MANW Week 11: Check-In and Emotional Labor

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Good morning, challengers! I’ve got a few updates for you before diving into the meat of today’s post. LeechBlock is working out fantastic for me, and I also managed to get my main compy up to speed, too. Huzzah! Sadly, I am forced (forced, I tell you!) to suffer in domesticity, but thanks to February’s ORGANIZE theme my spring cleaning is going a lot smoother than last year. The habits I picked up on are allowing me to gauge how much time a household task takes; this gives me more options to plan my day.

I’ve been bead stitching for my artistic time, and I recently finished this spiral stitch necklace with peyote embellishments. The pattern is available in Jill Weisman’s Beautiful Beaded Ropes–I loved the red so much I didn’t deviate from the color scheme or the original pattern.

Also in hilarious news, I backed the Chameleon Pens Color Tops Kickstarter and didn’t realize that my pledge was specific to the “tops.” A few e-mails and updates later, and I’m the (future) proud owner of alcohol-based markers!

For today’s check-in, I want to talk about emotional labor and its impact on your productivity.

Creative Challenge: Dealing with Emotional Labor

Emotional labor is defined on Wikipedia as: “..a form of emotion regulation that creates a publicly visible facial and bodily display within the workplace. The related term emotion work (also called “emotion management”) refers to “these same acts done in a private context,” such as within the private sphere of one’s home or interactions with family and friends. Hochschild identified three emotion regulation strategies: cognitive, bodily, and expressive.”

Artists perform emotional labor because we tap into the human condition to produce art that generates a desired feeling (e.g. happiness, fear, awe) or response (e.g. sexual arousal in romance) when we create our art, sell it, and interact with our readers, players, etc. If we (e.g. artists) lived in a bubble, unaffected by the outside world, you might think it’d be easier to produce works of art in any genre–humor, romance, horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller–on command. It’s not and we don’t. In fact, to become better artists, we have to explore the human condition either consciously or subconsciously to produce art that connects emotionally. Whether we do that through our daily lives/local communities or not, we aren’t robots. We are human beings who make art, and we’re not immune to what’s happening around or to us. Due to the nature of our work, we often have to ignore or deal with our feelings so we can generate emotional touchpoints in our work.

It’s easier to put emotional labor into context offline. For example, consider a fan who asks me out to an intimate dinner at a con. In the fan’s mind, they want to do something nice and spend time with the artist they admire–which is lovely! In my mind, however, an invitation for a private one-on-one dinner with someone I’ve never met before is something I’d typically say “No, thank you!” to for a few reasons. First, when I travel it’s typically for work so I often balance my schedule against meetings, etc. Second, since I’m fairly private a lot of people don’t know I’ve been in a long-standing relationship and I don’t mix work with pleasure. And lastly, as a woman in a strange city there are safety considerations I have to weigh against an invite like this. Because I don’t want to be rude, I might say something like: “I’m very flattered, but no thank you.” Conventions are usually work for me, and I finally feel like I’ve figured it out!

Offline, emotional labor is interesting because face-to-face interactions and body language support what you’re saying. Online interactions are an entirely different ballgame because people are exchanging words and images through their “world view” filter. The internet isn’t a utopia filled with unbiased or free information, because human beings create the content that is published online. If you’re engaged, then you’re consuming updates and content that may or may not impact your emotions. The news is the easiest example I can think of, but what happens when it’s not that simple? Take, for example, a piece of bad news that’s circulating about a peer you’ve worked with. Do you keep an eye on the discussion and pay attention to every nuance? Do you defend this peer? Does this peer expect you to chime in? Do you converse with other fans to make sense of what’s happening? As another example, say that I’m writing a funny short story about kittens and it’s due in a few hours. I briefly touch base on Facebook only to find out that my friend’s beloved cat died. Ouch! How does that news affect my work? I’m sad about Booster, but I don’t have time to feel that emotion. If I want to get my short story done, I need to channel or set aside that grief for a later date.

By thinking about emotional labor as “unpaid work”, I feel this lens puts a little space between what you feel obligated to do, what you have to do, and what you can walk away from. You aren’t getting paid for the emotional labor you’re required to perform online, much like you wouldn’t get paid to smile and nod in front of hostile reviewers or back-stabbing peers. Remember: people often go where they feel welcome, but that doesn’t hold true in all cases. Sometimes, you might not have a choice and have to engage online. Instead of saying: “This [current event] might de-rail me from my deadline. How do I deal with these toxic emotions?” Try re-wording this to: “This [current event] might de-rail me from my deadline. Do I need that kind of work right now?” That way, you’re recognizing you’re adding unpaid labor on top of your regular workload, and that by itself could help you deal with difficult situations.

Lastly, I want to point out there is no possible way for me to relate to all of my readers for this (or any other) challenge, and I recognize that. This topic is a broad one, and intersects not only with productivity but with harassment and depression, too. If, however, your productivity is out of whack, consider what kind of unpaid work you’ve taken on. Maybe your solution is to take a break from the internet for a week or two. Maybe you decide to stop engaging on social media before you get your word count done. Or, maybe you’ve figured out to take a step back from certain communities because you don’t feel welcome. The specifics of your identity, your situation, and how you deal with your emotions both online and off is uniquely personal–your art, your life, your choices. I trust you’ll make the right decision for yourself, your well-being, and your art.

    Mood: I went outside and breathed fresh air. It was weird.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Four or five
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Housework
    In My Ears: Nada
    Game Last Played: Star Realms
    Book Last Read: The Oracle
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: ONCE Upon a Time
    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 10: Check-In and Creative Prompts for Spring

If you’re buried in snow, it might feel like Spring will never come–but it will! I promise!

