Stop Waiting and Make Art

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Do you want to know the secret to making art? There is no secret. You just make it. Seriously, that’s all you have to do. One word, one brush stroke, one stitch at a time. Talking about writing doesn’t get the words down — even though it might motivate you! Claiming that the muse needs to strike may not get the words down either, but it can help you visualize that proverbial angel sitting on your shoulder. I don’t have a muse, because if I waited to be “in the mood” to write, then I’d never get anything done. I’d keep waiting and waiting and…

Waiting. Unfortunately, I see this a lot. An artist makes that “one thing”, and pins all their hopes and dreams on it. Or, they never get started in the first place because they’re intimidated. It’s easier to daydream about making art, than it is to have the discipline to make it. We’re not doctors or lawyers or police officers, mind you, so the life of an artist isn’t as challenging as someone who is put in life-or-death situations, but we do have our own trials to go through since our creativity doesn’t flow on command.

The truth about making art, is that you’ll get better and have more opportunities as long as you keep making it. If you get a rejection, write another story. If a door is slammed in your face, pitch to another venue. If you’re frustrated, try flipping to another project. Why wait for a perfect moment that doesn’t exist? You will not have a manuscript if you avoid your computer for a couple of weeks; you’ll have no words and a lot of guilt. 1,000 crappy words is better than nothing!

If you’re learning and scared to keep at it, keep in mind one of the key principles pounded into my brain when I was studying piano: you have to practice if you want to get better, and practicing is a normal part of the learning process we all go through. The only way to see growth, is to keep making art — even if it means writing draft after draft after terrible draft. The only way to sell art, is to have something to sell that other people might want to buy.

There is nothing more important to an artist than to be persistent and to keep making art. That is the only surety in this business; you have to keep at it — no matter what. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be. I also know you can do it. So, what are you waiting for? Stop waiting and make art!

    Mood: Pretty zen, actually.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: That last double espresso did me in.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Lots of walking
    In My Ears: The soothing sounds of the washing machine
    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!

MANW Week 8: A Mish-Mash of Administrivia and Brain Weasels

MANW February Badge

Can’t believe it’s been two months already! How are you all doing? Several projects have popped out of this month’s planning and organizing, and I’ll describe some of them in next week’s monthly recap. Before I start talking about brain weasels, I want to address some administrative points I thought I’d share.

  • How My RSS/Newsletter Appears in GMail – Google is regarding the e-mails you’re receiving as “Promotional” and listing it under that tab, no doubt because I have pictures and links in my posts. You can read more about this issue here on Quora (Thanks, Didi!).
  • Geek Social Fallacies Still Relevant – The five Geek Social Fallacies addresses some social characteristics within the geek-o-sphere, and though this was written years ago I still think they’re relevant.
  • Guest of Honor at OddCon – Don’t forget! I’m a Guest of Honor along with Tad Williams and Christopher R. Mihm at Odyssey Con at the end of April. Join us to talk about games, movies, books, and a whole lot more.
  • Adding a monthly coupon for subscribers – Thanks to the depth and breadth of work I’ve done, combined with the relationships I’ve built up over the years, I’ve gotten permission to offer some monthly discounts with some of the publishers I’ve worked with. I don’t want to spam you with special e-mails, however; you’ll either get a special coupon or a free e-book once a month to give you something back for subscribing.
  • Prepping for Camp NaNoWriMo in April – I’m in the middle of outline hell, and will be preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo. This camp is a spin-off from, which takes place in November. Ideally, I want to write 50,000 words of my own, original material which roughly translates to 2,500 words per day. I’m guessing that, because of work, it’s more realistic for me to do 20,000. If you need a kick-in-the-ass to get some writing done, I’ll be posting about it later on.

Creative Challenge: Wrangling Those Brain Weasels

Did you know I’ve been blogging on and off now for over ten years? I’ve been reviewing some of my earlier posts, and I was amazed at the person that I once was. In fact, I was a little embarrassed by my blog posts, because I have learned so much since then — and I’m not sure I would give the same advice now as I did in the past.

Growth is normal, healthy, and a sign that the slow pursuit of my career has continued to evolve. But, being embarrassed of who I once was opens the door to brain weasels. “Why did I say something so stupid?” “Why did I present myself as an expert?” “Geez, this sounds incredibly self-serving.” I got de-railed, and was in a funk for a couple of days. “Oh no! What was I thinking?”

