so you want to be a starving artist

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Things I’d Wish I’d Known: Why do you want to do it?

Published August 30, 2017 by admin

You thought I forgot about this, didn’t you?

So today’s topic in Things I’d Wish I’d Known Going Into the Arts (man I’ve got to find a shorter title) is something that I think artists need to be really honest about. It’s one of those things that you really need to do some deep soul-searching on, and be prepared to push away a lot of the soundtrack in your head and how you think life and careers are supposed to go. Go to a place where you can chill out alone, get quiet, push movie narratives and redemption fantasies out of your head and really, truly think.

Why do you want to do whatever creative thing it is you’re eyeing?

Go ahead and get the knee jerking out of your system, I’ll wait:

What do you mean??? I’m doing this because I have something to say, I really really want to do this, people say I’m good, are you trying to say I’m not good enough to pursue xyz??? You don’t know my life, you don’t know what I’m capable of, what are you even talking about? I’ll show you, I’ll do xyz and become famous and then you’ll be sorry!!!

We’ve all had those thoughts, or most of us have at some point, especially when we start growing into ourselves and stop playing at whatever creative focus and start wanting to do it for real. Usually we hear this kind of questioning from well-meaning parents, sometimes teachers and other professionals, maybe friends, who knows. Now, in a story or movie, this is the set up for a confrontation, then the protagonist goes off and learns and has some failings and eventually proves that they’re amazing and there’s resolution with whomever. Or maybe you’ve been told you’re talented your whole life and you’re completely supported and know you’re awesome so that’s why you want to do this. Got all those things firmly in focus?

Now kick it out of your head and don’t let that crap back in.

It’s fine to want to prove yourself, but if that’s the sole reason for wanting to be creative, you’re going to exhaust yourself trying. If you’re only doing it because you’re used to being complimented at something, it’s going to be a wake-up call when the compliments keep coming and you’re expected to keep getting better. Same with that chunk of italics up there – if the point is actually to become rich and famous (whether for their own benefits or to “prove” yourself to people), you’re going to become disappointed and disenchanted really fast.

Here’s the deal. This isn’t a story or a movie narrative. There’s no straight line. Your creative career, if you choose to pursue it, is going to have more twists and turns than a back hills road. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be more work than you can envision right now, whether you’re a teen who likes being in plays, a twentysomething who’s been told they could model, or the thirty or forty or fifty or whatever-something who wants to try for the career they were talked out of. It’s going to tax you, and you may actually have to take a break from time to time to either rebuild your energy or gather funds or for personal reasons or something else.

What I’m talking about is very different from doing the occasional thing and putting it online, or hoping to turn a secret passion into a quick moneymaker. We’re talking art as the main focus and earning method in your life.

It’s really easy to see the progression in someone else’s story, especially someone famous. It’s not as easy to see it in your own life. The passion and love (that sometimes borders on insanity) has to be there. Or, (and I kind of hesitate to say this), there has to be a mercenary desire to try to figure out a system and play it hard until you get the desired result. Even then, though, markets change fast, audience expectations change, a whole lot of things change. You can only game the system for so long, and if you’re not prepared beyond that (or if you’ve exhausted yourself getting to that point), you’re going to be in trouble.

If you’re looking for a specific end result (money, fame, adulation, proving to parents or teachers that you’re amazing), keep your creative passion as your hobby and do something else that will give you security or bank or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that. And, truth be told, I’m cynical enough to believe that no career is really “safe” anymore, but I do think the creative ones require a special sort of dedication. It’s not that you can’t necessarily have security and passion, but you will work a freakin’ ton to get to that point. While nothing is guaranteed, it’s somewhat more fast and loose with creative pursuits.

Does this sound pessimistic? Would you believe I’ve told a version of this to kids and parents who want to pick my brain? I lay out exactly where I’m at, what I’ve done to get to that point, and other avenues, because I feel that if you really, truly want something, you need to know what’s ahead. I wish that someone would have been more specific with me as a teen.  I don’t think it would have changed my mind, but I would have appreciated a better mental road map than “oh well it’s hard, the odds are against you, blah blah blah standard concerned speech.”

Growing up, I really wanted to be in theatre. I wanted to act, man. Part of that was a genuine love of the art, and part of it was that I was a daydreamer, so of course I had expectations (and I was like somewhere between 12-14 and so hard work to me met getting a degree then instantly going to Broadway, because that’s how kids’ thoughts work). Through various levels of growing up I realized that I love acting (and I still do some), but doing costume work appeals to a lot of my various sides, and in some ways not only is it easier to keep consistently in work, but the admin side is easier for me. And I like being able to play around with different materials and messy products in torn up jeans.

