• Creativity

5 steps to making & finishing your personal projects

As a kid, we often created purely for the love of creating. We had something to say or simply wanted people to see what we saw in our imagination. As an adult, artists often get stuck on the idea that the craft he/she worked for their entire lives on should be used mainly to make a living. While it should be used to make a living, it should also be used on projects for ourselves. Being an artist should be treated as a gift, not as a means to an end.

Maybe you occasionally have ideas, or things that you want to try, but you keep finding excuses not to do them. In this article I’ll give you 5 steps to avoid project abandonment and finish those personal projects for the person that deserves it most — you.

1 – What do you have to say?

Every project, personal or not should start with one simple question, “what do you want to say?”. Starting with the very basics will help you gain momentum in creating your project. If you skip this step, 1 of 2 things will happen. Either you’ll abandon the project in a short amount of time or it will take you much longer than planned to make meaning out of the things you’re creating.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, write the story down

Coming up with a story or reason for a personal project is often the hardest part. Think of who, what, when, why and how. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, write the story down, the actions characters make, their personalities, the camera movements, colors, dialog, locations, etc.. Write down as many details and be selective of what will best help you tell the story. Don’t allow yourself to move on to the next step until you can imagine the final result.

1a – What do you want to learn or get better at?

An alternate starting point for personal project is to decide what you’d like to get better at. Maybe it’s hand drawn animation, a new software, plugin or maybe you have an unused concept from a previous project that you’d like to explore. Starting with this step is acceptable but make sure you come back to “what do you have to say” to give the project purpose.

2 – Make a plan

Once you have a solid story, It’s time to set a schedule.

The biggest reason people give for not creating a personal project is because “I don’t have time”. While spare time is hard to come by for most people, it’s not impossible. Finding this time to work on your project is difficult, but that’s what makes this type of work the most rewarding to any artist.

No matter your situation there’s ALWAYS time to be found. Maybe it’s eliminating the time you spend watching tv, playing on your phone or maybe you could even take shorter lunches to work on your project. Even if you have little time to work with every day, any time you can find adds up quickly if you stay consistent and create a habit.

Creating a personal project is very much about self-discipline, you need to make yourself work even though you may not feel like doing anything at that moment. Take a look at The War of Art. If you plan out what you’ll be working on, you’ll have less resistance from yourself. When you work on it enough, it becomes a habit.

Once you plan the time, plan your project. This is where you sketch, storyboard, create concepts just as you would in any normal pre-production process. The more thorough you are in the planning phase, the greater the chances of finishing are. This is because when you can envision the final piece, the rest is just filling in the gaps.

3 – Document the process

While you’re creating your project you should document everything during the process. Record your time spent, keep sketches, keep iterations of artwork, write about the things that are happening and share failed attempts that got you to a final.

All these things will help you understand your process and make you more efficient. Keep time so you know how long something similar will take for your producers or clients. Probably the most important thing you should do is make a case study with all this info once finished to show off on your portfolio. Your process is a big part of the value you create for clients so make this a priority.

4 – Share it.

Everyone loves the big reveal but something that’s good to do is share your work along the way. Show concepts, tell people what you’re doing next. Try to include them in your process. At first it may seem silly but once you’ve been posting for a little while about the project you’re going to gain fans and people will feel more invested in your project. Take a look at Show Your Work

5 – Refine.

Once your project is completed, go back through these steps and improve on everything that you feel could be better. Something that many artists are guilty of is rushing work near the end to just have it out of their head. When you’re patient with your project the payoff will be much more valuable.


If you start a personal project, make yourself finish no matter what. It’s ok if you change the location of the finish line though. For instance, if you don’t like the direction the project is going, that 5 min animation you planned can be changed to something more like a 5 sec vine or instagram video. No project, no matter of length will be a waste, at minimum you will have learned something.

Sharing & peer critiques along the way helps you keep momentum on a project. When that momentum slows or dies, it’s very hard to pick a project up again months later, so share often.

Good luck and may the muses be with you.

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