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EDIT: If you like this journal entry, check out The Sarcastic Guide to Writing ebook… for exclusive content on world-building, character, and dialogue!

1. Work on something else. I know, I know. You've been working on that story of yours for twelve whole years, and it's your baby. Sure, it may have been inspired by that Dungeons and Dragons session you had when you were thirteen, but you're going to make your fortune with it! It's the next Harry Potter! When my pals and I have gone to writing conferences, we've made note of an interesting phenomenon: when someone has written a first novel in the fantasy genre, it is invariably a sword-and-sorcery novel or a portal fantasy. I will bet money on it: show me a first novel and I will show you a sword-and-sorcery or portal fantasy. There's nothing wrong with sword-and-sorcery as a genre, don't get me wrong. It's just that in writing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien provided a simple, easy-to-follow template for amateurs. C. S. Lewis wrote one of the greatest portal fantasies in existence with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Incidentally, Lewis was best pals with Tolkien, and when he decided to foray into fantasy for the first time guess what he wrote? Portal fantasy. Coincidence? I think not!) Portal fantasy provides a comfortable setting to start in: your own world. Not quite so many balls to juggle right out of the gate. The thing is, your writing reflects your level of skill in a first novel. It takes ages and ages to make a first novel work. That's why authors take the easier route and write something else. I write many, many stripes of fantasy: xenofiction, steampunk, and urban fantasy. And I may just be about to, gulp, write straight YA. I am not immune to this rule: guess what my first novel was? Sword-and-sorcery! The thing is, even a different story in the same genre can teach you things you didn't know. To paraphrase Disney's Pocahontas, "You'll find out things you never knew you never knew." When I meet someone who has held their baby novel to their chest for twelve years, refusing to change anything about it and reacting aggressively to critique: that's someone going nowhere fast. Only slightly less pathetic than the person who roleplayed once and has had this great idea for a novel for years but hasn't written jack squat. By working on something else, you free yourself from stagnation. You start fresh, and can try again. One of the things I've recognized about my own improvement is that I've begun to world-build based on my plot, so the neat fantasy details I come up with serve an actual purpose to the story. That took me years to figure out, ages! And I've gone back to older work and been like "What the hell is this? What was I thinking?" Working on something else gives you more than one basket to put your eggs in, which makes you more likely to be critical of your own work. The writing is the easy part, my friends. Making your writing publishable is a whole new ball game, and only something like 2 percent of the population ever gets to see their work in published print. Enjoy those odds, crappy writers!

2. Learn to incubate. The ability to leave your writing alone is a valuable one. First, you have to come back to manuscript with a reader's eye, and not the bleeding heart of an author who loves their flawless work. In traditional publishing, edits and rewrites can take up to 18 months before the book comes out in real form. And during that time, you better believe you're expected to write something else. Even before that, there is the special, fresh hell known as querying, which requires you to wait ages and ages for an agent to get back to you on whether or not they like your story. Waiting on that reply is wasting time. Start on another story. Let the first one sit for a while, and age like good wine. Don't get caught in the trap of rewriting endlessly (something I found myself in danger of doing recently so I panicked and decided hell or high water I was going to collect some rejections.)  It is very easy, especially for people in violation of Rule #1, to fiddle endlessly with the same thing. It is entirely possible to overwork a manuscript. I've done it at least several times, and come back to it hating what my brain fizzle managed to crap out on the page. Me personally, I have a built-in boredom paradigm that kicks in after about 6 weeks. I've got 6 weeks to actively write on something before smoke starts coming out my ears and I start to hate it. I can world-build and play with ideas all the live long day, but it takes a lot of fuel to write a novel and I run out. After that I need copious doses of movies and video games to feel even remotely inspired again. Incubation is a natural "season" of the writer, assuming you have honed the necessary self-discipline to finish a project in the first place. When I was a teenager, I didn't have that requisite skill yes, and enjoyed leaping from one project to another project willy-nilly. Whatever. I cared enough about what I was doing and wanted to do that I matured, and you probably will, too.

3. Value rewrites. One of the most appalling novels I have ever had the displeasure of reading was when I attended a week-long writer's conference and had to read about 12 of the first 50 pages each from my fellow classmates. One of them was a sword-and-sorcery fairy tale retelling, but the grammar was so terrible it was damn near indecipherable. I'm talking like something I read out loud to my writing buddies while we howled over breakfast each day and wiped away tears of mirth. This manuscript has become a running joke among two of my pals and I. I think I managed to get through about ten pages of it before I flipped to the last page and wrote "This will never get published in its current incarnation. You need to study grammar, because no agent is going to read past the first page." Later, this fellow posted indignantly on Facebook that he got "rude critique." Well, I thought his manuscript was rude. It was definitely an offense to anyone with eyes and a functioning brain. And seriously, grammar? If you don't have proper grammar and spelling down, I am under no obligation whatsoever to suffer through your crap. I used to get really indignant about the idea that agents only need 5 pages of your novel to decide whether they'd go with your project or not. "Tyranny!" I'd say. "How unfair!" But before this conference started, I put the manuscripts to a simple test to decide which order I'd read them in: reading the first sentence. And I'll be damned, the manuscripts that had good first sentences were good, meh first sentences were meh, and bad first sentences were bad. An agent can tell if you suck just by your first sentence! I can tell if you suck by your first sentence! So pay attention to what you're doing in rewrites. Don't just slap a first draft on paper and expect it to fly. It beggars belief that Mister Grammatically Incorrect thought his stuff was good when he was literally changing tenses midsentence. Who does that!? I believe it was Ursula K. Le Guin who said "Rewrites are where the magic happens." And it's true. It's where you find your first sentences and make stronger character arcs and better plot twists. Don't delude yourself into thinking that just because you wrote it down means it gold.

4. Read outside your genre. I recently came across a self-published book about dragons and elves whose main character was named Paolini. Gee, I wonder where they got their inspiration from!? (Incidentally, their first sentence was pretty hilarious in its badness, and it violated Rule 1 by being something the person had worked on for 12 years straight.) You don't make things easier for yourself by making your story a funny sword-and-sorcery idea for adults and kids that deals with serious subjects like rape and slavery. An agent ain't touching that. Sword-and-sorcery is an accessible genre, but man, too many people never go beyond that. Read historical fiction to find out how plate mail and arrows worked. Read straight YA coming-of-age to learn how to make the emotions of the character the only stakes in the story. Read nonfiction to research the impact of technology and environment on science and history. And for god's sake, read more than one kind of fantasy! There's like a million different stripes out there: magical realism, urban fantasy, steampunk, xenofiction, grimdark, allegorical, dying Earth, paranormal, mundane, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, on and on. And you think you're clever because you gave your character a baby dragon and a staff instead of a sword? Spare me. One of the biggest beefs I have with Stephanie Meyer (and believe me, I got plenty) is that she never read any vampire stuff. And if she had, it probably wouldn't have just been the sparkling vampires that got fixed. Your ideas are not as unique as you think they are, and the more you read the more you will realize this. You're supposed to be reading anyway, because you're a writer. I'm constantly dismayed by a lot fantasy being published today, because it's same old stuff so often. Maybe the agents are to blame for that. But the people who write in the first place sure are, too.