I studied classical voice for like a decade, at least, but by the time I could have been looking at bigger schools and programs (and I did, and got accepted to at least one private school), I was so burnt out on classical voice, and realized that 1. that kind of performance career was pretty short in the scheme of things for most people 1.5 If I really wanted to do this, my work was only just beginning. All this hard work and practice and prep was the easy part.   2. I’d end up teaching, and that really wasn’t my jam. Even with writing, I’ve had to get very honest and start asking questions about where I want to go and how to effectively pursue it, and does that match my desire to do it (spoiler alert, it does. Same with costuming. So it works out).

I can’t tell you what the exact right reason for pursuing a creative career is, just like I can’t tell you what success means to each individual person. I’d say that you have to love it and want to be in that world above all else, because like everything else it is a J-O-B. Part of my past costume work has been, at times, 15 hour days, 100 hour weeks, balancing a lot of projects when feeling like crap and looking for the next job because all I have at any given moment is seasonal, learning new skills on the fly, learning to come up with budgets and cold call vendors and other people because I need answers for something that has to be done NOW. And to get to this point I had to have panicked freakouts as a dresser and take too long on show prep when I was in my teens. I had to be pulled in by tolerant, patient supervisors who sat me down and made me get serious. Because the love of something isn’t enough if you don’t pay attention and ditch a know-it-all attitude. It’s been learning new skills and sucking at them for a while until I found my footing. I had to experience a lot of intense tech periods and production meetings and near-breakdowns to learn how to hustle and stand up for myself and meet people half-way while not driving myself crazy and somehow meet deadlines at the same time.

Part of writing has been fifty pages of rejections (we’re talking one line per rejection, by the way), learning the ever-changing art of promotion, trying to balance all that with bringing income in, deciding who to listen to, and making time to put words on the page. Part of acting is always having the next thing lined up and staying on your game to keep jobs rolling in, whatever that means, keeping yourself in current audition material, tending to your look and skill set, and on and on. Artists and photographers might mean something else, same with dancers or illustrators or any other person who makes their living creating. Add in the emotional ups and downs with how your career is going, artistic block, life happening, the envy of others in your field, and it’s a lot.

You have to love it (or be so vehemently obsessed with working the system to the point that you reach super villain levels), because if you don’t, you are going to have a rough time when things don’t go your way. And they won’t at times. A lot of the time. You have to love it enough to take a day job if you need to, to take a risk if you need to, to give up holidays if you need to, to move if you need to, to sell out if you need to, to stand your ground if you need to, to stay up finishing stuff because you might have a window of opportunity that won’t come around again. You have to love it enough to do the work and all it means, because there is going to be a lot of it.

Throughout college and afterward I went along with things because I had a driving need to prove myself (and a will power that borders on superhuman, apparently). However, that left me incredibly frustrated, until all I really had was the love to fall back on (which is how I whittled down my focus). If anything, I wish I would’ve had more details and options and known the right questions to ask in my teens and twenties, so I could’ve made things a little easier on myself. I think sometimes teachers and experts expect students to understand why they’re telling them the advice they are, and that’s just not the case, or you may actually be on a whole different page but don’t know where to aim yourself. Seriously, you have no idea how much easier life is these days with Google and being able to pick people’s brains via social media.

I’ve also realized through the years that while my teenage self wanted fame and glory, (I’d still not say no to the rich thing, tbh), what I really was searching for was appreciation and validation. And it’s perfectly fine to want that.

But I can’t do what I do because of that. I mean, let’s face it, I ain’t JK Rowling or Stephen King or Dr. Seuss at the moment. If I was basing my creative worth solely on the need for validation, I’d be in a horrible place right now. I can get those things from nurturing the different relationships in my life, from pushing myself to show off my work and taking the compliments when I get them. But if I do what I do for that validation, I’m always going to be left thirsty, no matter how much metaphorical water is being thrown at me. And if I’m thirsty, I can’t nurture the creations that I’m trying to grow or work hard enough to keep myself alive. And, you know, I kinda like doing both of those things.

The fact is, while art can sometimes be therapy, you shouldn’t necessarily do it to be all your therapy, especially if you want to make money doing it.

