The Hidden Value of Planting Seeds

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If you’re embracing the monthly themes, then in January you found the value in PLAY. In February, you used that month to ORGANIZE, and in March you’re thinking about ways to PLANT the seeds for your career or your future. On the surface, it might feel as if you’re going too slow or you’re not being productive because you’re focusing on smaller tasks. You may not realize it, but all big projects–even writing a novel–can be completed by accomplishing mini-goals one day at a time.

The hidden value of planting seeds to further your career, however, is not the joy you get from seeing your progress or completing tasks–it’s your fresh awareness of time. It takes time to paint, time to write, time to learn a new skill or technique, time to submit, etc. All of the little things you do to build a career adds up, and without realizing it you’ve spent the time required to do the work.

Often, the reason why new artists stop, start, and then stop and start again is because it seems as if success only comes to lucky people and it happens overnight. The truth about success, is that it does take time to master your art. Some say it takes ten years to achieve success, while others claim success is in the eye of the beholder. Regardless of what you believe, the missing component to achieving your dreams is often time; there are no shortcuts and so much is out of the artist’s control. Even if you catch a lucky break, you still have to do the work in order to take advantage of that opportunity. To achieve your dreams there is only one constant, and that’s to do the work and all the many little things that entails through deliberate practice.

This month’s theme, PLANT, will help you establish a deliberate practice because you’re thinking about all the small actions necessary to reach your goals. Then, once you’re confident you’ve established (or re-secured) the needed discipline to make art and build your career, then you can look farther into the future and plan for bigger goals. After all, if you know you can do the work (or have the dedication to learn) it’s that much easier to actually do it.

    Mood: Pi Day!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Enough that I’m floating
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Work out? In a snowpocalypse?
    In My Ears: Space heater
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2: The Last Mission
    Book Last Read: Black Unicorn
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Legend of the Seeker
    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!



4 Ways You Can Support my Work

Hello! I had some lovely players and readers reach out via Facebook last week asking how best to support my creator-owned and media/tie-in work. There are four ways you can help me out:

    1. You can leave a review. Reviews are a fantastic way for you to help other readers and players like yourself know whether or not a game or book I’ve worked on will resonate with them. Amazon reviews continue to be very important, but reviews on DriveThruRPG.com, DriveThruFiction.com, and places like GoodReads are also valuable.
    2. You can buy me a coffee. In lieu of an Etsy store or Patreon, you can buy me a cup of coffee on ko-fi.com. I am making plans to get my original work out there, but it will take a little bit before I am set to launch. My biggest concern is that I do not want to make promises to you that I can’t keep–so I’ve got to fold those efforts back into my business plan. (Business plans aren’t sexy, I know, but they help keep me focused and ensure I’m paying my bills.)
    3. You can support FlamesRising.com and FR Press.FlamesRising.com is a dark speculative horror zine, and it is a site I’ve written and edited for. FR Press is the small press publishing arm of the website, and I’ve published a few books and games through them that are available via the Flames Rising Shop. If you’re interested in what I’m doing, you can search for me by name.

This list of titles will continue to evolve as I put out more creator-owned stuff and get my fiction off the ground. I’ll keep you posted when new releases are available, so watch this space!

In terms of awards, I do appreciate it when I’m nominated–and they do help in my experience–but I regard them to be icing and not cake. If you feel like nominating me, awesome! Here’s my list of 2016 publications. If you don’t, totally get it and no worries. There are plenty of amazing books, games, comics, movies, etc. out there that are worthy of your time and energy. That’s the beauty of being an artist: there’s always another book, game, comic, song, etc. to make, appreciate, and love!

    Mood: Firing on all cylinders
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: SO MANY
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I lifted a pen. Does that count?
    In My Ears: Nothing. Shhhhh… the cats are sleeping.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Reference for work
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Binge-watching Kung Fu Panda (Yes, this is my embarrassed face.)
    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!



MANW Week 9: March’s Theme and Avoiding Burnout Tips

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.

You might:

  • 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.

Good luck!

    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!



February MANW 2017 Challenge Recap: How’d You Do?

MANW February Badge

The end of February is upon us, which means it’s time for another month-end recap. First, I want to circle back to my original pledge to share with you how I did. This month’s theme was ORGANIZE; it was designed to make way for new projects, assess materials/inventory, and get everything sorted.

Let’s see how I did!

My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.

I averaged about a half an hour per day this month, and wound up planning longer sessions for make-up time. This was due, in part, to this month’s organizational activities which ended up being a bigger time sink than I originally anticipated.

As I started going through stuff, I encountered brain weasels that threatened to de-rail me. Those trips down memory lane were Not FunTM, because I focused on the shoulda/woulda/coulda’s and not on using the past as a jumping off point. This added a layer of time as I recognized I was dealing with stuff, and that slowed me down a bit.

  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.

I did not have a problem with motivation, so this didn’t apply.

  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, this I didn’t do. I forgot my own advice: celebrate my accomplishments no matter how small!

  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017

Yep, I did do this! Some participants are popping in and out, and I’ve noticed that some folks are getting sucked into the news as well. Plus, we’re adding some new folks here and there. That’s normal. My goal is to remain a constant this year: I, along with this challenge, will always be here to inspire, motivate, and keep you going.

