MANW Check-In Week 20: When Making Art Doesn’t Happen

MANW 2017

Apologies for today’s late check-in. I had a nasty relapse of the cold I had last week, and spent a lot of time in bed. Figured now would be a GREAT time to cover what happens when you just cannot make art — despite all your best efforts.

Here’s an interesting thing about making art: sometimes, you have to rest your brain and let ideas percolate. Focusing on one project can be detrimental to your revisions process, because you’re “too close” to what you’re working on. Sometimes, the way to keep making art is to have multiple projects on hand in many different styles. Knitting, crocheting, beadweaving are repetitive and have a mathematical component; putting that time in doesn’t require as much mental energy as writing or drawing does, for example, unless you’re following intricate patterns and creating your own. Going for walks or getting fresh air also helps, because you’re doing something else in the forefront of your mind so your creative brain has a chance to catch up.

When you make art full-time, it’s challenging when you have blocked days because the ideas don’t stop. Ideas, however, don’t pay the bills or get the words down. Usually, then, I record new ideas or free write to keep something percolating. Sometimes, though, it is impossible when you’re sick. It certainly was for me, and now that I’m (hopefully) back up to full speed I feel as if I’ve been on a mental vacation for months!

This brings up two points I want to remind you of: first, your mileage will vary if you’re participating in this program. It’s possible you cannot make art every day, because that’s not how you’re wired. If that’s the case, learning that will help you in the future because knowing how and when you produce art is valuable information to work with. Second, keep in mind that Make Art Not War 2017 is also a means of prioritizing what you want to do (making art) over all the peripheral b.s. that you may be experiencing. Then, when you’re not making art, you’ll feel it and (hopefully) ramp back up as fast as possible because deep down, you know you’ve made art your priority.

Regardless, remember to be kind to yourself. There’s a big difference between having a legitimate reason to slow down or not make art versus procrastinating, being lazy, and giving up entirely. Even I have to remember that, sometimes.

    Mood: Determined and plodding along
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Quite possibly, the worst thing about being sick is the caffeine withdrawal.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Light walking
    In My Ears: Stupid fans
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2. Finally got the Mascot dress sphere. Boo-yah.
    Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Making Art as a Way of Dealing With Bad News

Fizgig Avatar

It has been quite the week, and I cannot imagine what it’s been like for those of you who have been active online. Even the little bit of news, both personal and political, has been depressing as hell. That, topped off with multiple viruses and other day-to-day crap, can get to be too much very quickly. In fact, it can downright stall your ability to write, revise, edit, sketch, etc. It might even feel selfish to make art on spec (e.g. without a contract); or, you might have convinced yourself there’s too many terrible things going on in the world, so why does your story matter? Why bother?

Often, we downplay how much we give of ourselves to our art. Our joys, our sorrows, fears, pain are often wrapped up into one painting, game, story, comic, etc. Sometimes, we might even create a piece of art to help someone feel that much needed sense of relief. Other times, we might make something because the act of creation is not something anyone can take away from us. You, and only you, made that piece of art or collaborated with other people on it. That’s amazing, and that’s very, very important–especially right now. We may not be able to save the world, but we can tap into people’s emotions and move them through our art. I used to think that was just entertainment, and I was wrong. It’s more than that. It’s our point of connection, our way of showing the truth in a more palatable (or brutal) fashion, our reminder that we’re all human.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to think about the importance of making art when the bad news doesn’t stop. It’s not the one thing, of course, it’s the death by a thousand cuts. When it’s personal, it’s one passive-aggressive comment after the other about what you’re not doing, what you should’ve been doing, what you need to do, what you’re not. When it’s not, your faith in your government and your country is shaken. You hear the dogs of war barking–and aren’t sure if they’re real or imagined. You feel helpless. Fear, fear, fear, anxiety, fear. And it adds up. Oh, does it ever!

At some point, you’re probably going to shut down. Then, in that darkest of spaces, you do the one thing you’ve convinced yourself needs to happen: you wait for more bad news. Now, you might even be looking for it, because your boundaries have eroded. Bad news is now something you expect, and it’s something you’re unwittingly using as a survival mechanism. That bad news is familiar, it’s how you cope, it’s all you know. Your worldview might even shift in the process. Suddenly, things that were once enjoyable aren’t anymore. Small things are meaningless, and making art is an afterthought. The bad news, that’s what is really important–right?

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: life continues. Even at the worst of times, someone bakes bread or plants flowers or pets the cat or flies a kite with their kids. Think about all the shit I’ve been through; I’ve been bullied, doxed, harassed, threatened, etc. multiple times over and I am still standing. I am still here. And, I am still making art. A little slower than usual this week? Yep, unfortunately I’m coming off of a cold this week and Ny-Quil does strange things to my creativity. But, regardless, I am still at it even if progress is slow. Sometimes, the best I can do is take it one step at a time.

