The Power Of Deadlines (For Artists)

No prizes for guessing which TV show I've been watching a lot recently...

No prizes for guessing which TV show I’ve been watching a lot recently…

A couple of months ago, I was watching an art video on Youtube by Mary Doodles, when she mentioned something that reminded me of an important part of my own creative work.

In about the last third of the video, she talked about the power of deadlines and about how setting a deadline can be extremely useful because it both stops you from becoming a perfectionist and it means that you will actually finish your paintings, drawings etc…

Although the Mary Doodles video discusses this subject in far more detail (and it’s certainly worth watching), I thought that I’d talk about how I’ve used deadlines in my own work, in case it’s useful and/or interesting to you.

My very first experience with making art to a deadline for an extended period of time was back in summer 2010 when I made an absolutely terrible (both in terms of plotting and art) daily webcomic for a couple of months.

Oh god, the memories!!!

Oh god, the memories!!!

Luckily, I’d made a fairly large “buffer” of comic pages before I started posting it online, but – for a couple of months at least – I posted a comic strip online almost every day.

This was something I’d wanted to do for a while (and I finally got the motivation to do it when I read a webcomic called Unicorn Jelly) and I chose a daily schedule because almost all of my favourite webcomics posted updates daily.

Fast forward to about two years later and I’ve pretty much lost interest in making art. It’s spring 2012 and I’ve made as much art over the past year as I’d probably make in a couple of weeks this year. Anyway, I was feeling kind of bored one day in April, so I made a small drawing which was about a quarter of an A4 page in size:

"The Important Question" By C. A. Brown [2012]

“The Important Question” By C. A. Brown [2012]

Suddenly, I remembered how much fun it was to make art. So, for some reason that I can’t quite remember, I decided to make one of these small drawings every day and post it on DeviantART. At first, it was fiendishly difficult and I felt like I was out of my depth. In fact, I felt like I’d probably last a couple of weeks before I gave up in frustration. But, I kept at it just out of sheer momentum and habit.

Within a month or two, I was producing several of these small drawings every day – and actually posting them online on the same day that I made them. I’d keep doing this until sometime either last year or the year before, when I finally started making a buffer of drawings in advance (at the time of writing this article, my buffer now contains about three months worth of art – and I still add to it daily).

By summer 2012, I finally took the leap to making A5-size drawings and it was an absolute revelation to me. Since I could easily churn out an A4 page filled with small drawings in a single day, making one or two larger drawings every day didn’t seem like so much of a leap – and this meant that I could do more stuff in my art, because I had more space to work with.

Plus, it was the first time that I started to draw in landscape rather than portrait. ------ ("Magic Coin" By C. A. Brown [25th August 2012] )

Plus, it was the first time that I started to draw in landscape rather than portrait.
(“Magic Coin” By C. A. Brown [25th August 2012] )

After that, I never really looked back, and most of my daily drawings or paintings have been at least half an A4 page in size. And, although I set myself the minumum requirement of producing one drawing per day, I’d often make more than one and post more than one online every day.

I’m not sure exactly when I went back to just posting one piece of art online every day, but it was probably due to working on both these articles and the other daily features I used to have on this blog (eg: my old “how to draw” guides etc…). Eventually, I felt so overloaded that I went back to making one painting per day and this kind of seems to work best for me.

Anyway, I’d have never got as good at making art as I am now if I wasn’t for using a regular, daily deadline. If I hadn’t incorporated making art into my daily routine, then I’d have never got the sheer repetitive practice that I needed in order to improve.

Yes, my art tends to improve fairly slowly – but it does improve – as you can see by these two paintings that I made about a year apart from each other:

"Chainmail and Chainsaws" By C. A. Brown [21st June 2014]

“Chainmail and Chainsaws” By C. A. Brown [21st June 2014]

"Chainmail and Chainsaws (II)" By C. A. Brown [ June 2015]

“Chainmail and Chainsaws (II)” By C. A. Brown [ June 2015]

The other thing that sticking to a deadline teaches you is perseverance and persistence. Part of sticking to a deadline means that you still have to make art on days when you are feeling “uninspired”.

