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!

On Not Making Art

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

After talking to some artists who haven’t started producing anything yet, I wanted to write this post for those of you who are stuck. I’m going to tell you a secret. You already know why you’re not writing or drawing or painting or making music or whatever your flavor of art is. You really, really do. Discipline is required, but to sit down and actually make art? There’s a reason why you’re not doing it, and you know what that is. If you don’t, you’re having a hard time admitting that horrifying and terrible truth to yourself.

Often, the reason why you’re not making art is grounded in what you’re feeling. Most of the time, it’s because you’re afraid. I’m not talking fire-and-brimstone fear, I’m talking about the kind of skepticism, anxiety, and existential dread that evolves out of knowing what you want to do, picturing it clear in your mind, and not being able to draw/paint/write like you do in your head. Consider these types of artists:

    SCENARIO A: THIS SHOULD BE EASIER THAN IT ACTUALLY IS – Some artists feel inept, broken, disconnected. So, they run to the bookstore or visit websites where they’re promised “the secret of…” and a hundred tips to hone and perfect their art–all things they are grateful to learn, of course–and they sit back down apply tips here and there expecting their unformed work will match their imagined masterpiece. They bought the secret, after all. Only, their finished work doesn’t match their vision no matter how hard they try. They feel defeated, they set their art aside, and rinse/repeat at a later date.

    SCENARIO B: I SUCK, BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT I CAN’T DO – Other artists are so painfully aware of what they don’t know, and they constantly berate themselves for it. They might even know a bunch of artists, and hang with them hoping some of their talent will rub off. They try as time allows, but have so little confidence in the process of learning how to make the art they want they never finish what they’re working on. Unfocused and lost, they flip to many different mediums or constantly change what it is they want to do.

    SCENARIO C: EVERYTHING I DO IS FINISHED AND READY TO SELL – Some artists either don’t care about what they don’t know or doesn’t care about what they can’t/shouldn’t do. As soon as their work is finished, they offer it for sale or for public review. Friends, family, reviewers, and folks within a community of artists like this could be encouraging them to publish or share the art before its ready, because they think they’re helping and it feels good. But, because nothing is held back these artists are not protecting the work they do, and their ability to improve is hampered. It’s exactly the opposite: they’re sharing it at every stage and use other people’s opinions as a guide instead of trusting that learning is a process we all go through.

There are many, many different scenarios of artists like these who are trying to connect what they want to do, with what they think they’re doing, and what they actually know how to do. Most of us make up our careers as we go along, because there are many things outside of our control. A career happens, however, after artists have the ability to continually produce art to sell. When you’re just starting out, you’re not there quite yet–and that’s okay. That’s normal. The vehicle of commercialism, social media, and other means of sharing, selling, and getting feedback on your art exacerbates feelings and adds an extra layer of fuckery and/or angst as well. Only, selling and promoting your art is a process, and it’s not the same process required to make it.

Again, I want to reinforce that you know why you’re not making art, and that reason is usually connected to your emotions. Do your circumstances affect your ability to make art? Absolutely, and I’m not writing this post to diminish your situation because only you know what that is. Discipline is what has helped me to work past my own issues, and it’s part of making art. That discipline came from the years I practiced and performed as a musician, and it’s something I applied to writing and jewelry making. It’s not the same process as selling your art, revising it, reviewing it, promoting it, etc. but it’s the most crucial–because there is no secret to becoming an artist. First, you have to get in the habit of making art before you can do anything else.

If you don’t know how to make art you want to make, be kind to yourself. Give yourself the time and the ability to learn. Make mistakes. Study. Ask questions. By all means, take risks and screw up–but do it on your terms. Without that piece, without the crucial processes and methods you internalize by making art and finishing what you’ve started, then all you’re left with is hopes and dreams which, if you’re not careful, can leave you bitter. You’re also not alone, however, and I hope that this post encourages you to face up to your feelings, push past them, and start making art because it’s what you really want to do.

Celebrate Halloween with Vampires!


