MANW Week 17: A Reminder to Be Gentle

Gentle is a word that is often misassociated with weakness and with hyper-femininity. Only, gentle is a word that should hold great importance, but is often overlooked because it is viewed to be antithetical to strength. Gentle is the word I need when I cannot muster up the will to make art, when I don’t make a deadline, when life throws me a curveball and I feel like I’ve messed up. Gentle relates to healing, relaxation, soothing waters, and gentle breezes. And yet, often it’s dismissed out of hand and painted as laughable or inconsequential or full of childlike naivete.

I learned to be someone who downplayed the need for gentleness, and had to unlearn it. Yes, some of that is due to the echoes of a past that grow quieter with each passing year. But, some of that is also because I’ve trained myself to handle failure by being pragmatic to avoid succumbing to my emotions. Then, April happened. I set achievable goals, traveled, painted, wrote, and blew up the internet. What I didn’t (and could not) prepare for, was the toll this situation took on my psyche and general well-being. I did, absolutely, miss a few things and I still feel terrible that happened. I asked myself why I allowed myself to slip up; didn’t I know any better; hadn’t I been through far worse. All the while, pushing myself harder to get back on my feet and into a regular routine.

In the process of cleaning up my proverbial mess, I did three things that were outside of my normal routine: I did not engage in retail therapy, I used my Make Art Not War 2017 time to critique/sub original short stories again, and I started walking regularly again. By doing so, I naturally stopped chiding myself because those small movements represented progress and gave me something to look forward to. Gentleness, in other words, led to another emotion I’m not used to having: hope. Mind you, I couldn’t have picked myself up without knowing there were supportive people out there well beyond the friends and peers I already knew. But, lesson learned. I realized that the ability to fall, to be gentle with yourself after you go through something awful, is not something we’re taught to handle well as artists. It is, however, part of learning how to be resilient. Even so, there’s a certain amount of privilege that comes from knowing and having the ability to fall within a safe space. A lack of safety net or support system dramatically impacts your psyche–especially if there’s financial concerns involved.

When I designed Make Art Not War 2017, I didn’t think about safety nets because I have a small, but stable one and it never occurred to me that it’d be needed. I had been working on rebuilding my local community with varying degrees of success, and I felt anything I could provide would not be helpful since my footprint can’t reach into your backyard. Instead, I focused my efforts on a program that could help empower and motivate you to produce more art despite all the distractions in the world today. Making art does require time, consistency, and persistence, and I was very conscious of that this month.

In the past, I’ve often said that success is something you have to determine for yourself. Now, I realize that some failures are the same way. Sometimes, you have to be the one to figure out what a setback means for your art or your career–because you’re the only one who can determine what happens next. Do you get back on the proverbial horse and make more art? Do you double down when faced with criticism only to later recognize you made a mistake? Do you need to take a quick break to give yourself relief before diving back into the pile? To address the hardest questions of all, I feel that gentleness is required. At the end of the day, you are human and you will fail from time to time. Failure is natural. It’s what you do with that failure that defines you.

Sometimes, to pick yourself back up a little gentleness is what’s needed the most, and I hope that you will never forget that self-care isn’t something to overlook. It’s what I needed this month, and I hope this post serves both as a reminder and inspiration for you to be kind to yourself as well. Be well.

    Mood: Thar be dragons
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Half as much as the day before, but not nearly enough as today
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Another hour’s worth of walking.
    In My Ears: Dragon Age: Inquisition soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Pokemon GO. Review forthcoming. Post gym. No, not “a” gym, a Pokemon gym.
    Book Last Read: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
    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, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering. 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, uh… when I get caught up.

There’s No One True Path For Artists

The Hobbit Gandalf Avatar

In place of today’s Make Art Not War 2017 check-in, I wanted to talk about something I’ve seen pop up recently among new writers. It’s about the idea that if you don’t get a prestigious opportunity you’ll never make it.

When you’re just starting out, you are full of enthusiasm and passion. Maybe you’re a writer or an artist or a musician. You’re doing your thing, grooving along, but making art isn’t enough for you. You want to do more, so you do some research and talk to your friends. Maybe you find a mentor, or maybe you model your next steps after someone who’s already made it. You go to school, audition, apply, set up shop, enter a contest.

Failure isn’t an option, because you’ve internalized that the path you’ve chosen is the only way to get what you want. It’s the most prestigious contest, school, publication, venue, or internship but, while you know you’re up against stiff competition, you are shocked to learn you’ve been rejected. Now, you’re crushed. You will never be a professional artist. You’ve failed. That was the one path, the only option, and now you’re totally screwed.

