The Side Show: Q&A With Copywriter Curtis Chapkowski

By Minda Smiley 

ICYMI yesterday, AgencySpy will be spotlighting side projects over the next few weeks.

We’ve struck up a partnership with The Side Show, a new awards program that’s only doling out prizes to creative projects done outside of work. Your podcasts, paintings, TikToks, “Why I’m Leaving New York” essays—they’re all fair game and can be submitted to The Side Show here for $10 a pop. “Best in Show” winner will receive $500. Deadline is Oct. 9.

In the meantime, we’re spotlighting some of this year’s entrants and their projects. Today we’re featuring an interview with Curtis Chapkowski, whose side project is delightfully odd and specific: a Dr. Seuss-esque children’s book about Burning Man called Smoldering Remnants. Chapkowski is a copywriter at Curiosity, a creative agency in Cincinnati.


“Burning Man has always fascinated me, but I’ve never had the stones (nor the desire to marinate in filth for a week) to go,” he said in the entry. “Wanting to pay homage to the balls-to-the-wall insanity of the ‘festival,’ I created in the least expected way possible: by making a children’s book dedicated to the subject.”

We’ve posted a few more pages of the book at the bottom of this article. If you’re anything like us, it will certainly … intrigue you.

What do you love most about your side hustle?

The freedom to literally do whatever I want, no matter how weird or obscure it may be. Sure, there will always be critics, but when I’m working on my side projects, there’s only one person behind the wheel: me. With briefs, many layers of approval, varying opinions, testing, tiny budgets, behind-the-scenes politics and things of that sort, your creativity can feel very limited while working on an ad campaign. When you’re doing your own thing, however, you can be as crazy as you want and chuck up the double birds to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. (That’s not to say constructive criticism isn’t important, though.)

How has your side hustle made you a better creative/professional?

It keeps my well of creativity from drying up and gives me an outlet to do the type of work that I want to do. I don’t think anyone wants to write countless bank banners or pharma social posts for free, nor do they feel fulfilled by doing things like that in their free time. If they do, though, props to them. They’re going to make some stuffy clients very, very happy someday! Anyway, the bottom line is that by creating and putting things out into the world, you get a sense of fulfillment that just makes you want to do it even more, and I believe that feeling radiates into your work, thereby making it better.

Has your side hustle helped you land a job? If so, how did that happen?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes. I put my side projects on display at the 2015 VCU Brandcenter Recruiter Session (my grad school alma mater, in case that wasn’t clear) and they made my booth look so much more appealing to recruiters. It was really flattering to see people lined up to talk to some random kid from Jersey.

How do you draw the line between a healthy side hustle and always-on hustle culture? How do you prevent burnout?

It’s harder than ever now that we’re all working from home all the time, but I think the key is to go easier on yourself. If you have deadlines and work that can wait to get done, finish them later. Start them now so that you’re not behind the eight ball when the deadline approaches, but finish them later. Don’t try to do everything all at once unless it’s absolutely necessary. In my opinion, being the workaholic hardo that the ad industry seemingly expects you to be will maybe make you a little more money, but is that money really worth looking back at your life 20 years from now with regrets about the time you spent doing it? And will that really help you thrive as a creative, going balls-to-the-wall with work during nearly 100% of your waking hours? In my opinion, the answer to both of those questions is no. In addition, for a copywriter like me who types words all day long, I think it’s important to explore other mediums and outlets besides writing. Draw something. Do a DIY furniture project. Make a sand castle, I don’t know. Just try to expand your horizons a little bit, really.

If you could turn your side hustle into a career, would you? Why or why not?

Heck yeah! Writing children’s books (or really anything else I have complete creative freedom over) would be DOPE!

What is your dream agency or brand-side advertising job?

Brothers & Company in Oklahoma does a lot of cool work with brands I’m fond of, but I don’t think I could move to Tulsa. … But Erich and Kallman would be pretty cool, as would W+K. (Shocker, right?)

To find out more about The Side Show and submit an entry, visit its website here