5. Accept that ideas adapt or die. I have two dead worlds in my gallery: The Dragon Rose and The Bronze Key. These are books that will never be published and that I no longer work on, because their ideas no longer appeal to me. (They also have sequels which I could never, ever write.) However, my urban fantasy, Daemonfire, is still going strong after 16 some-odd years. The fundamentals of the characters is still the same, and the very idea that I came up with a set of dynamics that actually worked at the age of 16 is nothing short of a cosmic roulette win. However, the story itself has changed shape many, many times. It started out as a sword-and-sorcery (Told you.), jumped to portal fantasy (WHAT DID I TELL YOU?) and then finally made the leap to urban fantasy. And even then, the manuscript still needed about 6 more iterations before it reached its current incarnation. Those manuscripts will never see the light of day, and those who read those manuscripts have been both sworn to secrecy and promised hush money if I ever make it big. The original execution of the idea was nothing short of total shit. It was ludicrous. But somehow, the idea kept appealing to me, and I kept trying again. The thing is, I was writing other stuff in the mean time. New ideas and new lessons about structure and arcs and characterizations came to me. At a fundamental, animus kind of level, I suppose the idea is still the same. But its methods of execution are worlds apart. I didn't keep trying to make the same darling of my 16 year old self work at 20, or 25. Ideas adapt or they die, and if they don't die, you're probably writing crap. Over and over and over again. Things that were life and death at 16 change when you turn 21, to say the least. Don't cling to things because of nostalgia or in memory of better times. Cut what doesn't matter to the story. In some cases, it means scrapping the entire story idea altogether. I don't lament the years and years I spent in a story world now dead. They taught me very valuable lessons. But just like an artist doesn't show off preschool finger paintings, you don't need to keep working on something just because it's earlier work you have feelings for. Yeah, yeah, growing up sucks and all that, but being brave enough to say "This isn't working, I'm going to try something else" will take you to knew places just as enjoyable as the old.
  • Mood: Content
  • Watching: Gravity Falls
For those of you who have been watching Mark of the Conifer develop, I thought I'd let you know that I am officially querying the novel now. I've set a goal of 3 queries every day for 30 days. After that, if I still have agents, I'll keep it up until I run out.

Querying is one of the most annoying, hateful things a writer can do. The only thing worse is a synopsis. You have to boil down all your complexities into something just bland enough to be borderline boring, but with enough unique aspects to set yourself apart, but not too far apart because no one likes an audience-alienating premise that won't sell because it's too bizarre for words. And don't forget connective causation, because you can't mention random crap in a query that comes out of nowhere. And you have to try and come up with something people will care about while your shoulder demon is yelling "NO ONE CARES ABOUT THIS! IT'S GOING TO GET REJECTED!"

I don't have a problem with writing. But when the time comes to actually put yourself out there, with little to none of your best foot forward, it sucks. I've spent 8 years working on this book. I've fiddled around with my query for about 3 months. And which one will the agent see first?

No one likes querying. As Mark Twain said "I wanted to write you a short letter but I didn't have the time so I wrote you a long one instead." I am not expecting anything to happen from this little endeavor. Anything that does will be a pleasant surprise. I give kudos to my friends who will hear me bitch and moan continuously for the next month. I don't exactly have a contingency plan for rejection yet. "You could ebook it!" Yes. Or I could fiddle with things some more and try querying again in 6 months.

God, I hate querying.
  • Mood: Frustrated
Oh yeah, if you'd like support me at Patreon I'm here

1. Write a freaking script! Don't get me wrong, I adore :iconkayfedewa: and The Blackblood Alliance. But Kay herself has admitted how much trouble she got herself into by starting the comic and  not having a script. And when one of the top artists on DA admits to the pitfall, you had best sit up and take notice. It's called a graphic NOVEL, folks. And just because it has cute pictures doesn't mean you get to half-ass it. Considering how much work goes into making a graphic novel looks good, I am continually gobsmacked by the number of people who plunge into it without bothering with a contingency plan. You know exactly what the end result looks like. About ... oh, ten, twenty pages, maybe 30 if you're lucky. And then it ends, and you won't see updates for months and years. If ever. It's not often that I invoke prior planning prevents piss poor performance, but come, people. Why would you do that to yourselves? Why would you labor for hours over a single page without knowing what the hell is going to happen in the next ten? It's one thing about a webcomic (the incredible Gunnerkrigg Court has been running for years and while I doubt every inch of it has been scripted out, there's some truly spectacular scripting going on because there are too many call forwards for it not to be so), but I see a lot of graphic novels like Off-White, where it's pretty obvious somebody farted around for a long time before they figured out where the story was going and what the ending was going to be. When the plot starts on page 150, I'm wondering how the hell someone had the impetus to draw that much without a game plan in mind. Write a script. It will make your graphic novel a million times better for someone to read.

2. Decide on a font. Seriously. I know this is kind of dumb thing to invoke, but man, people on average know nothing about formatting or typesetting. Despite the fact that we, you know, depend on it for the whole reading thing. The people that design and websites and how your texts appear on your phone have been paid very, very good money to make it readable without you thinking twice. But in graphic novels, text is just this thing that gets slung all over the place. It's crowded out by the art or done in font that can't be read. Or the dreaded Comic Sans comes into play. Again, why put this much work into something without a little research? Other people have invented the lightbulb; you don't have to go out and do it yourself. For God's sake, make your text readable. There are plenty of crisp fonts out there that are simple and can even provide a little style. Choose it and stick to it. Don't Times New Roman me on one page and Arial me on the next. And please, PLEASE don't forget that text is a compositional element in your layout. If I can't read your comic, I don't want to read your comic.

3. Storyboard. Seriously. I wonder how many people do this. More experienced artists don't really have to so much, but I thumbnail my artwork all the time. Most decent artists do, and masters like James Gurney thumbnail up to fifty times before deciding on one to take to the final render. For the newbies: storyboard. Mostly for the sake of getting your speech bubbles to the point that they don't block art or confuse the hell out of your reader. Storyboarding is about establishing flow: how the eye will naturally move from frame to frame and down the page. It's not rocket science, but it sure is science. (It's called gestalt; Google is your friend.) I see so many graphic novels where you can just tell the artist painfully struggled with a pose, or how to render trees and rocks, or just didn't care about what order the dialogue was supposed to go in. I get that comic art can help with teaching somebody to draw consistently, and if that's what you want, go nuts. (Again, Gunnerkrigg Court has a totally different style now then it did when it started, and it actually really helps with the story as the characters grow up.) But just like a script helps you with one pass on the story, a storyboard helps you with one pass on the art. Even if it's crappy stick figures, you'll be amazed at what a difference it makes.

