MANW Check-In Week 4: Celebrating One Month, January’s Accountability, and Turning No into Yes

Congratulations! We’re now in Week 4 of the Make Art Not War Challenge 2017. How are you doing? This month’s theme was PLAY, and I hope you’ve embraced that with vigor. The theme was designed for you to plant the seeds for discipline; I will help you grow as the year continues, by building off of this initial theme every month.

Okay, now that we’re in week four this is a good time for me to check in with all of you and see how committed I’ve been to my pledge.

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.

January 2017 Accountability

  • I made original art for one hour every day when I could. I had a convention, and I figured out that making art while at conventions is more involved than I imagined it would be.
  • I did not have a problem with motivation.
  • I used gold star stickers to mark down on the calendar when I made art.
  • I have posted the accountability posts and did use the hashtags #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017.
  • I did fall down on social media usage, because I wanted to keep abreast of political changes and right now I’m regretting that. More on this below.

Okay, so where I fell down was on social media. It’s hard to extricate myself from it, because I do log in for work. The problem isn’t doing that “one quick thing”, it’s the fact that I have had 24-7 access to it on my phone, my dual monitors, etc. So, yesterday I made the decision to remove access on my phone; I’ll put it back when I’m traveling, but for now this is the safest and best approach going forward.

How I’ve Been Using Social Media

In talking to other friends so many of us rely on social media for making plans and remaining in touch as well. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had that begin with “Well, didn’t you see what happened on Facebook?” Even when I do use it, I’m not on it enough to know or read what everyone is up to. I’ve been engaging with Facebook Groups more, though, and I also use Messenger. The nice thing about Messenger, is that it’s a separate app so I don’t need Facebook on my phone. That’s definitely staying.

With respect to Twitter, I was using the service as a news aggregator and… Well, I just cannot have access to the news 24-7, either. The only solution is to disconnect and stick to my original pledge. It didn’t affect my productivity this month, but that’s never the problem. The issue is that it impacts my mood, and that’s when my focus and enthusiasm for my original art tends to go by the wayside.

I’m seeing quite a few of you checking in on the Twitter hashtag–and that’s great! Don’t be afraid to revisit your personal promises, too, because next week’s check-in kicks off a brand new month. Exciting!

Creative Challenge: Turning “No’s” Into “Yes’s”

Some of you may have stopped and started on this challenge. You had every intention of making art every day, of setting aside your frustration, and focusing on yourself. You might feel guilty for taking that time, or might be comparing yourself to other, more established artists wondering if you’ll ever get “there.” Or, you might feel a ton of pressure to be perfect or make a gorgeous, saleable piece of art every time you sit down to create.

Negativity is a Creative Challenge that you’ll have to overcome if you want to establish a routine and sharpen your focus. Right now, what you’re telling yourself is “No, I can’t do this.” The reasons why you’re saying “No.” will vary widely, but that negativity is exacerbated by everyone around you and our current political climate. It does have an impact, even if you can’t see it now; artists are keen observers, because it’s up to

The question you need to ask yourself is: “How do I turn a ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’?” If you cannot say “Yes, I will devote my time to making art and focusing on my craft.” then how can you expect anyone else to publish, buy, or support your finished works?

Your reasons for saying “Yes!” to yourself will also vary; the first step, however, is to recognize that you are saying “No.” Then, it’s up to you to figure out why that is to overcome your personal, often very emotional, challenge. I believe you can do it, and I wish you the best of luck.

Now that we’re a month in–tell me how you’re doing! Comments are open, and I’d love to hear how this challenge is impacting your life as an artist.

What I Mean When I Say 3-D Character Design

Yuna Final Fantasy X-2

Assume that the first 5,000 words of this post is a treatise on the use of propaganda to make it socially acceptable to attack opponents and commit horrific acts throughout history. I want to write it, but I have work to do and I’m grumpy(1)(2).

It was pointed out to me that I haven’t blogged about designing games or writing stories for a bit, and that’s something I definitely want to sprinkle in here and there. Often, the challenge for me is that I have my own lexicon(3) for creative elements. For example, I hate the terms “crunch” and “fluff” with the fiery passion of a thousand red suns, because I feel those terms devalue both the necessary work that systems designers do and the talented efforts of setting designers. Instead, I call the systems the “engine” for a game, because that’s what makes a game go. The setting, then, is the “vehicle”. Combined, they make a game filled with passengers (e.g. the characters). Without the engine or the vehicle, you don’t have a game. You have a pile of rules or you have a bunch of descriptions. You definitely need both to play.