So if you think you’re going to write a book/make an indie film/do something quick and have it immediately pay off – that’s super rare, guys. And that’s not really how those things work. I don’t care what the Hollywood narratives are, so often there’s so much work behind the scenes leading up to stuff that comes out of nowhere. Just forget that, put that right out of your minds. And when I say work, I mean can you work a forty hour regular work week then work even more on your own projects that are perpetually on the back burner. Can you put off that purchase or trip you really want to pay for a class that might help you out, a networking opportunity, promotion stuff, media help, or something else that will hopefully pay off long term (or not, nothing’s guaranteed). Can you divest yourself from being “the artiste” to take work that you may not want to take, to take criticism that you may not want to hear, to take the time needed to push yourself to the next step, then the next, then the next with no definite guarantee that you’ll ever really “make it (whatever that means).”

The other thing to consider is this: It’s not a bad thing if you decide a creative career isn’t for you. I know a lot of super-talented people that do things on the weekend or on the side or as an off and on hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s going to make you happier, by all means, do that. There’s nothing that says that just because you’re good at something, you have to do it as a job. That’s not a personal failure. If anything, it’s empowering because you’re making the choice that’s best for you.

At the end of the day, I almost physically recoil at the thought of not telling stories (which has made the past year or so super hard). My stomach knots at the idea of not making stuff. It’s impossible for me to consider, but I’m also pretty eyes-wide-open about what I’m pursuing and what it means. Could this change in the future? Possibly, sure, and I’ll renegotiate with myself if that point comes. Does this mean I have to be conscious about how I feed my need for emotional validation/appreciation? You betcha. If anything, it’s making me more aware about tending to that part of myself and being gentler with that part of me.

It’s all really multi-faceted, I know. No one said this would be easy. Or stay constant throughout your whole life. Or any of the cliches you’re used to hearing.

So, first assignment (hey, it’s back to school time!). If you’re even remotely thinking about approaching some sort of artistic career (or wondering whether to continue, or any variation thereof), I want you to go somewhere on your own, whether that’s in a room or in nature or whatever. Someplace you feel comfortable and safe and happy. And I want you to get really quiet and think about why you want this. Not just the obvious, not just that you love it. Why do you love it? Why is it important to you? What specifically about this thing could you see yourself doing? Could you do anything else? Explore all those reasons, follow them where they lead, see if you can figure out how to feed any emotional hunger without it being the be all end all to your life path. Put the nay sayers out of your head, kick out all those who make you feel like you need to prove something, kick out all those who compliment you and tell you that you should do this because you’re talented. This is a one person conversation involving only you.

Then, hit the Google. Really find out what all’s involved in what you want to do. Talk to those who are already in it. Ask the rough questions. Dig in. Really figure out what it’s going to take, if there are various levels achievable, find out all the gory details you can – and not just from those at the top of the field, but those who also are doing the same thing in the day to day (because it’s likely that’s where you’ll be). Talk to more than one person, and make sure they really know what they’re doing. There are so many spin artists these days, you have to really be careful. Don’t just listen to what they’re saying, but really examine what they’ve done and if it’s actually something to emulate or a bunch of hot air. Then get quiet and asking yourself why you want to do it again, and if it’s something you really, really have to do.

Then get quiet and asking yourself why you want to do it again, and if it’s something you really, really have to do.

Only you can answer that, and only you can be comfortable with it (Hint: there are no wrong answers, just answers you push to the side in favor of what may sound better).

No matter what you decide, you’re awesome, dude. I’m proud of you. This is not an easy conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one, no matter where you’re at. You’ll probably have it more than once throughout your life. Hell, I’ve had it a few times in my life. I haven’t really talked about it, but part of the past year of being so quiet has been that extended conversation – I honestly, curiously wanted to know if I could divest myself and do something else, and feel good about not having something creative as my focus. Honestly, I can’t. I’m miserable and don’t function well without it. I just don’t think it’s possible, so here I am back again, and there’s a lot of other refocusing and planning in the background that you won’t see (other spoiler alert: even creative careers have constant planning in the background. Don’t believe anyone who wants to push a ‘let’s put on a show!’ mentality, even if they sound somewhat professional).

I rarely tell people don’t do it. But, do it because you love it, do it because you have to, do it because you’re prepared to put in the effort, do it because you’re curious to see where it will take you, do it because you’re willing to learn and change to grow and be better. Forget about the construed narrative that we so love to tell ourselves and follow because it’s the trope that won’t die. Do it (or don’t do it) for your own right reasons. I can’t say it’ll be any easier or you’ll be definitely happier, but you’ll be going forward with the potential to be more satisfied.

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A Book Report on Peter Rabbit

Published October 7, 2016 by admin

I know, I know, it’s been forever.

