MANW Week 12: Check-In and Emotional Labor

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Good morning, challengers! I’ve got a few updates for you before diving into the meat of today’s post. LeechBlock is working out fantastic for me, and I also managed to get my main compy up to speed, too. Huzzah! Sadly, I am forced (forced, I tell you!) to suffer in domesticity, but thanks to February’s ORGANIZE theme my spring cleaning is going a lot smoother than last year. The habits I picked up on are allowing me to gauge how much time a household task takes; this gives me more options to plan my day.

I’ve been bead stitching for my artistic time, and I recently finished this spiral stitch necklace with peyote embellishments. The pattern is available in Jill Weisman’s Beautiful Beaded Ropes–I loved the red so much I didn’t deviate from the color scheme or the original pattern.

Also in hilarious news, I backed the Chameleon Pens Color Tops Kickstarter and didn’t realize that my pledge was specific to the “tops.” A few e-mails and updates later, and I’m the (future) proud owner of alcohol-based markers!

For today’s check-in, I want to talk about emotional labor and its impact on your productivity.

Creative Challenge: Dealing with Emotional Labor

Emotional labor is defined on Wikipedia as: “..a form of emotion regulation that creates a publicly visible facial and bodily display within the workplace. The related term emotion work (also called “emotion management”) refers to “these same acts done in a private context,” such as within the private sphere of one’s home or interactions with family and friends. Hochschild identified three emotion regulation strategies: cognitive, bodily, and expressive.”

Artists perform emotional labor because we tap into the human condition to produce art that generates a desired feeling (e.g. happiness, fear, awe) or response (e.g. sexual arousal in romance) when we create our art, sell it, and interact with our readers, players, etc. If we (e.g. artists) lived in a bubble, unaffected by the outside world, you might think it’d be easier to produce works of art in any genre–humor, romance, horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller–on command. It’s not and we don’t. In fact, to become better artists, we have to explore the human condition either consciously or subconsciously to produce art that connects emotionally. Whether we do that through our daily lives/local communities or not, we aren’t robots. We are human beings who make art, and we’re not immune to what’s happening around or to us. Due to the nature of our work, we often have to ignore or deal with our feelings so we can generate emotional touchpoints in our work.

It’s easier to put emotional labor into context offline. For example, consider a fan who asks me out to an intimate dinner at a con. In the fan’s mind, they want to do something nice and spend time with the artist they admire–which is lovely! In my mind, however, an invitation for a private one-on-one dinner with someone I’ve never met before is something I’d typically say “No, thank you!” to for a few reasons. First, when I travel it’s typically for work so I often balance my schedule against meetings, etc. Second, since I’m fairly private a lot of people don’t know I’ve been in a long-standing relationship and I don’t mix work with pleasure. And lastly, as a woman in a strange city there are safety considerations I have to weigh against an invite like this. Because I don’t want to be rude, I might say something like: “I’m very flattered, but no thank you.” Conventions are usually work for me, and I finally feel like I’ve figured it out!

Offline, emotional labor is interesting because face-to-face interactions and body language support what you’re saying. Online interactions are an entirely different ballgame because people are exchanging words and images through their “world view” filter. The internet isn’t a utopia filled with unbiased or free information, because human beings create the content that is published online. If you’re engaged, then you’re consuming updates and content that may or may not impact your emotions. The news is the easiest example I can think of, but what happens when it’s not that simple? Take, for example, a piece of bad news that’s circulating about a peer you’ve worked with. Do you keep an eye on the discussion and pay attention to every nuance? Do you defend this peer? Does this peer expect you to chime in? Do you converse with other fans to make sense of what’s happening? As another example, say that I’m writing a funny short story about kittens and it’s due in a few hours. I briefly touch base on Facebook only to find out that my friend’s beloved cat died. Ouch! How does that news affect my work? I’m sad about Booster, but I don’t have time to feel that emotion. If I want to get my short story done, I need to channel or set aside that grief for a later date.