4. SPELLCHECK. I don't know what it is about pretty art that makes people think they can get away with spelling like a third grader, but holy cow. Your and you're. There and their. Where and were and we're. Lose and loose. If these are inscrutable and confusing mysteries to you, you need to brush up on your grammar right now. And please, for the love of God, do so. Incorrect spelling makes you come across as brain damaged, and that's honestly probably a real insult to the genuinely brain damaged struggling to spell correctly. You wouldn't read a typo written prose novel, so why do you expect people to read a graphic novel riddled with them? If you've written a script like you're supposed to, spellcheck comes with any and all basic word programs. This is the Information Age. You have no excuse whatsoever to misspell. And grammatical errors? So help you God if I find grammatical errors for a native English speaker. It should go without saying that I will not continue to read anything that has grammar issues, nor should anyone. Any graphic novel that has them is bad and should feel bad. That's right, I said it!

5. Don't depend on the comments section to tell your story. I love to pontificate about my artistic process just as much as the next person, but I don't try to compensate for my art's crappiness by bolstering it with words. I see way too many graphic novels that, since they can't tell you what's going on with the actual art piece, they'll spell it out for you in the description. "Now they've found so-and-so's tracks! Now they're talking to the bad guy!" Spare me. If a movie or a book needs someone whispering to you what's happening for the sheer sake of you being able to grasp what's going on as the audience, it has failed as a story. And the person behind it has failed as a storyteller. A graphic novel in physical form as an actual book does not have the benefit of an artist's comment section. You can embellish, share thoughts, even philosophize, but if the story can't stand by itself you're wasting your time and mine. (I'd also like to point out that prose novels suffer from this, too; any number of authors can get indignant that no amount of writing can seem to convey to the reader that the character is in a dungeon with magic and a dragon. But it's not their problem, it's yours because you just don't "get it.") Graphic novels are about communication; they just communicate differently than the exclusive written word. Don't get lazy. Graphic novels are not for the faint of heart. Just by planning just a little, you will save yourself some headaches in the future.
  • Mood: Neglect
  • Listening to: Rainbow Brite Remix
  • Watching: Wildfire (What a shitty series, ABC. Seriously.)
All right, everyone, for those of you who have asked me to read your stuff, critique it, and so on … your wish is granted. I’m on Patreon!

What’s Patreon?

It's similar to Kickstarter, but instead of one project, you're supporting ongoing efforts for a creator to just create and experiment, and you get all the Behind-The-Scenes work and personal connection with the creators.

For a dollar a month you can see me critique other people. For 3 bucks a month you can get me to critique YOUR stuff. Three bucks! It’s anonymous, and there’ll be other things available as this thing gets moving. Things like Q&As, livestreams, and art demos.

Right now I NEED SUBMISSIONS! There’s a brand spanking new 5 Tips Journal over there, AND some dinosaur art for my Mark of the Conifer series that I won’t be posting here for a little bit. So head on over, check me out, and see if you’d like be my patron!

  • Mood: Tired

I have a book on writing!… Go buy it.

I’ve been doing rewrites a lot lately, and for each chapter I do, I sit down and write these seven questions on the back of the last chapter page. Every. Chapter. (And I just did all 52 some-odd chapters of Mark of the Conifer last night.) If you can answer these questions with one sentence or so, you are in good shape to do a good rewrite. If you are rambling, writing paragraphs, you are losing focus and probably have too much going on in the chapter. You probably need to break things up, remove or cut elements, or move them to more appropriate places. These questions are supposed to help you declare a goal for each chapter, nail down what you’re going for, and help you keep in mind while you rewrite.


    1.       What is the tension in this scene? “Tension on every page” is pretty important. If you have a chapter where the character idyllically eats breakfast, it’s probably boring and needs tension. Tension can come from all sorts of sources: characterization, exposition, plot, foreshadowing, pacing, and so on. The important thing is that you have it. Please don’t think you have to have the same amount of tension on page one as you do when the climax is happening. You don’t. You can have low and high levels of tension throughout; keeping the tension nonstop becomes exhausting for your reader. But you need to have some tension, some drive, to keep things interesting. If you can’t identify the tension in your scene, it needs work. Most tension is as simple as putting Character A and B together and watching the sparks fly. Other scenes are more challenging.

    2.       Push and pull? This should help you in identifying tension. Push and pull are the two forces defying each other in the scene. Character A wants A, and Character B is in the way of A. One pulls against the push, and the other pushes against the pull, like wrestling. It might take a few chapters to determine who wins or not, but in the meantime you have tension. Most chapters have two forces, whether it’s Harry dealing with Snape or Tyrion slapping Joffrey around. It is possible to have more than two, but if you are pulling it off without diluting your tension you’re a better author than I am. If you have too many pushes and pulls, cut them or move them to other places. Focus is the key! I can’t pay attention to four lions with Machiavellian plots talking to each other in the same scene. I’ll lose the thread. But if you give me two, and then the next two in the next chapter, I’m much better off. This doesn’t mean nothing else can be mentioned; that’s what exposition and foreshadowing are for. But you give your push and pull the foreground, and other things can happen in the background that keeps the thread of the story going.

    3.       What am I trying to say in this chapter? “What is the point of this chapter?” is also an equally valid question. This is where you have to come up with a reason to justify this chapter’s existence. “Hero has a huge emotional moment”, “the villain is revealed”: these are valid reasons to keep a chapter around. “My hero’s likes and dislikes are known” is not. Neither is “I tell everyone how my world works in this one chapter.” Every chapter serves a story movement, and if your chapter isn’t serving the story movement, get rid of it. Or redistribute it so it does. It’s very important that you are answering this question in particular with one sentence. If you’re writing stuff like “Well, I introduce the hero’s sidekick, and the reader knows what the hero’s hair color is now, and that he likes grey horses” – uh-uh. Cut it. Tighten it. Go back to the drawing board on story structure and either figure out what movement your chapter is or get rid of it. Even if someone catches you flat-footed with this question (say, in a critique session), you should still be able to say what the point of it is.

    4.       How is my reader supposed to feel? Rewrites are for readers, like it or not. And you have to take into consideration how your reader feels, because emotion is the greatest window of connection your reader has to your story. It is their starting point. Other things like loving your details and admiring your diction will come later, but to begin with your reader must feel something about your writing. If you are writing a scene with funny dialogue and bright, shiny description, your reader is not going to feel morose and depressed. And if your goal is to make the reader feel morose and depressed, you need a rewrite something fierce. Everything from a single word choice to entire set-pieces affect how your reader feels. Be mindful of it. And again, you’re not writing paragraphs to answer this question. “Well, the reader should feel sorry for my hero, but also cheering him on, and bad about his dead horse, but also think the hero’s witty line of dialogue was hilarious …” That’s exhausting! The story element of mood is what’s being discussed here. Focus!  “The reader is supposed to be horrified at the reveal of the killer.” Bam. That’s fantastic. “The reader is supposed to like the hero.”  Great! Now go back and look at your writing. Are you writing in a way that invokes horror? Can you make it more horrifying? Is your hero doing things that are likable? Or is he kind of a jerk and you don’t care if the reader likes him or not?