It’s easy to look back and see past mistakes, because conventional wisdom — hindsight is 20/20 — holds true, especially for artists due to the uncertainties of being in this industry and making a living. There are so many factors outside of our control, I’m of the mind that many of us are doing the best we can with what we have on our own journey. For example, sometimes we might buy our own bullshit because that’s what gets us through to see another day. Or, we break out that ruler or measuring stick to compare ourselves to another writer to see where we’re “at” to motivate us to write more. (Related: my blog about Keeping Your Eyes On Your Own Page.) Of course, if we do manage to avoid brain weasels that tank our Inner Artist’s ego, sometimes we turn that back around and point to all the reasons (some legitimate, and some not) that we’re not making art, we’re not successful, or we haven’t gotten the help we need when there’s only one thing we can control: making art so we have something to sell.

Wrangling brain weasels is a creative challenge when it threatens your productivity or mood like it did mine. They are normal, they are common, and you are not alone in suffering from them when they attack. To deal with them you might go for a walk, list your accomplishments, track your time (to see where you’re spending it), find a mentor, etc. Though you will do what works best for you, the main thing to remember is that you are the only person who can deal with your personal bullshit — and that includes those moments of insecurity. So, how do you get back on the horse and get back to writing? That’s entirely up to you.

I’ve decided to deal with my brain weasels by molding them into a singular monster; I’ve also given it a name. Mine is Bob the Many-Headed Slithering Snot-Nosed Smelly Goober Weasel. Because really, when standing in front of my insecurities, sometimes the best thing I can do is laugh and then get on with my day.

    Mood: 90% of my feeds are about politics. No wonder I’m exhausted.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Good gravy I lost track.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking!
    In My Ears: Fish tank
    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!

Creative Challenge: Organize for Headspace and Avoid New Rules

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One of the issues I see pop up with respect to making art every day, is that when you don’t (and guilt sets in) your brain creates a new “rule”. These rules take the form of “I will” or resolutions that are so complex and unrealistic you can’t possibly achieve them. I will write 2,500 words every day no matter what. I will work on the same project every day until it’s done. I will hit 10,000 steps every day. Etc. Etc. Unfortunately, this is what leads to procrastination because when you fall down (which is normal because you’re human, not a robot) you’ll associate “making art” with creating demands for yourself that wind up making you feel very small.

This issue is exacerbated when you start getting your shit together, because as you go through stuff you’ll take stock of your past self and goals–and that’s when the brain weasels wake up and attack. Organizing by itself is not a creative challenge; organizing to clear your mind, however, is. The point of revisiting old files, cataloguing your inventory, and assessing where you’re at is to make way for your future self. To do that, sometimes you have to address your physical space even though that might generate memories of your past self.

Here’s how I deal with this creative challenge: in anticipation of brain weasels, I’ve been using a visualizing technique to facilitate and channel my emotions. I picture a large house inside my head. (Way bigger than any home I’ve ever lived in!) All my proverbial junk is in the basement. If I’m feeling crappy, when I head down there I “see” a flooded basement. Super gross! As I clean up my physical space, I concentrate on draining that water and mopping up the floor. It’s an added layer to help me be more resilient to making new rules, and it helps me “see” the effect it’s having, instead of just feeling it.

    Mood: It’s all coming together.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Whoaaaaa… Like, psychedelic.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Half an hour
    In My Ears: Fish tank
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Clone Wars
    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 2017 Week 7 Check-In: Fire It Up and a New Creative Prompt

MANW February Badge

Congratulations, you made it to week number seven! And, we’re half way through the shortest month of the year! Now can you see why I picked ORGANIZE for this month’s theme?

Whether you’ve embraced that messy pile in your closet or not, you’re probably feeling a bit worn out and uncomfortable right now. That’s normal, because cleaning up old messes and taking stock of your inventory will churn up a lot of emotions and memories. Why did you abandon this project? What happened when you stopped painting/writing/stitching? Then, that’s when all the “shoulda/woulda/coulda’s” start entering your brain. I should have completed this project years ago. I could be further along in my craft if I finished what I started. I would have done what I said I was going to do if I had more focus and dedication to my art.