I feel like I’ve needed time away to realign and figure out what works for me. Some days it feels like my whole life is about learning how to balance. I still have a huge to do list and a lot of things to get to, but the great news is I’m starting to write again.

Who knows if it’s any good, but they’re words and they’re mine, so that’s something.

The past year, whether it’s been blog posts or stories or longer works, I always feel like my timing is off, or if I just wait and get rested or eat something first, or tick off fifty things on the list so I’m really ready to concentrate, then I can write. Maybe. Of course you know how that goes.

Back in the bronze age of my childhood, I was obsessed with the Peanuts comic strip and characters. In the course of my life if I haven’t read every single strip, I’ve probably come close. Seriously, I’m a walking Wiki for Peanuts, it’s a little terrifying. What started out as a way to get close to my parents (they read the strip all the time) turned into a love of Snoopy and his antics and grew into an appreciation for the more intellectual humor as I grew older and understood all the nuances. Plus, it was an easy way for the folks to bribe me into doing my homework (our libraries had a ton of Peanuts collections at the time). This was back in the day when you didn’t need a holiday to have an animated special on network television, and Snoopy and the gang popped up pretty often (plus every Saturday on their own TV show).

Most people who know of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown know it as a stage musical. It’s not particularly hard to put on, so most groups do it (I helped do costumes for it in college, never knowing that everything I was learning about costumes and the Peanuts brand would help me out later on in life, ever proving that my goal list was written by my six-year-old self). It was also an animated special back in the day, which was my very first encounter with it. We taped it from TV so I could watch it all the time and annoy the adults by singing it any time I wasn’t in front of the television for like six months. At least. Random phrases still pop into my head and if you drop a line in front of me I can’t guarantee that I won’t go full on Snoopy on you. It happens.

There’s a song in the show called ‘Book Report,’ and I remember being impressed with it and being really irritated by it as a kid. It’s a cool concept and a great set-up. Admittedly the vocals can be a little grating in the animated version, but it was more that I was one of those people that was intent on being the best student ever and NONE of the characters were taking their assignment seriously! Lucy’s just hitting the word count, Schroeder isn’t even talking about the same book, Linus is going above and beyond, but he was too smart for me to relate to. Plus I viewed him as younger than me, so what did he know? And the song just always makes me feel sorry for Charlie Brown. Poor Charlie, the procrastinator, the worrier, the one who feels that if he can just get rested or start a little later because he works better under pressure or have a snack first, it’ll be okay. It made me so frustrated because if he’d just GET STARTED he’d see that he could do the report and it wouldn’t be so bad! Even his last line would just make me so irritated because he could’ve been done already!

Here, just see for yourself

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this. Just put a striped shirt on me, because that’s where I’ve been the past year or so. I’ve had to grit my teeth and be a little bit more Lucy, maybe curb my Linus researching tendencies a smidge, and stop thinking of every other thing I could be writing while trying to write something else, like Schroeder. Argh, it’s worse than I thought, the whole Peanuts gang resemble my bad habits when I really want to be Snoopy off having adventures and not even having to do menial stuff. Except that I love writing, and writing is my excuse to have adventures.

But I’ve especially had to step away from my inner Charlie Brown and Just. Start. Writing.

Sometimes that’s what it takes, for better or worse. Just start and see what you end up with and worry what becomes of it later. Not the easiest thing for me, but I’m getting there.

Or, if you rather:

A book report on Peter Rabbit…

 

 

 

 

Getting Started: Anthologies

Published April 15, 2016 by admin

This goes hand in hand with yesterday’s post, which is why I’m yammering about it here. So you want to get started writing stories, but you just have no idea what to write? You’re overwhelmed looking at magazine listings but don’t have a novel in you yet?

May I make a suggestion? Anthologies.

About half of you just knee-jerked and threw holy water at me and the other half of you fist-pumped in the air. I get it. It’s divisive territory. Here’s the thing: you probably aren’t going to make a ton of money off the antho market.

The thing is, though, is that you will reach different types of readers. Exposure isn’t a dirty word, especially if you’re making some money off it here and there. And if you’re a brand new author and need some credits, this is a great way to learn to write for a market.

Everything is an anthology these days. Seriously. I’ve seen anthologies for genres (horror, sword and sorcery, sci-fi), I’ve seen them for themes (gaming, vampires, halloween, faeries), I’ve seen them for what would happen if you went on a honey moon with a paranormal creature or had a paranormal creature as a teacher. The territory is endless. They also usually feature small word counts (anywhere from 3k to 10k, depending), and force you to be specific. They’ll also get you used to working with an editor and all the other little ins and outs of the publishing world.

