Two Basic Things To Do When A Creative Project Fails

Well, I thought that I’d talk about failure today. This is mostly because I finished a failed creative project the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. It was my first attempt at writing a novella in quite some time and, although I completed it (it was about 15,600 words long) it wasn’t exactly the best thing I’ve ever written. I mean, there’s a good reason why I haven’t mentioned it in previous articles.

Yes, it started out well. Yes, I felt inspired at first. Basically, I tried to write something similar to the old second-hand 1970s/1980s horror novels (in particular, the sub-genre of monster-based novels inspired by James Herbert’s “The Rats”) that I used to read when I was younger and rediscovered when I got back into reading regularly a couple of months ago.

Since giant rats, evil scorpions, carnivorous beetles, giant evil crabs and monster slugs were already taken by actual ’70s/’80s horror authors and because I wanted to write a slight parody of the genre, I ended up choosing adorable badgers – albeit ones that have become immortal, and very hungry, thanks to a mutant version of the rabies virus.

Here’s a short extract from one of the more dramatic and well-written parts of the novella: ‘In an instant, Wilson saw everything. The cattle stalls were a disorderly mess of steaming offal and buzzing flies. In the eaves above, Jerry sat on a beam with a pitchfork in his arms and a look of abject terror on his face. A low chittering sound echoed through the air. Wilson spotted movement next to one of the beams. At first, Wilson thought it was a stray dog. But, as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he noticed that it was a badger. Crimson foam frothed around the creature’s mouth as it stared up at Jerry and clawed at the beam.

However, large portions of the story really aren’t as good as this short extract. If I was reviewing the novella, I’d probably only give it two or three out of five. It was, in short, a failed project.

So, I thought that I’d give you a couple of basic tips for what to do when a creative project fails. And, yes, you’ve probably heard these before – but they’re well-known pieces of advice for a good reason.

1) Do a post-mortem: This one is fairly obvious, but it can be a bit of challenge if you’ve never really done anything like this. In essence, you need to take a step back and look at both what went wrong and why it went wrong. This might sound like a rather depressing thing to do, but it can teach you what to avoid in your next project. In other words, it reduces the chance of making the same or similar mistakes again.

In addition to teaching you general lessons, this also helps you to get to know yourself better. Because one of the best ways of finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are is to actually make something and then see what parts of it do and don’t work. Once you’ve found this out, you can play to your strengths and/or focus on your weaknesses in your next project.

For example, with my failed horror novella, some of the major flaws/lessons I found included:

– There were literally too many characters for a story of this length. Not only that, since I knew that all of the main characters were going to be eaten by badgers, I instinctively skimped on the characterisation since I’d find it too depressing to put too much emotional effort into developing a well-written character who was going to suffer such a tragic fate. So, the lessons here were to include fewer characters in my next project and to ensure that the characters have a good chance of surviving the story.

– A lack of pre-planning (resulting in somewhat uneven plotting) and the fact that I tried to write it relatively quickly (in about 18-19 days) meant that, whilst I was able to stay motivated, the writing would often get somewhat repetitive. I’d often re-use descriptions (eg: when describing the sounds the badgers made etc..) and many of the story’s dialogue segments would also sound incredibly repetitive too. The lesson here was to spend a while longer planning the story and to focus more on quality than quantity.

– The narrative voice throughout the story was incredibly uneven. Some chapters were supposed to be a parody of bad writing (which quickly turned into actual bad writing), some chapters sounded very “modern”, some chapters read like something from a thriller novel, some chapters had a more American-style narrative voice etc… A lot of this stemmed from the fact that I’d used third-person narration, and I’d had more practice with first-person narration in the past.

I could go on for quite a while…. But, working out what failed and why will help you to improve any future projects.

2) Remember that it happens to literally everyone: When a creative project fails, it can be easy to make the foolish mistake of thinking that you are a failure. That you’re not as good as the writers, artists etc… who inspired you to start your project. Well, I’ll let you into a secret. They’ve failed before, just like you have.

In fact, it is impossible to get really good at anything without failing. The only reason that the people who have inspired you seem like talented geniuses is because you haven’t seen their failed practice projects. They’ve failed just like you have. And, after they failed, they learnt from it and then tried to make another project. Eventually, they got better at writing, making art etc… because they refused to give up.

I mean, there’s a reason why – for example – pretty much every piece of writing advice out there will tell you not to publish your first novel (or first three novels or whatever). It usually takes quite a bit of writing practice before someone can produce a publishable novel. It’s not something that most people can get right on the first try. And, that’s ok. After all, you wouldn’t expect to be able to – say- play the guitar perfectly after picking up the instrument for the first time.

