Discipline Is Hard
Time is limited, and as many ambitious artists have probably figured out, energy is too. Creative work is still work, and at the end of a long day, it’s hard to have the patience to continue improving on your craft. Yet, there is a good reason to want to continue improving on creative skills; whether that’s writing, illustration, or something else entirely.
As a creative freelancer, it might at first seem like a blessing to have cornered a niche, or have a group of reliable clients who keep coming back to you. However, making the same type of work without challenging your skillset can lead to a plateau in ability. This isn’t as worrying to some people as others, but skill development as a freelancer is important, especially if all you are relying on is being expected to produce a very specific set of results in your work.
Not improving as an artist may be detrimental to your career, and your passion. Getting comfortable with making the same type of content makes you less flexible to take on other roles which may be key to advancing yourself as a professional.
Whether you choose to pay and attend an in-person class, find affordable or free courses online, or simply work on your skills independently, there is no escaping the fact that you are going to have to start managing your time more efficiently. If you have a habit of clocking off work after 5pm, you’re going to find it hard to pick up your tools and work into the late evening. Not to mention the punishing process of making mistakes (a key part of learning and expanding your skills), especially if you are used to a repetitive and predictable workflow.
You need to begin by establishing a habit: this could start with 30 minutes of creative practice on an area you are weak in. A little every day is better than a lot someday, as long as you are challenging yourself, the quality of your time is better than how much time you spend on it.
Habits can be good or bad. Getting into the habit of purposefully improving your craft is good, but only if you spend that time productively. Hours put in aren’t useful if you are just going through the motions and not actively engaging in your task – this is simply reinforcing bad habits and doing precisely what you don’t want to do: wasting time performing meaningless actions. Anders Ericsson, a well-known Swedish psychologist, is famous for using the term ‘deliberate practice’ to refer to effectively using your time with focused attention, putting special emphasis on the need to record mistakes consciously and figure out why they appeared.
Getting feedback is important and an important aspect of deliberate practice. If you are a writer, get people to read your content; an animator, have people watch it. Find a few people you can trust, or open up to an experienced coach or professional community that will be willing to give you constructive criticism. Sometimes, even looking back on your own work with a different mindset can be useful – a very useful habit to get into as a creative freelancer.
Sticking To It
Starting is hard, but contrary to popular belief, keeping up the habit is harder. It’s very easy to be inspired to put in additional effort in theory, but after a week, the temptation to take a few days off is very appealing. Remaining attentively focused for long stretches of time is difficult, which is why it is recommended to start with a short time commitment: to establish the habit and build mental resilience. The importance is regularity and being realistic with what you can accomplish over a specific timeframe, whether that’s a day, a week, or longer. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, keep your deliberate practice challenging and meaningful, but not miserable.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to put in extra deliberate practice every day. Life will get in the way: maybe a social event, maybe working overtime, maybe a complete lack of energy. Consistency is important, yes; but we’re only human. The fact that you’re willing to expand the scope of your creative skills and keep improving is already very positive.
Consistency is key to Dragonfly’s success, just have a look at our collection of successful projects. When working on projects, we always make sure to promise what is possible within a certain timeframe. We are always working with ambitious creatives who are looking to get set up in their career and make use of their broad skillset to solidify their abilities. If you’re a skilled creative looking to work on exciting projects and take a step up in your career, we would love to hear from you. If you think you have what it takes to work with us, apply to our creative freelancer talent network.