Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge & Rules

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Participant Badge

Born out of both my personal experiences and the knowledge that oppression tends to crush the artistic spirit on a cellular level, I have created a Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge for those who need it. This challenge, which came together from inspiration to draft guidelines, is designed to be flexible to work with your talents and lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to customize the specifics to fit your needs. Your art? Your rules.

Why take the Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge? When times are tough, the feeling that artists are not necessary tends to permeate because art is viewed as a luxury item in some cultures since we don’t produce food, clothing, or housing. The exact opposite is true, because art is a documentation and representation of our humanity and all our struggles. People turn to stories to find hope, to be inspired, to reach inside themselves and discover their own courage. This challenge is about making art to tap into your voice and tell your story. After all, one story can change the world. The problem is, we have no idea which story that will be, when it will be told, or in what medium. It’s up to us to find it–by making art!

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

I’ve designed the challenge to be simple, but grounded in four actionable areas. They are: Motivation, Discipline, Accountability, and Connection.

Rules Summary

This is a summary of the rules I’ve designed for the challenge. In the longer version, I offer means of customization to fit your lifestyles. After you’ve read the rules, write down in four-to-five sentences what you’ll pledge to do for 2017 and post them publicly or privately. Combined, those actionable items will help keep you grounded and focused on making art, while remaining connected to the world around you.

My 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.


Find your personal reason to make art and use that as your rallying cry for 2017.

Artists are human beings, not robots. Writers need to discover our characters’ voices. Painters need to glance at a blank canvas and draw that first line. Musicians need to hear the first stanza. Sometimes, however, we get stuck. We don’t know what to write. We don’t know if our art will resonate. We don’t see how our words will matter–because we can’t predict the future so we freeze up. We punish ourselves. Then, we read the news and get depressed; or, we get bad news and get even more depressed. Caught in that never-ending cycle of wondering what our worth is, some artists cease to create altogether.

There are 1,000 reasons to never pick up that pen, that inkwell, that stylus. What is more important? Those precious few reasons why you’re making art. Before you begin the challenge, figure out why you want to make art to find your motivation. Maybe you have a mantra, like “I want to make readers laugh.” Maybe, however, making art is so ingrained in your identity you might say: “I need to write to be happy.” Or, maybe you have a goal or business plan that helps keep you grounded on: “I need to draw to pay the bills”.

When you get stuck, take fifteen minutes and remind yourself that you’ve taken this challenge because your art is important to you. Abandoning the act of making art is not an option, and you will not retreat. Say that reason out loud, sing it, letter it, draw it–whatever you need to do. Focus on that mantra and recharge your artistic batteries, for the well of inspiration you draw from will never empty, not as long as you have the will to draw from it. After all, motivation is about reminding yourself how to find the will to make art when you lose it.


Discipline is the time you will take every day in 2017 to make art.

The challenge is designed around spending one hour every day to make your original art.
Modifications are as follows:

  • Subtract Half an Hour: Thirty minutes is good for beginners! If this allotted time does not challenge you, however, consider upping it to 45 minutes or an hour.
  • Add Fifteen Minutes: Tackle one household chore or personal health item every day like making the bed, eating vegetables, flossing, etc.
  • Add Half an Hour: Get moving, get grooving. Pledge to dedicate this time to a physical activity like biking, climbing stairs, going for a walk, going to the gym, etc.
  • Add an Hour: Switch techniques, genres, art forms and start something brand new–or double your time.

One thing to keep in mind, is that it doesn’t matter how good the art is you make if you are learning. Stretching the boundaries of what you normally do often means that your first attempts will probably suck. That’s okay! Give yourself permission to suck, but also to improve, revise, refine. You cannot see how far you’ve come, or how you’ve internalized the techniques you’ve been practicing, unless you put the time in. This is why discipline is needed to keep you on track.

A few things to think about depending upon your situation:

  • One hour writing sprints typically yield 750 to 1,200 words of text.
  • To hit the NaNoWriMo word count goal of 50,000, you would average 1.5 to 2 hours of writing every day.
  • If you’re a professional artist, consider using this hour to create something you haven’t sold or been contracted to create yet. Think of this as your pie-in-the-sky wish list!
  • If you need supplies, pay yourself a dollar every time you make art.
  • If you have kids, roommates, or family obligations, consider working out a time where you have an hour to yourself or, alternatively, break it up into two half-hour segments.
  • To instill discipline, you will need consistency. If you know you’re going to miss a day, either plan to make it up (if that works for you) or spend half the time on it instead.