In other words, if you’ve tried to create something and failed horribly at it, then you’re doing exactly the same thing that the people you look up to have done in the past. In other words, you’re doing the right thing. At the very least, you’ve actually created something. Most people don’t get to this stage. So, consider your failure to be one of the steps on the road to greatness.

So, yes, failure happens to literally everyone. It is how you think about it and what you do afterwards that really matters.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Why A Failed Painting Is Never A Total Failure – A Ramble

The afternoon before I prepared this article, I made a failed painting. It was meant to be a memory painting/self-portrait which would show me sitting in a room I used to live in. It was to be illuminated entirely by the streetlights/headlights outside the room, in order to create a cool “film noir”-like look.

Unfortunately, the final digitally-edited painting looked nowhere near as good as I’d hoped. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th October.

Still, as annoying as this was, it wasn’t a total failure for a number of reasons. After all, a failed painting is never a total failure. But, why?

Firstly, failure means that you’ve tried. This isn’t a “participation medal” motivational statement. It’s a fact. If you’ve failed at making a piece of art and you feel bad about it, then this means that you care about making art. It means that you want to make good art. It means that you have intrinsic motivation. So, your failed painting isn’t a total failure because it can remind you of how much you care about making good art.

Secondly, failure usually means that you’re trying something new or different. For example, the painting I showed you gave me a chance to try out a slightly different technique for painting light and rain. If you look at this close-up of the window, you’ll see that the raindrops surrounding the headlights are the same colour/brightness as the headlights.

The raindrops surrounding the headlights are brighter and/or more yellow than the raindrops in the background. I’m surprised I didn’t think of doing this before…

Although the painting as a whole wasn’t great, it gave me a chance to experiment with new lighting techniques. Which means that, when I make a good painting, I’ll be able to make it at least slightly better by using this technique (if I remember to use it). So, failed paintings usually mean that you’re learning new stuff.

Thirdly, a failed painting is never a total failure because failure is relative. If you’ve been making art for a while, then there’s a good chance that your current “failed” paintings will still look better than the “good” paintings you made when you were less experienced. In other words, a failure can remind you of how far you have come as an artist (and how far you still have to go).

Fourthly, a failed painting is never a total failure because you actually made it. Seriously, even a failed attempt at painting or drawing something is much, much better than just thinking “I can’t do that” and doing something else instead.

So, even if the painting turned out badly, you still made it. You still followed your inspiration or tried to challenge yourself or something like that. In other words, you did more than 99% of people probably would have done.

Finally, a failed painting is never a total failure because it can teach you what not to do. If you’re able to work out why you failed, then you can use these lessons to improve your next painting.

For example, in the failed painting I showed you earlier in this article, it failed because I got the composition wrong (eg: I should have used a “camera angle” that included two windows) and because I was a little bit over-enthusiastic with my use of shadows in some parts of the picture.

Yes, it can be easy to forget the lessons you learn from a failed painting. But, even if you have to fail ten times before you learn something, each failed painting you make will teach you something.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When A Short Story Turns Out Badly- A Ramble

Well, once again, I thought that I’d talk about last year’s “retro sci-fi” Halloween short stories. In particular, I’ll be talking about the eighth story and what to do when a short story doesn’t turn out that well.

In short, I had writer’s block before I wrote the eighth story… and I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote the first draft too. As such, it ended up being a somewhat badly-written “film noir”-style detective story (with a 1950s horror comic-style twist) that contained barely any sci-fi elements. In addition to this, the story didn’t really fit in that well with the fictional “world” that I’d been trying to set all of the stories in. It was a failed story.

So, my first thought was to edit it a bit. Basically, I removed some of the more superfluous descriptions (that made the story sound so amateurish).

For example, I changed the opening sentence from “By the time the neptune blue neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day” to just “By the time the neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day“.

By removing some of the extraneous descriptions, I was at least able to make the story sound a little bit more focused. However, this also caused a few continuity problems that I didn’t spot until a while later (eg: I’d removed a description of a character having brown hair, only for the narrator to refer to her as “the brunette” later in the story). So, I had to think about the story in more logical terms and rewrite a few sentences that referred to parts of the story that no longer existed.

Surprisingly, I didn’t embellish or change the dialogue too much whilst editing. Although the dialogue sounded a little bit formal and generic in many parts of the story, it was at least functional.

In short, the most important part of writing dialogue is to convey story information. So, even if it’s a bit generic, then “functional” dialogue can still work. Plus, since it was meant to be a “film noir” story, this minimalist approach to the dialogue hopefully wouldn’t stand out that much.

