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.

Week 46 MANW Check-In: Where The “No, I Can’t!” Comes From was originally published on Monica Valentinelli


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.

Making Art During a Political Hellscape was originally published on Monica Valentinelli

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.

MANW Check-In Week 45: Why Finishing a Thing Can Be Hard was originally published on Monica Valentinelli

MANW Check-In Week 44: NaNoWriMo Tips and New November Theme

Pleased to announce today’s theme is FINISH! Whether you’re starting out on a new project or using this month to play catch up, the goal for this month’s Make Art Not War Challenge theme is to finish what you start.

Whether you’re new to writing or not, self-doubt can creep into your mind, and you freeze. You either go back to edit that first paragraph, over and over again, until you get it “just right” — or you never finish that story. Sometimes, self-doubt occurs because you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. That’s normal. That happens. And, sometimes, tackling a big project is necessary to grow and show you where you’re at.

Your strength lies in what you do next. Do you lash out? Biting back at your critics? Or, do you suck it up and ask for help? I can’t tell you where you are in your process; no one can unless they’re reading your work and with you during your journey. What I can tell you, is that sometimes there is a lot of value in finishing what you start. If you can’t finish the big thing, try breaking off your project into smaller chunks. Finish those, and chug away until you’ve completed it.

Finishing your projects doesn’t mean that they won’t require more work; what it does mean, however, is that you’ve cycled through that first, crucial step to making art. That, dear readers, is what November is all about.

Time to check in and see how I did last week.

Weekly Check-in

My Original 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.

Here’s my current status:

  • I announced Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist, and I also (courtesy of a friend) received some adult coloring materials, too. I’ve got this down!
  • Couple of days were a little rough. I’ve been adjusting to the seasonal shifts, and walking outside has been helping a lot.
  • Instead of logging my time, I’ve been logging my words with an app. When I remember to use it, it seems like it’s a better solution to what I had been doing.
  • 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 You’re looking at another post, right now! Hee.
  • I’m good re: social media. Got a kick out of all the Halloween-related updates.

On to some tips for NaNoWriMo!

10 NaNoWriMo Tips and Tricks

50,000 words in a month seems daunting, and it definitely can be. There are two parts to NaNoWriMo: a) hitting 50,000 words in a month and b) tracking that on “a” project. I realize you might use NaNoWriMo to finish multiple projects and that’s cool. That’s definitely a different set of processes than focusing on one, larger work.

To start and finish NaNoWriMo, here are some tips!

1.) Summarize your plot. Helps keep the story on track.
2.) Sketch out an outline and characters ahead of time. Focus on the sagging middle!
3.) Add a motivational saying or goal to your writing space. A sticky note on a laptop or notebook works fine, too. Like: “You got this!”
4.) Use a word tracker that recalculates your goals. The NaNoWriMo.org website has one, but you could always look for apps or spreadsheet templates, too.
5.) Do a little bit of writing in the morning if you can. That way, if your day goes to shit, you’ve at least gotten some words down.
6.) Adding something new (e.g. a writing goal), means you’ll need to let something go. Whether that’s watching less TV or not, actively make a plan to reduce something else in your life.
7.) It’s okay to not like a scene or a paragraph you’ve just written. Your goal, here, is to hit the target in a specific period of time. Mark what you want to come back to later instead of deleting or rewriting it up front.
8.) Write your story before you sell it. You don’t have to share every piece of what you’re working on, nor do you have to work on a cover letter right now. Write your story, first!
9.) Use a pen-and-paper journal to track additional ideas that come out of your sessions or writing breaks. You won’t necessarily be on the computer to be inspired.
10.) Above all: have fun and enjoy the ride! The best part about this month, is that it’s designed to help you hit your goal of 50,000 words. It’s all about the discipline of plunking them down. Do that, and you’ve already “won” NaNoWriMo. Even the best books are revised multiple times, but you can’t perfect a draft you haven’t written yet. So go! Go! Go!

I am not participating this year for various reasons, and wish everyone good luck!

