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Hi! I’m Wendy Stephens, a self-employed graphic designer and artist and I’ve run Dark Iris Design in Hertfordshire, UK for the last 6 years.

I’ve been struggling to find time for creativity lately. Quite tough when your job and lifetime hobby are the same thing. And when I do find time, I’m so burnt out from looking after my beautiful 20 month old little girl, that I find it hard to kickstart the next self initiated project. Paid client work? No problem at all, no deadlines missed there (I’ve never ever missed a client deadline, a fact I’m incredibly proud of).

I found I would set myself a goal to ‘finish this drawing in two days’ which looks achieveable from the outset. But then life would get in the way. Baby teething, flu, recurring tonsillitis and migraines, minor household repair problems etc would all eat into my creative time and I would consistently miss my own creative deadlines, as frankly, they were the only thing I could drop to continue hitting client deadlines and to keep our family life functioning!

Eventually despair would set in. Why even bother to start a project if you can’t finish it? But the creative monster that lives in my brain would start nagging me again to start the next piece, and a few days later another personal deadline was missed.

So I turned to google and sought some help. After lots of dead ends I found myself at Braid Creatives page written by the clearly lovely Kathleen Shannon and Tara Street.

Where this article caught my eye: ‘EVERYONE ELSE SEEMS TO HAVE THEIR SH*T TOGETHER BUT ME’

In particular these three lines:

A) you should’ve figured it out already, and then
B) not knowing where to begin, quickly followed by
C) paralysis to act

Do I suffer from ‘A’ ? Yep.
‘B’ ? – Check.
‘C’ ? You betcha.

So I dug a little deeper on their page and found their podcast:

Do yourself a favour and download it if you fit ANY of the following: A podcast for self employed (check!) creative (check!) women (check!) with young children (check!).

Ladies, where were you two years ago when I needed you! Never mind as I’ve found you now! I listened to the first podcast and found myself nodding along with what they were saying. I grabbed a pen and started making notes.

I’m not sure if it was episode 1 but they mentioned the 10000 hours concept, which I first heard of a few years ago. I believe it was Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers who popularised the concept that every talented person who appears to have risen to the top of their profession seamlessly or overnight, has in fact put 10,000 hours effort and practice in.

10,000 hours. That’s doable, I thought to myself. Can’t be more than a few hours each week right? A quick recheck on my mental arithmetic meant that I soon realised that:

10,000 hours in a year would mean 192ish hours a week. That’s 27 hours a day. Ah crap. No good. But this 10,000 hours just sounds great (lovely round number) and I was still drawn to the idea.

I’ve been an artist since I was a child (in fact there is a video on YouTube of me at a party with lots of other children all saying what they want to be when they grow up. I said I wanted to be an artist. But that may be as Julie D had already claimed ‘dustman’ for herself…) and I’ve been a graphic designer since I was 18.

So without mentioning age *cough cough* I’ve definitely already completed my 10,000 hours to get where I am. In which case, what I really need to do is polish up the skills I have, rather than start from scratch.

What if instead of 10,000 hours, I made it 1000 hours? That’s 20 hours a week for 50 weeks. This sounds promising.

But hold on. My problem is constantly missing deadlines. How will this help?

Well rather than ‘building up’ the number of days I will be working on a project, I am instead ‘eating into’ the 1000 hours I have over the course of a year. It’s psychologically less demanding. Well for me it is anyway. No deadlines. If I have a bad day, I can pick up the hours the next day.

So this is it – the start of my 1000 hours project. And to give myself a bit of extra leeway (and to fit in our first family holiday for years) I’m going to give myself 15 months to complete the 1000 hours before my daughters 3rd birthday.

Hopefully she will look back at the photos of her third birthday when she is older and understand why the haggard, tired looking but really happy mummy looks like that.

Because the creative monster in my head said so. And I have to listen.

Week 0 – My Creative Monster – 1000 hours of creative self improvement

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