Struggling to Make Art? 25 Tips for Getting Your Shit Together

Yuna Final Fantasy X-2

The news sucks. What’s more, it’s not just the news, because so many people are affected by what’s happening — and there’s a lot going on. If you’re an artist of any stripe, you may feel unmotivated right now. Why make art when things are so awful? It might even feel selfish. But, right now, we’re in danger of losing two things: ourselves and our ability to help others either through our art or by falling into depression. Here’s something I learned the hard way that I want to share with you: sometimes, the best way to help others is to help yourself first, so you have more to give. It’s hard to do that if you’re not doing well yourself, because you’ll burn out emotionally and slow down work-wise. Unfortunately, many of us cannot afford that financially, emotionally, etc. And, if you want to know the truth? If you’re struggling you are not alone. Some people can voice that frustation while others can’t. But, this current state of the world is affecting everyone in so many different ways.

So, how do you keep making art? Have a life despite this crushing social zeitgeist? Plan for the future? I don’t know your personal situation, but I’d like to offer some suggestions to help you retain your focus and stay motivated. Your mileage may vary!

1. Participate in a theme month. Inktober is just around the corner! If you can’t draw with pen and ink, don’t be afraid to modify the requirements to do your thing. Small, motivational themes like flash fiction or knitting squares can help pump up your artistic volume.

2. Set tiny goals. When you’re feeling great and everything’s rolling your way, your normal productivity might be 1,000 words a day. If it’s hard to achieve your typical goals right now, set the bar lower. What you’re looking for is consistency. After you accomplish those tiny goals, then raise them up bit by bit until you’re back up to speed.

3. Change your morning routine. I started doing this a few weeks ago, and it’s made a huge difference. First, I make the bed. Then, I go for a walk, and following that over coffee I write my morning pages. While sometimes morning pages are challenging due to work constraints, identifying things I do in the morning before work helps keep me grounded.

4. Try meditation. I tend to do this at night, and I’m not great about getting into a practice. I tend to do this during yoga, which I know I don’t do enough of. Heh. However, I have other friends who swear by this. There’s a few apps you can try that are perfect for beginners, including Headspace.

5. Maintain your creative space. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that my office has been… Well, a disaster. I get halfway through cleaning it up, and I dive into another project… Then poof! It all goes to hell. I spent a solid week going through stuff again, this time assigning smaller projects and goals to the tasks I didn’t finish. Having a clutter free space makes a huge difference! I now have a functional office and, what’s more, I don’t feel like I need to drop what I’m doing to clean it up.

6. Revisit your To-Do list methodology. Okay, so the trick I found was to have separate lists for home, work, and personal. I keep them all in a dot matrix notebook separated by tabs. What separating the lists has done, is keep clear categorizations of my tasks by generic subject. This allows me to have a visible, running track record of what I’m doing (or not as the case may be)! There are apps, too, that can help you with this including Wunderlist and a fun list-turned-game called Habitica.

7. Plan to reconnect. Are there people you haven’t talked to in a while? Friends, family, or peers? Acquaintances you’ve meant to write? Instead of putting that off, turn names into items on your To Do list and reconnect. If you’re not sure where to start, try updating your address book or use your phone to aggregative data. It’s one of the things that’s on my list!

8. Manage your social media time. There’s a couple of online tools you can use on your browser to help you limit distractions. Hard to use them if you have news to share, of course! Other methods of helping you manage your engagements: a timer (or a set time when you’ll check in), limit social media during work hours (see below), only log in during the weekends or special Q&A events, etc. You can also use tools like Hootsuite to wrangle your accounts as well. I find that this is two separate tasks, though, because one is about focusing on the time you log in, while the other is about managing your content.

9. Schedule regular work hours. This is a tip I picked up from Robin D. Laws. Freelancers like myself often taxed with working long or even irregular hours. One method of dealing with motivation is to “go to work”. A 9 to 5 schedule may be unrealistic for you, but I recommend career-minded artists to seriously treat your art as a job — because it is a job. The more you value what you do as an artist, the stronger your motivation will be to continue making art.

10. Check out pro/semi-pro organizations. Organizations like the SFWA can be incredibly valuable to you, because they allow you to connect with other like-minded individuals. While they’re not for everyone, they can be a wonderful way to feel part of your genre or field. Plus, they can help you fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Many of them have resources and downloads to help artists.

11. Schedule a mini-retreat. If you need to get away and completely change your environment, consider doing just that! Often, a retreat can be cost prohibitive so here are some other ideas: go analog and have fun camping, buddy up and visit a friend you haven’t seen in a while, check out deals in off-peak travel times (e.g. Tuesday through Thursday),

12. Take a workshop or class. Many, many authors like Cat Rambo and Writing the Other have online workshops for writing that are of variable fees. YouTube! has a fantastic selection of hands on art classes and tutorials you can dive into as well. Plus, there are workshops you can apply to, such as Launch Pad, Viable Paradise, etc. or workshops at conventions, too.

