Dreaming for Hope and Destinations

Make Art Not War Challenge October 2017

This month’s theme for my Make Art Not War Challenge is SELF-CARE, and today I want to talk about the importance of having dreams. First, some background.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I tend to err on the practical side. I often use key markers to focus on the work, because the emotional aspects of the job can derail my productivity–and they have. Beyond dealing with rejection, when you work freelance there are a number of things that can and will go wrong. Sometimes, despite all your planning, the cardboard house you’ve built falls apart–and now you’ve got more work to do, because you’re busy picking up the pieces.

Here’s what I’ve learned: though not everything will go your way, it’s healthy to recognize and mitigate that to a point. But, it’s also important to have dreams that you pin your hopes on. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting around waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, wondering when something else is going to happen. As my friend Meredith would say: “Trust”. We can, and do, learn by our experiences, but I’ve found we also condition ourselves and add a thin (or thick) veneer of expectations that color our views.

Yes, it’s true, there are systemic issues that impact your chances of success; any industry filled with people will have them. At the same time, I’ve found that your personal mindset can influence what happens next. If you work on a project, for example, convinced you’ll be rejected or fired, then you’re in danger of sabotaging yourself. Even if you do so subconsciously, keep in mind that most people are very, very smart. While it’s true they may not vocalize their feelings, they make judgements just as much as you do. That said, I do feel we should be helping each other, but the entertainment industry is extremely competitive and often based on what you’ve done as opposed to your potential. Still, I believe you’ve got to find a way to say “Yes!” to yourself, and let that feeling, that emotion pass through everything you do. Success, in other words, often breeds more success. Only, that “overnight success” story you hear about? It’s not uncommon for that moment to be the culmination of ten or twenty years of hard work. Sometimes, all you need is a chance.

Doing the work is the only means of moving forward as an artist. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it again: you can network all you want, but if you can’t produce it doesn’t matter who you’re friends with. Even so, luck and timing are uncontrollable. You can help yourself mitigate all the bad stuff, and position yourself for good things to happen by doing one thing: dream.

Creative Challenge: Dream a Little Dream

Dreaming is an act of self-care, because without hope–or a reason to write, paint, draw, etc.–we don’t have anything to look forward to. We don’t have something positive to offset the bad. You need that emotion, even when your situation feels dire, because it can serve as fuel for your inspiration and future self.

[That said, if you’re already dreaming about what you want to do? Don’t forget you can get stuck in the dream, and never write. That’s partly why people are wary of those who talk about writing and business plans and social media followers and such. There’s so many who simply talk and don’t write.]

So that’s my challenge to you today: DREAM. What good things would you like to happen in your career? What do you really want? Describe them. Write them down in a letter to your future self, or scribble a list on a sticky note. Put a reminder everywhere you need to see it, or tape it to your monitor. It can be big, small, modest, or bold–but be specific. It’s your dream. What do you want? Get that vision clear in your mind, and you’d be surprised how your focus will shift in a good way.

If you’re lost or stuck, please know that it does take a lot of energy to steer your proverbial boat if you feel you’re headed in the wrong direction. Dreams are a tool that can help you, because they allow you to choose where you want to go. How you’ll get there, if you’ll ever reach your destination… That’s all part of the journey.

Your journey. Your dreams.

Good luck!

Mood: It’s Monday. Engage cyber-meeting mode.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Uh, enough I was up super late.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking, walking, sitting.
In My Ears: P!nk’s new album Beautiful Trauma
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Loads for work. Loads. LOADS MORE. MOAR.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Magnificent Seven YUS!
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
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.




Make Art Not War With Me In 2017 (Part One)

Back when Bush, Jr. was in office, I remember thinking to myself that his presidency would solidify the shape of the future. Either we were going to figure out how to stop the divisiveness that was forming between the two major parties, or eventually that divide would become a chasm they couldn’t cross without a common enemy. I don’t know whether or not I’m right. When it comes to politics, I think about patterns as opposed to saying one President or another is totally to blame. My concern has always been about bi-partisanship, because people aren’t as reductive as we think they are. We’re complicated. Can our politicians set aside their differences and come to the table to attend to the needs of governance? And, perhaps more importantly, why have we given in to extremist or fringe ideologies? What is the solution when people are reduced to sides, and you’re either for or against one another?

