MANW Check-In Week 48: November’s Progress and Finish Lines

Make Art Not War November 2017

Hey, how did your November go? Mine went pretty well, despite two weeks lost to the flu. This month’s theme was FINISH, and by now you have either finished what you started this month or you’re struggling. There could be a lot of reasons behind your lack of motivation or slower progress, and I’ve often found that it’s important to record them. The point of finishing is not to hyper-analyze how you reach the finish line. Sometimes, it’s more important to type “the end” than it is to write it with a flourish or add a bit of poetry. From there, from your failures or setbacks, you might discover new goals or behavioral techniques you can use to move forward.

Here are some examples of setbacks and solutions:

Setback: Falling Behind. Your goal was to reach 50,000 words for a novel this month, but you felt overwhelmed and couldn’t figure out what to write. By the time you got that sorted, you fell behind.

Solution: To prepare for a month of writing, try your hand at outlining and character sketches beforehand. What do your characters want? What stands in their way? Where does your story start and end? Outlines can help keep you on track as you write, because they’ll offer goal posts where you didn’t have any before.

Setback: Lack of Focus.
You knew what you wanted to write, but it was hard to focus. Every time you started, you quickly lost interest and didn’t want to write at all.

Solution: Being resistant to the work happens to all of us. To get past that mental block or stubbornness, you could try warm-up exercises, changing your environment/music, writing something else for fifteen minutes to half an hour, etc. Usually, when you’re slow or can’t focus there’s a reason for that. It could be something as complex as anxiety/depression or a consequence of heavily relying on online tools. It could also, however, be something simple. You’ve never written in that genre before, or haven’t used that technique. Fear can definitely be a factor, even on a subsconscious level, too.

Setback: Can’t Finish.
You have no trouble getting into writing, but you can’t seem to finish what you start no matter how hard you try.

Solution: Try writing the end or middle of your story first. You might also benefit from mini-tasking, or taking your short stories and breaking them out by scenes instead. You might also plan to write for shorter periods of time, lke 15 or 20 minutes, until you rebuild your concentration. If you get distracted, I also find that having a journal or a tool like Evernote next to you can really help. That way, if you have a to do item you forgot or suddenly remember an important task you can write it down and get back to your manuscript.

The next time you have a setback, try identifying what it is and cooking up your own solution. This week’s check-in addresses some of the finer points I’ve been dealing with. Tune in later this week for a brand new 30 Day Challenge!

Weekly Check-in

My Original Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Here’s my current status:

  • Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist is going strong. William Sand finally got the job after a confusing and rocky series of appointments. He’s currently stuck in an archive, reading old books about alchemy and the occult
  • Motivation hasn’t been the issue for me, but I did have a challenging time trying to work while I had the flu. I’ve got a strong routine down now, and need to add back in a few other things. Looking forward to it!
  • So, I’ve been using a new technique on Evernote to mark down progress. It’s been very effective!
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I’m good re: social media. I’m mostly using it for work right now, and I may extend that into 2018. We’ll see how this month goes!

Hope your month went well and better than expected. Write soon!

Mood: Focused. Tired. Deep-fried.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Going to hit the caffeine hard. Vrooooom!
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some walking.
In My Ears: Us Against the World by Coldplay
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: A mega-ass ton of anthologies.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer Season 3
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Legacy of Lies for V20 Dark Ages.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Using Evernote to Create Project Snapshots

Trojan On Your Computer

One challenging aspect of a professional artist’s job is administration and goal planning. These, sadly, are the unsexy bits. They’re the scaffolding we stretch, shape, and mold our art into, whether we create games, books, movies, etc. Or to put it another way, what I’m referring to is not how the sausage is made, it’s the tools we use to track what kind of sausage we’re making, how much of it, where it’s being sold, etc.

Sometimes, project administration gets in the way of making the things we want to make. I find this is especially true for myself, because I am one individual. I don’t have an assistant or a team of people helping manage my time. I do check-ins, occasionally, to ensure I’m on the right track with a few individuals. Overall, however, it can get cumbersome because essentially I’m running my own business and, to be honest, I never really liked that part of the job. It feels cleansing to organize, but it’s not as satisfactory to me as making art.