13. Try a new medium or genre. Sometimes, to get a fresh perspective, you have to get out of your comfort zone. If the words just aren’t coming out, turn your artistic self upside down. If you design and write games, try your hand at a novella. If you normally digitally paint, try singing. New methods of making art are beneficial in other ways, too, because as you try something new it allows your core focus to rest a bit and helps shake up your creative mind.

14. Set Quarterly “New Year’s” Resolutions. One of the things I learned with my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, was that most participants dropped off in March. Knowing this, why not set a quarterly resolution instead? By taking that same “I will” or “I pledge” resolution and breaking it off into quarterly increments, you’ll have a better chance accomplishing it.

15. Write a Letter to Your Future Self. What do you want to do as an artist? And, more importantly, why do you want to make art? It can be hard to think of yourself sometimes, which is why I suggest writing a heartfelt letter that only you will read. Why the future? One of the things I’ve found, is that you need to give yourself something to look forward to otherwise you’ll burn out. Setting goals and resolutions do accomplish that, but a letter is about how you feel. It’s about your hope, your desires, your wishes–which are all important to making art.

16. Find an Artistic Hero. There’s something to be said for finding an author, artist, etc. whose career you’d like to emulate. Mind you, and I do say this with gravitas, do this in a non-creepy or problematic way. Finding a hero doesn’t mean hounding or expecting them to help you, nor does it mean this person is necessarily pure and perfect in their own right. All artists are human, after all, and we are flawed. What it does mean, is that you identify positive attributes of an artist who exhibits what you’d like to do. This is another source of inspiration to help you through your blocked state.

17. Identify a personal mantra. Speaking of hope, one of the common mantras I hear is: “Fake it ’til you make it.” I tend to revise that statement to: “Fake it ’til you become it.” One of my personal faves is “I got this!” Then, write that sucker down and post it above your monitor. Remember: YOU GOT THIS.

18. Make art as gifts. The holidays are a great time to give your art as gifts. Yes, I do think it’s appropriate, and yes I absolutely think it’s an awesome idea! If you’re not comfortable with this, consider making your own cards instead. It’s a little bit of “you”, and you still get the benefit of giving a piece of yourself.

19. Donate a percentage of your sales to charity. If you’re a pro artist and you’re selling your work, think about setting up a charitable donation where ten percent of the proceeds goes to charity. You could do this for an item or across the board. If you have the means, this can help you feel as if you’re doing something to help. There’s a ton of charities out there to pick from. For artist-facing, you could check out Hero Initiative or the RPG Creators Relief Fund for starters.

20. Assign Dollars to Your Time. In this list, I’ve covered emotional and mental aspects of the work. This last tip is about the financial aspects of your work, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional. If none of the above tips help, you might consider taking a fiscal approach and assign yourself an hourly rate, rate per piece, per word, etc. By assigning a financial value to everything you do, you can get a sense of where you’re placing your efforts.

21. Use a Productivity Timer or Timesheet. Along those lines, you can categorize and track where you’re spending your time with a productivity timer like Toggl or MyHours. You may need to account for the time spent inputting data into the app, but to get your shit together give yourself three months. The first month sees how you’re spending your time, the second is to adjust for any changes you make, and the third is to see your time in practice.

22. Change your deadline visibility. If you are tracking deadlines with milestones or other dates on your calendar, try using colored lines with markers or (my favorite) Stabilo pens on a physical calendar or planner to indicate when a project stops and starts. That can help you see, very clearly, how many projects you’ve got going on at the same time. Another method that can help you, is to try your hand at bullet journaling to get a sense of how much you have on your plate.

23. Buddy up! Find someone to check in with on a semi-regular basis. The goal of a buddy is for you to help each other. This type of arrangement works great if you have boundaries and expectations clearly established ahead of time. A mutually beneficial arrangement like this works wonderfully if your goals are aligned and you’re in a similar frame of mind for your creative efforts. It can also work well if you don’t create in the same field, because the whole point of a buddy is to be a cheerleader for each other. Plus, you get to learn something new and interesting from someone else!

24. Interview other Artists – One way to break past the isolation and frustration you’re experience is to interview other artists. Interviewing other artists for your blog or social media also offers both of you content; they get to promote their stuff, and you get to highlight them for your readers. Interviews can also be tailored or small, too, you could do three-question interviews as opposed to ten or fifteen. Or, alternatively, you could simply reach out privately and ask other artists how they’re dealing with the current political atmosphere.

25. Get Professional Help – If you’ve tried everything there is to try and you’re still not able to produce art, please consider getting professional help. Be kind to yourself! It matters! That may be a sign something else is wrong, and I encourage you to get the care you need.