Have you picked up your copy of Endless Ages yet? If not, today’s post gives you a little bit of insight into my inspiration behind “Redder Than Red”. Happy Halloween!

What Motivated Me to Write Redder Than Red

When I was working on Dread Names: Red List, Matt (McElroy) and I would speculate which Anathema would be the first to get caught in the modern era and why. Often, Ayisha Jocastian’s name would pop up because she represents a direct threat to the Masquerade. As an Anathema, Ayisha is unique in the sense that she believes that the consciousness of the vampires she has consumed are directing her actions, but she is also a political threat because her zeal to reproduce and distribute the Book of Nod. Though Ayisha was already condemned to the Red List and could never be removed, she is an active threat who will not stop committing diablerie, nor will she stop sharing vampiric secrets with mortals.

My story, which is titled “Redder Than Red”, is written from the perspective of a Malkavian named Rebecca Fleischer whose childe was diablerized by Ayisha. Rebecca suffers from a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder called Arithmomania, which means she has a fundamental need to count. I felt this would be a good mental illness to help illustrate what Rebecca is feeling and seeing, and gets away from the stereotypes that plague members of Clan Malkavian and undermine their potential in a story.

Together with Ventrue Alastor Stephan Ashworth, the two Kindred drive to a warehouse to confront Ayisha Jocastian once and for all. Stephan adds some setting heft to the story, as both Alastors and Anathema are part of the rich lore associated with the Red List, but he also offers a dynamic to show this fight isn’t between two vampires. For Rebecca, however, her desire to take down Ayisha is personal; losing her childe is a powerful motivator for vengeance.

I hope your thirst for vampire fiction will draw you to “Redder Than Red”. This story was a lot of fun to write, and I enjoyed taking on this aspect of Vampire: The Masquerade for the modern era.

Janus Goes Both Ways

Janus Small

No, I have not been blogging much lately and I apologize for that. I’ve been taking advantage of the holidays and the wintry weather to revel in the silence of the season by getting caught up on Netflix and playing Dragon Age: Inquisition while dropping the F-bomb vigorously. I had every intention of posting a wrap-up from last year, but as I started to review my project updates I realized that I had already done a pretty good job of sharing what was going on work-wise already. Or, at least, what I could share due to non-disclosure agreements, professional concerns, and the threat of another deadline whizzing by(1). The biggest change, last year, was a shift in scheduling from a long-term gig based on a number of books to a regular day-to-day freelancing. I thought I was prepared for it, because I had a number of gigs lined up, but sometimes even worst case scenarios fall through. And, in my experience, that’s usually when Life, the Universe, and EverythingTM sends a stunning reminder that yes, mortality is a “thing” and bodies do have an expiration date (2).

To cope, I traveled a lot. Whined and bitched. Read a lot. Whined and bitched some more. Drank. Felt bad about the whining and the bitching, then played TetrisTM with the projects that slowly ramped up again. Did not feel bad about the drinking, though, as I did keep THAT in moderation. But, all things considered, I did wind up sliding back-and-forth, teetering over the abyss. It happens to everybody. It, going through a depression, happened to me. And yet? Over the holidays, I realized how very normal last year was, and how upset I was because of it. Normal, for all intents and purposes, didn’t feel like progress because it wasn’t extraordinary in any way shape or form. So over 2015!

Anyway, I hinted that work was variable last year for a variety of reasons in my progress updates. Part of this, I feel, was due to the fact that some potential employers would look at my slate of releases and assume that always applies to what I am doing right now, right this minute, with no flexibility or room for discussion. Mistaken impressions do seem to be a constant battle for me, because I’ve benefited from posting my progress updates in many ways. For example, they show I don’t just work on games(3) and, as another, they also help explain gaps in a release schedule. Ironically, my slate of projects is typically filled with releases that will be coming out in six months to a year or more. If there’s a huge rush of books, comics, and games announced here, it’s a reflection of work I’ve already done–with the exception of short-term projects or my own stuff. The moral to my story is this: if you read something posted online and come to a conclusion, try not to make decisions based on what you read. Ask! While I am a WYSIWYG kind of a person, I (like every other author with a micro-public profile out there) post different kinds of blogs for various reasons. Posting a progress update to avoid getting hired on a project is pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m hoping for.