Despite this, without a clear snapshot of what’s on my plate it’s challenging to commit to anything new, see where I have space to fit, and feel any sense of satisfaction. The pressure to create, mind you, is different depending upon which vertical you’re in. For gaming, that pressure is high. It bleeds into everything I do, and I often apply that to fiction. That, however, is not realistic considering the work I do in games is often more intense and frequent than anything I’d do for traditional publishing venues. I know that, but in my head I can’t see that. In lieu of manually recreating a system using bullet journaling, I’ve created a few project overview snapshots using Evernote.

    Step One: Create a note to track payment and date of release. Using the checkbox function, I make a list of everything I have that will be released separated by fiction, non-fiction, and games. I add the date (or year), marketing-or-production related tasks, and when that particular item has been paid.

      “Publication Title” (X% Paid)
      Release Date 11/22/17
      Post for X site
      Post for Y site
      Submit pay schedule
      Submit comp copy request
      Update Bibliography

    I often deal with pay schedules or different types of contracts, so payment in the context of release helps me see if I need to follow up or not. This particular snapshot is something that I can attach to a planner/calendar very easily; it doesn’t have financial specifics, but I regard this as a shortcut or a brief overview. Updating this note won’t bog me down, either. To that end, this is also why I include works that are finished and unfinished to clearly see my deadlines and publication status.

    Step Two: Set up a note for works on submission. This note is separated into fiction and non-fiction to start; Other forms (e.g. screenplays/comics/etc.) would be added as needed. Right now I don’t need a spreadsheet to track my work because my focus is a) not on spec and b) doesn’t heavily lean toward short fiction. My goals are modest for the time being, but that may change. Who knows, little luck fairy of luckiness? If, however, my submissions take off I’ll likely need a spreadsheet just so I know what’s what.

    This snapshot allows me to see what I’ve sent out for editorial consideration, and also helps me “count” the number of pieces I have out in the wild. I should note that these are also for original or creator-owned pieces; I have a clear sense of what I own the rights to. If you’re dipping your toe into work-for-hire waters, I would strongly recommend adding reminders of rights to help you keep track.

      “Title of Piece Here”
      Pub: Name of venue
      Editor: Name if applicable.
      Submitted: 10/24/17
      If rejected, resubmit?
      Notes: If rejected, try ‘X’ venue.

    If you notice, this format also helps me prepare for rejection. By listing another venue, I can easily tweak and resub if needed. If published, however, I can copy/paste this to my release schedule and modified the entry pretty quickly.

    Step Three: Create an Ongoing To-Do List. Okay, time for a guilty admission. I like redundancy in my to-do lists, because I’m terrified I’ll forget something if I misplace a journal. Plus, the nice thing about using apps is that the information translates well (and is readable) if I move from laptop to phone. With that in mind, I have a daily mini-list I’ve been using. Basically, date the list. Use the checkbox feature, which you can easily cross off on your phone, and then rinse/repeat by day. If I didn’t finish the day’s previous items that carries over to the next day.

For me, these lists are the fundamentals of project management. It helps me see a) what I’m working on, b) if I’ve been paid, c) what’s being released, and d) what’s being considered. As I evolve my process, I may include other notes to list other details, like market listings, but for now I want to keep my snapshots tightly focused. Your mileage may vary!

Mood: Grey. Like the sky. And my sweater.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not enough, apparently.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Bwahahahahaha.
In My Ears: Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: A mega-ass ton of anthologies.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Beauty and the Beast live action. It was something.
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.

Streamlining to K.I.S.S.

Music Avatar

Before I get to today’s post, I’d like to share a few pieces of ephemera. I wrote a piece about dealing with rejection for Red Sofa Literary; I hope you find it useful! Second, I have recently discovered the wonders of wireless headphones, which I can connect to my phone. I wound up getting the Mpow 059 wireless headphones in red, and damn. I mean day-am! I can take them on the road and use them while writing in a house of coffee, or I can wander around my pad listening to music without carrying my phone. I’m so into this!

