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.

Week 46 MANW Check-In: Where The “No, I Can’t!” Comes From

Make Art Not War Challenge November

This week’s check-in is brought to you by the makers of tissues, cold medicine, and the professional lung hacker’s association. (Of which, I am apparently a member.) Today, I want to write about the reasons why we talk ourselves down, and where those voices come from. Hint: social pressures are complex, often wrapped up in mores and cultural aspects, but there is something we can point to. How we, as human beings, are depicted in media matters, because we internalize stories as informative truths.

When youth and beauty are glamorized, deep down we begin to wonder. “Am I too old?” “Did I start writing/painting/singing too late?” We constantly see young people represented in movies and television shows, but we also notice them in advertisements, magazines, etc. Representation is a powerful force, because in our minds we still capture those images or depictions as information that we consciously and subconsciously process. The insidious questions arising from our manufactured self-doubt leads to jealousy or even spite. “Everyone younger than me is getting hired, so why bother?” “There’s too much competition. I’ll never measure up.”

In your head, you know that age is just a number. You have to feel it in your heart. You are not too young, too old, too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, etc. etc. etc. The list of what you’re not is so long, if you believe every word you’ve mentally racked up, then you’ve already convinced yourself you can’t. If you believe that, deep down, then you’ll wind up procrastinating and sabotage your efforts.

I know it’s hard. That negativity something we all deal with, and it’s exacerbated if you aren’t seeking or getting the support you need. It can be challenging, too, with our 24-hour news cycle. This isn’t about what negativity you can handle; it’s the death by a thousand cuts. The things that happen in your day-to-day life on top of bad news on top of those niggly voices in your ear… It all adds up.

I don’t know the specifics of your personal situation, of course, but what I’m trying to point out here is that sometimes self-directed negativity is a big off-page factor that can affect your productivity. Unfortunately, sometimes the reason why you’re saying “No”, is because you’ve programmed yourself to think that way. If you find yourself talking yourself down, try to make a mental note of that. Or, flip the script and do exactly the opposite. It may feel uncomfortable, even fake. But those mental images and cues are so important. If you believe you can do a thing, you’re more likely to actually do it.

Mood: Coughing has a purpose. Right?
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Tea? Coffee? Coffee-tea?
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some light walking again. Still trying to kick this cold.
In My Ears: The Killers “When You Were Young”
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: More works hit.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Sing
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.

Making Art During a Political Hellscape

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge Participant Badge

If you are struggling to make art, you are not alone. You are not imagining the world seems to be on fire, either, and if you need confirmation of that I suggest you start by reading The Weekly List. Changes are sweeping through at a frightening pace, and just this past weekend thousands marched in Poland to the tune of nationalism and deadly rhetoric. Hate, even pedophilia, is presented as “acceptable” by some for political reasons so their “side” wins. A “side”, as if being a decent human being was important regardless of which “side” you’re on.

This is not politics as usual. I’m guessing deep down you know that, and not just because the communities you frequent have changed. Engagement is all over the map; some people are glued to the news, wondering when the next disaster will strike. Others are abandoning networks in favor of local communities. If you know what’s happening, it’s because you understand the consequences of those blaring headlines. Good people are getting hurt right now. Maybe someone you love. Maybe even yourself. And it hurts. It makes you angry, sad, concerned. Wondering what you can do; wondering if what you are able to do will be enough. Wondering if you’ll be next.

Political hellscapes are something a lot of artists struggle with, and this year is no exception. Toxic stereotypes are still (incredibly) entrenched in our social zeitgeist that affect artists. It’s the idea that we (e.g. artists) don’t matter, because our work is a luxury item rather than a necessity. Worse: we must suffer in order to make good art, and if we’re not starving we haven’t paid our dues. Never mind the fact that the billion-dollar entertainment industry is comprised of publishers, game manufacturers, studios, etc. Never mind that there’s no “one” path for artists to follow. Some are hobbyists and never intend to sell. Others are professional artists whose livelihood is dependent upon what they produce and sell. And, of course, the hundreds of artists who fall in somewhere in between.

Being an artist can also be a big part of your identity. The word “artist” evokes a stereotype which is further refined by the type of art you make. Writer. Sculptor. Painter. Musician. Yes, there are many artists who can and have mastered different disciplines, but that is not how we are judged. Art, after all, is something you do for fun. It’s not a real job. It’s not as important as putting out fires or saving lives or governing. Often, artists feel powerless in a sea of hate-filled rhetoric and change, because we often passively influence change as opposed to actively. Suddenly, everything we do is deemed “political” whether it is or not, and we’re not sure if writing heroes who fight monsters is as important as dealing with the real ones.

Art will always be political, because art is made by human beings, and human beings are always political. Art has the power to influence, convince, dissuade, etc. because it is often designed to evoke a specific emotion for a reason. As time passes, we may not feel the same impact of a piece’s original or subliminal intent. Hell, we may not recognize or even notice the originating political influences on older books, movies, games, etc. but they are there, whether they be intentionally inserted or not(1). The stronger the rhetoric, the stronger its effects will have on us and our art, because we cannot ignore what’s happening all around us. And, if we ignore politics, that is often an intentional choice–one that not everyone has the luxury of making.

What we feel and what we think are crucial to making art, because our mental health and emotional well-being matters(2). We are not robots. Artists are human beings who tap into the deep reserve of who we are to facilitate laughter, tears, terror, rage, etc. We might tell ourselves that we are entertainers (certainly I have done that myself as a coping mechanism on occasion), but at the end of the day we utilize different tools to relay an aspect (e.g. truth we know) of the human experience through various mediums. And, when we suffer, our art can also suffer–but not always. Sometimes, we establish coping mechanisms to ensure we keep making art, or reasons why we can’t afford (financially, emotionally, etc.) to stop or slow our production. Other times, the art we make is our coping mechanisms, our means of escaping all the shit that’s around us, to depict a beautiful, even hopeful, future.