The keys to making your own art on a regular basis is commitment. The motivation is the “why”, the discipline is the “how”, and the accountability is the “what”.


Pledge to hold yourself accountable to this Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge.

It’s one thing to say you’re going to make art or write that novel or what have you, it’s another to actually do it. Accountability is about proving to yourself that you have done the work you pledged to do.

Methods for accountability include:

  • Use a diary and write journal entries to mark your progress.
  • Buy a calendar and put smiley face stickers on it, or use the calendar on your phone.
  • Buddy up and find someone else who’s taking this challenge to hold each other accountable.
  • Check in every Wednesday here on my website, beginning on January 4th. Comments will be open.
  • Print out a free calendar and “X” off the days.
  • Use the hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 or #manw2017. Share your efforts every week–even talking about it with other challengers will help!

Accountability doesn’t have to take a long time; just by checking off a date on your calendar right after you’re done will complete this part of the challenge. There is no greater sense of accomplishment than being able to quickly look back at what you’ve done. Super important!


Manage your connections with your online and offline communities to remain focused but grounded.

For this challenge, connection taps back into the reasons why you’re making art. A story you write could make someone cry. A digital painting you create could instill a sense of wonder. The art you produce is a unique part of your identity, your humanity, and at the other end of your art is a reader, viewer, or player who’s interacting with your creation. Often, the best art evokes an emotional reaction, regardless of how well its crafted. Our relationships help give us the connections needed to understand the spectrum of human emotion. They also provide the means for self-care, and a tool to help us support one another.

Unfortunately, our connections can work against us because there are so many different ways to connect, that they wind up distracting us from what we want to accomplish as artists. The truth is that artists need solitude in order to create; being alone, even when it’s depicted in a positive, almost spiritual light, carries many stigmas with it. We hear the word “loner” and internalize our need or enjoyment of solitude as being wrong or bad or a sign that we’re broken. We need that “alone time” to focus, to listen to our innermost selves, to channel our voices into making art before we can share our creations with others.

This leg of the challenge is about managing your ability to connect against the discipline required to make art. For me, that is broken up into two, distinct parts: offline and online. Your mileage on these two areas in particular will vary widely, depending upon your situation.

I am listing below what I’m pledging to do for my challenge, in the hopes that you’ll use this as a baseline.

    Weekly Check-In: Pending any work-related promotions, interviews, this challenge, etc., I pledge to check in to social media no more than twice a week for personal usage.
    Quarterly Downtime: A few years ago, I took 100 days off of social media, and since then I’ve found that it took me two weeks to reset. I usually take the week off after a big show, but I will consider taking more of these breaks if limiting my access is not effective.
    Monthly Connection: I started this back in October/November, but it bears repeating now. Once a month, I am connecting with other artists/writers in my local community–outside of convention season.

Now that I’ve written the rules, it’s time to spend the last two weeks of the year reflecting on what I want to do for my challenge by reviewing what I’ve got on deck. I will post next week about this in particular, to help you prepare as well.

Rise up. And take the Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge with me!

An Anti-Climactic Resolution

The Tick Weapons Lab Avatar

Just a quick note! I’m taking a break from fluttery butter updates on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and blogging periphery for the rest of January. This’ll give me a chance to work on a few resolutions.

Anything work-related (e.g. release announcements and the like) will still be posted, though! 🙂 More to come!


    Mood: Determined
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: WOOOOOOOOOOO!!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: *coughs* I was hungover.
    In My Ears: The Snowmen Doctor Who
    Game Last Played: Tetris
    Movie Last Viewed: Resident Evil: Apocalypse
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

2009 Habits for Freelance Writers

Every year, I make yet another set of resolutions that somehow get shoved under the rug by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around. In a perfect world, I “should” be able to achieve my resolutions of getting back in shape, finishing a novel and traveling. But for many writers like myself, not achieving a set of goals in my opinion has little to do with intent or discipline. (Mind you, if you’re a writer, you have to have some amount of discipline otherwise you’d never get any projects completed.)

