52 Projects is itself a project: a project about projects. It began as a challenge for myself — to come up with and write down 52 projects that I have either done or aspired to do. I knew that I had lots of ideas for projects — some jotted down in notebooks, others in progress, and many more halfway-hatched and stored in the back of my mind. But I had never before attempted to order and organize my project ideas in a formal way. So the game was on.
In early the early 2000s, I began placing the projects on the web at 52projects.com as often as I came up with a new one. In the beginning, with all kinds of project ideas swirling around in my head, I figured I’d be finished in no time — with plenty of projects to spare. Things changed, however, as I headed towards the halfway point. I started to struggle a bit. Questions like, “Is this project good enough?” or “Is this project too similar to something I’ve already written up?” began to creep into my thoughts. But as I got closer to reaching the magic number 52, I hit a nice, comfortable stride, coming up with project after project — though a new kind of difficulty did emerge: as the number of slots began to diminish, I had to make sure right projects made the cut. Which to choose? Making the decisions wasn’t always so easy.
All along the way, from Project #1 through Project #52, people were visiting the website. You put something up on the web, and people are going to check it out. Somehow, someway, they will stumble upon the site. So from the start, I knew people were going to see the projects. But I was genuinely surprised, and very excited, by the way people were responding to the 52projects.com website.
It all started with a link here and a link there. People with their own websites, blogs and online journals thought 52projects.com was interesting enough to encourage their own readers to check it out. Links beget more links, so the number continued to grow. Many of these links would be followed by comments — everything from simply saying things along lines as “Check out these cool projects” or “If you’re bored and looking for something to do, try this site” to much longer entries that explained a project idea of their own that they planned to do. In addition, online media outlets, some small scale, others quite huge in their reach, began to review the site. The net result of this attention was lots of visits to the site by people all over the world.
Several of the projects even inspired online communities. Someone out there would take one of the projects, shape and adapt it into something new and different, and then invite and encourage others to participate. I was certainly thrilled to see 52Projects.com acknowledged in this way, but was even more excited by the way people were adding in their own energy, enthusiasm and ideas to essentially make the projects their own.
And then there were the emails that streamed into my inbox. Now I’ve published several websites, and gotten my share of correspondence from people who have come across those sites — the notes range from someone just wanting to let me know they’ve enjoyed the site to a fellow website publisher asking if I’d like to exchange links. But the letters that came in from people regarding 52Projects.com were strikingly different: they were more heartfelt, and much more personal. Some would relate to me how the projects inspired them. Others would tell me what happened once they set to work on a specific project — how it evolved and blossomed as their own imagination and circumstances impacted the process. Many people would tell me they were now fired up about getting started on their own project, either one they had always meant to do, or one that they had just thought up.
I was extremely moved by these letters, and totally inspired by them. I’d be at my desk, just going through email, deleting all the spam and special offers, when I’d come across one of these notes: every time the words — sometimes just one or two lines — would stop me in my tracks. It just felt good to know that 52Projects.com was having this kind of positive impact. These letters really brought home the belief that the way the projects had come together had really worked. And not only were people inspired by the projects, but just like me, they were seeking out ideas and feeling a need to create from within. What I found most gratifying, and what really energized me, was seeing that people were passionate and enthusiastic and excited, reaching into their own imagination and creativity to make projects on their own terms.
What collectively emerged from all this is the 52 Projects book. It features all of the projects from the original 52projects.com website, as well as deeper explorations of how project-making can positively impact all areas of your life. But the main point of the original idea remains: you aren’t supposed to make these projects exactly. Though this book is just one of the endless ways to trigger your imagination, invigorate your creativity, and discover or rediscover your muses, the hope is that the personal exploration of project-making that it encourages will inspire you to dream up, set to work on, and complete projects that are all your own.