   5.       Where did I succeed? Rewriting is not about reinventing the wheel, per se. (That’s not to say that yes, it is entirely possible to write entire manuscripts with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I’ve done it at least eight times. At least.) An artist has an eraser, not to wipe out entire drawings, but lines here and there that don’t work. The lines that work they build upon. Writers have lines that work, too. Keep them. Acknowledge them. Yes, these are probably your darlings, but they’re probably also moments where you “feel” the pop of the character, or mood, or world. These will be small and miniscule things, but they are diamonds. And yes, this is the place where no matter how much you hate yourself and your story, you’re supposed to find something positive about it. Even when I’m at a loss, I usually like my dialogue, so I can scribble down “Dialogue was good.” And yes, it’s entirely possible for something you loved last rewrite to be incredibly stupid next rewrite. Whatever. Acknowledge what works and be quick about it.

    6.      Where did I miss? The author of the book I got this question from was particular to not say “fail.” You MISSED. In that you can fix things, so it’s not a failure. (For you low self-esteemy types.) Whatever the answer to this question is (and it can be multiple things) is to be the focus of your next rewrite.  “My pacing was off.” Okay, work on pacing next time, and when you get to this chapter you’re not scratching your head saying “What was wrong with this again?” Try to stay focused. Yes, it is possible that your pacing is bad, your characterization sucks, your exposition is clunky, and your characters aren’t likable. Odds are, those are problems throughout the entire book, and not just this one chapter. I do “pacing rewrites” all the time, where I rewrite specifically for pacing. And I know I have a manuscript coming up that I will have to do a “magic system rewrite” on. If you really want to learn about characterization, make that your focus of this rewrite. Sure, try for the others things, too, but keep characterization as your focus. Rewrites are like sanding. You graduate to finer and finer grades, more minute details, with each pass. A rough draft’s rewrite is broad strokes. Next rewrite more specific areas. Next one is fine details like diction. I have a manuscript that has been rewritten about ten times in its entirety (because it was terrible from the ground-up), and when I finally got a working draft of it, I rewrote it ten times. I just finished round eleven of rewrites, and it STILL needs tweaking on the ending and magic system. Writing is rewriting. Deal with it.

  • Mood: Tired
Someone shot me a note with questions, so I thought I'd post my responses.

Do you organize your artwork and your time for other activities? If you do what kind of framework do you use?
In a literal sense, as of late I have become much more organized. I purchased a couple of plastic marker bins and each little slot has its own marker, and they are organized from new to dying. I have boxes labeled with sticker-letters that are for my artwork, which I keep stored in a closet completely away from the sun. (The sun can really damage your artwork over time.) I also have a giant three-ring binder and folders on my computer for inspiration and reference: animal photography, artwork from people I admire, and so on. Yes, it's incredibly anal, but man, it helps me feel ready to work. I'm normally an organized chaos type of person, but I read some articles on how being organized can help creativity. In Japan, they talk about the cleaning that comes at the end of a project, which is kind of how to prep your enthusiasm for the new one. Try organizing or cleaning up. Just five minutes. I think you'll be surprised.
My framework for work is usually in the evening. It's just a natural work period for me. Some people are morning glories; I'm a night owl. Don't get caught up in what you "should" be doing; if you like to work at a certain time, that's your time and it's as much "you" as your art is. I think two hours is about what I spend on my art with enthusiasm, maybe another two is drudge work. The most important thing to cultivate as an artist is the ability to work with focus and to work even when you don't feel like it. There is actually a term for the reluctance an artist feels: the Zeigarnik effect. It's basically when you don't want to work on something, but then when you sit down and actually do you feel satisfied and happy. Google it. It's pretty neat.
I work in the evenings, so when I'm not doing art I'm hanging out with my dog and cat, reading, sculpting, mold-making, bronze casting, or taking art classes. I personally feel that consistency will get more art done, rather than a marathon of frenzied work. I have developed some physical problems lately, so a giant marathon for art is not an option for me. When work IS drudgery: I'm watching Robot Chicken and Game of Thrones or playing Cards Against Humanity with pals on Skype. Sometimes art is drudgery: there are flats that need to be laid out, or tweaks that need to be made, and they need to be done but they don't need concentration and it's BORING. Do something to reduce the boredom. And then when you're really ready to concentrate and paint details, remove your distractions. Focus is the most important thing you will ever cultivate as an artist. It's the ability to Get Shit Done, and that is more important than anything else. Everything else will follow if you Get Shit Done: technical skill, improvement, satisfaction, and portfolio level work.

What sources do you find your inspiration from?
My big guilty pleasure is Art Of books. The Art of Kung Fu Panda, the Art of Okami, etc. These are coffee table books that are expensive as hell but they contain the art of brilliant artists, and art that's never seen in the movie or video game. It's all concept work and such. I love them.
I also go for artists like James Gurney, and video games. I draw a LOT of inspiration from video games, art and writing-wise. I don't draw from life as often as I should, but seriously, take a life drawing class. Draw naked people and animals and trees. It will humble and motivate you.
I also like looking at galleries on DA. There are a lot of great people on here and I like finding out how they think.

Is there anything you do specifically to keep your creativity in top notch and flowing or do you just wing it?
I think there's a myth about creativity, that everyone else but you is having their nirvana moment all the time. They're just slam-bang riding the wave of the cosmos because they've figured out some secret that you never will and they're happy and creative ALL THE TIME.
It's bullshit.
Creativity moves in waves. Long, slow, crappy waves sometimes. You have your crests, which is usually at the beginning of a project and the potential of the idea is exciting and when you're most likely to feel the high. Then there are the troughs, which are the drudgery, the lack of motivation, and the boredom. And the project still has to get done. A lot of people abandon the project at this point. They want the high again. But those people have a lot of unfinished projects and probably portfolios that have gaps in them. Or they have "that project" they've been talking about finishing for the last five years.
I am on the tail end of a nine month project right now. Nine. Months. I feel like I will never lift a pencil again and never have another idea. I am exhausted and totally lacking in any energy. Purged of all creativity. And I still have a little work to do before it's really, REALLY done. But I'm almost there so I can torture myself a little more.
When I am done done, I will go to the movies. I will hunt down new music. I will go out and see new things. I will talk to my art friends and play video games. And I will go on vacation (which is really, really important and I wish I could do it more often.) I do these things all the time during a project to keep myself going. No matter how much your inner critic bitches, you can't do art all the time. You have to go out and be inspired.
Creativity does not keep my project going. If I depended entirely on creativity I'd never get anything done. Inspiration and creativity get me started. Focus and grit get me through the rest. And sometimes it sucks and it's a deathmarch and you hate yourself and every line you're putting down. But at the end of it, you have art.
I also have an art friend that I do "Accountability Projects" with. It grew out of a series of conversations we had about lamenting our lack of discipline. So we decided we would do a six-week run, and at the end of it, we would get a gift. The gift would be bought by the other person as a reward. We didn't know what the reward would be, but we attached a monetary value to it. (And we know each other well enough that we weren't going to get each other crappy gifts.) And we started a Google doc list of the art pieces we wanted to by week, and would check them off. And amazingly, between our moaning conversations full of complaints and misery, we started to get things done. We took a break, then decided we should spring for a six month stretch. The monetary value of our reward went up. And now I'm nine months into a project, exhausted, finished, and ready for my reward. (She got half of a graphic novel done, for her part, so there will be a Part 2 to all this.) The way the "Accountability Project" works is that if you don't hit your marks, you don't get your reward. And you have to face your friend who IS getting shit done and still get them their reward. It's surprising how motivating that is when everything else isn't.
Good luck!
  • Mood: Tired
I am currently in the middle of a massive art project that I am incredibly burned out on. I would like to paint something else. But oh no! I also need a Premium Membership.