It wasn’t always this way, and the stars-only-know I’m not perfect. Like you, I do the best I can. Yes, there have been a few times where I have gotten so sucked in, because everywhere I turned people were either talking about politics, protesting, or negatively affected by the fractional “us vs. them” everywhere. It felt as if I had no escape, and it was hard for me–and many other creators like myself–to focus. I saw yellow journalism happen right in front of my face. I felt powerless to stop people from getting hurt, and all I could do was get out there and vote. Then, when it was all over… I felt like I was hungover, and I was angry for many reasons. I had been consumed. We had all been eaten up by what was happening, and despite our best efforts many people were definitely not being heard.

There was another reason why I was angry, though. I was mad at myself. At the end of the day, when you make art for a living or a hobby you lose a lot when you aren’t creating. Not only do you lose time, you also lose your purpose for being. I am not a doctor or a lawyer or a politician. I’m an artist. And that means, that in order for me to do my job to the best of my ability, I have to keep making art regardless of the thousand and one reasons out there that make me feel as if I don’t matter. That, dear reader, is my definition of persistence.

The title of today’s post was “Making art as a way of dealing with bad news.” So, here’s the deal: I have some bad news for you today. I do. I’m worried that you’re going to be overwhelmed by all the bad news that’s surrounding you and you won’t make art. It’s true. It is easier to stop making art than to keep at it, but don’t give in. Take the harder path, because that one? That’s usually a sign you’re headed in the right direction. Fight. Know that you are not alone. If you can’t make art for yourself, do it for your future self. Or, make art for someone you haven’t met yet. You never know how powerful and transformative your art can be unless you keep going. One brush, one word, one sketch might not seem like much, but that’s all I’m asking for right now. It’s the only way to fight back the darkness, and to firmly and loudly proclaim that you are still here despite the odds.

Please, I know it’s hard right now. Don’t give up hope. “It can’t rain all the time.”

    Mood: Weird. Hot and sneezy. Summer already?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee has health benefits. Right?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Light walking
    In My Ears: Stupid fan
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2. Found the bloody chocobo dungeon and the bloody underwhelming chocobo. Huzzah!
    Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming in May.

MANW Check-In Week 19: Fun Work Isn’t Necessarily Free

Make Art Not War May Participant

We’re now a little over four months into my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, and I’d like to start talking about aspects of the craft assuming that you are continuing to make art either for personal or professional reasons. Today’s post ties into JOY, which is this month’s theme, and talks about some psychological aspects of making art and getting paid for our efforts.

Why tackle this? Well, there are deep, deep psychological associations between art and commercialism. Besides the myth that you must be mentally ill, impoverished, or suffering to make art, there are also ideas attached to making money. An author who has a best-selling novel is a “sell-out”, for example, because their book is too commercial. That often leads to a comment about what should and shouldn’t make money based on its quality or the nature of the artist, too. Good books that don’t sell are then a tragedy — especially if the author is a nice person! Good books that do sell if the author is an asshole is often believed to be forgivable to an extent Sound familiar? This isn’t new. It’s tied to our beliefs about money and who “deserves” it.

Many, many people who are smarter than I am have often discussed the psychology of being wealthy and poor. If someone is wealthy clearly they deserve that blessing and, if they made art to become successful, then they “did it all themselves”, fueling the myth that anyone can make it without help. And, there are deeply-rooted beliefs in the idea that a wealthy person must clearly be better in some way, shape, or form than someone who’s poor. If you are poor, then you can simply work harder or make better decisions to no longer suffer — which is so asinine and not at all the reality of being broke.

Making Art Is Work

I’m sure you have your own ideas about art and commercialism; I don’t think I’ve met an artist who hasn’t. The aspect of this topic I want to focus on, however, is the idea that making art isn’t work–because it’s so much fun! On a simplistic level, the notion that work cannot be enjoyable for it to be work is tied to a line of thinking that goes something like this: since capitalism is bad, the pursuit of money is evil. Ergo, if I enjoy myself in my work and expect to get paid, then I might become evil, too.

The idea that money has a good or bad alignment is extremely toxic to artists, because it is neither. It is a tool that many of us need to survive and thrive. The system of capitalism is also neither good nor bad, too. Simply, people use a tool (money) within a framework (capitalism) to further their goals. These goals can be very self-centered, and we have seen what happens with respect to corruption and the like, but a desire to be paid for the work you do shouldn’t be an outrageous concept. Nor, should it generate responses that you’re “greedy” for wanting to be compensated.

Okay, this leads to the question of whether or not making art is work. Is it? Here’s (one of) many definitions about work courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

Work is an “activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something”.

Based on this, and multiple takes on the definition of work, making art is definitely considered work. What these definitions don’t include, is the financial component and emotional aspects. You do not have to be paid for your efforts to be considered work; your state of mind and your feelings do not change its definition, either. Whether you’re happy or not, work is simply work.

Commercialism Adds Complexity

Hopefully by now you’ve realized that making art is work. With me so far? Here’s the not-so-fun part. The financial component is infinitely harder, because once you attach a monetary value to something you create you’re dealing with perceived value, cost of materials, distribution, etc. It is extremely complex to figure out not only what to make, but how often to produce, when to sell it, what places are good to do business with, etc. This level of complexity, dear reader, is why I believe many artists undervalue their work and often give a lot away. It takes time to learn business, and often it’s so intimidating that many artists don’t. Instead, they treat their art as a hobby until it “takes off” and they’re forced to think more deeply about it.

