Governing Creative Time : an article on controlling deadlines by: GF Willmetts

November 28, 2021 | By | Reply More

The professional attitude towards the arts is making money as it is a job and you can’t live on nothing, although artists like Van Gogh undoubtedly did compared to the value of his work after his death. Knowing your material’s value also determines how much you charge for your time. Alas, it also makes it harder to draw or paint for pleasure. Although I’ve only sold a relatively small amount of paintings, drawings and even the odd article over the years, I have found myself caught in a similar mode to understand the problem. Although I doubt if I will have all the answers here, hopefully there might be some insight that you might want to try when being creative for pleasure than work.

Sometimes, a couple words might get directly to the reason. In this case, it might actually be a deadline and people depending on you to finish on time. Then this also expands to writing and other creative activity. It teaches you to work to a schedule and knowing when to stop. It’s either that or you can be tinkering forever. Hardly an excuse to your employer but it does teach the discipline or enough is enough.

On a monthly basis, you might notice that apart from reviews, I also do a short story, an article and editorial. The last two might be pretty close together subject-wise. Indeed, when I found both were having some similarities in subject matter this month, I brought this piece forward to ensure there was some contrast and started this one on the 19th November if you want to see how quickly I can write. The penultimate or so draft being polished on the 26th and weekend. I was reasonably happy with my first draft and going through it now is adding more detail and the odd touch of humour rather than redrafting or removing anything. Getting a first draft finished early means a lot more thinking time over any additional details. Something I tend to do than take anything away, mostly because I stay fixed on the subject and don’t roam. If I have any random ideas, they get logged in my ideas file to play with later. Plus a fresh eye always looks more sharply at the material and, editorially, I look at my own work as that of another writer with the exception that I can play with the material rather than just correct grammar and pace. I’m very focused.

Where was I? Editorial decision, mostly the reason to not having similar subjects too close together is to avoid looking like a one-note and a need for variety. Mind you, being both an editor and writer I know both sides of the fence inside and out, so it’s just me telling me to look at my ideas file and see what else is there in its bulging dataness. Oddly, this article is one of my latest potentials and seemed appropriate to continue with after a review this month, more so as I’ve got most of the ideas settled in my head on the subject, hence a near complete draft at first sitting. After all, I make mention of the problems professionals have with doing creative leisure pursuits in recent reviews and knowing the answer is having a deadline was the clue to the conclusion of this article and putting something in between or it would be a very short article.

There are different levels of creativity. Those who appreciate it and therefore recognise the work to those who do it. The technical aspects of writing and art can be taught. The creative knack is more innate and range from the way we look at the world to our understanding of it and making a connection to the reader. Again, that’s you reading out there. It is also interpretative, which moves us to art and for all what makes creativity unique once past the formative years of learning how to do it. Everyone is entitled to at least one good idea in their lives. For the professionals, there is a need to have good ideas on a regular basis drawing on either an ideas generator in your head that rarely stops or just hard work. Creativity to order depends on direction from employers or finding some publisher to take what you’re offering, who will then demand more to the same. My boss here likes the way that I can do material that other places might not want to print simply because my insight often goes far deeper. Makes note, must put my first article, ‘Thunderbird Fuel’, back on-line sometime.

Keeping an ideas file is always useful as you’re not going to keep all of them in your head and sometimes, as I said, you’re writing something else and don’t want any distraction. If you ever have a dry period, commonly called writer’s block, then you have something to look through to get inspired again. Some ideas take a while to mature. Some come up in different forms and then can be combined together, signifying your unconscious mind has been playing around with it. The basic idea is really just that. It is the words that give it form and may have other ideas attached to it as you explore the concept. Always remember the AE van Vogt adage: Always use your best ideas because it will encourage more best ideas. The trickiest part is knowing the good from the bad, let alone the derivative that needs more thought.

Likewise, ideas don’t turn off. Professionally, ideas can race through our heads all the time. The real trick is controlling or stemming the ideas to what applies to the subject and interpret them into words. I’m kind of good at that. However, more time is needed thinking and researching than actually writing. With the contrast between all three pieces, I can jump from one to the next and back again as I add to each and keeps them fresh. It can often end up spending a good part of each week on each one but it does vary depending on how much each one needs work. By the last week of each month, I am generally about 95% complete on each and much of it is then polishing the draft, adding details and so forth. It is actually less about writing and more the thinking or taking a break to bring things into perspective. The break period is also the same phase as with any self-edit. If you step away from the work and then go back to it, mistakes stand out simply because you’re looking at the work with a fresh eye. The same with adding more information. So contradictory, you are actually spending more time away from the work than typing. Mind you, that also depends on your typing speed and how good your grammar is and can focus on the adding and polishing than correcting. I’ve also done the repetition above so some of it might sink in. As I often work in layers, I can always slip something into your consciousness by repetition.