First person to get me a premium membership gets a bitchin' digital painting of whatever they want.

EDIT: Whoa, that was fast. Thanks, guys!
  • Mood: Tired
It's a new year, so I'm ready for a bit of give and take. I want your awesome, but also to say some inspiring words.

If there's any advice I wish I could give to my younger self, it's this: People will hate what you have to say artistically. No matter what, somewhere, someone is going to hate what you do. You will meet people who will sneer at you, tell you you're crazy and stupid and untalented and wasting your time. You'll be ridiculed for trying, made fun of when you schedule time for your projects instead of hanging with friends or watching reality TV, and condemned when you actually finish something. People will claim offense, that worst of things, especially if anything you have to say involves race, gender, sexuality, politics, economics, religion, spirituality, culture, history, or a commentary on any of the above.

You'll be told that the worst thing you can do is offend someone. That you shouldn't speak up or make a bold statement because you might offend someone. And it's a mistake. Because society is comfortable, comfortable with the ugly parts of itself, and it's the job of the artist to say "Wake up! Do better than this!" And very often, when people say things like "Be happy" or "don't offend anyone" what they really mean is "Be more convenient to my existence. Don't make me think. Don't make me feel stupid. Don't make me change. And above all, don't offend me."

It's bullshit.

We've been born into a time where art is increasingly corporatist, where professional artists have become nomads, and the value of the artist is nearly nothing. I speak to too many parents who say "Oh, I wish I could have learned to draw!" but turn around and tell their children that art and writing is silly, they need to be more involved in sports and school. I've spoken to too many people who have no idea why I want to get home so I can start my real work, my real passion.

In this new year, don't fear the plebs. Don't fear the trouble you might get into if you decide to speak up. Don't fear controversy, which is far too often just disguised sensationalism. And above all, don't fear the fool who says "Why are you wasting your time doing this?" because what they're really saying is "I wish I was brave and dedicated enough to do this, but I'm not, so I don't want you to, either."

Post the awesome music you've found this year. Or awesome anything. I need the passions to others to get me motivated. Let's share and bring in the new year on an awesome note.
  • Mood: Triumph
At long last!

I have published Risen, the sequel to Highsong.

It's been forever, almost two years (!!!), so for that I apologize. The third book is in the works and I certainly hope it won't take so long for it to get out.

Like it. Review it. Don't have the money or a Kindle? Do a Listmania or Wish List. Tweet it. Facebook it.

As you love me, DA. As you love me.
  • Mood: Triumph
  • Listening to: Pompeii - Bastille
  • Reading: The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould
  • Watching: Korra
I have the thing to evolve Tyranitar's Mega Evolution. I'm willing to trade it for an Aggronite!
I need a FEMALE. I have boxes of the little Wish/Yawn/Curse bastards.

My friend code is 0834 1857 9803.

And the Safari Code journal is still here:…
Let's be awesome, people.

My friend code is 0834 1857 9803. I don't know what my Safari type is, but feel free to let me know. I'll add everyone who replies. And talk amongst yourselves to add each other.
I am getting Pokemon X, but I'd really like to have a Skrelp on my team. Is there anyone out there with Pokemon Y that would be willing to trade me? I can of course trade you a Pokemon if you have a preference, but I'm also offering to draw you a Pokemon of your choice if that's more your thing.

I'd also like an Amaura!

Hit me up with a note if you can help me out.
Do you have certain resource books that you always come back to? I have some basic drawing/painting books that are really helpful, and I wondered if you might have something similar for writing, or even for painting?

I have lots and lots of art books that I keep on hand for inspiration. The Art of Kung Fu Panda is amazing. Ditto the concept art work for Okami. I also frequent the website Creative Uncut, which reveals a lot of concept art work for a lot of video games. I have all of the Dinotopia books by James Gurney and and the Katturan Odyssey by Terryl Witlach. I always seem to find something new in terms of composition whenever I flip through those books.
As far is actual drawing books that have helped me, Ken Hultgren's The Art of Animal Drawing is endlessly helpful. I also learned at the feet of Jack Hamm. That guy can draw anything. Andrew Loomis, Muybridge, and Bogart are also great. For painting: James Gurney. I just can't say that enough. James Gurney's Color and Light and Imaginative Realism, my god. Also study Rembrandt and NC Wyeth.
For writing, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. That's my Bible.  I also like Stephen King's On Writing. It's probably one of the best books about what the process is like that I can think of. Anytime I need inspiration or motivation, I tend to read On Writing. Also highly recommended are The Writer's Journey by Vogler, and Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, and last but never least, anything by Joseph Campbell. Hero With A Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth are mind-blowing. It's just kind of impossible to absorb everything that they say through the first read through. So the reread of these books I find to be extremely high.

Hope that helps. :)

I'd love some insight into how you achieved the rendering here. +DS+:: Guardians Wallpaper by Droemar

Oh, wow. I was flying by the seat of my pants for this. Most of it was just that I colored in the inked parts with flat colors and then put paper textures over each color. And then I would airbrush or paint beneath the texture layer to kind of modify things a little bit more. Overlay setting won most of the time, but seriously, I would just cycle through the Layer settings and see what looks best. Different colors affect different layer settings, which is how I got kind of got the paper cutout look.

Biggest guilty pleasure, bookwise?

Oh my god, The Unicorns of Balinor by Mary Stanton. Hands down, it is the worst, stupidest series I've ever loved to read. It has no redeeming factors whatsoever other than its subject matter. And it turns out I am willing to tolerate a lot in order to read about unicorns. The characterization is stupid, the writing is bad, the plot is amazingly boring and inconsistent, and its just terrible. I can't think of any other word to describe it. It's just so terrible!
I also like The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance. I hate romance as a genre, but this book manages to point out that despite all of the amazingly stupid crap in romance, it is the only genre that dedicates the majority of its time to acknowledging that love is the greatest part of the human condition.

I have been told that my drawing isn't good enough for people pay for it. What exercises, or activities, (or whatever) can someone do to improve it's drawing?