Mood: Hovering in my chair.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: A LOT.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Pokewalk.
In My Ears: Air conditioner
Game Last Played: Final Fantasy VIII
Book Last Read: Loads for work.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




Update on Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Participant Badge

Hey folks, wanted to give you a heads up about the status of my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge. I’m spending the rest of September to use my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge time to work on my eBook, polish off a few short stories on spec, and get my office sorted after a busy summer of travel. The eBook has a cover and is seventy-five percent completed; I need to give it another read through and make sure the content is clear for beginning and hobbyist artists, in addition to professionals. Then, in October, I’ll be kicking off a new (hopefully) fun and holiday-related theme. I haven’t decided yet, but I might be participating in NaNoWriMo.org this year. My schedule is more focused on local events for the time being, and that’s going to hold my attention for a while so I can enjoy the season. Summer travel, in particular, was a lot more than I expected to deal with; I had four conventions in two months plus international travel, and that took a lot more energy than expected for a lot of reasons.

Now that I’m back at my desk, I’ve been working through the last vestiges of that stress to fall into a great routine. I’m happier than I’ve been in a few months, and definitely taking advantage of it. There’s been a lot of stress these past few years, for sure, and the news sucks. But, if I want to keep my focus as someone who works from home, I have to do a little self-care. That’s why I’ve recently introduced a lot of positive changes in my activity level, and that has had an effect on my system. I’m much more sensitive to caffeine, and I need to remind myself to drink more water! Why bring this up? Well, something to think about for yourself is that self-care is definitely needed not just for your health, but for your writing, too. Stress, hormonal fluctuations, activity level, posture, breathing, changes in your diet…all of these things impact your mood, health, and ability to put thoughts together–even help you pummel those brain weasels into submission. Self-care is important to do the thing! Do all the things! Don’t forget!

Before I head off to my To Do List From HellTM, comments are open on this post today if you’d like to suggest a good place for donations to hurricane and earthquake relief. For those of you who were in the direct path of the multiple hurricanes, fires, earthquakes recently, I am so sorry for all you’ve experienced. My thoughts are with you. As a reminder, game designers and freelancers affected by this tragedy may apply for assistance through the RPG Creators Relief Fund, comic book writers, editors, artists, etc. can apply through The Hero Initiative. I’ve also donated the proceeds from my first comic to DriveThruComic.com’s Feeding America Hurricane bundle. The digital comics bundle offer has been up for a few weeks now, and it ends Wednesday, September 13th at midnight. Following this, I encourage you to check out Feeding America and Doctors Without Borders. Both fantastic places to give a little if you can in this time of need.

If you have other charities you’d like to recommend, please do so in the comments below.

Mood: All the pentacle-covered coins, all the time.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Good grief.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Stepping. One, two. One, two.
In My Ears: Harry Potter soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Loads for work.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Central Intelligence
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




My Books of M Author’s Shelf Thus Far and Sticks

Scribe of the Ages

This past summer, a reader asked if I had thrown together a shelf of what I’ve worked on. I hadn’t! I did think the suggestion was a great idea, and I’ve managed to pull together some of my publications. This isn’t everything and it doesn’t include any digital-only releases, but it’s a way of highlighting what I’ve done in the past ten years. Anything pre-2005 has been lost, minus precious few of my academic works that, quite frankly, are so terrible I’d rather not show them to the world for a few reasons. There’s a definitive difference between intelligence or IQ, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence. I only had one of the three the first time around, and my incredible ignorance showed in my work.

This exercise helped me do two things: one, have a visual reminder of what I’ve done. Two, help remind me that in order for this shelf to grow, I have to write more. For me, the depth and breadth of my personal value as a writer is measured by what I do next. I can point to each and every publication on this list and tell you how I feel about it–good, bad, or indifferent. Some stories and games I’m immensely proud of; others I’m not. Too, much of this shelf I’ve gotten paid via “work-for-hire”, so the inventory of original stories I own is smaller than the works I’ve done for other properties. That means, if I want to remain viable I need to keep writing and seeking publication.

Some Books and Games by Monica Valentinelli

I mentioned before I have a business plan, and my metric for measuring progress does factor into that somewhat. But, more importantly, the “measuring stick” is something I hadn’t given a name to before. My friend, Shlock Mercenary‘s Howard Tayler, had mentioned that bit of insight to me recently. Basically, if you’re an artist you have a stick or some means of measuring your progress. There are 1,000 unknowns which contributes to the need for a stick in the first place, but what that stick represents is unique to different people. Some examples of this include: how many followers you have on social media, being associated with other high status individuals, how many readers you have, what awards you are nominated for/earn, how vocal your fanbase is, how many reviews you have, how many copies you sell, if your work is studied in academia, how much money you make, how many conventions you’re seen and mingle at, how much of your work is original vs. work-for-hire, etc.