What about those passengers, though? Well, circling back to my goal to define what I mean when I say “3-D character design”, I envision all game’s characters to be a personality that lifts right off the page. Player-characters aren’t photographs, because they’re not static. They’re active, and their stories are shaped by a player sitting at the table. In many games, I also like to envision the GM’s characters to be the same way, because that offers more potential for conflict and interactions. Thus, three-dimensional characters are more life-like than 2D; they are full of desires, fears, and quirks–just like the people filling their shoes.

I’m of the mind that three-dimensional character portrayals actively support a better play experience(4), because we–the designers–are presenting characters for two reasons. First, the characters are there for the GM to narrate. The more characters there are, the easier it is to portray them as photographs because they’re elements needed to build a narrative. But, even tweaking those characters just a little bit makes them more fun to interact with and more emotionally compelling to rescue, fight, investigate, chase, etc.

Second, the characters we present are not only necessary for the players, they also underline the play experience; you typically can’t have a game without characters (or roles) of some sort unless it’s intentionally designed not to have them. Character depictions are also a strong indicator of what that vehicle (e.g. setting) is like for the game, and when these portrayals are flat it sends a strong message to the players at the table.

For example, many players internalize they are not welcome in a game if the art and text doesn’t not include their identities, because they don’t feel a connection and can’t see themselves playing the game. This happens on both a subconscious and conscious level, and it is tied to one of the reasons why people buy games in the first place. To have fun, people need to feel vested in a game, and that investment depends on any number of factors. I’ve found that one of the best and surest ways to increase a player’s interest, is to focus on three-dimensional characters that many different types of players would be attracted to.

Three-dimensional characters do take some work to create, but I personally feel having this as a design goal makes us better designers and writers. The identity portion of that is part and parcel to ensuring characters are handled appropriately, and to that end I’m teaching a class called Writing the Other: Writing RPGs Sans Fail with K. Tempest Bradford. Outside of the discussions to sensitively portraying different identities, there are tons of techniques you can employ to zero in on making better characters.

Now that I’ve defined what three-dimensional characters are, I’ll address tips for designing them in a later post.

(1) Politics and winter. I have a great life, but nothing sends me into a rage faster than attacking women’s rights and seeing a bunch of dudes be smug about it. And winter, because this season has been way too long for sure!

(2) Broke my pledge to check in less, but I’m glad I got that out of my system now.

(3) It has always been this way, ever since I was very little.

(4) The same is true in fiction. Flat characters are boring to read!

Creative Prompt: A Time Capsule You’ll Open In Four Years

Wonder Woman Avatar

Today’s creative prompt is inspired by the Presidential Inauguration and, in part, by famous artists and actors like Octavia Butler and Bruce Lee who wrote down the definitive goals they had for their careers. Simply, my idea is to use the words “I will…” and then list what you will do during the next four years.

To turn this into a creative prompt and kick your artistic nature into high gear, create a time capsule for your future self instead. You might write a letter to yourself and seal it away, only to be opened again in four years. You might find a shoebox or some other container and fill it with slips of paper to remind yourself where you are now, what you hope for, and what you think will happen. Or, you might take this as an opportunity to find images and pictures to record for your future self; these are elements that you believe are super important that you will hang on to–no matter what.

Creating a time capsule, either through letter writing or by using your physical space, gives you the gift of time. It removes a small piece of yourself from this moment and helps you visualize yourself in four years. It’s also a way to bring hope and clearly pinpoint what you’re feeling as well, and that can be powerful on multiple levels. Though, if you want to go the traditional route and put artifacts in the capsule, that’s great, too!

The key for this prompt will be to remember where you put the time capsule four years from now. If you’re writing a letter to yourself, I would put it in a sealed envelope and attach it to December in your 2017 wall calendar. Then, I’d continue moving the envelope to December 2018, 19, and 20 until it’s read to be opened. Alternatively, you could go the digital route and use a service like My Time Capsule, instead.

MANW Week 3 Check-In: New Creative Prompt & Challenge Follow-Up

Jack The Pumpkin King Avatar

Today’s the exciting check-in for Week 3 of my Make Art Not War Challenge! I have had a tremendous week where a lot of unraveled threads have been snipped, and I’m in the process of figuring out what thread I need to spool before…

Okay, that took the whole “eye of the needle” analogy a bit too far; my point (Hah! Hah!) is that by embracing January’s theme of PLAY, I’m beginning to sort out what I want to focus on this year for the next three-to-six months. I’m also remembering which long-standing projects have been languishing as well, and that’s provided me with a much-needed kick in the butt to sharpen my focus.