I love and hate the small word counts and rigid themes, personally, but that’s my problem. I love a challenge but I don’t always like to be made to behave. Story of my life.

These tend to be more specific than a magazine market, they get you out of your comfort zone and may get you breaking bad habits or doing things that you wouldn’t naturally include in your usual bag o’ tricks. Sometimes you’ll luck into a higher paying one on a listing. As you do more and get more published, you’ll slowly get invites to these things, which is nice (though my editors may think otherwise).

I’ve had some of my more intriguing ideas come from anthology submissions, and it’s nice to be put through my paces on occasion. Plus, this seems to be where a lot of people get to know my work. I’ve had a few people tell me they’ve read me in something then started getting into my standalone work. You just never know.

 

On Markets and Getting Started

Published April 13, 2016 by admin

One of the things I get asked about as a writer is where to submit when you’re ready. My first response is to write out a pile of stuff before you start submitting, because it’s way easier to get a rhythm going that way and rejection doesn’t suck as bad when you’ve got a lot of other things to think about.

The thing is, you have options. I get the worry about wanting to pick the right place and wanting to pick a legit place. Any place that requires you to pay, no. You also need to really review any sort of contract your given in terms of what rights you’re giving – be wary of perpetual rights because you will never get those suckers back. Be leery of giving up any sort of tax info until it’s obviously needed.

In terms of for the love/exposure markets – everyone has a different view of them and you have to decide if that’s for you. I’ve done a few to get a few credits to my name, I’m not really into that sort of thing anymore. The problem is these days not a whole lot of people want to reprint things unless you’re a big name, so you have to decide what a non-pay market is worth to you.

So, where do you even look to submit to stuff?

Writer’s Market is the basic thing that everyone turns to. They put out a new book every year and they do a site with a fee, as well. I’ve used them, I’ve had a little luck with them but not a huge amount. If you write very specific genre work, this can be a frustrating lead unless you’re looking for an agent. It’s not good or bad, but it also depends on who’s listing with them that year.

Ralan – This is one of the best websites I’ve ever found for genre-specific submissions. It breaks things down in terms of pro, semi-pro, pay, for the love, anthology, and book markets. It does a fairly good job of keeping things up to date and has links to all listings. Also free to use.

Duotrope – A site that charges a small fee, it’s also pretty good for genre-specific work. I used it before it went pay with mixed results, but it’s a great way to keep an eye on all the markets out there. I also like how they do their listings, as well.

With anything, read each listing. Read each site on the listing. If they offer a free or reduced sample copy or online examples of what they’re for, look at it. Look them up on writer’s beware or preditors and editors. Follow your gut if it doesn’t seem to be for you. Ask those around you if they’ve heard of them, submitted with them, etc. What people seem to forget is authors talk to each other, online and in person. I have healthy relationships with truck-loads of people and I definitely have asked their opinions on different places and vice versa. If you go to conventions, definitely pitch to publishers there (or at least talk to them), but also talk to any authors there with them and any authors there not with them. Talk to people. Talk some more. Don’t be afraid to get the skivvy.

This is also where writing groups are nice. If you have a group, a mentor, or are in writing groups on social media, ask around about places. I think sometimes we get so desperate to submit our stuff to places, we forget that we also have to keep some sort of control. You don’t want your dogs to destroy other people’s lawns, but you also don’t want other people stealing them when you think they’re just going out to do their business, either.

Or something.

There are also a lot of market listing groups on Facebook, and I’m sure there are other places on various social media sites, as well. Twitter is becoming known for agent submissions, and there’s always something new out there.

There are always places to submit your fiction to, so no worries.

It is, however, up to you to decide if every place is worth your time and will be good to you as an author, be it a magazine, e-zine, publisher, agent, whatever. This is why you read about contracts, rights, typical processes, and all the rest, and then decide what your threshold is. Take a deep breath and do your homework. I know, there’s unfun stuff in the creative world too, believe me I know, but you’ll be better off knowing what you’re looking for.

Other than that, pay attention to what submission guidelines are, whether it’s the format they want things submitted in or the type of story they’re looking for. And, as always…

Just keep writing.

 

 

 

Permission Granted

Published April 6, 2016 by admin

I want to get back to talking about writing and creation specifics off and on. I get that I may not have as much credentials as Stephen King or JK Rowling, but at the same time, sometimes I think it helps to hear what people are dealing with and their take on different parts of the process. Like anything else, I hope you know that your journey is just that: Yours. It is specific to you and things will change as the world and businesses in them change. There’s no way to draw a direct map from A to B, no elusive magic that will suddenly zap you in the butt if you want it bad enough or happen onto the right place at the right time. It’s work and a little luck and paying attention.