By thinking about emotional labor as “unpaid work”, I feel this lens puts a little space between what you feel obligated to do, what you have to do, and what you can walk away from. You aren’t getting paid for the emotional labor you’re required to perform online, much like you wouldn’t get paid to smile and nod in front of hostile reviewers or back-stabbing peers. Remember: people often go where they feel welcome, but that doesn’t hold true in all cases. Sometimes, you might not have a choice and have to engage online. Instead of saying: “This [current event] might de-rail me from my deadline. How do I deal with these toxic emotions?” Try re-wording this to: “This [current event] might de-rail me from my deadline. Do I need that kind of work right now?” That way, you’re recognizing you’re adding unpaid labor on top of your regular workload, and that by itself could help you deal with difficult situations.

Lastly, I want to point out there is no possible way for me to relate to all of my readers for this (or any other) challenge, and I recognize that. This topic is a broad one, and intersects not only with productivity but with harassment and depression, too. If, however, your productivity is out of whack, consider what kind of unpaid work you’ve taken on. Maybe your solution is to take a break from the internet for a week or two. Maybe you decide to stop engaging on social media before you get your word count done. Or, maybe you’ve figured out to take a step back from certain communities because you don’t feel welcome. The specifics of your identity, your situation, and how you deal with your emotions both online and off is uniquely personal–your art, your life, your choices. I trust you’ll make the right decision for yourself, your well-being, and your art.

    Mood: I went outside and breathed fresh air. It was weird.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Four or five
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Housework
    In My Ears: Nada
    Game Last Played: Star Realms
    Book Last Read: The Oracle
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: ONCE Upon a Time
    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!

Geek*Kon and Processing Your Emotions Like a Pro Panel Recap

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Sitting in my office inhaling Pocky and relying a little too heavily on the Diet Mountain Dew this fine day, if only because this year’s Geek*Kon was a whirlwind of color and panels and friends. I continue to be in awe of the love, energy, and effort of anime fans and the work they put into their costumes, and use this weekend as a reminder that the future of reading is incredibly diverse. Plus, I want to give a shout out to the Lolita girls who put a lot of time and energy into their fashionable dresses to walk around the show. Also: Enrica Jang (Red Stylo Media) and Jennifer M. Smith are both awesome women in comics. Be sure to check out their work!

This weekend I was on several panels and presentations and noticed a lot of up-and-coming or inexperienced writers in the audience. Most of my advice about writing translates to this: I cannot give you any advice that will help you fix a manuscript I haven’t read, have the confidence to keep writing all the way through to The End, the best way to learn how to write and to keep internalizing processes is to Do The WorkTM, and lastly…if you’re having trouble balancing worldbuilding and story remember why you’re creating settings. If you’re writing a novel, then your story trumps the world you’ve built separately every time. Sometimes, there’s wonderful aspects of a world that make sense technically but might not translate well into fiction–and that’s totally okay! In the end, there’s no magical bit of advice I can give anyone other than to Do The WorkTM and be loyal to it. You’d be surprised how smart other people really and truly are; if you don’t Do The WorkTM others will figure that out, too.

Emotions and Professionalism

I also proposed a new panel this year about the connection between emotions and being a professional. Briana Lawrence joined me to talk about her experiences and offer nuggets of wisdom. I Tweeted a bunch during the panel, but I wanted to share with you some thoughts that came out of the panel because I feel they might be helpful for you.

Briana told the crowd that, “The first problem is that creatives are not taken seriously as having a real job. Cons are work.”

This, here, is where a lot of problems come into play because there’s an emotional journey artists take especially if they do not have a supportive environment either through close friends or immediate family. What artists do, regardless of which type of art we make, is not treated as work. When our efforts are not thought of that way, the work is then devalued and our time is taken for granted. Plus, many artists never get past this step to realize that a) yes, they are an artist and b) you can build a career even though that bit is hard, complicated, and draining at times due to the struggles we have with the financial component.