  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

My social media usage changed quite a bit after I made some decisions last month, and they continued to evolve as I focused on Life, The Universe, and EverythingTM. I spent a lot of time on what was happening in my own backyard, and did not add my social media accounts back onto my phone. I managed to get one quarterly group meeting for creatives off the ground, made sure I was up-to-date on convention planning, and only had one or two weeks where Art Night didn’t go as planned. I also added a new website blocker that’s active during work hours; this allows me to focus and find better things to do when I need that five-or-fifteen minute break.

February Recap: ORGANIZE

I spent a lot of time taking stock of what I had and where I wanted to go next. Out of this, I planned a bunch of projects and identified which specific things I needed to do and acquire. I got my proverbial shit together, bought some reference books, and know exactly what I have to do in order to move forward.

Some “Idunwannadoit” projects, like filing, are going to take a while. I started to go through The Black Hole That Is My Office ClosetTM and did make some headway there, and assessed my art supplies to have a clear picture of what I can make with what I have. My beading supplies are going to take a lot longer to inventory, because I discovered another box I had stashed away. Plus, I do want to finish a few statement necklaces for the conventions I’m attending. I am, however, not going to make the mistake of letting this stuff slide or saying “I’ll remember!” I’m regarding these projects as work-related, so they are being broken down further.

I also went through a lot of my digital spaces and got those cleaned up. Plus, I started relying more on Google Calendar and Wunderlist, and that helped a ton! The nice thing about both of these tools, is that I can sync up my work/life activities and get valuable reminders popping up on my phone. The only thing I don’t like about Wunderlist, is that it takes 12 hours to sync with GCal; everything else about it is pretty slick.

What I’ve Learned Thus Far

January was a great warm up for this year-long initiative, and February allowed me to really dig in and make a push for my own art. I have learned a few things along the way about this project’s affect on my psyche, and I’d like to share them with you.

  • My mental health dramatically improves when I’m not connected twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Going outside for walks helps a lot!
  • My fear response is to summon Ryan Reynolds, and I’ve been channeling him a lot lately.
  • To prevent modeling (e.g. plotting out what will happen in the future to be prepared for it), it’s important to focus on the “now”. What can I control, what can I affect, how can I help.
  • Shouldering an emotional burden isn’t just overwhelming, it is work. Managing your emotions is one-hundred and fifty percent emotional labor that impacts everything from your personal to your professional life, and that requires awareness and trouble-shooting to figure out how to deal with that.
  • Making my own art has allowed me to dream big again–even in this charged environment. I want to do such a great job people will gladly pay money for the end result, and being aware that making art is work helps me value my efforts more.
  • I’m reminded that not everyone has the same goals, passion, or drive that I do–and that’s okay!
  • There is no better place to find inspiration than in the life I’m living and have lived.
  • Being uncomfortable is a sign I’m on the right track.
  • Small measures of resistance still matter.
  • Hope is one of the most underrated and unique emotions we can experience as human beings.

I can’t wait to see how this year shapes up. It’s a lot to process after only two months of the challenge, but I can feel the change on a cellular level. How about you? Did you have a good time making art in February? Was the theme something you embraced? Or did you avoid it altogether? On Wednesday, I’ll be kicking off March’s new–and super fun–theme! Rest well, and don’t forget to congratulate yourself on another awesome month of making art!

    Mood: Zen with a side of Zzzzzzzzz’s.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Ummmmmm… I think two?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walked a few steps.
    In My Ears: Xerxes, HWV40: Ombra mai fu (Largo)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Reference for work
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Trevor Noah’s Netflix Special
    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!



Have Confidence in Yourself! Your Mileage Will Vary

Whenever I read advice either online or in a book, I often feel frustrated whenever I see the words “this is what you must do”. Sometimes, the text is massaged as a conscious decision to present the author as a confident, successful expert. On other occasions, the “must” originates from a deeply heartfelt sentiment. This solution to a problem worked so well for the speaker/writer, that it’s guaranteed to work for everyone else, too. Lastly, there is a style of editing that removes or reduces certain tenses so the prose pops off the page; changing words from “you might” to “you will” alters the messaging and makes the advice sound more personal and immediate.

In my experience, The One True WayTM doesn’t work when you start applying it in practice. The proof? There is no absolute tried-and-true method for weight loss, to write a novel, to learn how to paint, etc. The sum of who you are is comprised of your body and your mind, but it’s also impacted by who’s around you, what your culture/identity is, and a thousand other factors.

Despite the tendency to categorize humans simply, we are far more neuro- and bio-diverse than the stereotypes might have us believe. We do, absolutely, share some things in common with each other; these commonalities allow us to benefit from our experiences while learning about our differences. Those nuances are hard to address when a book is being written to teach you how to plot, devise characters, or draw manga figures; that’s the reason why some how-to and advice books only work for some people.

This is the reason why I have been consciously avoiding the One True WayTM-isms as much as possible, especially since I started the Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge. I do want to present myself as a confident motivator, but I don’t ever want you to feel as if I’m forcing my methods on you. After all, I started this program because I wanted to help keep your creative fires burning and, to do that, sometimes I have to say things like “stop waiting” or “wrangle your brain weasels” or “pick up your pen” to motivate you. I have faith you will find joy or unlock solutions to your problems in your own time, in your own way.

    Mood: Tired
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not a lot, and I am feeling it.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Butt-sitting
    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: RED 2
    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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