Moving on. As the title of this blog post suggests, Janus (e.g. the Roman god January was named after) does look both ways: forward and back. Looking ahead, I’ve plotted out my annual goals based on what I want to do as opposed to what milestones I didn’t achieve last year. I feel this approach is giving me a better, more optimistic outlook and, to be perfectly honest, it switches up my strategy a bit to include That Which Is Uncomfortable in order to grow(4). I’m also thinking more holistically in terms of travel, health, etc. and started a fresh routine to balance sitting on my butt (e.g. writing) with hoofing it. It’s been a challenge so far, but it’s also giving me a new perspective to kick off the year and–super bonus points–I can achieve smaller milestones that keep me motivated.

Speaking of motivated… Apologies for cutting this off now, but I’ve got a manuscript that begs my attention. ‘Til next time!

(1) Without fail, every time I talk about deadlines somebody quotes Douglas Adams to me. That quote is so old and tired, Hrotsvitha herself is rolling her eyes.
(2) Deep Thoughts, by a writer who is decidedly not Jack Handey.
(3) Yes, believe it or not, I can/have/do write more than just games. Grammar be cursed.
(4) Go ahead. Say it. “You’re such a blah-de-blah INTJ blah-de-blah nerd.” YES I AM. If I don’t take my writing seriously, how can I expect anyone else to?

    Mood: Strangely zen.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: My ass is dragging today. Doesn’t matter how much I drink.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 42
    In My Ears: Pew! Pew!
    Game Last Played: Plants vs. Zombies II
    Book Last Read: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Empire Strikes Back.
    Latest Artistic Project: Um… Let me get right on that.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

NaNoWriMo Prep from a Pragmatist. Yep, that’d be me.

Madagascar Penguin Avatar

NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday, and I’m using this week to prepare for it. The 50,000 word count for a singular work will be on top of my writing, which includes some editing and spec work this month as well. Knowing that my plate is going to be full (and then some) means that I have to plan in advance for an insanely busy next couple of weeks. I’ve been through this kind of writing crunch before, which means I know I can do it again.

Here’s some of the steps I take to plan for an insane month. Your mileage will vary, as your living arrangements and family life might be different than mine.

1.) Remove or reduce day-to-day decisions. What I wear, what I’m going to eat, when I need to pay bills, chores…these are some of the examples of day-to-day decisions that take up headspace. When I’m slammed, I do a lot of meal planning/crock pot recipes and set out my clothes the night before. Yes, this means I am wearing pants(1) this month. Though I work from home, these types of decisions can impact both my health and productivity, so planning these things ahead of time means I don’t have to think about it. Mind you, this includes household maintenance tasks like chores and laundry as well, which means I have to communicate and sort out responsibilities with my partner. I might use my Sunrise app as reminders, or program my alarm at the same time every day, too.

2.) Eliminate distractions(2). You’ll probably notice that I’ll either be on social media a lot less, or at certain times. I’ve got a dual monitor along with my phone, and I’ve been playing around with how and when I post. For this month, I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do, because maintaining it isn’t a huge priority for me for promotional purposes. However, there are other distractions that might occur. E-mails, phone calls, doorbells ringing… One of the digital solutions I use, is to schedule times when I respond and send out e-mails. I’ll sometimes be clear about when I expect to respond if a decision is required, too, because there is a tendency to expect one right away even when it’s not pressing. Of course, in some cases it is, but managing expectations for communication can go a long way to save time. I cannot stress the importance of sending clear e-mails enough, and I feel it is an art form. In addition to these tips, I’m shutting off my phone, wifi, as well as my second monitor.