Your whole life you will be told that your art is not good enough to pay for.  The first and foremost things you absolutely have to learn is that you never, ever do art for free. Ever. Art is a skill that's rarer than brain surgery, and anybody that tells you otherwise is full of shit.
Having said that, draw everything. Draw from life. And especially, draw what scares you. I have found the most useful thing to be, if I don't know anything about my subject matter, doing a hundred drawings of it vastly improves my abilities. There is no substitute for drawing what you see. Drawing from life cannot replace anything else. You can study anime, you can study cartoons, you can study anything, but if you're not drawing from life you will never be a good draftsman.

On average how much time do you take on one basic image? Ie: Sketch (optional) Lineart, base color, lighting/shadow. background (optional) other (optional)

I often find myself wanting to dish out these amazing detailed images like you and various other artists, but I lack the drive to sit around for hours and often become art-blocked half way or decide its a terrible piece of art and become depressed.

Whats the process?

It's very rare that I will go beyond 10 hours on something. I'm a very impatient artist. And it always surprises me when people tell me that my stuff is detailed. I'm very, very lazy and very, very sloppy. Having said that, 2-3 hours on my line work its about right. I am far more likely to spend more time on a drawing than I am painting digitally. Most of the time I paint for about 3 or 4 hours at the most. And that is not in one sitting.
My average is usually 4-6 hours for most of my pieces. Anything longer is usually because I'm trying to figure out a technique. Once I know my technique I just do the same thing over and over, and naturally get faster at it.
My process starts with my sketchbook. I do a whole bunch of tiny drawings, thumbnails, of creatures and people in various poses and compositions. This is also where I do my study work, my drawings from life. What I like I turn into a full on art piece.
I usually blow things up in Photoshop, or put the sketch under my light projector and put it onto a piece of tracing paper. Then I block out my structure, taking the sketch from gesture lines to something that has volume in weight and perspective. I work on tracing paper so that I can get messy, and I can flip. Flipping your drawings is very useful to make sure that you doing your structure correctly.
Then I take things to the light box. Most the time I work on bristol board.  Once I've done the final transfer, that it's time for more detailed work. All of my structure and pose has been figured out, so now I can focus on rendering.
And I still pretty much use this tutorial technique:…

When and where did you come up with the concept for Mark of the Conifer? What inspired you? And just out of curiosity, why'd you choose an Acrocanthosaurus for your villain?

Oh, boy. That's a long question. I will try and be succinct about it. I had a story idea a long, long time ago, mostly just the idea that I wanted to do a story about dinosaurs. I didn't have a plot or anything. I chose all of my favorite dinosaurs to be in the cast, and then realized that all of the dinosaurs that I chosen had lived the different eras of the Mesozoic or different continents. One of my biggest gripes about dinosaur media that no one ever does the research for it, and when I realized I was making the exact same mistake that I hated, that completely tanked the story for a very long time.
Then, in 2007 I visited a friend of mine in Utah, and went to a dinosaur museum for the first time ever. It was without a doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life. I came back inspired, and actually started doing much more research. </i>Raptor Red</i> by Robert T. Bakker was a huge influence, mostly because I could count on its scientific accuracy (and I'd loved the book for ages). That's where the Acrocanthosaurusus as villains came from. They dominated the Early Cretaceous; there was just no other theropod as big as them during the time Utahraptor was around. I'll confess I wish they could have been T. Rexes or Giganotosauruses, but it was one of sacrifices I made in order to have the story be about a Utahraptor and retain scientific accuracy.
I was also heavily inspired by the manga and anime series Ginga Densetsu Weed. I like the way the dogs were ruled by this kind of brutal and fierce sense of honor, and I wanted that to appear in my own story. Naturally, I drew from other animal stories like Watership Down, Ratha's Creature, and Firebringer as well. When I really sat down to start planning the story, I tried to think of it in terms of high fantasy archetypes, because Ginga Weed had basically been "What if samurai were dogs?" And that was really when the story started to take off.
A lot of validation for the story came when I posted the short 10-page comic "The Pact" to Deviantart. Because my biggest concern was that nobody was going to care about a bunch of dinosaurs. I needed something human within the story to resonate, which was a challenge considering I was writing about things that existed long, long before humanity.  "The Pact" was an experiment to see if I could get an emotional reaction from one of the story's biggest core elements. If it mattered to the readers, it would matter to the story.

There's something that kind of confuses me when it comes to writing. When I was taking script writing classes in school, they would talk about writers who would attempt to manipulate their readers' emotions. They always told us not to do it and it was a sign of bad writing. I think you may have mentioned manipulation in writing too, but I can't remember. What exactly does it mean? How do you avoid it?

I think the best example of what you're talking about is a Jack Handey quote that I love:

"Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he's carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he's carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you're drunk."

A lot of this falls under the "show, don't tell" rules of writing. Jack Handey is telling you things are beautiful, but he's not showing you that they are. Manipulating a reader's emotions happens when an author basically says "No, reader, this is how you're supposed to feel about this thing!" They show you a sad, sad thing, a sad dying kitten in a dying man's lap and both of them are dying because a rupture in a nuclear power plant killed them. Therefore, you, reader, are supposed to feel bad about nuclear power. Regardless of how you might really feel about nuclear power as an energy source with its pros and cons, the author is telling you you need to feel bad about it. That is manipulating emotions. Most of the time it's very obvious and very ham-handed.
The way to avoid it is to understand that part of the story belongs to the reader. The job of an author is to present a story and allow a reader to draw their own conclusions. The value of the best kind of stories anyway are those that we can draw our own opinions from.I think some writers are afraid of the idea that they can't control the reader's emotions, so they try too hard. It happens all the the time: people don't cry at a scene that's suppose to be sad, or laugh when something is supposed to be funny. It all just depends on the reader's experiences. The best way to handle this is study how other have done it successfully and attempt to do it successfully yourself. And eventually get to the point where you trust yourself to make the best decisions for your creation.

I have been working on a story for a long while (working out major plot points and hiccups, building characters, creating settings, religions, themes, not to mention the actual story) and I recently lost all of my files (I should have backed them up, I know). Now I'm having a hard time starting again, even though I know that it will (probably) be better than before. I've lost my motivation; I just feel devastated. Has that ever happened to you? Do you have any tips on regaining lost motivation?

Do something else. When I have to recharge, I completely shift the content of my days. I'm sitting in front of the TV with a controller my hands, or a popping in a DVD. I'm going to see movies and reading new books. Whereas when I'm working, most of the time I'm in my studio sketching or typing. Everybody needs down time. And one of the most important thing to realize is that the downtime is just as vital as production time.
It sucks that you lost your files. Next time, upload to Google Drive or get yourself an external hard drive for $20. I have both. Backup software might also be a worthwhile investment. Depending on what happened to your computer, it may be possible to get file retrieval. I remember that happening for about $200 dollars when I lost a computer and nearly had a heart attack over the writing I stood to lose forever.
But if you really are starting completely over from scratch, you are probably going to do yourself a disservice by forcing yourself to start over again. You suffered a loss. You need some time to heal and regain your energy.
Years ago, I had a cat that I based a major character off of. The cat died suddenly and unexpectedly, and I was devastated. I did not work on that story for probably two years because of it. But eventually I got to the point where I was ready again. Persistence really is more important. Give yourself a break and get excited about it again. That's your first step.