I believe that the reason why it’s difficult to achieve a set of New Year’s resolutions year after year is because we get preoccupied with our craft, often losing sight of the end goal because we get caught up in project cancellations, financial worries or new clients. “Life” happens and when it does, the specificity of our goals gets shoved under the rug because we are dealing with the “now.” In order to achieve our goals, I believe that we need healthy habits that will allow us to thrive.

Five Good Habits Every Writer Needs

You might think that the idea of “writing” habits is fairly inane or loaded with common sense, but it’s not. In our craft, since time truly is money, poor habits that take our attention away from writing only creates more work for us in the end. Here are some habits I feel we can all improve upon, but there may be others to add to this list.


We are writers by nature, but that doesn’t mean we are necessarily effective communicators. Smart communication, in my book, is really two-fold. First, it’s about clarity. Every freelancer needs to know a few basic pieces of communication before moving forward, so this might be something you’re already doing. From length of contract to pay, you know what you need to move forward on a project.

However, there are times when your client either doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do or has another “mission” for their product in mind. If there are roadblocks in communication with your clients that cannot be overcome, and you are spending more time on it than it’s financially worth, then you might want to consider backing out of the project. (Read my post about Sample Phrases to Politely Turn Down Projects.)

Second, effective communication is about choosing the right tool for the right message. Social media is great, but it can be more casual than you might think. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. Ask yourself not only who you are communicating with, but why and how. Just because you’re leaving a comment on someone else’s blog does not mean you should tone down your communication by writing in slang or LOLspeak to the point where it is unreadable. Remember, your writing (all of your writing, I might add) reflects upon the quality of your work as I had mentioned in How to Ruin your Online Reputation in 10 Easy Steps.

I thought that Frugal Marketing did a great job with this article about How to Communicate Effectively in Business. It is a very structured article that takes the amorphous concept of communicating and structures it into an outline format.

If you still use “snail mail” for some communication, consider going virtual and stick to brief, more direct communication via email. Scan in your contracts and send them as pdfs to save you time and money. A decent scanner/printer/copier costs around $100 at several retail stores.


Now that you’ve figured out how to communicate better with other freelancers and your clients, I recommend mastering your “InBox.” I just spent all day Sunday wrangling over 2,000 emails by using manual and auto filters, archiving techniques, labels, etc. It was a painful activity, but it was necessary. Out of those emails, I found “dead” submissions that I can retool and reuse, created a “to do” list, followed up with a ton of new and old contacts, etc.

If this is a habit you already do, then kudos to you. If it isn’t, I have to tell you — it feels great to air out my “InBox.” I used an email labeling system similar to what David Allen had designed in his Getting Things Done program. Basically, I label both by file type (i.e. financial, publisher, etc.) and by action (to print, to follow-up, etc.) and archive what I don’t immediately need to see.

Everyone needs a great filing system for paper communication, but this can be the hardest to manage. This article on MSN shows you how to Purge your Financial Paperwork. It talks about some of the “rules” for tossing things like bank statements, loan paperwork, etc. For another perspective, check out this Consumer Reports article about All that Paperwork: What to Keep and What to Toss.

The hidden benefit to wrangling your emails and your paperwork is that you will open up space in your life for “new” projects. Once you’ve gotten a hold of your communication, set a date with yourself once every couple of months to stay on top of things — you’ll be glad you did.

Other ways to communicate more effectively might include: adopt third-party “tools” and coordinate your social media accounts to simpler interfaces, moderate how people can contact you so you’re paying attention to less accounts and phone numbers, keep messages unread until you’ve acted on them, let people know the best way to get a hold of you and be forthcoming about deadlines.


– Do you have a ton of links you’re not managing correctly? Whether you use StumbleUpon, delicious, Digg or other methods of bookmarking your links, take control over what you have saved and tagged so you can be more productive. When you find a link, ask yourself how you are going to use that website. Is it a writer’s resource? Entertainment? Promo opportunity?

A better link hierarchy can help you in any number of ways, but it requires you to ask yourself what kinds of habits you’re keeping. How do you visit your favorite websites? How do you reference important links? Why are these links important to you?