These feelings and thoughts you’re having are normal, and they’re getting under your skin because they are a sign of change. As you clear out the undergrowth and the sludge, you’ll start to feel resistant after a while because you’re looking back, not forward. That resistance might even lead to procrastination and a case of the “idunwannas”. You’re frustrated, because you can’t see where this intense emphasis will lead–you cannot see that you’ve started your spring cleaning early and you’re making room for growth. What you know, however, is what you feel right now. Annoyed, maybe a little embarrassed, and not at all interested in facing your messes.

A good way to power through this month of organizing, is to use your timer. Instead of thinking about how long it’ll take to sort through that box or clean out your closet, set your timer for half an hour–then clean as fast as you can until the timer goes off. You’d be amazed how fast those 30 minutes will go!

Before you and your productivity can blossom, all that muck and sludge you’ve been carrying around needs to get cleaned up. I encourage you to continue organizing any way that you can, because getting uncomfortable–even anxious or afraid–will lead to a new, more productive phase in your artistry. In other words: you have to take out the trash in order to bring something new in. If it’s piled up, it’s definitely time to clean house.

Whether you have paperwork to file or a messy desk to organize, take advantage of this opportunity now so you be open to more opportunities and possibilities next month! Once your organizational activities are done, all you’ll have to do is maintain your current status. If anything, that should be something to look forward to.

Creative Prompt: Visualizing Your Artist’s Journey

Visualization is a powerful motivator, but it can also be the same thing that keeps you stuck. Dreams are beautiful, ephemeral, fleeting wisps that exist only in your mind. To make them come true, you have to do the work–and that is 1,000 times more challenging than thinking about it (or saying that you’re going to do it). After all, if you envision yourself running a marathon but can’t see yourself taking that first step, then it’s easy to give up and fall under the sway of your gorgeous dream.

Today’s creative prompt takes visualization one step further. Consider that what you’re doing isn’t to achieve an “end point”. After all, you may want to write a novel, but if that’s your only goal you don’t have anywhere to go after that. Career-minded artists are on a journey, and our goals are to get to those next rest stops. Instead of thinking about the finish line, picture yourself at each stage along your path. Subtle changes, even if it’s your hair or clothes, highlight your uniqueness at each stage along the way.

You could:

  • Clip out fashion pics and pin them on a vision board.
  • Pull out old photographs and mark where you’ve been–and opt for where you’re going next!
  • Draw or describe interesting faces at each stage of your creative journey.
  • Pull together a scrapbook that you’ll show to your readers/supporters.
  • Write letters to yourself during unique milestones
  • Build yourself as a character in a game.

What are you wearing? What do you look like? How do you feel? What did you accomplish? Then, fast forward and rewind. How have you changed since you first started your journey as an artist? Can you predict where your future self will be? The differences you’ll pick up on could be major or subtle, and your discovery will evolve naturally as you proceed through this exercise.

Whether the changes you’ve encountered are big or small, the point of this visualization exercise is to rid yourself of the toxic belief that you need to make “it” or be “it”–otherwise you’re nothing. Your success, your journey, your talent cannot be summed up in one word: “Succeed” or “Fail”. Be gentle with yourself, because you are not racing toward a finish line. There’s no One True WayTM to be an artist, and recording the steps on your journey will allow you to embrace that even more than you already are. Enjoy your path, because it’s yours to take!

    Mood: Meh. Winter doldrums.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m flllllyyyyyyyyiiiiinnnnnggggg!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Half an hour
    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: Pacific Rim
    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!

On Personal Power

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Back in November, I asked other artists if they thought that politics would impact their work. Most said yes, and a few others told me they couldn’t let that happen because of the type of work they did. For me, it was a confirmation that other people were feeling the same way I was. Only, I didn’t know how I could help in a way that mattered. Though I am introverted to a degree, I lose touch with the reason why I make art if I don’t connect. Just focusing on my own page only works up to a point; too much time alone and I turn into Captain Caveman. Not enough, and I’m Animal.