I mentioned, for example, that when I make friends or go to Bar Con I do not want to talk about work or think/worry about social commerce and “who” I’m talking to. I think about work enough as it is, and “picking my brain” is something that I will do on my terms. When I’m in my off-time, I value the ability to just hang out and be. I do not make friends based on whether or not they can help me or do things for me on a free basis, and that’s partly how I’ve gotten to know a lot of people. But, as I’ve said many times before, knowing people is not a replacement for Doing The WorkTM, either. While there are systemic issues that exist, especially when it comes to marketing/visibility, that’s all I have control over. Often, it’s never just “the one” person asking for advice, either. This is partly why I go to conventions in the first place; cons are a way of giving back, and many of them are on my own dime. Worse, however, is challenging the perception that artists are stuck up, arrogant, or bitchy for not “giving back” on someone else’s terms when what we do is not considered work. That’s partly why I said that: “When you are an artist, you don’t get paid for finding inspiration. But that matters, so have a life.” We don’t get paid for research or inspiration or downtime, but that’s part of the cycle of creativity, too.

Briana reinforced this by saying: “I used to call myself the Dream Crusher. No one wants to hear that there’s no easy path to the spotlight. You need to Do The WorkTM.”

We did spend some time talking about conventions, and we shared some tips for handling (most) situations. They are:

    1.) Know someone at con to be there if there’s a problem. e.g. Safety net. This also extends to knowing where/when to report a problem if it occurs ahead of time.
    2.) Pick an outfit/style you just wear at cons as a visual cue/mental reminder that you are working and presenting.
    3.) Give yourself permission to feel. It’s okay if you have to back outing a conversation/panel if it’s too much for you. This is especially important if you get bad news!
    4.) Plan downtime to rest/recharge and give yourself some personal time. (I use Google Calendar to plot out my free time.)
    5.) Buy something small for yourself as a reward to build new and positive memories from another author, artist, or while in the dealer room.

Then, the conversation flipped to dealing with online harassment and interactions. I mentioned that I manage the small things emotionally on a daily basis, because if I go broad I will get depressed from all the things I can’t change. I also advise to establish boundaries both online and off, to ensure your emotional health is maintained. It’s okay to say “No.” However, there were several nuggets of wisdom and observation from Briana due to her experiences online that I want to capture here:

  • There’s a perception that if you don’t comment you don’t care, or that awful behavior that doesn’t get outrage is okay. (e.g. blackface)
  • You do not need to tag people to be “the black voice” and fight your battles for you.
  • Remember that folks get tired of having the same conversations over and over again. Blackface was not okay in 2013, and it’s not okay now.
  • Consistent comments hurt. You do not need to engage to prove you can handle trolls or how strong you are.

So there you have it! Brand new panel, and I think that went pretty well. Thanks to Briana and her words of wisdom; she definitely added a lot to a touchy and sensitive topic.

Using Need to Combat Waiting

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It is bitter cold here; the snow falls gently but steadily. There’s been no sun. The sky is grey. And though it started out mild — Winter has yet to fade from memory. I like Winter and its holidays — though I like to celebrate calmly and quietly, as opposed to getting worked up over the perfect placement of glitter or whether or not there are spots on the silverware, and I look forward to enjoying the days as the light stretches and it’s no longer dark by four p.m. Though, admittedly, I do prefer the stories of old, the idea that there’s a battle between light and dark and, just as one example, the chariot of the sun returns victorious for a time. I am definitely a seasonal creature.

Writing, however, can’t follow a seasonal pattern. It has to be year-round for me, for anyone who runs a business or hones the craft. If you wait for the perfect environment, you’ll be an eternal Virgin, sitting in a chair, wondering when your White Knight (or White Lady Knight) will show up and rescue you from the dream you’ve trapped yourself in.

Waiting, waiting, waiting — the true death knell for any creative. There’s always something to wait for, sure, but it’s a trap that can affect my/your ability to write. You wait for word before taking on anything new. You wait for a client’s payment to come through. You wait to see how the book’ll be received by reviewers, agents, fans. You wait for a big deal to come through because that’ll determine the next “x” months amount in your schedule.

But all that time spent waiting? Occurs simultaneously or in conjunction with other creative efforts. The media bills “comebacks” — that’s a marketing term — but in the mean time: the bills still come, meals still have to be made, and life still happens. It still happens, every day, regardless of what news comes down the pipe.