I cannot tell you how incredibly damaging this mentality is to you and your inner artist. There is no one true path, because there are literally thousands of ways to be an artist, sell your work, and connect with an audience. Besides that, there are hundreds of things outside of your control. Sometimes, for example, you could take all the “right” steps and wind up with a crappy editor or a book launch that happens to coincide with a natural disaster or glaring headline. Other times, your venue could have awful acoustics and your mic could go out (1) and yet the show must go on.

Hanging your entire career as an artist on one path or one opportunity is all but guaranteed to crush you. Maybe not the first time, but what about the second? Or the third? Making art is what lays the foundation for being a professional artist, but having a career isn’t that cut and dry. You will have success, you will have failure, and you will have varying degrees of both. No doubt, you’ll learn this as you continue to build your career and have a life, because the unexpected can turn you sideways. You crash your car, watch a friend die, get pregnant, are laid off from your day job.

The bad things that happen to you are normal. They can happen to anyone, and they are not a sign of your failure. There are so many things that make up the story of a life, and there’s no possible way to predict everything that can and will happen to you. This, dear reader, is why I feel learning how to be resilient is more important than pinning all your hopes and dreams on one action. People who aren’t, who have internalized the lie that success is granted via a linear, uphill climb, tend to look down on other artists who haven’t made “it” in their minds.

To be an artist is to walk your unique path. It may not be exactly the same as anyone else’s, but it is yours. Sometimes, you’ll get stuck at a crossroads or you’ll trip and fall. Sometimes, you’ll go really, really fast and the wind will be at your back. Enjoy it. This is your journey.

(1) Mic problems? This has happened to me more times than I can count.

MANW Week 15: Art is My Inch

Sephiroth Avatar

I wasn’t sure I was going to do today’s check-in, because yesterday’s announcement and the fall out from that has been overwhelming. I feel everything, ranging from anger to utter shock to guilt, and in the midst of all that I still have to get work down. Unfortunately, that’s been slow at best.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Make Art Not War 2017 is a challenge I cooked up to kick off the new year. It was a way to help both me (and, hopefully you) retain a focus on art despite everything else that’s going on. That, unfortunately, has turned out to be harder than I thought when I have to perform emotional labor. There are days, like today, where I feel I can’t express all of my conflicting emotions. Part of that, is because as a professional I do perform emotional labor. The other bit, though, is that I don’t know how to describe it. I knew yesterday was bad, when I was at sushi therapy (my words for delicious sushi) and an elderly gentlemen walked toward me with his face lit up to tell me how beautiful I was. I didn’t feel beautiful. I just felt very small.

But then, as I was wandering off to a Pokestop, I remembered something. It was a powerful scene from the movie V for Vendetta based on Alan Moore’s work. I remember Valerie writing about the inch no one else can take, her story filled with hope, love, despair, and gut-wrenching tragedy. She says: “An inch… it is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.”

I realized what Valerie’s inch is for me. That inch is the art I make for you and for myself, because no one can take that away. No one. All the worries about dying in obscurity or a lack of discovery pale in comparison to the horror, the terror that comes from not making art. I don’t know if I’ll be wildly successful, and I can’t plan for that. I can only plan for a possible future, and then adjust based on what actually happens. The way to get there, though, is to take an inch. Every, damn day. Every chance I get. One, beautiful inch at a time.

MANW Check-In Week 14: Making Room for Art

Today’s check-in is brief; my head’s been down and I’ve been focused on words, words, art, and more words. I’d like to briefly discuss what it means to make room for art, and how a simple trick to reprogram your brain can help you get the words down, the sketches out, or the stitches stitched. Often, we feel guilty making art because it feels as if it’s not important. It’s not work, it’s not going to make us any money, it’s playtime. These toxic attitudes toward our art affect our mindset and sink into our subconscious, so when we go to make art it can feel like it’s a “big deal” or a major event.

The value of making art can’t often be seen or felt until we actually do the work, however, which means that we have a tendency to say “No, I can’t.” before we do it because we are operating off bad assumptions. It won’t be worth making a bracelet, because it’s just for you. It won’t be worth writing that story, because no one will read it. Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. These premises, when coupled with the time required to sit down and make art, combine to form a barrier that actively works against our inner artist. Then, when we do make art, we feel guilty about it. We feel as if we shouldn’t have been making art in the first place.

To get past that roadblock, sometimes the best way to do that is to not think about the value after you make art or the time required. Instead, focus on where you do something small to make art by re-prioritizing your efforts to put your art (and yourself) first. For example, if you’re having a hard time writing a novel, then perhaps your priority isn’t placed on finishing one. What happens when you do make it a priority? Suddenly, everything shifts. You might spend your days doing the same thing you’ve always done, but instead you’re actively looking for ways to carve out ten, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time to chip away at your story.