Enter the Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge. By focusing on making art and talking about how to retain that focus, I thought, maybe I could help people weather the political storm in my own way. Those who are taking the challenge are to varying degrees; as their focus narrows, they abandon the online spaces they used to frequent to spend that time making art. Challengers aren’t the only ones who don’t visit online communities as much; many other people I know have, too. It’s overwhelming. It’s hard to know or trust what the truth is. That’s when the questions start: What can I do? Why do I feel so small? What voice do I have?

The question “What can I do?” also seems to be generating guilt for a lot of people. “What’s the point of making art when the world goes to shit?” “Why does my work matter?” which then leads to surfing the web for answers. Maybe one pundit will have something smart to say about why we are where we are or what we can do to fix it. Maybe my friends will agree with me that the proposed policies are shit and we can commiserate so you’ll feel better knowing other people feel the same way you do. Or, maybe just maybe if you can convince “that one guy” on the internet they’re wrong, you’ll win.

Only, you know deep down you can’t convince “that one guy” on the internet. Hell, you can’t convince your own family members to listen to you. You’ve heard of confirmation bias, of course, but you have to try. The question I have for you isn’t about why you’re having the argument in the first place, or why you’re feeling the way you do about making/selling/promoting your art, or why you’re doing anything you’re doing. The question I have for you is simply this: “What can you do?”

My guess is that you’re already doing everything you can, and you’re still feeling guilty that you’re not doing more. Some of you are calling your state Senators and Representatives. Some of you are protesting. Some of you are voting in the mid-term elections or are running for office. Some of you are donating to PEN America, the ACLU, the EFF, the Hero Initiative, the RPG Creator’s Relief Fund, Planned Parenthood, etc. Whatever it is you’re doing, you feel like it’s not enough. Then, you’ll read some pundit’s article about how protests don’t matter, how your small donations won’t add up, how your feel-good efforts are misguided and don’t count, how all your activism online is boosting the signal to an echo chamber. Or worse, you or someone you know is directly impacted by all that’s been happening and now you’re in pain. You feel powerless, and in your heart of hearts you know that’s the edge of the abyss that leads to anxiety and depression.

It is depressing and, like you, I feel powerless. I’m not a politician, I’m not a brilliant scientist or a doctor or a lawyer, I’m not wealthy, either–I’m an entertainer. So, here’s how I’m dealing with this: I start with what I can do, not with what I can’t. I focus on making those moments count.

Actions like:

  • Reconnecting and building local communities
  • Reviving a pen pal
  • Dusting off old to-do lists
  • Going for a walk–movement matters!
  • Getting my address book up-to-date
  • Sending birthday cards

Will taking small actions like these change the world? No, they won’t. They’re so small and inconsequential–what’s the point? They will, however, help me in other ways because they’re affecting my world. Maybe I can lift a friend’s spirits; maybe I can encourage a fellow artist to make their deadline; maybe I can find a young writer to mentor; maybe I’ll meet new people.

Despite politics, the bills come every month. Meals still need to be cooked. Sleep still needs to happen. Deadlines still have to be met; art still has to be made(1). It doesn’t matter what era of history we’re in–events on a timeline are not reflective of the people who live through them. We are all a part of the living fabric of history, and that’s why I am directing my attention to having a life. That is what I can control. Even then, dear reader, I am human. Sometimes, I make the mistake of adding the word “should.” That’s when I make my world smaller. If I can’t do a big thing, I turn my attention to doing something small. If I can’t do something small, I focus on something smaller and smaller and smaller still. Then, I grow from there.

By focusing my attention on my personal power(1), I don’t feel so powerless anymore. It’s not a perfect solution. It may even sound incredibly lame, misguided, or filled with privilege, but as a survivor I’ve learned over time that self-care isn’t selfish. It only feels that way sometimes–especially if you’ve been in an abusive relationship. It only feels that way when someone else says you aren’t doing enough, your attention is misguided, you aren’t helping in the way they think matters. That someone else is not you, however. You’re the only person who knows how to best take care of yourself, and that person is the one you need to listen to.

(1) Friend of mine shared this article that making more art than you consume has health benefits. Shiny!
(2) Personal power is a theme I’m working on in stories I’ve written recently.

    Mood: So sick of winter it’s not even funny.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Erm… Two. No three!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking, walking, walking
    In My Ears: A snoring cat.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    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. 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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