Even though this means that you might make a rather crappy painting or something slightly unimaginative, it means that you will still actually have to make some art. And, well, this is a quality that is worth practicing and cultivating.

Plus, as Mary Doodles mentioned in her Youtube video, it also means that you will actually finish the art that you make – rather than spending ages tinkering and trying to make one of your pictures look “perfect”.

So, yes, it’s certainly worth setting yourself a deadline.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Ways To Deal With Writer’s Block When You’ve Got A Deadline

2015 Artwork Deadline Writer's Block Sketch

Although it’s been a few years since I last had to write fiction to an externally-imposed deadline (and this is more a reflection on my lack of enthusiasm for writing fiction over the past few years than anything else), it was something that I did on a regular basis when I was at university.

And, throughout my time at university- I somehow managed to never turn in a single coursework project late… even when I had some fairly serious cases of writer’s block.

So, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to keep writing fiction, even when you haven’t got any good ideas and have a deadline looming.

1) KNOW that you’re going to do it: This might sound a little bit arrogant and unrealistic, but one of the best ways to deal with deadline-related stress is to basically tell yourself that, no matter what, your project will somehow be finished before the deadline. Keep telling yourself this until you believe it.

Once you’ve got to the point where you know that you’ll finish it somehow, then a lot of your worries about failure will somehow disappear and be replaced with curiosity about how you’re going to get it done before the deadline.

When I mentioned the fact that I never turned in a coursework project late earlier, I wasn’t bragging. I was merely re-stating a thought that I had a lot when I was at university and staring a deadline in the face with no good creative ideas to use. I made it a point of pride to always turn things in on time (or, more often, early) to the point where this almost became part of my identity.

Yes, it might sound arrogant, but it’s also a great way of reducing deadline-related fear.

2) Done is better than good: I can’t remember where I first heard this saying, but it’s a very useful one. Basically, producing something mediocre within a deadline is often far more preferable than producing something excellent and missing your deadline.

So, if it ever comes down to writing something for an imminent deadline, then focus on writing something rather than writing something good.

Yes, if you’re at school, college or university – you’ll probably get lower marks for handing in a mediocre story on time. But, if the place you’re studying at is anything like the university I went to – then the mark reductions for handing great stuff in late are often far worse than the mediocre marks that you’d get for handing a mediocre story in on time.

Even if you’re working professionally, there’s still some wisdom to this old saying. A mediocre story may not impress your readers or editors as much as an excellent one would. But, at the same time, it’s far less disappointing than having a delayed story or no story whatsoever.

So – remember – done is better than good.

3) Experience: Although I’m usually very cynical about the whole “writing from experience” thing (since imagination trumps experience in almost every writing-related circumstance), it can be invaluable when you’ve got both writer’s block and a deadline.

If you need a story idea in a hurry, then don’t be afraid to plunder your own memories and experiences for settings, plot ideas and stuff like that.

Obviously, you will still need to embellish them slightly and to add a lot of fictional stuff too (after all, you aren’t writing non-fiction) but it’s a lot easier to add new stuff to a pre-existing story idea taken from your memories than it is to come up with a completely new story idea from scratch.

4) Recycle: If you’re clever, then you can just re-use characters, settings and ideas from your previous stories if you need to write some new fiction in a hurry. Yes, if the people you’re submitting your fiction to have seen your previous stuff, then they’re probably going to think less of your new story. But, at the same time, it’s a finished story and it’s been submitted on time -so, it probably won’t end too badly.

Just don’t recycle stuff from other people’s stories. Plagiarism might seem tempting when you’ve got a deadline, but it’s fairly easy to detect and it probably won’t end well.

Although, if you absolutely have to borrow stuff from other people’s stories, then make sure that you only borrow from old public domain stories, as well as adding a lot of your own imagination to your story (it also doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the public domain stories you’ve borrowed from).

If you’re publishing commercially, then this will protect you from lawsuits (since public domain stories aren’t covered by copyright) and if you’re writing coursework, then if anyone questions it- you can point to the long and respected tradition of writers basing stuff on public domain stories throughout history (eg: that “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” novel, every “Sherlock Holmes” story that wasn’t written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare turning old stories into plays etc…).


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 And good luck 🙂