I don’t have a magic wand that I can wave and resolve those deep, messy feelings you’re experiencing right now. To keep making art, however, means that you have to do what you did in the past. To be an artist, means you have to find the time to make art. To do that, you have to put yourself first, and that can be a very complex and often painful thing to do. It feels selfish, right? Only, if you want to donate your time/money to make a difference, it’s harder to do that when you’re not doing well. So, the best way to help other people is to ensure that you’re okay first. Then, when you’re strong enough, then help somebody else. And, if you need help: ask. Otherwise, you’re scattering your resources so broadly that you’ll feel as if you’re not making a difference. I’ve been there myself, and it was a difficult lesson to learn.

Yes, as always, your mileage will vary, and I do feel that you know what’s best for you and your situation. However, the sharpened truth is that you can always find a reason not to make art. Politics is one (or a hundred) reasons, but there are so many more. To find the will to produce, look for the reasons why you want–no need–to make art. Sometimes, that basic motivation can be the lifeline you need to keep at it. Find that and remind yourself why you need to make art and why the world needs your vision. No, I can’t guarantee that your work will be popular or will be wildly successful–no one can. What I can do, however, is tell you that if you call yourself an artist, it’s because that is who you are. And that, dear reader, is reason enough to keep at it. You’re worth it.

(1) The Twilight Zone, The Blob, and The Crucible are all great examples of this.

(2) This was something I realized the hard way this past year. 2017: the year of shitty life lessons.

Mood: Change is in the wind
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Vini, vici, espresso.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some light walking. Trying to kick this cold.
In My Ears: Game of Thrones Season One soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Work shit
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
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.

MANW Check-In Week 45: Why Finishing a Thing Can Be Hard

Last week I announced that FINISH was November’s theme. And, as I type this, I have a few projects I need to get off my plate this week. Part of that is due to con crud, but I am just as guilty of not finishing projects sometimes. It does happen and I have to own those times when I don’t. Sometimes, it’s because a project is on spec or doesn’t pay a lot. Other times, it feels like nothing I do goes right. That doesn’t excuse me being late or not finishing a thing. I have to own that, and I know it, too.

So, what happens? Why are some projects easier to finish than others? What I’ve found, is that lagging projects comes down to four buckets or categories of Shit That Can Go WrongTM:

  • motivation (or vested interest) – Why are you making the thing you’re making? Money? Creative itch? Self-fulfillment?
  • logistics – How capable are you of making the thing? Time, space, skill, etc.?
  • personality conflicts/communication issues – Do you get along with the people involved in your thing? Or are there issues?
  • mental health/physical concerns – Are you physically okay? Mentally? Emotionally?

Okay, let’s put this into practice. Say you were laid off from your day job. That impacts your schedule (time to write) and financial outlook (money you get from writing). It can also affect your mental health and motivation, too. Doesn’t sound like you? This is where the conversation gets complicated: your mileage will vary widely, because you are the best person to identify why you haven’t finished a thing. Sometimes, your ability to utilize insight comes from having a little distance between you, your day-to-day life/experiences, and the work. The time to think, in and of itself, is a luxury that not everyone shares. The busier you get, whether that’s due to the holidays or the work-life balance or the thousand things that fill up your day, the harder it is to analyze what’s going on with “you”.

I’ll use myself as an example to highlight the unique aspects of my current situation. For me, as a full-time writer, if one project slides it’s not a big deal. But, if I lose time due to travel, etc. that’s when it’s bad because I have to re-prioritize what’s on my plate. Unfortunately, my work in the game development/writing sphere has become increasingly harder because of two things: one, training/working with new folks does take time and that will always be the case and two, the harassment and vitriol originating from being active in certain online spaces (needed to remain visible and network with people) have unknowingly caused a lot of emotional labor on my part. I also did not fully understand what it meant to be triggered, and now (thanks to our political trashfires) I do.

That, right there, is what slowed me down on top of the regular day-to-day issues of stalled payments and dropped balls that were outside of my control. I eventually realized the danger of prioritizing social media, blogging, or watching the news over getting words down. Words matter and words often tap into our emotions in wild and wacky ways. Now, I’m literally three “The Ends” away from being totally caught up (YAY!), and I’ve been sick the past few days (BOO!). That’s not something I’m proud/happy of at all. Yes, I’ve been online, but appearances can be misleading, in part because I use social media as a tool for inspiration. To motivate myself, I’ve found (unfortunately) that I need the happiness that comes from shared joy. To get that, I have to find it and it is harder to do that in this climate.

Why are you not finishing your stuff? The reasons can vary widely. Maybe you bit off more than you can chew. That happens a lot. Maybe you’re depressed because the world is on fire. Maybe you’re not sure you know how to finish it and you’re afraid to ask. Or, maybe you have a vision of that finished thing in your head and the draft isn’t measuring up. Whatever the reason, I trust that you know what that is. That’s step one. Step two is finding ways to address the problem. If, for example, you’re worried about the end result and you haven’t finished your first draft? Give yourself permission to suck. That’s what first drafts are for!

I hope something in this post has sparked an idea or a new path that will allow you to troubleshoot your situation. Please keep at it! I shall do the same. I want, more than anything, to be fully caught up by Monday. I’ve already planned how I’ll celebrate: pumpkin spice cupcakes for the win! Sometimes, the smallest rewards can really help motivate you as well. Keep on keepin’ on!

Mood: Hellbent and determined
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee is life.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I walked in freezing temps. Not smart. Thought I was fully recovered and collapsed in Ny-Quil
In My Ears: Lord Lardbottom is snoring. Loudly.
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Work shit
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
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.

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