Beyond that, though, I think there is an ingredient that we don’t talk enough about.

Ten million years ago, I was writing original fiction in secret while still keeping an eye on fanfic lists. This will probably forever be a guilty pleasure of mine off and on, but at the time it was a way to have friends with similar interests when being a girl with geek interests wasn’t a great thing. It still isn’t looked at as a great thing to be, but that’s another post, entirely.

A long-time friend was a sounding board to a lot of off the wall ideas I was flinging at her, a lot of which involved a lot of intricate mythos and legends that I’d either need to warp or reinvent or whatever. These days, that’s my life, but back then? It felt like I was staring up at a million foot cliff with no rope. She was able to help me fill in a lot of the blanks with obscure Celtic legends, but suggested I hit up a friend of hers who was doing some amazeballs work at the time. Not only was he behind some of fandom’s up and coming events, but he was working at a graphic novel company, as well. I knew better than to outright hit anyone up for an opportunity, and this was long before I even had enough of a concept to pitch anything or would dare to do that anyway. These days, that’s a lunch conversation. I emailed him explaining how I got his address,  our mutual friend, and the big fat impossible wall I was facing.

I don’t have the email anymore, but the sentiment still very much rings true. His reply was incredibly nice and he said it sounded like an intriguing idea, an intriguing world, and he agreed I still had some work to go.

I don’t know what I had been asking for or what I was expecting, but the womp-womp sound effect would perfectly describe my mood upon reading that.

He went on, though. He said something like I obviously knew where I wanted things to go and had a huge drive to do it, and it actually seemed to him that the problem was that I hadn’t given myself permission to do that…just do it. He went onto say something that I’ll never forget: that if I couldn’t give myself that permission, he would give it to me, right here, right now. I had his permission to go work on this project or whatever else I wanted to write.

Huh.

That still can be a hang-up of mine. I put the cart twenty miles before where the horse is stabled, I’m worried about things that don’t need to be addressed immediately. Now I recognize it, because it definitely gets in the way of what I want to be doing at any given time. Then, his reply was a distinct revelation, and it’s one I go back to in my mind when I get ideas but immediate jump the gun and start getting anxious about everything except actually just getting started.

A lot of people I talk to talk of someday: someday they’ll write the book or make that outfit or take that class. Or, a lot of people use the c-word. ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I’m no good at this, I don’t know how…’

I hate that mindset. I  hate it about myself and I hate that the world in general cultivates it. That is one of my biggest pet peeves and if I ever meet you at a convention and you say something akin to that and I vault a table to yell at you, I’m sorry. I do it out of love, I swear. Here’s the thing:

1. You are alive, right?

2. Then there is time because you aren’t dead.

3. Learn. or try. or do. If it makes you happy, do it.

4. Didn’t work and you still want to? Repeat.

That’s all it is, folks. Seriously, whether you’re wanting to do something for a hobby or a profession, there you go. I think we scare ourselves into thinking we can’t write a book unless it’s a best seller. We can’t make an outfit unless it’s on a runway. We can’t act unless Joss Whedon is going to be directing us or Oscars are involved.

If you want to do something, please take away the end result and just do it. Give yourself that permission. It may lead to nothing it may lead to material results it may lead to soul results. But if you feel like you have that hot fire under foot feeling and are staring up at the wall and freaking out, then ask yourself what you need, why are you freaking out? Do you not know something and are scared to go look for those elements? Are you just feeling intimidated? Are you afraid of what people say? Are you scared of putting in that work and having nothing come of it?

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to find information and missing pieces of puzzles. It is very easy to feel intimidated, but think of what you’re starving your soul out of by not at least trying. People say a lot of things and they usually don’t remember them a month down the road. I’ve had a lot of projects happen that came into nothing. You’ll live, trust me. Beyond that, though, I still care about them, and as long as I care, they can always be reborn, transformed, or reused. There’s life after death for ideas, I swear.

And if you’re just flat-out in denial of your gifts or scared, I am telling you it’s going to be okay. Okay comes in many forms. It will be fine. Please, please, give yourself permission to do that thing that you really, really want to try.

And if you can’t do that? Then I’ll do it for you. I give you permission to go create. Go write. Go make something. Go paint. Do it for you, do it because you have to, do it to see what other people say, do it for whatever reason, but do it. Slam out those words and ideas, sing that song, put your spark into the mass bonfire and watch it catch and sparkle.