I’d like to share with you how my week went, but before I get to that I’d like to plug an article by Gareth L. Powell titled “How To Keep Being Creative In A Crisis”. Loads of great insight here, and I really dug this quote:

“Art is one of the candles of civilisation. If we abandon it, the bad guys win. – Gareth L. Powell

Inspiring, eh? As more authors blog about making art in challenging and difficult times, I will continue to link to their words of wisdom. Remember: if you are just finding out about the challenge now, you can join at any time!

Creative Challenge Recap: Making Art at Cons

Last week, I did mention that I had a creative challenge to work through. I was invited to be a special guest at Midwinter Con, and my goal was to keep making art while at the show. Here’s how the days broke down:

  • Wednesday, January 11
  • – I did not make art. I was forced to slay dust bunnies instead.

  • Thursday, January 12
  • – This was a travel/booth set up/see people day, so no art here, either.

  • Friday, January 13
  • – I set up and participated in a LARP about an eeeeeeevil corporation, which was the culmination of characters I helped design. Not sure if this counts as “new” or not, but it was the result of my creative efforts.

  • Saturday, January 14
  • – I did here! Part of the day I spent with my cousin on creative photography and discussing my business plan. I also started narrowing down how to focus my creative energy on my original projects as well. Plus, spending time at the signing table allowed me to conjure concepts for new worlds, stories, and games.

  • Sunday, January 15
  • – Another travel and tear down day. This was a long one, and didn’t make art here.

Though I didn’t make art on certain days, when I came back home I did feel as if my focus never waned–not once. Since MANW was always on my mind, it was omnipresent and, because of that, I spent Monday recovering from the convention(1). I wound up buying some software that would allow me to design flat, two-dimensional bracelets, necklaces, earrings, etc. and used it to create two fan-made patterns. (One was for Dungeons & Dragons, and the other was for the Packers.) For flat stitches, the software will allow me to plot out intricate designs and “see” them before I stitch them. Pretty cool!

All in all, I think the creative challenge to continue making art at conventions can’t be forced or helped if travel gets in the way. The two most important things for me was to never lose sight of my goal, and to get back on the proverbial horse as soon as possible. I needed a day of downtime after a convention, for example, and I found there was no better way of spending it than making art.

Your mileage will vary, of course, but if you can’t make art while you’re away please don’t beat yourself up about it. If, however, you find yourself not making art when you get home, too, then that’s something I’d keep an eye on. If your lack of productivity goes past a week, then I’d say that’s definitely a cause for concern–especially if you don’t have a lot going on.

I’d love to hear how you’re doing. Feel free to check in on the hashtag or use the comments section. Can’t believe we’re in week three!

Creative Prompt: Visualize a Castle

The story behind this creative prompt is my love for a book that I feel was billed as a romance–even though it really wasn’t. Season of the Witch, by Natasha Mostert, touches upon a concept in spiritual alchemy where you build constructs in your mind. Natasha uses that gilded palace in an interesting and suspenseful way while other fantasy writers, like Melanie Rawn in her Exiles series, utilize mental constructs to teach magic, defend from magical attacks, etc. [Similar to this, is the “mind palace” which was featured in Sherlock.]

This exercise has two components to it. The first, is to take twenty minutes and find a nice, quiet space to visualize a castle of your dreams. If you don’t have one of those, I recommend noise-cancelling headphones to help you focus. Then, when you’re settled, draw a castle in your mind and add in the five senses. If you picture a tower, go inside the tower. Does it have staircases? Elaborate carpets? Stained glass windows or heavy oak doors? What does that room smell like? Fresh rain, rose petals, or cinnamon? Once you’ve visualized that room, move on to the next one and the next one until you’ve pictured an entire castle of your own making.

For the second part, bring your castle to life. You can do this in any number of ways via scrapbooking or cutting techniques, illustrations, lush descriptions, etc. The idea here is to build a castle in the real world that you’ve visualized. Remember: this doesn’t have to be something you complete on the first try, either. It could take you up to a week or more, and that’s okay!

Why do this? Here’s a secret: by creating a place in your mind, through your art, you are giving yourself the gift of space. This might be a place you dream about buying, building, owning, or traveling to one day. Or, your castle could be a safe space you retreat to because it’s uniquely yours. It may sound incredibly silly, but having a safe space is important for your well-being on multiple levels. This exercise allows you to create one and give you that sense of ownership and control–which is a must when times get tough!

(1) Every introvert understands what “recovering” a.k.a. “de-peopling” means.