I think about what happened when Walker took office and began attacking the Wisconsin unions; people were so angry that they started to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Afterwards, I witnessed how yellow journalism had to paint a clearly one-sided war against Unions as having “two, equally-numbered sides.” The subtext for attacking the unions was politically-motivated, because unions tend to donate to Democratic campaigns, and that was a blip in the larger conversation. Anyway, 100,000 protesters against the governor’s policies, and a handful of opposing protesters bused in–both filmed as having equal weight and numbers. Even then, it took six-to-eight weeks for anyone to pick up on what was happening, and by then it was too late. The idea that this was an organized, violent protest began circulating. The truth, was that so many people organically came to protest, that they needed to be organized. Unions were “dirty thugs” and “fat cats”. Teachers, firemen, machinists, state workers and, much later, police officers became the bad guys. And, because they became “the” bad guys, you couldn’t walk anywhere without being impacted by the us vs. them mentality. You were either for or against your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and everyone else you interacted with.

Emotionally, it was very trying for a lot of people. There was no escaping it. On the ground we were also experiencing one thing, and the media and politicians who were afraid of people speaking up were depicting another. I don’t blame the media for what happened, though. Part of this, was what I feel is a technical issue which is the same problem that has facilitated fake news. When telling a story, which is what all articles are, appealing to people’s emotions is the best way to get eyeballs on the page. Instead of the news being delivered to a rapt audience via a newspaper in the morning or at night, or via the nightly news at a specific time, we have 24-7 news which is not sustainable. So, news that affects people on a local level gets stretched out ad infinitum, because the outlets have to stay in business somehow. Now, however, now that journalists are needed again and advertorials, fake news, and what “sounds” good is valued over facts… Well, you can see how people can get easily confused or frustrated, especially when they’re living and feeling the effects of what’s happening on the ground. Even then, the emotions generated by the news aren’t within the full spectrum, because outrage is more shareable than hearing how people are hurting–just look at what’s happening in North Dakota and Flint, Michigan. But, outrage doesn’t offer solutions and eventually people get tired of hearing about a situation, which allows more harm to happen.

Fast Forward to the Present

I cannot imagine what a Trump presidency will be like, and I’m not politically-savvy enough to know what the long-term effects will be either. I suspect there will be a lot of fighting, misinformation, and us vs. them on a national scale and, if my dreams are any indication that a battle is coming? A McCarthy-esque battle is coming for the soul of this country that will be felt in every city, town, and suburb and may have global repercussions. People are already getting hurt, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but much worse–there are a fair number of folks who don’t believe that crimes of hate are on the rise.

Worse, the traits that used to be associated with being a good American–empathy, compassion, helping the poor–seem to be regulated now to “bleeding heart lefties”. That leaves me speechless, that the very best of what it means to be human is regulated to a political ideology. If you’re a good person, you’re frowned upon for being weak. Being decent is no longer a goal to shoot for, it’s something to stomp on, and I don’t know why.

So what can I do? I have a teeny tiny amount of fame, friends I don’t see often enough, a small but growing readership, and a lot of peers that are struggling right alongside with me. I’m your average jane schmo artist with a big mouth, a big heart, and a lust for making art and reveling in the joy and resulting conversations. That’s what I know how to do, but I also know something else. I know what my life experiences have taught me, and I know what kind of a person I could have been if I wasn’t open to learning. I know a lot about the industry (enough to make me dangerous), and help where I can, when I can.

Unfortunately, I can’t fix what’s coming. I’m not a politician. I’m not loaded. I’m not powerful. And, I don’t want to be “known” for my politics, anyway. What I can do, is make art. I believe that a story can change the world. The problem is, no one knows which one that will be–which is why more stories will always need to be told.

What does this mean for 2017? I’m creating a Make Art Not War Challenge for myself, to push the boundaries of what I normally do. I’ll post the specific details in a follow-up post, but more than that… I want you to consider taking this challenge (or something like it) with me. Hobbyist, part-time artist, full-time artist, whatever! Art is needed now, more than ever, because this is how we can remind each other of all the complexities and depths of emotions that we share as human beings.

    Mood: Hump Day Redux
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: There’s no bottom to this coffee pot.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Blargh, blech, blargh.
    In My Ears: The wind. (Seriously, it’s strong as hell out there.)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Game of Thrones
    Latest Artistic Project: My sekrit project.
    Latest Releases: 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.



Kickstarters, Office Move, and the Death of Summer

Fire She-Ra Avatar

It’s been about two weeks since I’ve gone offline, but the wheels keep on turning so I wanted to give you some updates. First, today’s the last day for the Carolina Gaming Tables Kickstarter, and as the hours wind down we’re close to achieving the Dinner and Dice Cookbook–with a yummy crockpot recipe called “Fruits of the Forest” from yours truly. Have a look! The second Kickstarter that’s happening right now is the relaunch of Codex Infernus supplement for Savage Worlds. This supplement will include some of my work, which married my worldbuilding techniques with the rest of the team. If you dig demons, this book will be pretty hellacious. Hah!