It will be okay.

Permission granted.

 

A Writer Writes for Themselves: a Rant

Published August 25, 2015 by admin

There are few cliche things that authors hear a lot. People mean well and a lot of these phrases do hold some truths, but they’re also really annoying, especially when you’re stressing about meeting deadlines, depressed about rejections and feel like you’re gaining no ground, stressed about balancing time so you can get out some word count, irritable about promoting and trying to get people’s attention…

The one thing I’ve heard time and again is an oldie but a goodie: “Well, chin up, I know it’s frustrating but a writer writes for themselves, right?”

I hate this. I really, really hate this phrase or any variation of it. With a burning, vile passion.

Here’s the thing. Yes, yes it is true…to a point. You should absolutely write for yourself, because doing anything hoping to get famous/rich/laid/noticed isn’t going to work. People see that a mile away, or eventually get wise. Likewise, you need to be happy with what you’re doing or else it’s just going to make you miserable. Hell, it’ll make you miserable enough even if you’re happy with what you’re doing – any sort of love, even the artistic kind, isn’t perfect. I totally agree that you shouldn’t sit down just to please others or feel like you should turn your craft a certain way in the hopes to game the market or make an impact on certain people.

Part of the issue is “A writer writes for themselves” takes away whole chunks of an artist’s emotional background and what may have led them to write. Let’s face it, we all have our reasons beyond being inspired by books and stories. Maybe you were bullied. Maybe you want to prove something to that English teacher who said your essays were crap. Maybe thee was an early influence that you want to live up to or seek validation from. Maybe you have a lurking memory of a significant other or a family member who didn’t get why you wasted time on a hobby when you weren’t going to be JK Rowling any time soon. We all have those moments, and while you shouldn’t carry them with you all the time, let’s be real. They push us on and there’s probably always a tiny, tiny bit of us that keeps plunging ahead to show our entire past that we can do this, no matter what this is.

No, you shouldn’t write because of all those people, but they exist, just the same. Plus, I don’t know many people who are so completely comfortable with themselves that they never think about those people again or don’t have a slight stab of glee if they do get to prove themselves in the end. It’s human nature.

“A writer writes for themselves” also doesn’t take into account the nature of the market. Readers are looking for what they want to read, after all. I love that some of these head-patters are also the same people who will say “well, I’d read your book but it’s not really my thing…” A writer writers for themselves after all, so this shouldn’t be disappointing, even if you hear it twenty, fifty, a hundred plus times. And you will. There are so many choices these days, that while I don’t agree with trying to write to the market (because it often changes too fast to game and attempting to do so produces shoddy work), I get why people try to write to certain genres or certain tastes. Believe me, I get it. It’s hard putting your heart out there and waiting for someone to show up, trusting that it’ll happen eventually.

“A writer writes for themselves” also devalues the whole artistic experience. It’s not enough to just put something out there, there has to be someone reading it for it to mean something. Sure, I could write down all my stories in a notebook and put them away, but I want to do this for a living. I want to share with people…and that sharing has been part of storytelling from the beginning of time. You don’t hear people saying “well a doctor heals for themselves” or “A chef cooks for themselves” or “a teacher teaches for themselves” because that’s stupid. That makes no sense and with some professions would be considered selfish. Yet somehow, in the artistic fields, we’re supposed to be so secure that we do this for no reason and definitely don’t have the gall to expect anything from it. The worst thing in the world would be for no one to ever experience the ideas in my head, that would negate what I feel is part of my purpose for even being here.

I applaud those people who say they don’t care if people read their work or if it doesn’t make them a zillion dollars…I understand the latter more than the former. Why would you even publish your work if you’re that apathetic about people reading it? I don’t get it. Writers write for readers to read. What’s so hard to understand here?

While I get that the phrase is supposed to empower authors to do their own thing, it’s turned into this “there, there” excuse any time an author complains about the market, or how hard it is to balance promotion and writing, or how frustrating it is to have their work ignored. Somehow these well-meaning people never think to take the next step and offer to read their work or tell their friends or post reviews or whatever…it comes down to platitudes that don’t fit the situation. “It’ll all be okay,” “Well, you know how the market is,” “There’s only so many best-sellers,” “Why don’t you write something like this other author/do what this other person did?”

