what I like most about it.