I haven’t checked into social media since before Labor Day, and a fresh break has been great for me. This time I wanted a breather for a few reasons, but also because I’ve needed the head space following a busy con season to take stock of my current projects and reassess my goals. One of the decisions I’ve made is to switch offices in my house at the end of the month, to give me a smaller and more focused work space with a bigger window. I’ve decided not to put any art pieces up on my wall unless I make them myself, too. The idea is to create an environment where I’m forced to focus on what I am creating. While I don’t sell my art, for me all the arts I engage in facilitate what I’m doing writing-wise, and I’m refining a few techniques so I can connect those dots. I’m planning on blogging more often, too, if only because it’ll give me the opportunity to show my progress as I get more pieces done.

In the life of the mundane, I’m re-watching Once: Upon a Time prior to Season 5’s debut. Dark Swan! I started pulling my Halloween decorations out, too, and am getting ready to put those up. I finished a little black cat-and-moon cross stitch, but I’m afraid this sort of thing will push me over into domesticity, and that frightens me. Nesting, yes. Suburban… Well, that’s not for me. Not that my house isn’t Halloween year round, mind you. I’m talking about more Halloween-specific pieces. Boo instead of atmospheric. I’m pretty anxious for Summer to die, so I can wear sweaters and scarves and bunny slippers again. And to be perfectly honest, it’s hard to bake muffins when it’s ungodly hot, and I do like my homemade muffins.

    Mood: Truth in the smallest things.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Balanced with water! I think…
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Ick. A walk.
    In My Ears: Doctor Whoooooooooooooo?
    Game Last Played: Kingdom Rush. Mega-battle. Seriously. Got to level 68.
    Book Last Read: A book about chakras.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Rewatching Once.
    Latest Artistic Project: Black cat on a white fence with a moon. It’s a cross-stitch thing.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.


Light Bulbs and Measuring Sticks

Big Giant Sword Fighting Avatar

It’s winter here. Cold, blustery, and dark. I love winter — especially snowflakes — but sometimes too much dark gets to me. Had to go on a cleaning meltdown for that reason. Washed the curtains, the rugs, did a little house maintenance, got an architect lamp to add some full spectrum lighting to my office — the whole bit. Also celebrated new phase of my career with a FitBit to keep me on track.

Now that I’m back from the U.K., I’ve been diving back into the pile and loving it. Getting a ton of words written, projects completed, outlines sent… Yesterday, my short fiction for Hunter the Vigil: Mortal Remains had been accepted. It’s interstitial and connected in a series, so each piece builds off of the other. It was a LOT of fun to write and I can wait to see it in print. Tying up the Episode Guide for the Firefly RPG corebook while the other pieces are being edited and proofread. We are very close to calling it a day. Phew!

But in the midst of all that, every once in a while I catch a whiff of the drama. You know the kind I’m talking about. The “You’re not a real writer until…” Or “If you write, it’s not really work.” Kat Richardson recently talked about this on her blog a little bit in the context of NaNoWriMo. And I laughed when I saw the “It’s not really work.” I never STOP working.

To me being a writer is one part craft, one part business and my job is to balance the two by making smart decisions that impact me now and in the future. (Here’s a financial snapshot of this career’s sustainability through the lens of self-publishing, traditional, and hybrid models.)

More to my point, there’s a lot of magical thinking out there about the craft. I get frustrated when the measuring stick gets pulled out. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. The “you’re not a real writer” unless you:

a) publish an original novel that person has heard about
b) publish a series of novels on that first book
c) have a graphic novel/comics based on those novels
d) sell movie/TV writes based on those novels
e) MERCHANDISING
f) roll in the dough
g) have a million Twitter followers
h) etc.

Gah! So why does the measuring stick exist? Jealousy and insecurity, sure. That’s natural and going to happen. But deeper than that, our personal qualifications for success are putting those tick marks on the ruler. Take 50 Shades of Gray for example. I can’t tell you how many people came to me and said: “This was badly written, but I had to keep reading.” And then I found out how this book came to be published, and well… I know so many erotica/romance writers who write high-quality prose. This runaway hit blew my mind because it broke my rules of what I feel deserves to sell that many copies and get all the licensing, etc.