So, today I want to talk about Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a mantra I apply when I’m overloaded and ready to go. I had a few friends point out that it’s challenging to do this when you’ve been hit with the flu (as I have), and there’s only so many brain spinny wheels to go around. I’m of the mind that physical and emotional health definitely contributes to your productivity, and if you’re unable to make changes it’s because you’ve got more going on than you realize.

The K.I.S.S. system I use is basically a method of prioritization to shape how I use my time. When I know I have a lot to do, then I make listicles (my new and current favorite word) of everything I have to get done: house, personal, work. Then, I prioritize based on what’s important and reduce distractions. Basically, I make a concerted effort to say: “Look, all these little items on my list. The 1,000 things that get in the way of me doing the work. I’m going to cut all that shit out to finish items 1, 2, 3.”

Mind you, you can take this methodology to a different plane of existence. You could: plan your meals in advance, your social schedule for the week, your clothes for the next day. By removing micro-decisions, you’ll clear your brain space to help you focus on what you need to on a macro level. Then, you can figure out the details and adjust from there. Sometimes, your ability to do that greatly depends upon your personality and connections you have to the people around you. That doesn’t mean you’re “doing it wrong”, and I side eye OneTrueWayisms that say otherwise.

Lastly, one thing to consider is that you may be utilizing too many planners, listicles, word count meters, etc. and that is getting in the way of finishing your projects. Over-planning can be a form of procrastination (Say it ain’t so!), because you’re using that as a motivational tool. Think of it this way: every time you write down what you should be doing, you are taking a snapshot of your frozen progress. You know exactly where you are in your work, and that list encapsulates that. If you make more lists, you’re not making any progress. You’re simply reviewing your static position from a different angle. If you find yourself buried by apps, to-do lists, etc. then consider streamlining your process to help you get more use out of the tools.

That’s all the time I have for today. Happy writing!

Mood: I want Christmas cookies. Nay, I need them. Need!
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I lost count, if only because I didn’t think the caffeine I drank was impacting my system in any way, shape, or form.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I shuffled and shambled like a zombie rising from the mists of Avalon.
In My Ears: Jack Pack 2 album
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: I forgot the title! It’s so far away from me right now… On the table… In the kitchen… *grunts*
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Beauty and the Beast live action. It was something.
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.

An Itty Bitty Status Update

Wonder Woman Avatar

Phew! It’s been a whirlwind of a summer, and now we have a new season: Summall. Or, possibly, Summinter. We’re experiencing unusually warm weather[1], and that has put a significant dent in my combat boot-wearing capabilities. Great for Pokemon hunting, though, and getting steps in. I’m pretty stoked because I hit the first leg of my goals, and am amping up to the next phase.

Part of my good mood right now, is because I took my own advice and did several things on my tips for self-care list. I am devastated and upset by the news, but I keep coming back to what I can do. What can I provide? Make art in all its glorious forms. Give back as I’m able to. I know it won’t be enough, but I’m not an island either. I work with fabulous individuals, and we’re all doing the best we can and will continue to do so.

My workload is insane at the moment. There is no way I can participate in NaNoWriMo, either. Timing, such as it is, means my focus has to be very narrow right now. Some exciting bits I’m working on, for sure! I’ve had a lot of conversations about launching additional aspects, too, such as Patreon or Etsy. Next year is going to be awesome!

I am a little concerned, however, that social media engagement is changing because it directly impacts the discovery of creators and our art. It’s a lot more work to promote a book or game than it has been in the past; people are getting offline and definitely adjusting their usage. Can you blame them? Every time something blows up in a headline, social media is saturated with commentary about it. It’s inescapable.

Despite this, I’m not worried about marketing. To be honest, that hasn’t been on my radar for a long while. When I have blogged about social media/marketing in the past, it’s partly because I feel that sharing stories about my journey might help others in my position. Too, there’s really no “one way” to promote yourself or your books, and there are plenty of experts in the field–many already work in publishing, already. I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve logged some time in the marketing field before, and know who to ask if that responsibility falls back on my plate. Often, however, making art has been a higher priority than selling it.