Before I share some cool links with you that are loaded with creative prompts to celebrate the season, I wanted to give you an update on my social media and internet usage. You may recall that I’ve been going back and forth about how best to leverage my connections, and I’ve found a solution that works. As I’ve been focusing more on making art, I’m finding I need the head space to ensure what’s happening online isn’t intersecting with my work. To that end, there are two programs I’ve found, StayFocusd and LeechBlock, that allow a user to block websites during specific times of the day. So far, that’s been working out very well because I’ve customized them around my schedule. That’s been very effective, and I’m sure it will help me remain focused during Camp NaNoWriMo.

On with the prompts! Since Spring is a popular subject matter for creative prompts, I wanted to share a few links I’ve found on other websites.

That’s all the time I have today. Hope your week has been lovely! Onwards!

    Mood: Naptime?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Quite a bit.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Laundry, laundry, laundry
    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!

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!

MANW Week 10: Ten Career-Minded Tasks to Seed Your Future

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and in recognition of all the hard-working women out there I opted not to post. I did (and still do) encourage Make Art Not War 2017 Challengers to find and signal boost a female creator. Ninety percent of the problem is a visibility or marketing problem, as opposed to a “female creators don’t exist” issue.

Shifting gears, for today’s post I want to list ten small tasks and mini-goals that you can do to help yourself in your career. You’ve heard the phrase “the devil’s in the details”? To build a career as an artist, there’s a thousand different levers and pulleys you can use at separate stages along the way. Some of those levers, like a means of contacting you, are definitely more important than others. Remember: your mileage will vary, and that’s okay!

ONE: Link to (or create) a contact page. – If someone wants to hire you, do you have an easy way of contacting you? What happens when people Google your name? Are you accessible or does it take some work to find you? If you have a website, have a Contact Me page. Even if you have an agent, having a Contact Me page will clearly show how you prefer to be contacted–which is also very important for convention organizers.

TWO: Put together a press kit. – I’m at the stage in my career where this is something I need to do. A press kit collates information about you and your art in a digital file like a PDF. Great for convention organizers, press kits can also be useful for interviewers, editors, and other people looking to hire you.

THREE: Review your list of publishers to submit to on spec. – This task is more for writers than artists, but it can also apply to comic book people as well. The market is constantly shifting and changing, and sometimes it’s worth reviewing your options. If you’ve been subbing to one market in particular and you haven’t gotten anywhere, try somewhere else!

FOUR: Write “Don’t Self-Reject” and post it visibly. The number one reason why I see artists get rejected over and over again, is because they internalize past rejections or they make decisions that stop them from applying or taking a chance. If you find yourself making up an editor’s mind before you hit “send”, think about sending it anyway. There’s 1,000 reasons for rejection that have nothing to do with you, personally!

FIVE: Find a mentor. Mentors can be very valuable, provided you find a good one, because they can help you see that next step in your career. Who’s available will depend upon your social networks, but they’ll also vary based on when a particular artist or what-have-you became successful. The advice that was applicable twenty years ago may not work for you now.

SIX: Take a class to advance your skills and network. One of the things I’ve been focusing on lately as time allows, is to build up my local network of contacts. A class is one way of doing that, because it gives you the ability to nurture your underdeveloped skills in a classroom environment while providing some clear boundaries between yourself and strangers you’d meet. There are less expensive classes through community-based programs; think outside the box on this one. If you’re budget-conscious, you don’t have to take an accredited course–there’s no “one way” to learn art.

SEVEN: Build a contemporary reading list. One safe way to get out of your comfort zone, is to find new authors (both fiction and non) to read that aren’t in your preferred genre or field of study. If you’re struggling to find the time to read and this seems like a lot of work, consider short stories, blog posts, or ask your online networks for suggestions. Then, give yourself half an hour to dive right in.

EIGHT: Embrace a creator’s mindset. The mindset of a creator is very different from that of a consumer, because as a creator you are making something for other people to buy. Often, any time I bring up commercialism I hear the words “I don’t want to sell out.” Making art is work, and if you don’t want to be paid for that effort that is your preference. I feel that if you are offering your work for sale, it’s absolutely work that should be paid for. Once money exchanges hands, then the act of making art is commercial. There are a thousand things that happen between learning to make art and then selling art, and a creator’s mindset can help you shift the focus so you remember your time is valuable. If you don’t know what it means to be a creator, a great way to learn is by interviewing people you admire!

NINE: Form a support group to help shoulder the burden of stigmas. There are a lot of stigmas associated with making art, and many of them are mired in the idea that it’s recreational, therapeutic, or less important than other jobs. Add your identity, class, working from home, traveling to conventions, etc. into the mix, and suddenly there’s 1,000 reasons why you shouldn’t be making art. To offset the negativity, I feel it’s a very good idea to seek out like-minded artists so you don’t feel so alone.

TEN: Learn basic business practices. The discussion about what is and what isn’t professional can carry a lot of baggage, and I’m very sensitive to that. I look at it this way: by treating my art as a business, then I have some emotional distance to handle rejections and all the other bells and whistles that come from having this job. It’s not sexy, it doesn’t speak to the passion I feel for making art, and it’s incredibly boring. What it does do, however, is set up a different framework for how I deal with publishers, editors, and agents so I remember how important my role is an artist. It does take work to be yourself and run a business, and that’s something that will evolve over time. But, I feel you have nothing to lose by researching basic business practices for the simple fact that the people you’ll work with are running a business–even if you don’t see yourself that way.

If you’re resisting the idea that you need to put yourself out there, remember: luck favors the prepared! You can’t make your own luck, if you’re sitting around waiting for something to happen. Sometimes, Fate needs a helping hand.

    Mood: Looking forward to Pi Day
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Laughable
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Laundry up to my ears
    In My Ears: Totentanz (Dance of death)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Reference for work
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Hacksaw Ridge
    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!

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