Mood: Feel Like I’m on the right track.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Can’t remember. I was withdrawing some yesterday, but fixed that.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking a few kilometers. Cold, yo.
In My Ears: Stranger Things 2 Soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go – Halloween Event!
Book Last Read: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Stranger Things 2
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 44: NaNoWriMo Tips and New November Theme was originally published on Monica Valentinelli

MANW Check-In Week 43: Setting Boundaries for Self-Care

Make Art Not War October Challenge Badge

Continuing the theme of SELF-CARE today! This post is all about something important I want to discuss, because I feel that the expectations we perceive and deal with on a day-to-day basis shapes how we take care of ourselves. First, let’s review where I’m at for my pledge!

My Original 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.

Here’s my current status:

  • October has been pretty wild for me; it’s been a jam-packed month, for sure. Think James and the Giant Peach. Only, Monica and the Enormous Pumpkin. I have made more progress on my Sekrit ProjektTM though, so my obligations this month have been fulfilled. Huzzah!
  • No issue with motivation. It’s been the exact opposite. DO THE THING! DO ALL THE THINGS!
  • You know, logging my time? That hasn’t been working for me. I want to explore that further in a future post.
  • 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 You’re looking at another post, right now! Hee.
  • I’m good re: social media. I don’t look at it unless it’s outside of work hours, and I uninstalled the platforms from my phone. I tried a few times to figure out what I needed to do with it, and right now this is better for my overall well-being.

I am enjoying the Fall season, in part thanks to the Pokemon Go Halloween Event. It’s helped me get a baseline of steps in, and though I am behind ramping that up to the next level? I really can’t complain, because I’m paying attention to what I need to.

On to the topic for today’s uh… lengthy post!

Relationships and Setting Personal Boundaries

Okay, when I talked about the importance of saying “No” for self-care, I brought up social pressures stemming from our interactions online. I want to explore this further and shed some light on a few nuances you may be struggling with. I’m going to start with the world I know: public personas.

When we look at our relationships, we can categorize how we know and maintain friendships based on our interactions. Simplistically, think “work”, “home”, “school”, etc. Now, add in a layer of social media/online persona. What happens, first, is that we receive new information about people we already know. That accountant you’ve been friends with for years turns out to be an Internet troll. That receptionist you’ve just met is an active community organizer. We also, however, form opinions of people we don’t know very well if at all. Our interactions online are affected by how we use the tools; no one person uses them in the same way twice. Nor, as I’ve come to learn, do people treat and view friendships they’ve made online the same way as they do in person. For one person, friending someone on Facebook means you’re friends no matter what. For another, that “friendship” represents a connection online that could, if it needs to be, severed with no consequences.

To say I’m a complicated person with a dynamic personality is an understatement. I’m incredibly self-conscious of the fact that I can walk into a room and change the mood, so I’m always seeking ways to actively manage my personality so I don’t dominate a crowd. That, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen; when people know me, know who I am, we’re cool. When they don’t, the reactions are mixed–especially living in the Midwest. Now, translate all of this to an online space. All you have are my words. You don’t see the wild hand gestures, the mood shifts as I switch from one project to another, the times I retreat to plot and think about my work. What you do read, however, are updates about me and my work, the occasional awful joke, some social commentary, and my blog posts. That’s a shade of who I am. It’s the highlights reel I maintain to connect with readers, but also to offer some authencity as well. If I say something, I do mean it. If I ask a question, however, it’s not to be educated or talked down to. It’s because I feel I will never stop learning; to understand a complex issue, sometimes I need to get different perspectives on it. So for me, the tools are sometimes limited because I feel the manner of exchange doesn’t always facilitate what I get out of face-to-face conversations.

That’s just me. Now, think about yourself. How you use the tools. How your relationships function. Multiply that by millions. Pretty mind-boggling, eh? The point I’m trying to make here, is that sometimes feelings of exhaustion can originate from an unlikely source. It could be you’re performing too much emotional labor to figure this shit out. Or, you’re frustrated because you’re trying to have a really important discussion but the popular tool you’re using has its limits. If any of this sounds familiar to you, consider setting some boundaries to give yourself a break. I recognize that a time limit may not be the answer for you. Maybe the problem has more to do with who you’re interacting with than how. Yes, setting boundaries can be complicated, because you’re opting to act based on a feeling tied to your personal situation. My suggestion here, however, is that if you are struggling? Maybe it is time to make a change.