And so must the written word.

I’ve entered a few bad business arrangements and, after a while, I realized that those red flags forced me to question what I was working on and who I was spending my time with. That caused a different kind of waiting, the type that occurs when you enter into your own form of decision paralysis. I’ve worked with AMAZING people, mind you, and have been invisible on a number of projects, but I’ve also had some experiences, in particular where my work was supposed to be the focus, that fell through. It happens, you get over it, and you move on. But the bills still come, I still need to eat, and I still have to have a life, regardless of the ups and downs I encounter in my career.

Where I spend my creative time is as important as who I work with. However, the where’s and how’s and when’s are all fine well and good — but the words still have to flow in spite of everything else that’s going on. And, what I’m realizing, is that emotions can affect creativity moreso than stalled news. When I feel anxious or stressed, I need to either channel that emotion into my work, or write through that either in journal entries or blog posts that get deleted, so I have a blank slate. Tabula rasa. When I’m experiencing bad emotions, I need to write MORE, not less. And that’s how I move forward.

Even outside of personal news or baggage, there’s a lot to get pissy about. Gun control. Gerrymandering. Gay rights. Cohabitation rights. Women’s rights. War. Climate change. Artist’s rights and payment. Nerd rage (or lack thereof). Misogyny. Etc. Etc. Etc. But, like getting addicted to television or games, spending hours upon hours consuming media instead of creating it, these are “junk food” emotions that you don’t really feel, because it’s not really happening to you, but the media is geared to make you feel that way so you respond by commenting or clicking through or paying attention. You feel like you’re personally affected, like your buttons are all being pushed at the same time, because the reporters have a job to do, and that’s to GRAB YOUR ATTENTION ZOMG RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEEEE!

They’re trying to get readers, much like you or I might, and they have. It’s infuriating, but these sensationalist tactics work right now. (I hold to my prediction they won’t always work and this, too, shall pass eventually.) Contemporary journalists have created a need. Even though you don’t “need” to know, you really do. They have done a tremendous job, and it affects anyone who’s online even a fraction of the time.

I feel there’s a lesson to be learned here. That this “need to know” can translate to a “need to write.” I don’t care how many words I write in a day anymore as long as I’m writing them. I have to balance the projects I’m working on and have made smarter decisions about which projects I choose — but I need to write. I have to write.

It begins with free-writing out my emotional kerfluffles, all of it, shamelessly and guilt-free, on a fresh piece of paper. (A tip I picked up from The Artist’s Way.) I do this to discharge everything that’s in my head and heart, so I can valiantly approach my stories and game narratives with a clear perspective. I replace meditation (waiting) with writing (doing) and then I’ve written something before the real work begins. I do this, because all this shit builds up, all my reactions to the “need to know” that surrounds me, because this is how I respond to the sensationalists — I can’t “do” anything about what’s happening other than voting in my own state or participating in a community event in my own backyard. If I’m not “doing” — I’m “waiting.”

And that is the death to any creative.

Then, after I “do” for myself, I get to work — more doing. After work and meetings, I make the most out of my free time. I cook, I read, often for research or work, I design and create jewelry on my own or with my friends, I game, I work out, travel, and enjoy the full breadth of what the seasons have to offer me here. Obviously, more activities are planned around conventions and the warmer weather, but the point of this, is that I’m still doing.

So, to sum up?


    Mood: The sun will come out… SOMEDAY.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Had to kick brain cell-killing diet soda, so feeling sluggish.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Up and down and all around.
    In My Ears: “You Don’t Dream In Cryo,” Avatar soundtrack. (Hey, don’t judge. The soundtrack is good.)
    Game Last Played: Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
    Movie Last Viewed: Lorax
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts. Man, I should mail those out…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Pesky Emotions. Storytelling and Heart’s Cockles.

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Okay, I admit it. I’m penning this instead of diving back into storytelling and game design. I’m a bad writer, I know. But? I write this post and away I go. In a way, I need to get this thought process down into a digestible form that provides some amount of solace, comfort, and I suppose, in a bizarre sort of a way — complacency.