Luckily, one thing that mitigated all of the story’s problems slightly was the ending. Since I’d added a melodramatic plot twist and some dark comedy to the last few paragraphs, there was at least some “payoff” for any reader who slogged through the rest of the story. So, at least the story didn’t feel like a complete and utter failure. So, a good ending (or, even better, a good beginning too) can be a way to mitigate the problem of a failed story.

In addition to all of this, I also put a bit more effort into the story’s title illustration. Since this was the first thing that the reader would see, I wanted it to look spectacularly dramatic. In part, to distract from the slightly lower quality of the writing and in part to make up for the slightly lower quality of the writing. It was probably the coolest thing about the story, but at least it was something cool:

This is the title graphic for the failed film noir story.

But, most of all, I actually posted the story on here. Although you shouldn’t do this if you’re publishing stories commercially – if you’re writing non-commercial fiction, then actually putting something out there, however crappy, can at least be a way to keep up momentum.

If you’re worried about what your audience might think, then just remember that a finished story – regardless of quality – that actually appears online is still better than posting nothing.

If you are writing a series of stories, or you post short fiction online regularly, then your audience is more likely to forgive a badly-written story. Why? Because it shows that you are still sticking to your writing schedule.

In other words, although your audience might not be that impressed by the story you posted today, they will at least feel reassured that a better story might appear tomorrow, or in a couple of days’ time or whenever. So, posting a bad or mediocre story is better than posting nothing (when your audience expects you to post something).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Ways To Deal With Failed Paintings (Emotionally)

Well, although I’ve written about the topic of failed paintings a few times before, I thought that I’d return to it today.

This was mostly because, despite attempts to salvage it with various digital effects, the heavy metal-themed painting that I’d prepared a few hours before writing this article was something of a failure. Seriously, it looks like a piece of badly-made abstract art! Here’s a preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 30th July.

So, how do you deal with the emotions that can appear when a painting you had high hopes for ends up turning into absolute rubbish?

1) Don’t judge yourself: Although it’s always useful to think about the reasons why a painting failed (so that you can try to avoid the same mistakes in the future), try to remember that you are more than just one painting. In other words, don’t judge yourself.

One failed painting, or even a hundred failed paintings, doesn’t mean that you are a failure. All it means is that you either had a bad day/week/month/year, that you need to learn/practice more or that you made some kind of technical mistake in that one painting. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist. All artists make failed paintings (even if many don’t show them off). Failure is an essential part of being an artist.

The fact that you actually finished a painting, however badly it turned out, means that you’re more of an artist than many people. The fact that you care about the fact that your painting didn’t turn out well means that you’re more of an artist than many people. So, don’t judge yourself. You are an artist! Just work out what went wrong and then get on with making the next painting as soon as you can.

2) Remember, it won’t last forever: One of the good things about practicing art regularly for several years is that you start to see patterns and trends. The main one of these is that periods of failure and/or uninspiration don’t last forever! In my experience, they usually only tend to last a few days or a couple of weeks at the very most.

So, if you keep making art, there’s a very good chance that you’ll end up making a good work of art again. In fact, that chance increases with every subsequent “failed” painting that you make – for the simple reason that repeated failure will prompt you to either try new things or to work out a way to get around the failure.

The only way that a period of artistic failure and/or uninspiration can last forever is if you give up and don’t make art again. But, if you keep making art, then – even if it takes a while – you’ll start making better art.

3) Congratulate yourself: After you’ve made a failed painting, it can be easy to feel that you aren’t very good at making art. Ironically, if you feel this emotion, then it probably means that you are at least slightly good at making art.

Why? Because you’re probably comparing your failed painting to other paintings that you’ve made, some of which are probably reasonably good. And, if you made those good paintings, then that means that you are good at making art. If you weren’t, then you wouldn’t have made those other paintings.

Think about it this way. If you’re an absolute beginner at making art – then failure doesn’t usually feel too bad. Since you’re new, you don’t expect to produce something great instantly. So, although failure can be annoying, it doesn’t feel too bad because it’s an expected part of the learning process. However, if you’ve been making art for a while, then failure can feel bad… because you’ve made good art before. So, feeling bad about failure means that you are already good at making art.

The other important thing to remember is that everything is relative. A terrible painting that you make today will probably still look better than a good painting that you made a few years ago. Feeling bad about making a failed painting just means that your painting is a failure in comparison to the good paintings you’ve made within the past year or so.

