Good morning, challengers! Happy first day of March! I am going to jump right into this month’s brand new theme: PLANT.
In January, you had fun making art and using different mediums to PLAY. In February, you got your proverbial shit together to ORGANIZE your digital files and physical supplies. Now, in March? We’ll embrace Spring and PLANT the seeds for your artistic future by setting and accomplishing tiny goals. You can either figure out actions you want to take that help your career or, if you’re just getting started, activities that solidify the core of your discipline.
- Revamp/Update Your Website
- Figure out how many monthly words/sketches you can produce
- Write a short story and submit it
- Develop outlines for your novellas/novels
- Pick a new pattern/technique to master
- Hone your book proposal and submit it
- Pitch panels to a convention
- Get a professional photo taken
- Query an agent
- Take the next step on a big project
Instead of focusing on the big picture, this month is all about the small, manageable tasks that you can accomplish to move the needle forward. Each one you PLANT is a tiny kernel, a little seed that has the potential to grow into something beneficial for you as time goes on. It’s also a visualization: in order to reap the rewards from your efforts, you have to do the work. It sucks, but that is the reality of being an artist. Writers write. Designers design. Painters paint. Etc. etc. etc.
I’ve found that the emphasis on the small is also a good way to proceed if you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable. Do what you can do, instead of worry about what you can’t. Only you know where that line is!
If you’re concerned by this theme because you’re not sure tiny milestones will stretch your limits, I encourage you to take a second and think about what you don’t want to do (or what you’ve been resisting). In an upcoming theme, I will be providing some options for setting larger goals, but for now I wanted to start small and help build your confidence.
A Tale of My Own Burnout
Some of you might be dealing with burnout, and you’re starting to realize that now. I thought I’d drop in and talk about it, because it’s a natural part of being an artist and it’s something we all have to deal with now and again. Burnout is that state of being when your creativity dries up, and you’ve lost the energy to make art. Maybe, for some of you, you’ve also slipped into a depression or can’t find your way.
Burnout happens to all of us, and it’s happened to me a few times in recent years. In my corner of the universe, I encountered burnout because I did not balance “doing the work” with “having a life”. As the developer and lead writer for the Firefly RPG, I developed, produced, and reviewed millions of words to publish one corebook preview, one corebook, multiple adventures, and four supplements in approximately two years on top of dealing with fans, the press, and conventions. For scale, the corebook alone was originally 265,000 words or the equivalent of two and a half full-length novels. I put in long days, because I was responsible for my team and I do not regret a single minute of that experience working with Margaret Weis and the people I hired.
What I didn’t do, however, was remember that life wasn’t just about producing books on deadline when balls dropped. In a static world, I know how many words I can produce/edit/develop per day and how to juggle projects. Real life, however, isn’t static. Shit happens. Someone’s family member passes away. Someone slips into depression. Someone has to go to a convention or their priorities aren’t the same as yours. That is the reality, and there’s no crystal ball that can anticipate all the things that can and will go wrong.
After Firefly, I hit burnout and my darker emotions took over. I felt hollowed out and underwhelmed — despite the fact that this game line was nominated for many awards and so many fans had fun with it. I didn’t want to touch another game, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to remain in the industry. It wasn’t until much later that I realized those emotions were reactionary. Not only that,:I had heard them before. The reason why I was feeling the way I did, is because I did not make room for me or my art. I was doing so much for everyone else to further my career, I forgot about my own self-care.
Once I recognized that, I started making gradual changes to recenter my thinking around “me”. Even back then, I had a business plan. But when you’re burnt out, you don’t care about goals or what you’ve accomplished. You want to feel relief because your proverbial well is empty and you need to refill it.
I dealt with my burnout by free-writing, until I had a stronger handle on my emotions so I wasn’t being a burden on other people around me. What I did, was start in the morning to discharge that energy. Then, I ripped up what I wrote so I didn’t re-read it. After that, I refocused my efforts on strengthening my existing relationships. Sure, more shit happened, but that’s life. To be a career-minded artist, means you have to learn how to be resilient. I cannot separate my life from my art, no matter how hard I try. It is embedded into my DNA. That also means, however, I have to remember how to weather storms of disappointment, rejection, and a thousand other factors working against me. Without this set of skills, you will get crushed under the weight of your own bullshit — or someone else’s!
Creative Challenge: Dealing With Burnout
I’ve mentioned it many times before, but you are the only (and best) person who knows what to do next. In my experience, you have to trust yourself that you do have the answer. If you’re not sure why you’re burnt out, then I recommend taking the time to do a little self-analysis. Ask yourself questions like:
- When was the last time I was excited about making art?
- When am I the happiest/most miserable when making art?
- Did anything change in my life that impacted my art?
- Do I have hidden obligations or responsibilities that feel like a burden?
- How has my environment changed/affected my art?
- Do I need goals or deadlines to make art?
- Am I the type of artist who needs to make art for other people? Or, can I make art for myself?
- Am I burnt out making a specific type of art? Or all forms?
- What motivates me to make art?
You’d be surprised what your answers might be. It could be that you never understood what motivates you to make art. It could be something as simple as a toxic relationship dragging you down. It might be that you slipped into depression without realizing it. Or, it could be that you need to push your limits as an artist and, because you’re not doing that, you’re tired of doing the same thing over and over again.
Once you find out the reason why you’re burnt out, then I suggest identifying triggers that impact your emotions and productivity. They aren’t always the same thing! Triggers vary widely, but because artists are expected to perform emotional labor (e.g. Making art should be fun! It’s not work, what are you talking about?) sometimes it can be harder to tell what those are. This is especially true for anyone with a public profile; when you’re a micro-celebrity, then you have to add back in the work of presenting yourself to fans or speaking in public.
If you can’t figure out what is setting you off or why you’re burnt out, then schedule a vacation for yourself and disconnect from the internet. (If you’re completely burnt out on the internet, I’ve discovered it takes approximately two weeks to reset yourself.) Sometimes, all it takes is a little (or a lot!) of self-care to feel better and get back to making art.
Lastly, if you are burnt out be sure to give yourself some time to deal with this situation. If you can’t completely stop what you’re doing because you don’t have the luxury of taking the time for self-analysis, I suggest making a list of everything that makes you happy. Then, start doing those! Eventually, your mood will either lift or you’ll realize something else is wrong. Either way, that’s another method to help you figure out what’s best for you.
Mood: Focused like an iron grasshopper
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Three-ish
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: MY BUTT
In My Ears: Cars slushing by in the snow
Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Book Last Read: Reference for work
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Dark Knight Rises
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!