There’s no magic formula. It all takes a ton of hard work, and for some reason people don’t like to see that. They like the magical feel of someone making it, but they don’t necessarily want to comprehend how much it takes or how much they could be helping. I don’t want consolation or head pats or shrugs or platitudes. I want help, I want chatter, I want people to notice, I want people to love my writing. I don’t want my hard work to be brushed aside with “well, you just have to remember that a writer writes for themselves” and have the conversation turned back to whatever it is normal people feel comfortable talking about.

I do write for myself, by the way. I love my worlds and the characters that inhabit them. I adore the plots that rattle around in my twisted little noggin.  This isn’t me being bitter or creatively worn out or anything of the sort – I simply feel like the phrase is overused and used in the wrong context.

My ideas and my stories are my own and are born out of an intense love of ideas and what if’s. I don’t pull many punches and I definitely have a sideways view of things that end up influencing my plots and characters.  However, I also write for you, because I want you to think and feel outside of your comfort zone. I write for the person who wants to escape for a little bit, for the horror addict who wants to be chilled, for the vampire fan who wants something different, for the faerie tale fan who wants something new, for all of those who want something a little sideways than the other things on their shelves. I write for me, but I also write for the world, for everyone, and for anyone who is willing to take a look.

Who do you write for, besides yourself? What’s a typical platitude that you’re tired of hearing in regard to your work?

Getting Into a Project (literally)

Published July 18, 2015 by admin

As I’ve been getting back in the swing of things, I’ve noticed something. As much as I don’t mind using a laptop, there’s something about a notebook of the paper variety. I don’t know if it feels like there’s less pressure with a composition book, that I’m not being judged if I’m scribbling in public versus yanking out a computer (which always feels very HEY LOOK AT ME I’M WRITIN’ or HEY LOOK AT ME I SHOULD BE WRITIN’ AND i’M ON FACEBOOK). There’s something about the physical act of scrawling out ideas, though, of being able to doodle in the margins, of being able to alternate a story with my to do or grocery lists.

Admittedly, I write some epic and artistic to do lists. I’ll have to start taking pictures of them, because there are days I venture into abstract art territory.

I’ve learned through the years that I really like to get physical with a project. When I used to have a costume shop with a cutting table, it wasn’t unusual to see me sitting up on it, cutting out things, pinning things, or generally fussing with things around me. I liked sitting atop that little wooden island, in a creative world to myself. Likewise, I’m just as likely to roll around on the floor if I’m cutting out giant pieces of things, or want to see what something looks like pieced out. I’m not one of those who sit primly at a machine. You’ll likely see me throwing fabric everywhere, and I’ve walked away from a project covered with thread, fuzz, and fake fur more likely than not.

When I do renderings, I tend to channel my inner five year old and want ALL the pencils and watercolors out around me. There are days when I’ve come away from projects involving latex, contact cement, and paint looking like I’ve sustained mortal injury – there has been at least one incident at a former workplace where security detained me because they were sure I was somehow bleeding out in front of them as I attempted to leave work that evening. I may have been politely questioned one evening when I went to get my hair cut after working on stuff for various haunted houses and really didn’t think about going out in public after a ‘blood day’ (where we added blood and distress/wear marks/other signs of grossness to costumes all at one go to get it over with/make it easier on ourselves).

I’ve gotten tangled in yarn as much as I’ve made things with it, gotten bits of fiber fill everywhere, and on and on.

When I made the Paddlelump troll suit, I may have gotten in a fight with a neighbor’s dog who tried to run off with the head, I’ve knocked over just as many cans of glue and other materials as I’ve used. There are days I come away from a job or a project feeling utterly worn out, sweatier than a day at the gym, covered with paint, glue, and fabric.

I always feel completely beautiful on those days, too. I don’t know if it’s the satisfaction of a job well done, of seeing an idea become reality, or the joy of physical exertion, but I love it. There are days I just need to color, to put things together, to actively use my hands and brain in a way that a laptop doesn’t let me. There’s something zen about getting so involved with making something that you realize your hands are taking over, and you’re just letting the idea do what it wants. It’s one of the closest things to magic I’ve ever discovered, and I love that I can take part in those moments.

Blank pages on a notebook taunt me less than a blinking cursor, in some ways. Plus, I love all the lovely and silly covers I can accumulate. I may have a horribly diverse collection of half-notebooks – there are days I don’t even go down a school/office aisle, because I know I won’t be able to resist that temptation. Lately, though, they’ve been the thing to get me moving again, to get me creating, jotting notes, doodling, writing. Plus, the more pages I fill, the more notebooks I can buy.

How about you? Do you prefer creative pastimes that keep things clean and proper, or do you like getting into the thick of things? What’s your favorite way to get really involved in a project, no matter the type?