Power Dynamics and Boundaries

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to set boundaries, is because often that requires putting distance between someone or something. Often, that means extricating yourself to either be alone or make better use of your time. It sucks, it can be nerve-wracking, and it feels terrible because setting boundaries — if you don’t already have them in place — is a form of saying “No.” Boundaries are often based on power dynamics, too. Abusers don’t care about boundaries; that is how they maintain the upper hand in a relationship. Sometimes, victims mimic an abuser’s behavior because they haven’t learned what healthy boundaries are. Only, the victim doesn’t realize they are in danger of becoming the abuser. They cross boundaries, because it gives them that sense of personal power they need. Having quite a bit of experience in this arena, I do want to gently point out one thing: setting boundaries is an act of self-care because it’s for you, your health, your safety. Putting yourself in harm’s way to avoid letting the bullies win is not a sign that you’ve failed and they won. If you need to walk away, walk away. Heal. Live.

While abuse and harassment are two examples of the need for boundaries, there are other forms of crossing or manipulating boundaries that greatly depend on the strength of your relationship with the other person. Those have more to do with how you’re perceived on a personal level. A successful individual might present one “face” to their audience, then snicker or even sabotage you behind your back. Your boss might be your best friend, but how much do you want to disclose to them? In a world where judgments are rampant, based on what we post and how we engage, there are plusses and minuses to having a profile. As long as you’re okay with what you reveal, then that’s really all that matters. There will be consequences regardless of what you post, if you post to begin with, and how frequently you update your profiles. Social media has offered passive data points for others to judge you and use that information how they see fit–even if you don’t use the tools. Our online usage has become so integral to how others perceive us, it’s almost like wearing a second skin.

Public Profiles and Expectations

Keep in mind that relationships don’t stay the same, either. They also change as your profile/digital footprint increases or decreases, because other people change their expectations and assumptions about who you are and what you can do for them. Most people operate out of self-interest and that word carries a lot of baggage. (Yes, even altruistic people want something, even if it’s not directly related to their well-being.) Say you’re an actor and one of your friends gets a gig on a popular television show. Do you treat them differently because your friend is recognized in public? Do you expect that person to show you around and network? Now, flip that around. Say you aren’t an actor at all, but your friend is now in the public eye. How do your interactions with that person change?

Public profiles will shift how others view you; these opinions depend on a number of factors. How that person feels about fame. What that person wants (and doesn’t). If that person can be genuinely happy for others. If that person feels you deserve your fame. On and on and on. I am not the expert on this in particular, because I’ve been dealing with this myself. There is an expectation, for example, that if you’re in the public eye you should be more gracious or the “image” of what that person believes you to be. I’ll give you an example. Sometimes, I get frustrated by how people treat my name. My surname is attached to my identity, it is a reflection of my work, and it’s something that’s tied to several years of publications. So, if you’re going to say it out loud on a podcast or panel, I feel it’s important to pronounce it correctly. I can’t tell you how many times people have screwed it up, laughed about it, and expected me to say: “That’s okay, it happens all the time.” Only, deep down I know it’s not okay, and it’s the reason why I added a pronunciation guide on my About page. But if it happens again? I’ll be gracious. I feel I have to be.

On a complex level, relationship dynamics can frequently shift depending upon other people’s perceptions of what you’re doing and who you “are”. Judgements, especially in the entertainment industry, are rampant. If my career is “hot”. (Or, if it’s perceived to be “not”.) If I’m writing in an original world or media/tie-in, then games, fiction, or non-fiction. This is all very confusing to me, because I can go from one convention/industry and be treated well to another where I’m forgettable and left to fend for myself. Plus, after being in multiple aspects of entertainment both on the trade and creative side, I know this to be true: one day your career could be up? The other it could plummet. There will always be someone famouser (and less popular) than me. Always.

Relationships can be even more of a clusterf*ck, sometimes, because I’m a full-time writer. I need to write, otherwise I don’t have a job. With no job, I don’t generate new readers/players and I don’t make money. With no fans or money, I don’t pay my bills. So for me, where my focus has to be, is on getting words down and out the door. I love every word, mind you, and it’s where I channel my passion and creativity. That, however, doesn’t impact relationships. It’s the perception of who I am and what I’m working on that does, and I’m still figuring out what that means in terms of my boundaries.

