Learning From A Failed Project – The 1990s Stories


When you write or make art, then you’re going to make mistakes and fail sometimes. It happens to everyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Not only does it mean that you’ve tried something a bit different, it also means that you’ll be able to learn from your failures too.

So, in that spirit, I thought that I’d give an example of learning from a failed project. If you aren’t interested in reading about the many ways I failed at a writing project, then just skip to the final paragraph for some general conclusions.

Earlier this year, I posted a series of short stories set in the 1990s here. In contrast to the previous two short story collections that I’d written (which can be found in the “2016” section of this page), this one only lasted a mere five stories before it ran out of steam.

The first sign that it was something of a mistake came from the fact that it took me a few days to work up the enthusiasm to start the project after I’d had my initial idea for it. Usually, when I have an idea for a project that is going to go well, it’s the sort of thing that I have to start working on right now. But, this was different. It was a cool idea and I wanted to make it, but it didn’t really have the impetus that these kinds of projects usually have.

At the time, I didn’t think to refine the idea until it provoked these hyper-enthusiastic feelings in me. Instead, I mistook my mild enthusiasm for technical problems. After all, I was writing historical fiction – a genre that I haven’t really written in before. So, I thought that I’d have to spend some time working out how to write these stories. For some writers, this sort of thing leads to good stories. But, for me, too much slowness tends to drain the life from a project.

Another problem was the fact that I’d tried to write relatively ordinary stories about ordinary life. This is a genre that I usually consider to be “extremely boring”. But, I’d thought that the historical nostalgia elements would help to keep it interesting. They didn’t. Yes, ordinary life was slightly different in the 1990s, but it was still fairly.. ordinary.

This, of course, made coming up with interesting story ideas surprisingly difficult. One of the main advantages of genres like science fiction and horror, and stories that are set in stylised versions of the real world, is that you can use your imagination to come up with all sorts of strange things to add to the story. You can create entirely fictitious settings that are more imaginative than realistic. You can add futuristic technology, unrealistic events etc… and see how your characters will react to them.

I’d always known that there was a reason why I preferred to write in “unrealistic” genres and this failed project reminded me about this. It gave me an actual physical example of what happens when I try to write the kinds of stories that don’t often interest me as a reader.

The other problem was probably the research. As fascinated as I am with the 1990s, I quickly realised that most of what I knew about the decade came from second-hand sources. After all, I was only a young child in the 1990s. So, whilst struggling to come up with story ideas, I ended up focusing more on things that are related to the media than anything else.

After all, since my preferred writing style tends to be fast and regular, I pushed myself to write one story per day. This didn’t leave a huge amount of time for research. So, I ended up setting many of my stories in fairly generic locations, with only a few subtle details that implied that they were set during the 1990s. So, again, this reminded me of how much easier it is to write stories that are set in entirely fictional locations.

Likewise, it reminded me of the difference between writing and other forms of creativity. Whenever I’d made art or comics that were set in the 1990s (like this one), I’d always gone for a stylised version of early-mid 1990s America, because it looks cool. Of course, fiction is a non-visual medium that relies a lot more on descriptions.

So, I actually ended up relying on my childhood memories of mid-late 1990s Britain (and things from that time and place that I’d watched or read) quite a bit. This led to the project having a totally different style and tone to what I had expected. Most of the stories were set in 1996-9, which didn’t really seem as fascinatingly “historical” as I’d originally expected. If I’d paid more attention to the differences between visual art and the written word, I could have come up with a better idea for this project.

The common thread in all of this is that you tend to produce your best work when you know yourself well and know where your strengths lie. But, on the other hand, you’ll only learn about this if you fail a few times. So, don’t be afraid to fail!


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Good Ideas For Shorter Artistic Projects

2014 Artwork Short Projects article sketch

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t seem to have a particularly long creative attention span. I don’t know why, but I’ve only really been interested in creating short self-contained articles and paintings over the past few months at least.

So, for today, I thought that I’d give you a few ideas for shorter and/or more manageable art projects in case you ever find yourself in a situation like this.