Some artists measure others by their “stick”–a thing I did early on and am incredibly ashamed to admit I did. I used to think no one cares about the book you wrote ten years ago, but for some authors? That’s enough. That’s their path. They wrote their story, and they are happy with the outcome. Good for them. Not, “this isn’t valuable because it’s not what I would have done.” And, I’ve since learned that measuring others by what I feel is important can be incredibly short-sighted and downright harmful. Just because someone hasn’t published their novel recently, doesn’t mean they aren’t still writing, that there’s other things going on in their life, or they aren’t valued as a writer and human being.

Having a career as an author is becoming more challenging every day. So, sometimes measuring your own progress against what you’ve done in the past doesn’t work, either, because it doesn’t account for all the things that can and will go wrong just by having a life. Outside of that, too, are the financial considerations and sacrifices necessary to write in the first place. Sometimes, those pieces line up. Other times, they don’t. When they don’t? That’s when bitterness can set in. That’s the danger of a stick. Identifying what that metric is, however, is a neat way of navigating those emotions and I appreciate Howard’s insight so, so much.

For now, I’m going to focus on the positive aspects of my own stick. I need to. If I want to be hopeful about certain possibilities, I must do the work. I haven’t felt that emotion–hope–in a long, long time. It feels great to fall in love with my work, and I know in my heart I cannot control the outcome or its reception. While that keeps me grounded, for the first time in years I am daring to dream. Writing more the only thing I can control, and when all else fails? Putting words into a blank page is the surest way to move forward. Without that, without doing the work, I am not whole.

Anyway, whether you’re just starting out as a writer or you’ve already been established, I definitely recommend having a shelf of your stuff. It’s made a positive impact on me, and I hope it’ll do the same for you.

Mood: Slightly off of center, but on the right path.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I admit NOTHING!
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: More step.s
In My Ears: Judge Dredd soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Loads for work.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Victor Frankenstein
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




A Long Overdue Update and a New D&D Thing

Cthulhu Scribe by Drew Pocza

Hey folks, it’s been a couple of months. Three conventions and multiple continents later, and I’m back at my desk. We went to Helsinki, Finland for RopeCon, and had two weeks or so to scramble before the 50th Anniversary of Gen Con. Following that? We came home for Geek*Kon, too. I have a lot I want to talk about here on the blog, work to revive my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, and deadlines climbing all over my face. Yes, deadlines may be spiders–far creepier if I let them pass by!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time getting centered again, in part because waiting on certain projects/contracts really affected my productivity. I’ve got a few pieces to nail down in September, but most of my work is fully caught up. Now, it’s just a matter of focusing on milestone deadlines, and I’m good. Thankfully, my travel schedule is slowing down this Fall intentionally; I have a lot of art I want to do and unfortunately blogging plus conventions plus deadlines plus having a life got to be too much.

I’m hoping to announce some of the major bits soon enough. Yes, they include fiction! Non-fiction! And games! My business plan’s goals are definitely congealing, but I’ve learned a key thing that I didn’t account for: traditional publishing is slower than I expected it to be. That means, at least for the time being, I’ll continue to work in games and find other venues to publish in. I can always hope for the best while planning for the worst. Accommodating for growth has been a learning curve, because contracts can be either feast or famine. The key, for me, is to have a schedule that’s well-balanced, and that can be hard when factoring in money, family, health. Too bad Siri doesn’t manage that, too.

Speaking of “the absolute worst”, the news is dim, grim, and I’m so sorry to hear how many of you are affected by flooding, fires, etc. Many of my peers and co-workers are impacted by what’s happening, and that’s affecting their families, friends, deadlines, and travel. I don’t know what will happen long-term, especially if we continue to stick our heads in the sand that the climate is changing, but I have faith that we will continue to pitch in and help each other out. To that end, the first comic I wrote is included in a digital bundle of comics to benefit Hurricane Harvey victims. Proceeds from the Feeding America Hurricane Bundle will go to Feeding America, one of many disaster relief organizations DriveThruComics.com partners with.

And last but not least, I’m woefully behind on updating my publications and ensuring those materials are up-to-date. This week, a new adventure for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition went live on DMsGuild.com. Over the Edge, which I co-authored with Shawn Merwin, is now available. This adventure is part of the Adventurer’s League and represents the most recent season. It is jam-packed with the possibility for adventure, and each section plays in about an hour–more if you’re like me and enjoy some great storytelling!

I will have more to talk about next week, and will start critiquing Iron Fist. For now, hang in there.

Mood: It’s fall. There’s pumpkin spice everything.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Uh, I had more water than caffeine. This is my ashamed face.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Lots of steps.
In My Ears: Coffee house music. It’s very soothing. Zzzzzzzzzz…
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Loads for work.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest
project update. New project update coming when I get time.







Monica Valentinelli > 2017 > September

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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