Creative Challenge: Organize for Headspace and Avoid New Rules

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One of the issues I see pop up with respect to making art every day, is that when you don’t (and guilt sets in) your brain creates a new “rule”. These rules take the form of “I will” or resolutions that are so complex and unrealistic you can’t possibly achieve them. I will write 2,500 words every day no matter what. I will work on the same project every day until it’s done. I will hit 10,000 steps every day. Etc. Etc. Unfortunately, this is what leads to procrastination because when you fall down (which is normal because you’re human, not a robot) you’ll associate “making art” with creating demands for yourself that wind up making you feel very small.

This issue is exacerbated when you start getting your shit together, because as you go through stuff you’ll take stock of your past self and goals–and that’s when the brain weasels wake up and attack. Organizing by itself is not a creative challenge; organizing to clear your mind, however, is. The point of revisiting old files, cataloguing your inventory, and assessing where you’re at is to make way for your future self. To do that, sometimes you have to address your physical space even though that might generate memories of your past self.

Here’s how I deal with this creative challenge: in anticipation of brain weasels, I’ve been using a visualizing technique to facilitate and channel my emotions. I picture a large house inside my head. (Way bigger than any home I’ve ever lived in!) All my proverbial junk is in the basement. If I’m feeling crappy, when I head down there I “see” a flooded basement. Super gross! As I clean up my physical space, I concentrate on draining that water and mopping up the floor. It’s an added layer to help me be more resilient to making new rules, and it helps me “see” the effect it’s having, instead of just feeling it.

    Mood: It’s all coming together.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Whoaaaaa… Like, psychedelic.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Half an hour
    In My Ears: Fish tank
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Clone Wars
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming this month!



On Outlines and Distractions

You're An Idiot, Starscream

I fell off the proverbial horse yesterday, because I made the mistake of going down the rabbit hole of politics. (Two cliches in one sentence!) A lot has happened, and it feels weird. On the one hand, we have politicians who are blatantly lying; on the other, life marches on regardless. At a bare minimum: bills still come every month, meals still need cooked, house still needs to be cleaned, cats still need to be fed. In my case, I have to be vigilant about how I use my time; I’ve long since learned why it’s important to know how fast I write, how deadlines are crucial to my sanity, and how calendars aren’t just this pretty, little grid with pictures hanging on the wall.

Except, it’s an inevitable truth that shit happens. I get sick, company drops in, the internet goes down, I get distracted by politics (as I did yesterday), I lose a file, a deadline shifts, etc. All the planning and organizing in the world doesn’t get words down on the page, but what it does do it help mitigate disasters.

Take, for example, a novel. If I don’t work on the manuscript every day, which is not realistic for me to do, then a natural gap occurs from when I last worked on it. When I pick it back up again, I have to remind myself where I’m at in the work. That creates lost time that I’ll never get back. If I could, I would shut everything down and pound out a novel in a month or two. But, my reality doesn’t allow me to do that(1), at least right now.

Enter outlining as a solution. I’ve already been using them for bigger projects like non-fiction books and tabletop games, but I haven’t been drawn to them for fiction because they seem too mechanical. Once I’m immersed in writing a story, it’s impossible for me to get out of that mindset. I don’t have to think about what I’m writing, because I’m in that character’s head and thinking about the story from their POV.

The only problem with being resistant to outlines is that if I get interrupted–which is almost a certainty–then I lose that momentum. I cannot control that natural “flow”, but I can plan for distractions. Now, I’m starting to embrace outlining as a solution, because it allows me to jump back in faster than if I were to re-read everything I wrote.

I haven’t quite sorted out which outlining method I want to use and adapt to my own needs yet. LitReactor has a neat little article called 8 Ways to Outline a Novel that collates some of my thoughts on this. Right now, I’m neck deep in getting everything organized and setting aside time to, uh, track my worldbuilding efforts and read more.

I’m not sure if this would be a solution for you, but some form of tracking is definitely something to think about–especially if you are interrupted umpteen million times throughout the day like I am.

(1) That’s part of the reason why I cannot afford to go to long workshops like Clarion. Besides the cost of attendance, it’s time away from work that I desperately need right now.

    Mood: Winter is still here.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Quadruple
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Half an hour
    In My Ears: DREDD soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Pacific Rim
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming this month!