1) Make a painting series: As the name suggests, a painting series is nothing more than a group of paintings (or drawings or whatever) which have something in common with each other. They can be paintings of the same location, they can share a common theme or they can just use a similar colour scheme. The only limit is your imagination.

The great thing about making a painting series is that you get to make lots of smaller self-contained pictures, which all form part of something much bigger. In other words, you only have to work on one part of it at a time – and each painting can be enjoyed on it’s own without looking at the rest of the series.

What this means is, if you’re posting it online, you don’t have update your series on a regular schedule if you don’t want to. Plus, you obviously don’t have to wait until you’ve finished the entire series before you start uploading your art either.

Another great thing about making a painting series is that there’s no real limit on how long it has to be. So, if you only feel like making 3-5 different paintings (or drawings), then you can still call this a painting series.

2) Use a recurring character: This is quite similar to the previous point on the list, but a good way of making a short and manageable art project is to paint or draw several pictures of the same character in a variety of interesting situations.

This has all of the advantages of making a comic (eg: you can come up with dramatic scenes, interesting locations etc…) but it also means that you don’t have to come up with a story or write any dialogue….

"Heather Greyfield And The Suit Of Swords" By C. A. Brown

“Heather Greyfield And The Suit Of Swords” By C. A. Brown

If you want an example of this, then check out some of my paintings of a random character I came up with earlier this year called “Heather Greyfield“.

Originally, I’d planned to make a comic about her, although she seemed more like a computer game character. But since I don’t really have much in the way of programming knowledge, she just ended up being a recurring character in a series of paintings.

3) Make non-sequential comics: Although I haven’t worked on it in ages, I started a webcomic a couple of years ago called “Damania” that has probably been my largest and longest-running comic for one simple reason…

Unlike many of my other attempts at making webcomics, “Damania” didn’t contain a continuous storyline – it was just a collection of short self-contained 3-5 panel comics, like this one:

"Damania - Outdoor Painting" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Outdoor Painting” By C. A. Brown

What this meant was that I could spend an hour or two making one of these comics and then that was it. If I wanted to make another one, I could – but if I didn’t, then I could just move on to something else without worrying about leaving anything “unfinished”.

Because there’s no real “beginning” or “ending” to non-sequential comics, they’re absolutely ideal for shorter creative projects.

4) Redrawings: Yes, I know, I mention redrawings all the time. But, if you’ve been creating art for a while, then a great idea for a short and manageable project is to just go through some of your old drawings and/or paintings and re-make new versions of some of your favourite ones from scratch.

One of the great things about doing this is that, because you don’t have to come up with any new ideas, you can spend more time actually painting or drawing.

Plus, since your art skills will have probably improved since you made the original pictures, you’ll be able to quickly and easily see exactly how much you’ve improved.

Not only that, you’ll have a new and improved collection of your favourite pictures to show people if they’re interested in your work – kind of like a “greatest hits” collection, or something like that.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Introducing “Liminal Rites – A Surreal Detective Story”

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[Edited 14/7/13]

Well, I am very proud to announce my latest creative project “Liminal Rites – A Surreal Detective Story” [Note: This may end up turning into a horror story. You have been warned…].

Liminal Rites” will be a novella/novel which will be released episodically (probably either daily and/or whenever I write any of it) on it’s own blog, which can be found here. The first four chapters are online right now, with chapters five and six on the way over the next couple of days….

“Liminal Rites” follows Claura Draine, amateur detective and soon-to-be-former university student who is still hanging around in town at the end of term, waiting for the lease on her student house to end. The last thing she expects is a new case which will take her to the very edge of reality and beyond…

I should probably point out that since “Liminal Rites” is a surreal dark comedy/horror/mystery story in the tradition of Warren Ellis, William S.Burroughs, Hunter S.Thompson, Satoshi Kon and David Cronenburg – it will probably contain disturbing imagery, strong language, horror and other things which are more suitable for mature audiences.