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.




MANW Week 29 Check In: When Art Isn’t Solitary

July MANW 2017 Challenge

This month’s theme is MOVEMENT, and I want to talk about what that means for you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen and heard artists perceive themselves to be failures when the words aren’t flowing or when projects stall. Success and failure isn’t that black and white, but more than that I think we often forget that we can’t do this job alone. Often, we may make a thing but we wind up working with a proofreader, editor, agent, etc. to ensure that piece of art is not only amazing it is published and distributed, too. Then, there’s the other side of the equation, the finding fans, readers, etc. who’ll pay you for your work. Sometimes, to get your projects moving you need to rely on other people to help. Doing so isn’t a sign of failure, it’s a means of making sure your art is getting traction. Why is it perceived as failure? Because there’s a myth that the runaway success stories “did it all themselves”. That’s marketing, talking. That’s often not the reality.

I know this might come as a shock, but part of your artistic process will involve dealing with other people if you plan on doing this job professionally. (This is also true if you are making art or interacting as part of any community, whether that’s within a fandom or not. And yes, I include cosplay as part of this.) The act of making art can be solitary at times, but it doesn’t have to be. I personally feel it’s better for your overall process if it’s not, because sometimes other people give you invaluable perspectives that help you and your work. Editors, agents, publishers, beta readers…they are not the enemy. They exist to help you tell the best story in the hopes of reaching more readers and, just as you are, they’re doing the best they can too. Unfortunately, other people are sometimes seen as a threat to our artistic process; when those relationships don’t work, we hear the horror stories and think it’ll never work. This is an unrealistic view, for sure.

I’m going to tell you another truth: you won’t get along with everyone you meet. It sucks. It’s hard as hell. Sometimes (especially if you’re me and have a larger-than-life personality), you will rub someone the wrong way. Maybe a project will have impossible deadlines, a former peer will get a “big head”, a former peer will think you’re “nobody” and abandon you, a casual acquaintance will expect/demand you teach them your ways or give them all your contacts, etc. There are a thousand ways a relationship can go wrong, and just as many ways it can go better than expected, too.

So how do you find the right people? How do you know when someone is paying lip service? How can you tell who you’ll connect with and who you won’t? Here’s a secret: how you deal with people when you’re an artist isn’t any different than how you approach them in other aspects of your life. You may have a professional “face”, but how you put yourself out there in the world isn’t as important as what you think of others. If you treat other artists as business cards to collect, as trophies to put on pedestals, or as any other type of object? I would not be surprised if your relationships fail. Artists may make the thing you love, but they’re still people with their own friends and families, needs and desires, joys and fears–just like you. That’s why competition in this business doesn’t work and can be incredibly harmful. It’s not a zero sum game. Or, as my friend Lucien Soulban put it: “Someone else’s success is not a sign of your failure.”

I want to come back to conflict resolution in a later post, because it’s a crucial aspect of the collaborative process that speaks to power dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Need more room to dive into that, though! So stay tuned.

Mood: Huh. It’s Wednesday? Okay then!
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Yeah. It’s “ashamed to admit” levels.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Went for a short walk in the blistering heat.
In My Ears: Air conditioner
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Epic Fantasy anthology
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The 6th Day. Eerie predictions!
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




Hello Readers, I’m Uncomfortable…

Sephiroth Avatar

Hello readers, I’m uncomfortable.

I’ve had a massive story in my head, languishing in the background, that I couldn’t bring myself to finish for ten years. Reading history inspired me and learning about genocide horrified me in more ways I could imagine. My fear became tangible, as I realized the story needed to be the one I wanted and could tell, that not every tale is mine. I am the vehicle for the stories that filter through this mind and heart, and my identity and experiences shape them in unique ways.

The closer I get to telling my story, though, the more uncomfortable I get. Not because I worry who will read it, who will like it, who will think it’s “good.” Not because I worry about the money that may or may not come from trying to sell it, either. Not because I spent almost a decade worldbuilding, researching, and working on various drafts and outlines.

I have made my peace with all the things I can’t control, and built several insurance policies in place should I fail. If this story doesn’t work out, then I’ll have another one. Dozens of them. Releasing properties and games and commentary and programs, until something does resonate.

I am uncomfortable because I don’t want to write this story. Not because I don’t care, but because I worry about it that much. I’m terrified I’ll get the details wrong or that I’m sending the wrong message in the story that leads up to the main, epic plotline. Vanity project? Waste of time? No, I’m not worried about that. Everything I do, even the publications that have come out are associated with my name, my brand. It’s the getting it wrong bit that makes me very uncomfortable, it’s telling the hardest parts that are more painful than I expected, and I’m doing it — I’m writing these stories — anyway.

You’ll find out more in October.

Mood: Monday mania
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Oh crap, I lost count.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Writing!
In My Ears: Air conditioner
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Epic Fantasy anthology
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Originals Season 4. You ended it too sooooooooon!
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




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