There are a million roads in between “I’m New” and “I’m a Best-Selling Artist”. Visibility, popularity, reception, and number of copies sold aren’t predictable and business planning is the exact opposite of that. There are some factors you can control, like production, and that’s what I focus on. I also think this idea of being embarrassed to ask for money has something to do with the joy we feel when making art. If it doesn’t feel like work, for example, then we feel guilty asking for money or other forms of payment. We might even feel small, because we aren’t a Very Famous ArtistTM, and talk ourselves down claiming our art isn’t worth anything because art produced by a VFA will be better.

Value Yourself

Valuing yourself and your art can be difficult to do, especially since the weight of “other people’s opinions” can drag you down, but it is an important first step in a longer process. I find that the first step to being taken seriously as an artist, is to take yourself seriously. Your time, creativity, and talent are valuable, and I feel being new only affects you so much. What is new, anyway? You may be new to selling your work, or certain forms of it, but you’ve probably been making art for a while.

I am hugely sympathetic if you’re feeling down or know you’re too hard on yourself. After you agree that yes, your art is work and yes, you would like some form of payment you can then learn more about the business aspects to make better, informed decisions. That process is hugely transformative, and I personally feel you shouldn’t have to wait to sell your first piece of art to ask questions. And yes, in case you’re wondering? You’re totally worth it! After all, if you undermine and undervalue your work — then why should someone pay for all that great work you’re doing?

    Mood: Recovery. (I have a chest cold.)
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Managed
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Living room to kitchen. Make tea. Rinse and repeat a thousand times.
    In My Ears: Lucy soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2
    Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
    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, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming in May.

MANW Check-In Week 18: Call for Beta Readers and Cover for Make Art Not War Book!

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Participant Badge

Hello! How are you doing today? Since my last couple of posts have been pretty deep, focusing on a month-end recap, announcement of a new theme, and last week’s check-in, I thought I’d switch gears and let you know I am putting together an eBook for my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge. I would love to get a couple of beta readers prior to release, so if you’re interested let me know via my contact page or in the comments below.

I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the cover today!

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge eBook Cover

The cover art was designed by Meredith Gerber. The book will include material previously offered on this blog, plus several brand new creative prompts. Hope you dig!

    Mood: Overloaded. Soooooooo much to do!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Eh. A modest amount.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I sat on my butt, and I was not happy about it. I did go for a quick walk, but we’ve had nothing but rain.
    In My Ears: BBC version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    Game Last Played: Final Fantasy X-2
    Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
    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, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming in May.

MANW Challenge: New Icon and Theme for May!

Make Art Not War 2017 May

Today is the first day in May, and I’m very excited to dive head (or feet) first into the pile. I hope you are as well! And, as it’s a brand new Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge month, it’s time for a shiny theme! For May, this month’s theme is JOY.

JOY may not seem like it’s connected to your art, but I feel it dovetails nicely into multiple aspects of your work. For example, being mindful of your own path is hard — especially on new release day or when awards season rolls around. Sometimes, we might internalize that the news of another artist’s success is a sign of our failure. It’s not, but that doesn’t stop our brain weasels from attacking at odd moments. In other instances, we might think that a bunch of new releases is a sign that we aren’t writing fast enough, there’s too much competition so why bother, or that someone else has already written our story.

Instead, think about what this success means for you. What lessons can you take from other artists’ career paths to give you more reassurance? Is there joy to be felt? I take it as a sign that it is possible for artists to not only define their own success, but their achievements is a sign that yes, they are achievable and repeatable. That’s cool, and that’s something to be happy about! By applying the feeling of JOY to what others experience, I find it adds a nice, safe boundary between their path and mine. Then, I use that as a tactic to avoid jealousy or envy from taking over. It also helps me internalize that someone else’s success is not mine and that’s okay! No one artist can land every deal, occupy every spot on the bestseller’s lists, or get all the good reviews and nominations.

I feel there’s a bunch of lessons here related to self-care, too. First, a near-constant state of angst and anxiety affects your ability to enjoy your successes and the work you’re doing. JOY seems meaningless or unattainable; when it does matter, JOY becomes attached to an unexpected accolade or some other blessing that is outside of your control. Yes, there will always be something else to do or to work on, but what you’ve done right now is an achievement — don’t forget to celebrate the small things! I know I forget to do that sometimes, and putting together a stand-alone bookshelf of my publications is on my list this month. Huzzah! Second, if you forget to be kind to yourself it becomes that much harder to deal with turbulence in your life. Those happy moments, even if they’re small, will help you be resilient as you deal with your day-to-day.

Feeling JOY is not something to be embarrassed about, either, and I hope this month you’ll be encouraged to recognize, remember, and tap into your own personal happiness. The ability to make art, to grow as an artist, to experience your journey is not only wonderful, it’s unique to you and your experiences. Celebrate!

Next time, I’ll offer some suggestions to help you embrace this theme. Now, get out there and make art. I know I will!

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