Treat Your Creative Projects Like They’re Clients

Last month when I was in Chicago I attended a Creative Mornings talk with Charles Adler, one of the co-founders of KickStarter. He talked about this illustrator who created a crowdfunding campaign to fund an art project and asked for very little money.

The reason why he wanted to do this was not necessarily because he needed, say, three bucks from his friends to draw a couple of illos, but that it created a social obligation to sit his butt down and draw! From the mouth of Charles:

“Financing, or capital, provides social pressure to complete a project.”

I makes perfect sense. Why do we finish side gigs and cast our personal projects aside? Why is it so hard to keep commitments we make with ourselves to finish that book, or comic strip, or song? Because there’s very little social pressure to complete these things.

In a perfect world, we’d be passionate and wholly focused to our craft. But in real life, we’re pulled by a messy jumble of obligations and distractions, at at times, a lack of internal motivation. So what if we tried treating our creative projects as clients? Here are a few ways to go about it:


Create a Production Schedule
I’ve just recently started using Trello to keep track of my tasks for my fiction writing and my blog. Trello is an easy way is free project management software that helps you stay organized and on task. Similar sites are Asana. You can create different to-do lists and then move them over to different stages of the production. It’s pretty rad and best of all, it’s free!

While I haven’t been able to stick to it 100 percent, it’s a start. Creating deadlines for the little things, such as finishing a scene in a story, or drafting a list of literary journals to submit to. Start small and level up.

Set Firm Deadlines
If you don’t set firm deadlines for yourself, it’ll be harder to make progress. Linking these to events or contests helps a ton. Is there a reading you need to prepare for? Are you in a writer’s workshop and need to submit pages? Or is there a fiction contest coming up you’d like to be in the running for? Maybe you can post snippets of your work on Tumblr and commit to posting on the regular.

Pay Yourself

And in the most literal sense, the difference between a “professional” and an “amateur” is that a professional gets paid for their work. So why not pay yourself?  A few months ago I committed to spending 15 minutes every morning. I kept it up for a good three months; it was awesome! But then I soon fell off the bandwagon. So I recently started paying myself five bucks (yup) for every 15 minutes I work on my short stories. I use this app called Digit, and I just transfer money into my Digit account, which I’m a huge fan of.

I know I’m not the most generous boss on the planet, but hey it’s enough to get me working. And how much you pay yourself can be tricky. You want to pay yourself so little that you’d prefer to forgo the cash and take a nap instead, but you don’t want to pay yourself so much that you can’t afford it. I did the math and if I wrote for a minimum of 15 minutes 20 days a month, that would be $100. And if I wrote for an hour 20 days a month? That’s $400.

Give Yourself a Bonus
If that seems like more cash than you can afford, you can set up a reward system instead. Like treat yourself to a video game or some fun gadget once you put in X number of hours. You can also treat yourself to a bonus on top of any money you are paying yourself.  To be honest, the $100-$400 I pay myself to write fiction may be too hefty at the moment, so I may switch to a “bonus plan” instead.

Give Yourself a Performance Evaluation
I know, it’s starting to get super nerdy. But why not check in with yourself every few months to see what progress you’ve made, how you can improve, and what you can check? There’s really no need to beat yourself over the head what you have yet to accomplish, and the mountain of work that lies ahead of you. Don’t forget to celebrate the small wins, too!

While it may seem like a pain in the rear, treating your creative project like a client could help you make serious headway. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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4 thoughts on “Treat Your Creative Projects Like They’re Clients

  1. I need to do this! I’m so good about doing things for my clients, I need to be that good to myself 🙂

  2. Jackie Lam says:

    It’s so hard, Stefanie! Especially when you are so busy! 🙂

  3. Patrick says:

    You are so right. Your (and my) work is just as important as a regular customer – or employer!

  4. Jackie Lam says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Exactly! It’s an absolute must! 🙂

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