    Mood: Caffeinated
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Yeah, I don’t think the addiction will bypass anytime soon, not until Spring at least.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Bah, humbug.
    In My Ears: Movie soundtrack playlist. Currently on Harry Potter.
    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: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

MANW Week 2: Check-In and Making Art at Conventions

darkwing duck avatar

It’s hard to believe we’re already in the second week of Make Art Not War 2017, but here we are. So far, I’ve been focusing on jewelry design, in part because there is a mathematical component to this art form. Math, which is also present in art forms such as music, graphic design, kirigami/origami, and gaming, is an amazing discipline that is often overlooked in artistic endeavors, and I enjoy this component. When I’m stressed out, it also helps to ground me since I deal with words all day. Yesterday, for example, I was stressed out–especially with a convention on my horizon this weekend–so I made time and opted out of reading or watching TV to design something small but original.

This MANW challenge may inspire me to make art, but it’s up to me to ensure that it remains a priority. In Week 2, it feels as if my creations are a security blanket I’m slowly wrapping around myself. Every stitch is weaving part of that fabric, and as the year continues that feeling of being surrounded by art will only grow stronger. The biggest impact it’s having, is that I do feel there’s an emotional and mental buffer between politics and my identity as an artist. Instead of feeling hopeless or pushed upon, I’m using my art to reaffirm that “Yes, I am here and making art is what I do.” From there, once that foundation is in place (Ergo, why January’s MANW 2017 theme is PLAY!), then I’ll build off of that to funnel and channel my efforts into something more specific.

Of note, if you’re still on the fence or aren’t fully grasping how politics and a tense atmosphere impacts artists, John Scalzi wrote an article for the LA Times sharing a 10-Point Artist’s Plan for Getting Things Done. It’s a different perspective related to what I’m talking about, and I think it’s valuable to read if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Links and Reminders

For those of you who are following my work, I have a smattering of news and reminders for you today.

  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in StorytellingUpside Down is now available on NetGalley through January 31st. It is available to purchase in digital and print formats wherever books are sold, and it does qualify for 2016 award nominations if you’re so inclined. Our authors would love reviews, so if you have a copy please consider leaving one on Amazon, GoodReads, Barnes & Noble,, etc. Thank you!
  • My 2016 Releases – My 2016 releases in non-fiction and fiction are also eligible for award nominations; the cut off for gaming awards tends to vary, so you’ll have to check the publications date if you’re including games designed/written/edited by me or other designers. In most cases, games are submitted for consideration by the publisher, so our involvement tends to be hands off and less PR-related than it is in SF&F and other publishing channels. Thanks for your consideration.
  • Writing the Other: Sans Fail – Registration is now available! You can read the class description, and find out more information to register at this link. As part of the class, I will discuss some process-related techniques, Tempest will be lending her talents in a lecture, and you get to create characters and have them critiqued. It’ll be fun and informative!

Creative Challenge: Making Art While at Conventions

One of the aspects of my job is traveling to conventions, speaking on panels, and interacting with fans. I do well knowing there’s a larger audience of people to see me; performances are my jam, and I treat them as such. When there’s fewer people, or if it’s super chill, I tend to get distracted and not have as much fun. I’ve learned the hard way that when it’s busy, it’s important to book down time for myself and ensure I’m not spending too much time with one person even if that’s my SO.

It’s easier to make art when it’s not busy. I often wander, recharge my batteries, and write or make art when I can. This time, I find myself wondering what type of art can I make that will serve me during both busy and quiet moments?

I have written before at conventions, and I used to take pictures. Writing at conventions is hit-or-miss, and it really depends upon the con. With social media being what it is, it was easy to take pictures and post them. To me, though, staging photos or drinking in the scenery is not my preferred form of making art on the road. To resolve this, I asked about this on social media to drum up some ideas. Thanks to the feedback of many congoers like Emily Care Boss, the solution I’ve come up with is to assign a notebook for my travels this year and dive into sketches, doodles, and bad poetry(1).

One nice thing about a notebook and some funky pens is that I can carry that with me wherever I go, so it’s not size-prohibitive. The other thing, is that as I travel this year I’m essentially creating a fun journal of my trips. It’s an elegant solution, and I’m looking forward to filling its pages and keeping my creative mind active on the road.

Another option, is to set aside a time and invite other people to join me for writing, drawing, etc. This feels like a good mix of social-and-creative time, though mileages will vary since everyone’s process is so different. Some people can only write in isolation. I’m sensitive to sound, so I can write if there’s a lot of white noise or instrumental music, but not if there’s performers present. As this is a huge topic and a major creative challenge for a lot of folks, I’m going to follow up with some tips as I experiment this weekend and explore some possibilities.

That’s enough about me. How are y’all doing this week? Time to check in!

(1) I haven’t studied poetry very much, and I view different forms of writing to require specialization. So, I consider my poems to be bad, bad, b-b-b-b-b-b-bad.

    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Had to back off yesterday, and went for the herbal tea. Oh, my head!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Does typing my ass off count?
    In My Ears: Boromir
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

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