Some immediate changes to my schedule: I’m back to blogging, at least twice a week, for the time being. I’ve also found that compartmentalizing my To-Do lists has been a life-saver. And, it has really helped me prioritize what needs to be done as well. Really slick! I’ll also be taking photos at events and whatnot, and I have a lot to share from past shows/fun bits! I played around with how I log my time, and I’m definitely blocking social media during business hours. It’s a huge relief, and those mini-breaks I normally take are a lot more productive and fun. Great fuel for writing. This technique has also been helping me compartmentalize how and when to channel my energy, too.

And with that, I need to get back to my list. Keep on, keepin’ on. Be well!

1] A former co-worker used to call it ‘global nicening’ as a terrible joke. Climate change is the new Flat Earth.

Mood: Have devolved into sarcasm. Or evolved? Hah.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Wait… That was Sunday, right? Three.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Steps! Steps! Steps!
In My Ears: How Far I’ll Go from Moana (Alessia Cara version)
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.

On Keeping Your Eyes On Your Own Page

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between what you want to write, and the perception of what a “writer” is. The career of writing is filled with other people’s opinions based on your profile or popularity, which circles you travel in, how much money you’re believed to make, where you publish, who you’ve worked with, what genre you write, how frequently you put out books, and what it is you’re writing in the first place.

Perceptions, dear reader, are all bullshit and they are a distraction that can kill your productivity. They exist as a natural part of being in an uncertain, unpredictable industry where so many of us work from home and only see one another at conventions. This can be exacerbated if you have friends or acquaintances that are writing, too; the best advice I can give you is that your true friends will be happy for your success. If they’re not, and they make passive-aggressive comments, it’s because they perceive your success as a sign of their failing or what they haven’t earned. As a writer, you will define what you believe your success to be. There is no “one true way” to be a writer or have a career, because there is no formula for success other than to be persistent. Do you write? You’re a writer. Do you make money off of your work? Then, you are professional writer. Are you consistent? Then, you building a career in writing.

Enter the idea that you should “keep your eyes on your own page.” It may sound incredibly selfish, but this mantra is a tool for your own survival. Other people’s opinions can be damaging to your career, because that’s when you start to ask questions. Am I doing this right? Am I writing the right books? But wait, that other writer started the same year I did and they’ve surpassed me in money/popularity/etc. Then, the worst possible thing happens: jealousy. You deserved what that other writer got. After all, you wrote the same damn thing. You should’ve gotten that contract. Your book should’ve gotten better placement. Ack! Turning green yet? Worrying about what “X” writer is doing is a recipe for madness, because even if you’re friends that won’t help you get the words down and out the door.

That’s not to say there aren’t real problems that can affect your career like bigotry, sexism, homophobia, nepotism, etc. these things exist in publishing because they occur in real life. Publishing isn’t some esoteric business that exists in the clouds; it’s a multi-million dollar industry filled with people making decisions every day to produce books, comics, and games. What I’m suggesting, is that obsessing over the hows/wherefores/whys of someone else’s book took off won’t do you any favors, because your greatest asset is what you have to sell. If what you have isn’t selling, then write something else and try selling that. Or, do more research on the markets you’re submitting to and try a different one instead.

Lastly, I want to point out another reason why you should keep your eyes on your own page. In this political era, there is a lot of uncertainty that has nothing to do with the publishing industry. That big question mark of what will happen next is omnipresent and frightening as hell. I could spend hours modeling what the future might hold, I could spend days in front of the TV worrying whether or not we’re going to war, or I can write. Thanks to Make Art Not War 2017, I am putting “me” first. This acts as a shield that allows me to protect my work and make better decisions for myself and my career.

When I first designed the MANW program, I did so thinking that it would just be to weather the political storm–but it has a crucial, secondary purpose as well. By prioritizing my art over all the other bullshit out there, I know I am doing everything I can to make something happen. That, outside all the other bullshit, is what’s keeping me sane. I can’t predict what’ll happen, I can’t possibly know whether or not all of this will be worth the effort financially–but I can control whether or not I fill a blank computer screen, one word at a time. Without doing the work, I can’t do anything else. After all, no one wants to read an empty page.

    Mood: Crap, it’s Friday.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Too many
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Half an hour
    In My Ears: Dragon Age: Inquisition soundtrack
    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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Monica Valentinelli >

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