For me, writing is second nature. Depending on the subject I can make a series of notes of what needs to be covered and my answers, never thinking there is only one answer but that’s me. If I’m familiar with the subject, as I am on creativity, I’ve already done a lot of the thinking on the subject and more just putting it on paper or digitally. A DOC is a lot easier to add and correct. In the days of paper, a re-write could end up changing the nature of the material because of some extra insight I spotted as I expressed myself. I also let my opinions be ruled by the evidence than purely by what I might think so I don’t prejudge, although I might anticipate anything you might raise as a counter-argument. I’ve been told that it makes me very difficult to argue with but why argue for argue’s sake? You want a sound discussion not a riot for bad judgement. Having a reasoned out solution is far more convincing that even if my answer isn’t always thought right then as a platform for other serious or deep thought.

For the record, the delays between each ‘Psi-Kicks’ story is less to do with me not having any ideas but not finding the right idea to move on with. Not helped, oddly enough, by knowing the direction the stories will be going further down the line, although I’ve cut back on thinking too far ahead lest something gets there before me. So I’m joining the dots and want to make a good dot. So that goes back to a lot of thinking or the right inspiration. Creativity then works on being patient or realising there’s a deadline and getting a move on. Maybe me the editor is being too lenient on me the writer. Then again, I still have to produce three pieces a month so a matter of guidance of time available and ensure they are done before the longer term projects. You do then become a bit single-minded and things like painting and even model-making get put on hold in case they become a distraction and a drain on time or creative resources. Mind you, if I’m really ahead of schedule, it gives me a lot more thinking time. Saying that, ideas come all the time, especially when I’m writing something else. [Interestingly, I did get ahead and been having some heavy thinking on the next two ‘Psi-Kicks’ stories so things are finally moving on them.]

That’s not quite the same with art but that’s because there is the initial planning stage, getting the best sketch and then develop it. Seeing how comicbook artists develop their layouts on a small scale is their level of creative development and the final drawings is more the mechanical end of things and refining things and then it’s all about focus. All done to make the best use of their time. Even so, many of them prefer to cut down on too much repetition or if they’ve got the lines right in development, use a lightbox to enlarge and put on Bristol-board.

With painting, having the initial idea and sketch, you then work it over with initial colours to vaguely look like the final painting before the working of refining the colours and details to make it look like what you want it to look like. Painting can be the longest job to do because you invariably feel a break from it gives more time to ponder on any colour choice and if you’ve got it right. There is invariably a need for a fresh eye approach every time you add more detail to any painting. If anything, this can make the deadline far too long so needs a lot more discipline. If, like me, you’re not painting every day or week, then set aside a regular time a week, hopefully with natural light, to do some more work on it. Been trying to keep that promise without much success. There definitely needs to be an 8 day week. Maybe I need to set a stronger deadline here.

Oddly, a lot of creative people don’t like to analyse the process thinking it will mess up the talent. In that respect, I’m probably unique because I can see from all angles and it doesn’t interfere with it. The scientist in me just wants to observe the process although I don’t dwell on it. When I do finish this piece, I move onto the next one, confident I’ve said all I need for that particular time. I’ve learnt something from my exploration but don’t contemplate endlessly. Then again, I tend to be very clear on the thoughts in my head when I’m sitting in front of my computer screen.

Although I actually gave the answer in the opening paragraph that working to a deadline is the key, looking at the process from idea to final work. Well, all right, up to the point of point of expressing it as a story or article which is how you would handle it and how many drafts you think it needs to be completed. I can fit in a lot of drafts in the last few days leading up to the deadline but not doing it to death staring at the computer screen for hours on end.

What will stop you is the deadline and a need to hand it in. The deadline is god. If you get a reputation for failing to keep up, you risk no jobs and no pay! You can’t be a freelancer, although strictly speaking working your own hours, you work more hours than a 9-to-5 worker, without it.

Understanding the nature of the deadline, you might consider seeing yourself as the client and you are working to his or her deadline. It might make it easier to do some personal stuff, especially art, for yourself. Hell, you might even like the result but only if you set yourself a deadline completion date.

Experience and practice will get you into the practice of knowing you have to stop. Applying this to personal pieces, knowing you have to move back to paying work, assuming you have any, gets you to stop.

Be practical with your deadlines. You know how long it takes to write or draw or paint something and how many gaps you need to bring to look at it with a fresh eye. Working on several pieces at the same time isn’t that unusual and sharpens the fresh eye. Just be sure you do actually complete them as you would any piece you’re selling or, with paintings, it’ll hang around looking all right but just not good enough.

For the record, my first draft of this article was ok and printable. These later 3 polishes still works but even reads more with a dose of extra thinking. Writing is communication and most of your battle to attract readers is if your ideas come over cleanly to them.

Oooh look. The deadline has gotten to me with hours to spare. Am I happy? Have I given all the thoughts necessary for this period of time? Will my editor, which is still me this time, be happy? Will I be happy if at least one person will read this and think what I’ve said is a good idea and learn from it? Hopefully. One has to live in hope that something in any article or story is useful to others otherwise writing becomes self-indulgent and unhealthy to the ego.

Deadlines are the healthy way to know when to stop. Which brings me to…


© GF Willmetts

All rights reserved although learning is free.

Ask before borrowing. I might say yes.

Category: Offworld Report

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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