I'm writing a story and I can literally feel the beginning dragging on. How can I make the story interesting right away and keep that going even through the introduction of characters and places?
This is more advice, I don't want you to tell me exactly how (doubt that's possible)

I recently read a manuscript for one of my writing group's newest members. She was writing fantasy, and her first chapter was about twenty pages long. By the time I got to page five I was drowning in exposition. By the time I got to page fifteen I couldn't take it anymore. I was writing in all caps in the margins telling her that I didn't need to know all of this information yet. She was telling half her story in twenty pages.
My advice to her was "Three things. You have three things you are allowed to tell me about in this chapter. That's it." She looked shocked. She had probably twenty or thirty things that had been in her writing, and I was telling her that she was only allowed to tell me about three. But God bless her, she did it. She cut it down to seven pages. And it read so much better.
I use the rule of three when I feel like I'm lacking in focus. Its one I've come to appreciate very recently, but that's because I just got a better understanding of focus as an element. Another useful bit of advice is "Group things together". If your main character is a dragon rider with special magic that will drive the plot, don't put him in a ballroom and tell us he's a dragon rider with special magic. I want to find out he's a a dragon rider with special magic when he's saddling up his dragon and casting spells, because I want to be shown that he's a dragon rider with special magic, not told about it. And if you do put him in a ballroom, just let us see his character and wait to tell us that he has a dragon and special magic. What you don't tell us becomes a hook that will make us want to read further.
Murder your darlings. In writing, less really is more.

African or European?
Listen. Strange questions regarding the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical avian ceremony.
I figure since I got such an outpouring of support about my crappy roomates, I could return the favor.
I will answer 20 art/writing related questions, to be answered in my next journal. Anything you guys want to ask me about, I will do my best to answer. Process, creativity, etc.
It's kind of first-come, first serve. I can't think of any other way to do it. The first twenty questions will be answered!
Ask away!
I apologize, but I need to talk about my roommates.

:iconwadifahtook: Lauren Banks and her husband Killian Zimmerman became my roommate in December of last year through this journal:….

It was the first time that I had ever lived with someone aside from my own family. It was going to be a big step for me, but I took a deep breath and decided to trust and open my home. As an introvert suddenly struggling with social anxiety, I had to "step outside my comfort zone, give people the benefit of the doubt, and be a friend." At first, things went well. I guess there's always that grace period. Lauren Banks and I did art. We went to an SCBWI meeting. We talked politics and movies while she made tacos. We talked about her emotionally abusive mother and how they'd worked with mean, shallow people who smiled in your face before they stabbed you in the back living in Utah. I like having roommates. It was nice to have someone that I could trust and rely on. That hadn't happened a lot in my life.

Then suddenly things changed. Lauren stopped cooking. Stopped talking to me. Stopped buying groceries and toilet paper and paper towels. We didn't hang out anymore. They went out on hikes, I worked on my art and writing. And pretty much the only thing we did talk about when we crossed paths was the weather. I started to get the feeling they didn't like it here.

I was working a new job and struggling to get by. I tried to tell myself that my instincts were wrong. That my feelings that my roommates had suddenly become unhappy was paranoia born of my social anxiety.

But I couldn't shake it. I was being given the silent treatment, which, if anyone is in doubt, is a massive, massive red flag that you should not ignore. Ever.

I texted Lauren directly about a week ago. "Are you guys mad at me?" I received no reply. I chalked it up to her having cellphone trouble. And in truth, I was a little afraid of what the answer was and just trying to get through the work week.

Yesterday evening I drove up and found both of their cars missing. I joked to myself, "What, do you think they've left you?" I had some anxiety, but about fifteen minutes later I heard their car pull up and scolded myself. Killian was walking around the house while I was in the studio. I asked for the rent check. Killian said, "Give me about ten, fifteen, okay?"

Then they left.

I thought they'd gone for a hike.

Then, of all places, DeviantArt clued me in. Lauren had blocked me from her DA page. That was when my heart started to pound in my chest, my hands went cold, and I started to tremble from anxiety. What the fuck was I going to do? What the FUCK?

Then I got a text from Lauren. "Hey, Laura, your rent check is inside our bedroom door."

Telling myself I was wrong, that my instincts were wrong, I got up. And found that the room they'd been staying in was completely stripped bare.

They had moved out.

There was a letter to check with only half of my rent lying on the floor.

"Dear Laura. We can no longer stay at this location. You can keep our deposit. We wish you the the best of luck in your life."

I felt like I'd been kicked in the chest by a horse. I stood there, in my empty house, wracked with anxiety and bewildered by what had just happened to me. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, we weren't just not roommates anymore, we weren't even friends. I discovered that I had  been de-friended on Facebook. They didn't pick up their cells. I was reduced to leaving voicemails that I have no doubt will be deleted.

I had been abandoned by people who had told me over and over how terrible it was to be treated like they didn't matter. In a move of amazingly calculated cruelty, they'd quit and fled. Knowing full well how terrible they were acting, they'd run like dogs with their tails between their legs.

I sobbed my sorry heart out and spent most of the night trying not to let my twisted stomach get the better of me. I struggled not to blame myself, because mature and responsible people would have said something to me. They would have come forward and said, "Hey, this isn't working. We need to leave." I wasn't a tyrant. I hadn't even asked them to sign a lease. I couldn't have made them stay if I'd wanted to.

At this point, what other recourse do I have but to try and tell how badly I've been hurt? I have no forwarding address. No idea where they are. And what could I do if I found them? Tell them they made me break down in tears like a stupid little baby? Tell them they made me feel like shit?

I'm angry at myself for being blind. For being so trusting. This is WHY I have social anxiety, because I've been taught that people suck. And I'm so, so hurt that I wasn't worth a civil conversation or a mature dialogue. I was worth abandonment. I was worth half a rent check and skipping town. That's all I was, after 9 years of being friends with Lauren via Internet, and after trying to give her a place for her and her husband to stay, I thought I had beaten the odds on who to let into my home.

I know I'm the wronged one here. Hell, they know it. They ran like guilty people too ashamed to face what they were doing. It's just that I think back on the good times that I had with her as a friend, and it's all been poisoned. All I can do is get dressed for work and try to get through the day, battling the demons that are telling me somehow I deserved this because I was stupid, stupid, stupid.

If you have someone you're keeping shit from right now, please go tell them. Don't just sit on the silence. Don't tell yourself you're afraid of confrontation, that it'll end up in a fight, an explosion of feelings to be avoided at all costs. Do your best to tell them what's going on. Because the worst about all of this is that the people I had judged to be steadfast and honest people are nothing more than terrible hypocrites and liars, who will go through life convincing themselves they're not bad people because they just ran.

Feel free to let them know that. Because I sure can't.