I covered a lot in today’s post and gave you some insight into my personal life, because I wanted to reassure you that saying “it’s complicated” and “I’m still figuring this out” is totally normal. Again: your mileage will vary. I’m here to say, however, that while relationships do require work from both parties, you don’t always have to be the one doing the heavy lifting, nor do you have to be on the receiving end of harmful words or behavior. If you need permission to set boundaries, I give you that. Sometimes, you need a little space to see how your connections with other people are actually working. Then, from there, you can make better decisions for your emotional health and physical well-being, regardless of fame or identity. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Mood: I want to play Final Fantasy. I’m writing a gazillion words instead.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Umm…. Three.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking. It’s FINALLY Fall!
In My Ears: Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go – Halloween Event!
Book Last Read: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
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 43: Setting Boundaries for Self-Care was originally published on Monica Valentinelli

Self-Care and Saying “No”

Make Art Not War October 2017

This month’s theme has been SELF-CARE! Today, I want to talk about the word “No.” I feel it’s a powerful word, and it’s one that we feel guilty about using sometimes. A “No” feels negative, because it seems as if we can’t do everything we want to do, be every place at once, and maintain relationships with everyone we want to.

I’ve come to learn the hard way that this is exacerbated by social media, because many friends/peers/family members use the tools in different ways to supplement relationships by sharing really important updates or thoughts about current events. This becomes challenging in a 24-hour news cycle on a normal day, because the likelihood of something else happening is great. What’s more, I’ve seen and been subjected to assumptions that if someone posts a Very Important UpdateTM, both the responses and the lack therein are tracked. I’ve mentioned this before, but a grossly oversimplification of this is the fact the tools operate a lot like a slot machine. You have to “play” (e.g. post) to get a reaction in the form of shares, signal boots, comments, or likes.

[Begin Segue.] I’ve said this before as well, but I feel that we have outgrown the tools because of the way they are being used. So many of us, myself included, utilize our identities on these platforms for various reasons. I am a writer so my name is attached to my work. I can’t change my social media profile names or manipulate the system, because that directly impacts how readers, publishers, etc. find me on those tools. But, getting verified is a sticky widget and subjective. Despite having been a guest at two overseas conventions thus far, a Wikipedia page, etc. Mind you, I don’t like trotting out my credentials, but there is a gender bias. And, after comparing notes with others, I’ve found that to be the case for many white women and women of color I know. Here’s what would solve ALL of our problems with verification and bots: verify anyone who uses their real identity. Then, anyone who doesn’t is possibly fake and suspect. Bam! Done. [End Segue.]

Some people, myself included, are more susceptible to getting sucked in than others. It happens, because there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in social media. For me, as a writer, words matter. So reading people’s updates, I get a sense of how they’re feeling and what they’re up to. When life is great? I enjoy that exchange. When it’s not? It’s terrifying. At the same time, there are extremely powerful conversations happening that I often miss or catch the tail end of. I instituted a “No Social Media” policy during work hours, and that’s worked so well for my productivity and crushing deadlines I’m going to keep it in place for the time being. But doing that? Taking that step? That’s saying “No.” That feels uncomfortable, especially because of how much interaction happens online due to how many people I know in other cities/states/countries. “No, I can’t right now.” is the best thing for me to do, however. It’s an act of self-care.

“No” can be as simple as: “No, I’m not going to write for free anymore.” Or goal-oriented: “No, I’m not going to watch TV for 20 hours a week. I need to figure out a better way to spend my time.” Or for self-preservation: “No, I’m not going to deal with that toxic person any longer.” Sometimes, you can’t say “No”. That sucks. It happens. And, in many ways, that ability comes from the specifics of your situation. You can’t always say: “No, I’m not going to work as much.” if your financial outlook doesn’t allow it. You might say, instead: “No, I’m not going to stay in this job forever.” And then make a plan to find a new job, knowing it might take a while.

I think of the word “No” visually sometimes, too. For every affirmation or “Yes” you commit to, your proverbial well keeps filling up and up and up, until it’s overflowing. The only way to get the water back down to manageable levels, is to take a “Yes” away. Sometimes, that’s what a “No” does. It removes something you don’t need, so you can replace it with something you do. In my case, for example, I knew my manuscripts required a lot of focus, so I decided to say “No” to social media until I met those deadlines and wrangled them. It also means, however, that the time I spend around friends and family will be more valuable, because I’ll be hearing what folks are up to for the first time.