I hope you’re continuing to make art and you’re having fun this week! Spring seems to have arrived with a lot of sunshine, some rain, and many flowers. Finally, eh?

    Mood: There is nothing but words
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: 2. And I, um, went through withdrawal.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking!
    In My Ears: Air conditioner
    Game Last Played: Pokemon GO
    Book Last Read: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The 10th Kingdom
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and Unknown Armies Books 1-3. 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 New April SPEED Theme Sprints and Badge!

April 2017 Make Art Not War Participant Badge

Timey Whimey the TimerGood morning, challengers! Today, I’m excited to dive into April’s theme: SPEED. VROOOOOOOOOOOOM!

Last month you spent time wandering to PLANT the seeds for your artistic future. Now, you’re ready to give your mind a break and do something fun.

The point of this month’s theme is to push yourself one or two times a week, to move past your procrastination and revel in the joy of writing, painting, drawing, etc. by racing against the clock.

Be kind to yourself! April is a fantastic month to try something new for your personal health or fitness. Sometimes, to get your art moving — you need to get physically moving, too. Shake up your perspective, and get your body used to doing something different! Moving can help lift you out of your funk, even if you’re going for a quick, fifteen-minute walk.

Making art quickly is one way to move past a mental block or get rid of the “Idunwannas” to challenge yourself. The art you make during this time may not be perfect–but it doesn’t have to be. That’s what revisions are for. You filled a blank page, tried a new technique, or practiced a brand new stitch, and that’s more than enough!

5 Sprints To Try

Confused? Not sure what to do? Here’s five different sprints you can try. Grab a timer, and go go go!

1. Write as fast as you can for a hour. These #1k1hr sprints churn up anywhere between 500 to 1,200 words on average. Many will be conducted during Camp NaNoWriMo, too, so you can always hop on over to Twitter and have some fun. Word sprints are a GREAT way to complete your word count goals.

2. Sketch objects in the room you’re in as fast as you can for fifteen minutes. Grab a small pad of paper, a pencil, and go go go! Try to do this once or twice a week, to warm up your artistic hand and see your environment in a new light. If you get bored, try tapping into new styles that you’ve told yourself you don’t have the time to try. This is also a good excuse to head to a new locale to make art!

3. Create as many characters as you can for fifteen minutes. This sprint is perfect for gamers, writers, or artists! To do this, assign five to eight specific traits you want your characters to have. Names are often the hardest part, so if cooking up appropriate names doesn’t come easily to you I’d name them after the exercise. Here’s a list of traits you can pick from: city of origin, profession, gender, species (e.g. alien, elf, etc.) sexuality, hair/eye/skin color, style of dress/hair, social class or standing, etc.

4. Cook up a practice drill and repeat for ten minutes. When I was preparing for concerts, practicing scales were a way to warm my fingers and voice up. I think practice drills are an awesome way to get your mind used to making art, and can be translated to any form. For writers, you might spend ten minutes working on your descriptions. For artists, you might perform different line or brush techniques. Give yourself this time two to three times a week, and you’d be amazed how you’ll naturally get faster and better at these drills the more you do them.

5. Find inspiration in one minute. Then make art for ten. Sometimes, research or an inability to refill your creative well sidetracks you from making art. Ideas can be found all around you, even in the most unusual places. This exercise removes or reduces the time spent finding inspiration, and gives you a soft nudge to make something. To dive in, embrace randomness! Pick a book or magazine off your shelf and flip to a page, or sign up for Pinterest and make art based on the first image you see. You may never use what you produce during these mini-exercises, but you are making art and that can put a dent in procrastination.

Freaked Out About Mistakes?

If you’re a perfectionist, you might be a little freaked out right now because you understand sprinting may result in mistakes. Your inclination may be to stop, go back, and fix your errors. My suggestion is to avoid doing that and keep going, even if you’re stumbling. Embrace the flow of your art and surprise yourself. You never know what cool, fantastical, or interesting things’ll turn up!

Making mistakes teaches you resilience and persistence; in order to be an artist, sometimes you will make mistakes or be sidetracked by any number of things. How quickly you get back up on that proverbial horse is hugely important, because that shows you acknowledge mistakes, errors, and roadblocks are all part of the job. And believe me, they are. Sometimes, that’s in your power to control. Other times? Not so much.

Now, get out there and have some fun!

    Mood: Scrambling to pack
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Well, I’m still buzzing.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Housework. Blargh.
    In My Ears: Fish tank and… Oh, dear. Cats.
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2 Remastered
    Book Last Read: Urban Fantasy Anthology
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Into the Badlands
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: Unknown Armies Books One, Two, and Three. 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. I’m scheduling my project update for May, to take stock after April.

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