[New Release] Doubting Souls is Now Available

Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves, were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was non-existent. It is thus with all guilt.

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Immigrants and tribes struggled to co-exist on the Eastern Seaboard in the ever-expanding Colonies. Violent clashes, supernatural beliefs, and demonic influences spelled disaster for Salem Village and its surrounding towns, while others fought werewolves and vampires on the frontier. With so much at risk, only god-fearing men and women were deemed innocent — and those were few indeed.

Travel back in time to the 1690s and experience what it was like to hunt the denizens of the supernatural during the Salem Witch Trials. In Doubting Souls, you will find a comprehensive setting overview, detailed locations, new compacts, a historical overview of which compacts and conspiracies were active at the time, story seeds, and a whole lot more.

Now, you can download Doubting Souls, which was created for Hunter: The Vigil, as a stand-alone chapter.

If you enjoy this era, be sure to pick up a copy of Tales of the Dark Eras for my story set during the same time period.

MANW 2017 Week 7 Check-In: Fire It Up and a New Creative Prompt

MANW February Badge

Congratulations, you made it to week number seven! And, we’re half way through the shortest month of the year! Now can you see why I picked ORGANIZE for this month’s theme?

Whether you’ve embraced that messy pile in your closet or not, you’re probably feeling a bit worn out and uncomfortable right now. That’s normal, because cleaning up old messes and taking stock of your inventory will churn up a lot of emotions and memories. Why did you abandon this project? What happened when you stopped painting/writing/stitching? Then, that’s when all the “shoulda/woulda/coulda’s” start entering your brain. I should have completed this project years ago. I could be further along in my craft if I finished what I started. I would have done what I said I was going to do if I had more focus and dedication to my art.

These feelings and thoughts you’re having are normal, and they’re getting under your skin because they are a sign of change. As you clear out the undergrowth and the sludge, you’ll start to feel resistant after a while because you’re looking back, not forward. That resistance might even lead to procrastination and a case of the “idunwannas”. You’re frustrated, because you can’t see where this intense emphasis will lead–you cannot see that you’ve started your spring cleaning early and you’re making room for growth. What you know, however, is what you feel right now. Annoyed, maybe a little embarrassed, and not at all interested in facing your messes.


A good way to power through this month of organizing, is to use your timer. Instead of thinking about how long it’ll take to sort through that box or clean out your closet, set your timer for half an hour–then clean as fast as you can until the timer goes off. You’d be amazed how fast those 30 minutes will go!


Before you and your productivity can blossom, all that muck and sludge you’ve been carrying around needs to get cleaned up. I encourage you to continue organizing any way that you can, because getting uncomfortable–even anxious or afraid–will lead to a new, more productive phase in your artistry. In other words: you have to take out the trash in order to bring something new in. If it’s piled up, it’s definitely time to clean house.

Whether you have paperwork to file or a messy desk to organize, take advantage of this opportunity now so you be open to more opportunities and possibilities next month! Once your organizational activities are done, all you’ll have to do is maintain your current status. If anything, that should be something to look forward to.

Creative Prompt: Visualizing Your Artist’s Journey

Visualization is a powerful motivator, but it can also be the same thing that keeps you stuck. Dreams are beautiful, ephemeral, fleeting wisps that exist only in your mind. To make them come true, you have to do the work–and that is 1,000 times more challenging than thinking about it (or saying that you’re going to do it). After all, if you envision yourself running a marathon but can’t see yourself taking that first step, then it’s easy to give up and fall under the sway of your gorgeous dream.

Today’s creative prompt takes visualization one step further. Consider that what you’re doing isn’t to achieve an “end point”. After all, you may want to write a novel, but if that’s your only goal you don’t have anywhere to go after that. Career-minded artists are on a journey, and our goals are to get to those next rest stops. Instead of thinking about the finish line, picture yourself at each stage along your path. Subtle changes, even if it’s your hair or clothes, highlight your uniqueness at each stage along the way.

You could:

  • Clip out fashion pics and pin them on a vision board.
  • Pull out old photographs and mark where you’ve been–and opt for where you’re going next!
  • Draw or describe interesting faces at each stage of your creative journey.
  • Pull together a scrapbook that you’ll show to your readers/supporters.
  • Write letters to yourself during unique milestones
  • Build yourself as a character in a game.