3.) Plan downtime. This often gets missed, but it is hugely important. Often, I see people scheduling what they’re doing on the calendar. It is equally as important to schedule when you’re not doing anything, or when you need to take a break. This might include coffee and drinks with friends, or it might be to watch a movie or make dinner. I am also not going to sit for hours and hours at a time, because this isn’t healthy. Instead, I’m going to set up a schedule for the first week and then adjust from there. It also means, however, that I am planning for some flexibility and additional options for downtime than I might normally. Examples of mini-breaks range from origami to playing Tetris to taking a walk outside or stretching.

4.) Manage noise and song selections. Okay, so I’ve often mentioned how focused I am on sound. I have a pair of noise-canceling headphones, but I also have instrumental playlists set up on Pandora and my iTunes account. The other thing I do, when I’m in a heavy production month, is eliminate the amount of media that has words in them or, alternately, new words. I’ve listened to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radioplay a thousand times, for example, and it fades into the background for me. One app and browser that replicates coffee shop noise is Coffitivity, but honestly? Video game soundtracks are fantastic to listen to, because the compositions are interesting and I don’t visualize a scene

5.) Say No to Research. The story that I’m writing for this doesn’t require any research, other than a few questions that I’m clearing up ahead of time. Even if I did need to do some research… That rabbit hole can wait. It is a time sink to click on links and read more information, and while a normal (e.g. non-insane) work day might allow for a certain percentage of reading, a high word count month does not for me. Mind you, a high word count month is not sustainable all the time for obvious reasons, including the physical strain it can take on your hands and wrists, but cutting down on the time I’d normally spend reading means I’ll be a lot more focused on my manuscripts.

6.) Devise a Two-Month Business Plan. This is basic business planning 101 for me. By putting together a two month business plan, instead of a 30 day writing plan, I’m thinking above and beyond NaNoWriMo. Now, for me this is completely necessary. My plans incorporate smaller projects and larger initiatives that I am writing for other people and pursuing on spec. However, I am not just thinking about November, because if I focus solely on this month, then I’ll be completely unprepared for December. This technique circles back to eliminating distractions, and it means that I’ve got a foundation to work from the following month. I don’t expect to be married to next month’s business plan, mind you, but it removes any overlap so I don’t miss anything.

7.) Factor in Flexibility. Things are going to go wrong. I might run out of mac and cheese. I might get suckered into a doorstop novel. Brain might revolt and ooze out of my head. It could snow. Anyway, my point is that there a lot of things that might go wrong, and factoring in a disaster recovery plan for me helps keeps words flowing. However, there’s always that chance that I have to stop, and I need to know that’s okay. I got really sick one year, and that pretty much ended my ability to keep writing because I had medicine head for two weeks. I can still write, mind you, just not as much nor as good. I picked it back up after NaNoWriMo was over, so I still finished my initial goals, even if it took me a little longer.

8.) Outline, List, and Plot. When I know what I’m writing, I tend to write faster. Even if I don’t adhere to every aspect of an outline, coming up with a bucket of potential “up the stakes” possibilities, motivations, etc. and having that handy ahead of time is hugely useful for writing. Thus, I’ve explored possible options for this particular story by capturing them in a list of words I can leverage while I’m writing, or to further brainstorm and use those as a jumping off point. It’s a little bit like plotting, but it’s less tied to the specific story structure and more focused on aspects of a character or a scene. If I got REALLY crazy, I might put together word lists, but that sort of thing usually happens after for me, during the revision process as I refine.

…and that’s it! Those are some of the things I am doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo. To the word mines! With a large, bloody axe!

(1) Not wearing pants is so overrated. I keep this regulated to casual Fridays or slothy Sundays.
(2) My agency will be doing a month long series of posts, including an article from me about your writing workspace. I’ll be sharing more information as we proceed.

    Mood: La la la!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Thar be coffee
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Um. Sorry, yo.
    In My Ears: Beats for Studying playlist on Pandora
    Game Last Played: Diablo III
    Book Last Read: Um… Well, I’m starting Howl’s Moving Castle.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
    Latest Artistic Project: STILL EDITING.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

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Monica Valentinelli > Blog > Writing Process

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