Have a big deadline looming?
Time doesn't have to be the enemy. In fact, you can use deadlines to your creative advantage.
As artists, we often times feel like our creativity can’t be rushed. It will come when it comes, and some days the juices just aren’t flowing.
So what happens when we have to be creative in order to hit an important deadline?
Maybe you freeze up, pull an all-nighter, or your stress takes away all the joy of your project at hand. It's a catch 22—you worry about not being able to create in time, and therefore you are too worried to create.
Anxiety pushes everything else out of the way—our self-confidence, our creative processes, and even fresh ideas.
The trouble is, deadlines don’t care if you’re feeling creative or not. Show applications, gallery dates, commissions—they’re inescapable even in the art world. And, your job depends on your ability to be creative and finish that piece now.
Before you start to panic, we are here to tell you that deadlines don’t have to be feared, that you can work around them while still letting your creative juices flow.
We’ll show you seven ways to harness your creative power even in the face of deadlines:
To start, don’t view it as one giant deadline
When creating under a deadline, that final date hangs over your head like a dark cloud, pelting you with rain before you can even pick up a paintbrush.
If you want to be able to create with a clear head, the best thing you can do is to develop a plan to manage your time. Because there are some positives when it comes to working with deadlines, like how they get you motivated to start working!
Our tip? Break your creative project down into mini goals. Objectives that can have more flexible deadlines.
Not only will this help ease the “deer in headlights” feeling that comes with a big project, but it will help extinguish the anxiety you might feel about finishing on time because you know what you need to do and when.
Plus, with these smaller, more flexible deadlines (and an organized schedule), you now have a cushion for creative block—a grace period in case the creativity isn’t flowing one day. You can just rearrange your studio schedule accordingly to get back on track because you’ve given yourself plenty of time to work before the final due date.
With the pressure off, you’re in a better space mentally to create!
Look to past projects for guidance
Setting small goals is great, but don’t forget to make them realistic. An unachievable goal will just bring you more stress!
To get a better handle on planning out a timeline for your piece, look to past projects that are similar to what you’re currently working on. How long did the past project take you? What steps did you have to accomplish? Are there other projects without deadlines that can be put on hold?
Looking to your past creations can also help you to form a “creative plan” of sorts.
Are you running into a problem on your current piece that you’ve encountered before? Thinking about how you worked through that creative problem in the past may help you figure out a solution more quickly in the present.
Don’t let the detective work stop there. Ask yourself, specifically, what was it about certain compositions, color schemes, techniques, etc. that you loved or hated? Where did you find inspiration for those pieces? What do you wish you had done differently? How can you elevate all of the best elements in your latest work?
When you’re under a deadline, sometimes the best thing to do is do what you do best.
The creative process is always perceived as so intuitive and free-flowing (which it definitely can be!), but in a pinch, it may help to take a more analytical approach.
Inspiration must find you working
As prolific photorealist Chuck Close simply puts it, “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Just getting past the barrier of creating—and the pressure of having to make something amazing—can take the burden off and open up your mind to new ideas.
It’s as simple as pulling out a notebook and starting to sketch. One small doodle might put you in the mind frame to keep creating. No matter what you create, the important thing is that you create something. Doing something small will help you get over the hurdle of “I don’t feel creative today.”
Plus, you never know what it will inspire you to make next!
If you can’t get yourself to do anything creative just yet, spend some time in your creative space. Clean it, organize it, cut out pictures of things that inspire you and tape them to your wall. Remind yourself why you love creating in the first place.
Artist Sawyer Rose makes sure to tidy a bit before each of her studio sessions: “Doing a few minutes of low-stress tasks is a good mental warm-up. It’s not healthy to walk through your studio door thinking, ‘Must create NOW.’”
Chicago artist Jordan Scott says, “Sometimes people ask ‘Do you have days that you aren’t inspired?’ and I always say, “no”. You have to get past that resistance and doubt and just do the work. I believe when artists cut through that, that's where the inspiration cuts in. Cut through the resistance not by praying or hoping for it; just by working.”
That being said, it’s okay to switch things up!
Have you ever been working, working, working, but feel like you are hitting a brick wall trying to come up with something new and creative? Only to step away for a little bit, then come back and have that lightbulb moment?
It’s because our mind needs to hit the reset button.
When we focus for too long on the same project, we get stuck in a rut. Our way of thinking becomes too rigid. We zero in on any idea that comes to mind and try to make it work—even when it clearly isn’t.
Switching to a different task might just be the break you need.
Your mind has to think in a whole new way, so when you come back to your original project, you have a fresh perspective, new inspiration, and the chance to start again with a brand new idea.
Know your creative process
Maybe you’re the type of artist who needs to set everything down and go for a walk to get re-inspired? Perhaps you like working on two pieces at once? Does playing music in the studio help you relax? Maybe it’s scrolling through Pinterest for inspiration?
Whether it’s getting feedback from your peers, reading a book, or standing in the shower—every artist has their own process.
But with a deadline breathing down your neck, we feel pressured to abandon our process for the sake of time and simply push through.
This is usually more trouble than it’s worth. Your process is your process for a reason! If you’re really worried about time, remember that things will work a lot faster if you get more acquainted with what works for you.
It may feel counterintuitive, but try to concentrate on the process, rather than the result.
Like it or not, you will finish. But you will never have an end result if you can’t create in the first place. Worrying about the deadline won’t make it go away, you have to pay attention to what is right in front of you.
Think before you work
Sometimes the anxiety of it all just gets to you. Staring at a blank canvas or an unformed piece of clay and knowing you need to make a masterpiece out of it in a certain time frame can make your mind and body feel frozen.
Isn’t it so much easier to come up with ideas when you aren’t pressured to do it on the spot?
Just like you would come prepared to a business meeting, you need to come prepared to the studio. Invest in an idea journal. Jot things down when a moment of inspiration sparks. Work ahead of time gathering concrete ideas.
That way you are ready to start the minute you step foot in the studio.
Learn how to trust yourself
A big reason why you get creative block in the face of deadlines is because you don’t trust in your abilities as an artist.
There’s a name for this, it’s called imposter syndrome. Not only does it make it feel like you aren’t good enough, but you worry that it’s probably clear to the rest of the world, too—as if someone with more know-how is going to come along and strip us of the title “artist” that we’ve foolishly given to ourselves.
Imposter syndrome isn’t based on reality, though. It’s just your mind running wild with fear, feeding off nothing but negative thoughts and self-doubt.
Remember, control what you can control. It’s the only thing you can do in life. That includes how hard you work, what you think about your work, and the mindset you choose to live with. But it’s not an upcoming deadline. And it’s definitely not what other people think.
Only then can you kick imposter syndrome to the curb, and shift your energy to what you were called to do in life—create.
In the end…
It isn’t as if you ever run out of ideas! In describing creativity, Maya Angelou said, “The more you use, the more you have.” It’s all about tapping into your inner artist, knowing and believing in your process, and giving yourself the time to do your creative work.