Not to be ignored, I can’t think of a better time to purge through your personal dead tree libraries, too. With the advent of pdfs and ebooks, this might help you not only save space but could turn into a hidden source of cash. Sell those unwanted books through eBay, Amazon or your local used books store to get some extra cash.

If you’re a bibliophile, you can get recommendations for new books through sites like GoodReads, or swap books with people you know to ensure your library is useful and up-to-date. is a college textbook-swapping site, Paperback Swamp is a huge book swapping site that includes audio, hardcovers, etc. and Swaptree also allows you to exchange DVDs, games, etc.


In a previous blog post I talked about how the internet is my biggest time-waster. Well? The internet may be a place to get distracted, but it’s also vital to a freelancer. How can we make the most out of this tool?

How about aggregating all of the websites you read into a simple, manageable easy-to-read format? Subscribe to their RSS feeds, then split them up by category in your reader to get more information in a flash. I really enjoy my account, and have updated it to include new authors I follow. Netvibes offers a personal and public page, once I’ve updated my public page I’ll share it with all of you. Web surfing is a time killer, and will eat into your productivity.

Other ideas include: stop checking your email incessantly, schedule blocks of time for communication, and turn off your IM clients.


I haven’t talked about this too much before, but the idea of living a holistic lifestyle is definitely something that’s been on my mind for the past, few months. Put all thoughts of money aside for a moment and consider how much time you spend shopping, running errands, managing your life. A holistic lifestyle is ideally one that integrates all of those spheres of your life: health, wealth, career, friends, etc.

If you work a full-time job like I do, your weekends are precious to you. Imagine what you can do if you cut down the time it takes for you to run errands or make out your shopping list. I’m finding that I’m getting more done because I’m more motivated to achieve my goals. While every person is different, if you are truly serious about writing, sometimes the best way to move forward with your goals is to look “around” them. Look at everything “but” that shiny goal at the end of the rainbow to see how you can make room in your life for success.

Here are some of the ways I’m tackling “life” organization to minimize the clutter and make more out of my day:

  • Set up Errands as Tasks, Appointments – I mentioned in my post about the Cost of Writing Fiction versus Non-Fiction that tracking was important. You already schedule your writing-related assignments, why not block out time for shopping and running errands, too?
  • Shop Online – Part of household management is to get the product that you need in a timely fashion at the price you’re willing to pay. I can’t say enough good things about shopping online, because it keeps me out of the stores and I don’t have to worry about buying incidentals. Some people are even getting groceries delivered right to their door. While I’m definitely not there yet, I do all my shopping online with the exception of clothes and toiletries.
  • Budget and Schedule Long-Term – By thinking longer-term, you not only plan better use of your time, but you also plan for vacations and “time off,” too. Thinking longer-term is an art form that requires patience and practice, because long-term planning requires big picture (and realistic) thinking, flexibility, and the means to enact the plan.
  • Promote after Project Completion – This past year, I had an issue with my Violetwar site because I split my time between promoting it and writing it. Promotion is its own job and really needs to be treated as such, but you have to have something to promote otherwise you’ll lose people’s interest.
  • Adopt Healthy Habits and Put “You” First – Being healthy is not a task, it’s not a “to-do,” it’s a lifestyle. A lifestyle that affects every sphere including what you eat (and how much), how much energy you have, etc. Only you know what’s healthy for you, but why not make 2009 “your” year? Why not tackle those non-writing areas to help you lay an excellent foundation so you can write?
  • Remember to Be Social – For this point, I’m not talking about social media. I’m talking about turning off your computer and your game system and getting out there to talk to people. There are ways to be social while getting things done. It’s called “networking.” There are also a lot of low-cost ways to be social and enjoy yourself by reconnecting with friends, going to concerts, etc. Even sitting in a coffee shop can help put you out there. As writers, we may need to actively seek social contact moreso than the other butterflies out there, but it’s an area we should remember to foster.

Of course, there are other areas to add to this list depending upon your lifestyle. The key to thinking more holistically about your life is really to look at the “big picture.” 2009 will have a lot of great things in store for many of us, but it does require smart planning. After you think about what you want to accomplish, ask yourself “how” and “why” you want to accomplish them. I’m confident you can achieve your dreams this year. Let’s establish some great habits and move mountains!

Monica Valentinelli >

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