So, if a failed painting makes you feel miserable, then congratulate yourself. It means that you are a good artist – even if you’ve had a bad day or an uninspired moment.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Benefits Of Making Terrible Art In Less Than Optimal Circumstances

The night before I wrote the first draft of this article, I was in that terrible combination of being in an awful mood and feeling extremely tired. Plus, I still had to prepare one of the daily paintings I’ll be posting here next month.

Although I was able to salvage the painting a bit after scanning it and editing it extensively on the computer the following morning, it ended up being predictably terrible. Not only are the shading and reflections slightly wrong, but (due to covering up a few mistakes) it’s also about a million miles away from the vivid, heavily saturated art that I normally make. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th March.

So, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to do with why making terrible art under less than optimal circumstances can actually be a good thing sometimes. Yes, you heard me correctly. It can actually benefit you. I’ve mentioned all of this stuff before, but it’s always worth repeating.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that comparing it to bad art (or even good art) you made a few years ago can show you how much you have improved as an artist. This can be an invaluable motivational tool if you’re in the kind of mood or situation that results in bad art.

For example, in the painting I just showed you earlier, I probably wouldn’t have thought to add falling leaves to it (to give it a sense of momentum and depth) or to digitally desaturate it (to cover up a few imperfections) if I’d made it a couple of years ago.

The second reason is that it’s a test of your artistic skill and motivation. If you manage to churn out a painting, however terrible, in less than optimum circumstances then this shows that you still have some kind of artistic motivation. It shows that you’re still determined to be an artist.

Not only that, if you’ve got limited time or energy available to make a painting then it can also be a test of your skill in the sense that you have to find a sneaky way to make the least-terrible terrible painting with the resources you have. Likewise, if you’re feeling extremely uninspired, then working out how to make a painting (however terrible) despite this can be a great test of your artistic skill.

The third is that it can actually increase your artistic confidence. If you’re in a situation where making art feels more difficult than usual, then even producing a bad piece of art under those circumstances means that you’re more dedicated to making art than some artists might be. After all, if you still have the confidence to know that you can still make art under adverse circumstances, then this is always a good thing.

Likewise, having the confidence to actually show off your failed artwork can help novice artists too. There seems to be this misconception that even vaguely good artists are people who only ever produce great works of art. This isn’t true! All artists make crappy art every once in a while.

Yes, even the artists who are so good that they make you think “I’ll never be able to make something as great as that!” will make terrible art occasionally. The main difference is that many artists tend to hide their failed pieces, to give the impression that they only produce great art all of the time. They don’t.

Finally, it gets you used to failing sometimes. Being able to handle failure is one of the most important parts of being a creative person, since it’s the only way that any artist, writer etc.. improves. If you want to get better at making art, you have to fail sometimes. So, making terrible art occasionally can be a good way to get used to it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why We Enjoy Things That Are “So Bad That They’re Good”

I’m sure that I’ve written about this subject before, but I ended up thinking about things that are “so bad that they’re good” recently.

This was mostly because I ended up playing part of a computer game from 2003 called “Deus Ex: Invisible War”. Although it’ll be a while until I post a full review of it here, it’s a perfect example of something that is “so bad that it’s good”.

If you’ve never heard of this game before, it was the sequel to a game from 2000 called “Deus Ex” (which is widely regarded as a masterpiece). The sequel, on the other hand, isn’t a masterpiece. I could spend quite a while listing it’s many faults but, strangest of all, I actually find them to be slightly endearing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable.

1) Forewarning and curiosity: One of the reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because the audience is often forewarned of this fact by either reading reviews or just by looking at the packaging/promotional material for something. For example, if you see a DVD in a bargain bin with a slightly cheesy title and some slightly shoddy cover art, then you know that it probably isn’t Oscar material.

However, hearing that something is hilariously terrible will probably make you curious about how or why it gained that reputation. As such, it means that you are likely to start watching, playing etc… the thing in question with an attitude of amused curiosity. This attitude generally results in a much more enjoyable experience than if you just approach it in the way that you would approach an “ordinary” game, film etc…

However, if the audience isn’t forewarned, then these things lead to nothing but disappointment and frustration. So, forewarning is a key part of why things that are “so bad that they’re good” can be enjoyable.

2) Adorability: Simply put, things that are “so bad that they’re good” are adorable. This is because they are often examples of someone really trying to make something good using whatever limited skills or resources they have.