What are you wearing? What do you look like? How do you feel? What did you accomplish? Then, fast forward and rewind. How have you changed since you first started your journey as an artist? Can you predict where your future self will be? The differences you’ll pick up on could be major or subtle, and your discovery will evolve naturally as you proceed through this exercise.

Whether the changes you’ve encountered are big or small, the point of this visualization exercise is to rid yourself of the toxic belief that you need to make “it” or be “it”–otherwise you’re nothing. Your success, your journey, your talent cannot be summed up in one word: “Succeed” or “Fail”. Be gentle with yourself, because you are not racing toward a finish line. There’s no One True WayTM to be an artist, and recording the steps on your journey will allow you to embrace that even more than you already are. Enjoy your path, because it’s yours to take!

    Mood: Meh. Winter doldrums.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m flllllyyyyyyyyiiiiinnnnnggggg!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Half an hour
    In My Ears: Dragon Age: Inquisition soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Pacific Rim
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming this month!



On Keeping Your Eyes On Your Own Page

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between what you want to write, and the perception of what a “writer” is. The career of writing is filled with other people’s opinions based on your profile or popularity, which circles you travel in, how much money you’re believed to make, where you publish, who you’ve worked with, what genre you write, how frequently you put out books, and what it is you’re writing in the first place.

Perceptions, dear reader, are all bullshit and they are a distraction that can kill your productivity. They exist as a natural part of being in an uncertain, unpredictable industry where so many of us work from home and only see one another at conventions. This can be exacerbated if you have friends or acquaintances that are writing, too; the best advice I can give you is that your true friends will be happy for your success. If they’re not, and they make passive-aggressive comments, it’s because they perceive your success as a sign of their failing or what they haven’t earned. As a writer, you will define what you believe your success to be. There is no “one true way” to be a writer or have a career, because there is no formula for success other than to be persistent. Do you write? You’re a writer. Do you make money off of your work? Then, you are professional writer. Are you consistent? Then, you building a career in writing.

Enter the idea that you should “keep your eyes on your own page.” It may sound incredibly selfish, but this mantra is a tool for your own survival. Other people’s opinions can be damaging to your career, because that’s when you start to ask questions. Am I doing this right? Am I writing the right books? But wait, that other writer started the same year I did and they’ve surpassed me in money/popularity/etc. Then, the worst possible thing happens: jealousy. You deserved what that other writer got. After all, you wrote the same damn thing. You should’ve gotten that contract. Your book should’ve gotten better placement. Ack! Turning green yet? Worrying about what “X” writer is doing is a recipe for madness, because even if you’re friends that won’t help you get the words down and out the door.

That’s not to say there aren’t real problems that can affect your career like bigotry, sexism, homophobia, nepotism, etc. these things exist in publishing because they occur in real life. Publishing isn’t some esoteric business that exists in the clouds; it’s a multi-million dollar industry filled with people making decisions every day to produce books, comics, and games. What I’m suggesting, is that obsessing over the hows/wherefores/whys of someone else’s book took off won’t do you any favors, because your greatest asset is what you have to sell. If what you have isn’t selling, then write something else and try selling that. Or, do more research on the markets you’re submitting to and try a different one instead.

Lastly, I want to point out another reason why you should keep your eyes on your own page. In this political era, there is a lot of uncertainty that has nothing to do with the publishing industry. That big question mark of what will happen next is omnipresent and frightening as hell. I could spend hours modeling what the future might hold, I could spend days in front of the TV worrying whether or not we’re going to war, or I can write. Thanks to Make Art Not War 2017, I am putting “me” first. This acts as a shield that allows me to protect my work and make better decisions for myself and my career.

When I first designed the MANW program, I did so thinking that it would just be to weather the political storm–but it has a crucial, secondary purpose as well. By prioritizing my art over all the other bullshit out there, I know I am doing everything I can to make something happen. That, outside all the other bullshit, is what’s keeping me sane. I can’t predict what’ll happen, I can’t possibly know whether or not all of this will be worth the effort financially–but I can control whether or not I fill a blank computer screen, one word at a time. Without doing the work, I can’t do anything else. After all, no one wants to read an empty page.

    Mood: Crap, it’s Friday.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Too many
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Half an hour
    In My Ears: Dragon Age: Inquisition soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming this month!



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