Obviously, my opinion is just that. Does it have a bearing on the future of that property? Sales, etc? Nope! It’s just “talk.” My point here, is that a stranger’s opinion shouldn’t make you feel bad about what you’ve achieved as a writer. Half the time they’re saying: “I wish I was as success as you.” or in my case “I don’t understand your success.”

To me, the lesson to be learned about measuring sticks is that they’re useless. Success is, to be perfectly hokey, in the eye of the beholder. Measuring sticks are just opinions that can get in the way or attack your confidence as a writer so you freeze up and avoid the blank page. Success is always best viewed in context, anyway. Don’t let anybody take your happiness away from you. If you’re pleased with what you’ve done? Then that’s really all that matters. If you’re not, well… That’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

    Mood: How did it get to be December again?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: COOOOOFFFEEEEEEEEEEEEE
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Meh
    In My Ears: Electronical buzzings
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
    Book Last Read: A modernized version of Mallory’s King Arthur
    Movie Last Viewed: RED 2
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Friends in Low Places
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.


January Is So Two-Faced. (Or What The Heck Is Going On)

Fly Away E.T. Avatar

And 2013 starts off with a bang! Or three. Or four. Right after the holidays, I dove into my style of project management; I set up a few spreadsheets, goals, graphs, and other ephemera — and hit the ground running. As a result, there will be several announcements leading into late Spring/Summer. Some are related to my own work, some are connected to licensed properties, and a few are in line with my “day job” wheelhouse, consulting. It began as a healthy enough mix of spec and paid, and all boats were lifting, lifting, lifting until…

This week, my SO, Matt, took an unexpected trip to the ER in the middle of a blizzard. It’s his heart. More tests, more exams scheduled, etc. etc. etc. Possibly surgery. Yeah, that kind. We just don’t know yet. So, more waiting. Initial tests came back just fine, though, which is what we both expected. Right now, we’re erring on the side of caution and hope the cardiologist is spectacular.

Matt and I have been together for years; he is my family and he’s treated me like *gold.* I knew that he was a good guy when he told me, up and down, how much he hated musicals — but he showed up to my rock opera performance, anyway, to show his support. And, while he’s a very humble guy, he doesn’t talk about the charity work or any of the other amazing things he does to make the world a better place. He’s just not that way and I love him for it. In short: he’s my hero.

We’ve had our ups and downs, just like any other couple, but our troubles have always been relatively minor day-to-day stuff and pseudo mid-life crisis crap compared with everybody else. (He’s got a GREAT job and a very understanding boss.) This year, we were going to take that international vacation, wrap in a few work meetings with publishers, and start making some of our dreams come true. Mine, of course, is to make a decent enough living off of my creative works and consulting efforts so we can buy a house with a large garden. The future was already on our minds; milestone birthdays will do that to you.

It’s just… now I want our dreams, like our trip to England, to come true. I want to be that crazy American in a karaoke club singing Queen. (Though, admittedly, he may not be able to watch that part of the trip.) I want to find a Tardis, stand in front of Big Ben, grab a ridiculously tall glass of stout, and savor the best of English cuisine. And I want to do this with him.

I’ve always erred on the side of pragmatic, careful when I blog, because you never know who’s reading your updates. We’re both pretty private people and that allows us to have a life offline. However, I am a very passionate person and sometimes I am scared to tell you how much I love, love, love what I do and all the people in it. I’ve had a crazy-ass life — brilliant moments and horrifying lows — and I wouldn’t trade this for anything. But, at the same time, that passion (and the show of it) is very scary on the receiving end. (There’s a reason why folks say I’m a force of nature, after all.) It’s not socially appropriate to run down the street screaming at the top of your lungs, after all.

But why not? Seriously. WHY NOT? Half the time, I feel like I’m going to burst out of my skin. And, I can tell you, the more mortality you face, the more skin-bursting you’ll want to do.

Then, reality hits. And it’s a major downer. But I have no time to be down. None whatsoever. Maybe one day I’ll tell you the rest of this story, but I’m not ready to do that just yet.

So, now you know why you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me this year. I’m not just writing for Matt’s heart. I’m writing for mine, too. I just hope readers and gamers like you will follow.

Deep breath. Here we go…

    Mood: Optimistic
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Balanced. It’s a strange feeling.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Um… Didn’t happen. Has to happen today.
    In My Ears: “Stronger Than Ever” by Christina Aguilera
    Game Last Played: Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
    Movie Last Viewed: Empire Strikes Back
    Latest Artistic Project: SHINIES. Still need to take pics…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology
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