Your mileage will vary, of course. My point here is simply this: you aren’t selfish for saying “No.” Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do, in order to grow.

Mood: Yeah, it’s been a week. A BUSY WEEK!
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Two. I “think” I have it under control?
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking, walking, housework.
In My Ears: Mind-numbing coffee house music oldies.
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go – Halloween Event!
Book Last Read: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Assassin’s Creed Um…
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.

Self-Care and Saying “No” was originally published on Monica Valentinelli

Dreaming for Hope and Destinations

Make Art Not War Challenge October 2017

This month’s theme for my Make Art Not War Challenge is SELF-CARE, and today I want to talk about the importance of having dreams. First, some background.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I tend to err on the practical side. I often use key markers to focus on the work, because the emotional aspects of the job can derail my productivity–and they have. Beyond dealing with rejection, when you work freelance there are a number of things that can and will go wrong. Sometimes, despite all your planning, the cardboard house you’ve built falls apart–and now you’ve got more work to do, because you’re busy picking up the pieces.

Here’s what I’ve learned: though not everything will go your way, it’s healthy to recognize and mitigate that to a point. But, it’s also important to have dreams that you pin your hopes on. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting around waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, wondering when something else is going to happen. As my friend Meredith would say: “Trust”. We can, and do, learn by our experiences, but I’ve found we also condition ourselves and add a thin (or thick) veneer of expectations that color our views.

Yes, it’s true, there are systemic issues that impact your chances of success; any industry filled with people will have them. At the same time, I’ve found that your personal mindset can influence what happens next. If you work on a project, for example, convinced you’ll be rejected or fired, then you’re in danger of sabotaging yourself. Even if you do so subconsciously, keep in mind that most people are very, very smart. While it’s true they may not vocalize their feelings, they make judgements just as much as you do. That said, I do feel we should be helping each other, but the entertainment industry is extremely competitive and often based on what you’ve done as opposed to your potential. Still, I believe you’ve got to find a way to say “Yes!” to yourself, and let that feeling, that emotion pass through everything you do. Success, in other words, often breeds more success. Only, that “overnight success” story you hear about? It’s not uncommon for that moment to be the culmination of ten or twenty years of hard work. Sometimes, all you need is a chance.

Doing the work is the only means of moving forward as an artist. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it again: you can network all you want, but if you can’t produce it doesn’t matter who you’re friends with. Even so, luck and timing are uncontrollable. You can help yourself mitigate all the bad stuff, and position yourself for good things to happen by doing one thing: dream.

Creative Challenge: Dream a Little Dream

Dreaming is an act of self-care, because without hope–or a reason to write, paint, draw, etc.–we don’t have anything to look forward to. We don’t have something positive to offset the bad. You need that emotion, even when your situation feels dire, because it can serve as fuel for your inspiration and future self.

[That said, if you’re already dreaming about what you want to do? Don’t forget you can get stuck in the dream, and never write. That’s partly why people are wary of those who talk about writing and business plans and social media followers and such. There’s so many who simply talk and don’t write.]

So that’s my challenge to you today: DREAM. What good things would you like to happen in your career? What do you really want? Describe them. Write them down in a letter to your future self, or scribble a list on a sticky note. Put a reminder everywhere you need to see it, or tape it to your monitor. It can be big, small, modest, or bold–but be specific. It’s your dream. What do you want? Get that vision clear in your mind, and you’d be surprised how your focus will shift in a good way.

If you’re lost or stuck, please know that it does take a lot of energy to steer your proverbial boat if you feel you’re headed in the wrong direction. Dreams are a tool that can help you, because they allow you to choose where you want to go. How you’ll get there, if you’ll ever reach your destination… That’s all part of the journey.

Your journey. Your dreams.

Good luck!

Mood: It’s Monday. Engage cyber-meeting mode.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Uh, enough I was up super late.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Walking, walking, sitting.
In My Ears: P!nk’s new album Beautiful Trauma
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Loads for work. Loads. LOADS MORE. MOAR.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Magnificent Seven YUS!
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.

Dreaming for Hope and Destinations was originally published on Monica Valentinelli

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