Emotions have been on my mind. I finished editing a non-fiction book earlier this month and I felt like I had grown another head, cut it off, and then seared it with a hot poker so it wouldn’t grow back. After the book, then, I experience this broad range of emotions that run from ecstatic to relief to. . .sadness. Yep, I get teary-eyed because the book is out of my system and it’s in the wild.

But, obviously, the process doesn’t end there.

I talked a bit about this with one of my other (more creative than I, if you can believe that) friends, and she said that it sounded almost like I was going through a mini-depression. Okay, if that were true, that frightens me like you wouldn’t believe — but, was she right? Was it possible I was wallowing in post-creation sadness?

I’m not sure. What I think is true, though, is that creatives have to tend to their psyche and well-being, and take great care to ensure we are doing what’s best for ourselves in order to produce efficient and quality work. In this context, I mean “quality” within the boundaries of what we feel is good enough, pending where we’re at in the process. And by well-being? I also mean holistically. Diet, exercise, friends, family, relationships, creatively. . . All of it.

Writing requires a certain amount of emotional connectivity to characters and story; the more formulaic the tale is, the easier it is to see the “seams,” and the less emotionally-responsive I get. Stories can be wholly and technically correct in every way — but they can lack emotional connectivity. While not everyone will agree with what I just said, I feel tales that offer the reader the chance to get emotionally-involved with the characters are the ones that resonate the best. Sometimes, there’s other factors involved with that emotional vibration that have nothing to do with the story. Is the book popular? Do you love the author and know what to expect? Usually though, I do think it’s how we consume that story as part of the relationship between writer-and-reader. (Key word: relationship. I’m not writing for myself, you know!)

But what happens when the writer pens sad scenes or violent snippets or characters that are “off.” Do we become our characters? No, I don’t. I may try to understand them through my writing so they’re more believable, but that doesn’t mean I could ever blow up a building or harm someone myself. It’s very easy for me to move from real world to fiction/games and back again, save for a touch of emotion. I do, after all, write characters I can’t stand and then attack them vigorously. And as I’ve said many, many, many times before, I write in the dark because I want to highlight characters that are either overcoming that evil or that not everything can be tied up nice and neat with a little bow. I love stories about heroes. Real, unlikely, reluctant, brave, nervous, etc.

Sometimes, though, it’s the research part or the emotional let-down that sends me into a strange tizzy. And then I get a touch of the “I’m not really sure I want to write this, but I feel compelled to, and I’m afraid of it.” One story I’m writing is. . . It’s everything I hate about the current climate and treatment of women. That’s a “theme,” however. That’s just a small piece of the layers and layers for that one. It’s fun to write, a blast to structure, and there are ways I’m getting my writer-nerd on here. Still, experiencing that kind of emotion doesn’t just “happen” in a bubble.

Knowing what my response is to a work means that I can either run from those potentially-negative emotions or dive in with full abandon. (Guess which one I’ll have to do? Hrmmm?) But, it also means I had to find ways of dealing with those emotions outside of the writing to prevent a darker mood in real lifeTM. How do I do that? With the silly, of course! Why do you think I decompress with crazy-fun illustrations, comics, bright colors, extraordinarily silly accessories, and games like Star Wars Legos or LittleBigPlanet? They’re brainless (after a fashion), a lot of fun, and they whisk me away from the darkness.

Lessons I learned: avoid reading dramatic books where characters die when writing dramatic books where characters might die. Oh, and. . .there’s nothing wrong with being silly, reading something silly, or just having fun with a silly game/comic/book/song, etc.

Well, I guess I lied. I guess there is one way I’m like most characters (e.g. humans). If I’m sinking into a character’s dark mood, I need to recognize that’s what’s happening and put something wholly enjoyable and fun into my post-writing routine. After all, one cannot experience light without darkness — a fact that’s both reassuring and terrifying all at the same time.

And a-way I go.

    Mood: Can I cackle? Is that allowed? Or. . .not.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I see buzzing people.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I keep walking, but never seem to get anywhere.
    In My Ears: Strange Tales podcast
    Game Last Played: Star Wars Legos
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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