For example, one of the reasons why “Deus Ex: Invisible War” is such an endearingly terrible game is because, unlike the original “Deus Ex”, it was originally designed to also run on the original Xbox console. Since this console wasn’t even close to computers of the time in terms of processing power, memory etc.. there were a lot more limitations. As an example, here’s how the first two “Deus Ex” games depict nightclubs:

This screenshot from “Deus Ex (2000)” shows part of a sprawling nightclub with a large dancefloor and several large balconies.

This screenshot from “Deus Ex: Invisible War” (2003) shows the whole dancefloor of a nightclub. Yes, this little room is the entire dancefloor!

Yet, the people behind the game still tried to make a good “Deus Ex” game with these limited resources. Yes, they failed. But, the fact that they actually tried is extremely adorable.

Things that are “so bad that they’re good” are enjoyable for the simple reason that they show us someone trying to make something great. They show us that the people who made these things were enthusiastic. They are examples of hope and ambition.

3) “I can do better!”: I can’t remember where I read this, but I vaguely remember reading something about the horror author Shaun Hutson – where he apparently pointed out that one of the things that got him into writing horror fiction was reading a badly-written horror novel and thinking “I can do better than this!“.

If you are a creative person (or want to be one), then seeing things that are “so bad that they’re good” can make you feel better about yourself by comparison. It can also make you feel less disappointed about your own failures, for the simple reason that other people fail too. It can also motivate you to actually create something just to see if you can make something better.

4) Cheapness and counterculture: Finally, another reason why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because they are often both cheap and (most of the time) non-mainstream. Since things that fall into this category are often either made on a low budget, are sold at a reduced price to recoup any expenses and/or are quickly dumped in second-hand shops by unsatisfied customers, they often tend to be slightly on the cheaper side of things.

So, we tend to feel like we’re getting more value for money when we find something that is “so bad that it’s good”. It also reassures us of the quality of any more expensive things that we’ve bought too.

Likewise, there’s a certain perverse thrill to looking at films, games etc.. that are widely considered to be terrible and unpopular. There’s a slight sense of sticking two fingers up at popular culture telling us what we “should” watch, read, play etc.. So, this can also explain why these kinds of things can be so enjoyable.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Remember, It’s Ok To Fail At Making Art Sometimes

Although this is a motivational article, I’m going to have to start by talking about a failed painting of mine. But, don’t worry, there’s lots of uplifting motivational stuff in the rest of the article. And, yes, I’ve almost certainly said all of this stuff before, but it’s worth repeating every now and then.

Anyway, the day before I wrote this article, I made the first daily painting that I’ll be posting here in January. Due to being uninspired and being in a slight rush, it looked more like something from 2015/16 than anything I’d make these days. In other words, it was a painting that I considered to be a “failure”. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 1st January.

But, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to show you that it’s ok to fail at making art sometimes. It happens to every artist. Every artist has uninspired days, rushed days or any other type of day that results in low-quality artwork. If you see an artist who never seems to fail, then all this means is that they aren’t showing you the failed paintings that they’ve made.

If you fail at making a piece of art, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad artist or that you aren’t a “real” artist or anything like that. In fact, if you keep making art despite the occasional failure or uninspired day, then this probably means that you are a better and more real artist than someone who gives up on art after failing at it. Remember, all artists (even the really good ones) fail every now and then.

What failure means is that you tried. It means that, despite not feeling inspired or knowing exactly how to do something, you still tried. It means that you still have the motivation to make art. It means that making art still matters to you. It means that you want to make better art. In other words, it means that you are an artist. If you weren’t an artist, you probably wouldn’t even bother to try making a piece of art if failure seemed possible.

Failure is also, of course, a great learning tool. If you decide to try something new and you fail at it, then you can see where and how you went wrong. If you need to rebuild your confidence by making a few pieces of art that you can make before you return to the thing you failed at, then this is fine. The important thing is to keep trying and to keep experimenting, since you’ll get it right eventually.

Failure also exists to make the inspired times seem even more inspired and to make the good paintings seem even more satisfying to make by comparison. In other words, you can’t have good paintings without the occasional failed one. So, it’s ok to fail every now and then.

Likewise, if you keep making art despite the occasional failure, then even your failures will get better. When it comes to something as subjective as art, failure is a very relative term. For example, the “failed” painting that I showed you earlier in this article looks terrible by my current standards. But, if I’d made it in 2012-14, then I’d have been extremely impressed by it. I’d probably even consider it one of my “best works”.

So, if you keep going despite the occasional failure, then you’ll get to the point where even your current failures look better than the “good” artwork that you made a few years ago.

Yes, making a failed painting or drawing can be incredibly annoying or dispiriting when it happens. But, it’s ok to fail sometimes. It means that you’re an artist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