I'm still blocked from Lauren's DA page.
  • Mood: Bitter
1. "I have a problem with your premise." This is the red flag to end all red flags. I don't care how flimsy the premise is. Every idea has the potential to be a good story. Execution is something else entirely, but if somebody doesn't like your idea: don't listen to them. What they're basically saying is "I am not an Ideal Reader, therefore not your target audience, therefore I am not the right person to critiquing your work."  I hate, hate, hate people who think you should be writing for broader audiences than your story is capable of reaching. If you're writing romance, you're writing romance for romance readers. You're not trying to reach hard science fiction readers. Very few people even know what makes a breakout mainstream novel that has high market appeal. If they did, every single book ever written would be Harry Potter. It just doesn't happen. And for somebody to ask you to make that happen is ridiculous and unfair. For the most part, writers are writing to please themselves first, and you don't have to feel bad because your fantasy story is not grabbing the attention of romance readers. It's a freaking fantasy! I had someone in my writing group tell me that she found my psychic dolphin story "ludicrous." She basically said it could never happen. Aside from the fact that that seemed to be missing the point of science fiction and fantasy entirely, it affected her ability to feel basic things about the story like emotional connection to the characters or plot stakes. I went home, incorporated her line edits and punctuation suggestions, because that was all she was capable of giving me aside from telling me "this story doesn't work." She had all sorts of ideas of how she would have done it. That didn't mean they were valuable critique.

2. "This would be better as a ________." I keep hearing that my prose work needs to be graphic novels. I keep hearing that my dinosaur story needs to be for children, not teenagers. I hear all sorts of people say that a chapter book should be a picture book should be a board book.  And boy, do they love bludgeoning you to death with what something should be. It's a very popular pastime. The problem with this is that it's not necessarily your job as a writer to find your market niche. It the job of your literary agent and eventually the marketing team that will be part and parcel of your publication contract. Believe me, these people know how to sell books. And once you get to that point, they will tell you what your book needs to be in order to sell. (Or, with the rise of ebooks, it'll be your own damn job anyway.) However, publication is a long way away for a lot of writers. So this kind of critique just wastes your time. The only time you need to implement this is when a literary agent is telling you so. And odds are, if you think your story is a YA novel, you've landed a literary agent that thinks so, too. Granted, knowing your book's level is important. You need to know the difference between a chapter book, a middle grade book, and a YA novel. But that's very basic research, which should take you about five minutes on Google. It's not rocket science. This sort of critique is smoke screening, the same sort of useless ideamongering that's direct kinship to "Oh you're a writer? I've always wanted to be a writer!" The most important thing to remember about critique is that it's someone else's idea about what your writing should be. A lot of ideas from other people about your writing are good and should be implemented. But not all of it is gold. Sometimes you get really stupid ideas from other people. And you need to trust your judgment to know when something is a stupid idea that will wreck your story to its very heart.

3. "You can't do (insert arbitrary story movement here.)" I have been scolded for not having my protagonist show up in the first 10 pages, despite the same thing happening in Harry Potter, David Clement-Davies's Fire-bringer, and even the story of Jesus Christ. I have been chastised for characterizing before I begin the plot, when everybody knows hundreds of books that take the time to characterize for emotional stakes before the plot begins. For every time someone tells me I can't use a trope, I can pull up an article on TvTropes where that trope has been used successfully. Please note that critiques like "This story movement isn't clear" or "This story movement makes no sense" are not the same thing, and are (or can be) valid critiques. (And if you do hear that, you should pay attention; odds are it's pretty important.) This sort of critique springs from "knowledge" of the market. Mysterious, ethereal "knowledge." Its most common form is when someone is published, and someone who knows that person seems to think that their success is due to a specific formula. Therefore, if your novel falls outside that formula, you can't do it and expect to be successful (i.e. published). Another popular form it takes is when someone goes to a writing seminar and listens to literary agents talk about trends or things they're looking for. Believe me, you will hear at every writing session you ever go to, every literary agent you ever encounter, that "the writing should be good, the characters should leap off the page, the plot should be engaging." That does not mean that if your YA novel is not a paranormal romance it's doomed to failure. Or that this arbitrary thing you've done will doom you for all eternity. (One of the biggest lessons you learn from popular literature is that "good" writing is not the same as "marketable" writing.) It never seems to occur to these people that one literary agent's opinion is just one literary agent's opinion. Or that nobody sees bestsellers coming, and that one book's success becomes the next round of "You can't do (insert arbitrary story movement here because (bestseller) didn't!"

4. "______ is too scary/controversial/morally wrong and shame on you for writing it!"  This one is a double-edged sword that lurks in children's writing groups and among literary agents. Everybody's out to sell books, and for some reason it never seems to occur to these naysayers that controversy sells just as well as good wholesome morality (or better). The younger you go, the more scrutiny you're under to be politically correct, but I've seen people who write YA scolded for having sexuality in their books and, no joke, a children's picture book where a dog chases off thieves being scolded for "too much real-life fear for a child." When writing becomes a social event, it can be a lot of pressure on a writer given to the demands of the audience. Regardless of whether it's your target audience or not. I've seen entire stories wrecked by this. The climax is too controversial, so every single building block of the story leading up to it gets demolished. And more often than not, the story gets destroyed in the process. It just becomes this bland, happy, generic thing. This rubs me the wrong way as an artist, and as somebody who feels of the role of the artist is to be controversial. To forge new paths and make new statements. Given the "Hollywood" trends of a lot of YA literature, we need more original, breakout stuff with profound and real things to say. Not less of it. I can freely admit that a lot of people write for the express purpose or being published, not to make an artistic statement. But I maintain that this attitude is an insidious one. I believe it has a direct correlation with the cookie-cutter YA that keeps telling the same story over and over and over, in ever narrowing margins. I'm not published yet, but if that were the sort of feedback I got from a literary agent, I would not implement it. I just don't think it's valid critique to be told "you can't" rather than "this is done well despite the controversy and stands on its own merits despite breaking from the norms."

5. "Well, I don't read (genre), but I don't like (obvious genre element) and think you should cut it."  This gets back to the Ideal Reader thing. I can't stress how much a difference it makes to have an Ideal Reader. And Ideal Reader is not somebody that will tell you "I love everything you write!" An Ideal Reader is more than likely a member of your target audience. I have had my fantasy worlds scolded for being too detailed. What I think is an intriguing and interesting detail, my writing group often accuses me of world-builder's disease. Each is its own battle, and sometimes they make good points, but nonetheless I balance every bit of critique I receive with the knowledge of fantasy that I like to read. But when somebody starts telling me they don't like magic or psychic dolphins, that kind of critique is going to go in one ear and out the other for me. I read fantasy. I read a lot of fantasy; I read a lot of types of fantasy. I read fantasy on different reading levels. I read myths and fairytales and have studied deconstructions of myths and fairytales. So when someone who's never read a fantasy novel in their life starts telling me how to handle my fantasy, I don't have to listen to that. I have the right to trust my own judgment when it comes to an element about the genre I adore. Again, please note that things like "This element isn't clear" or "This element doesn't make sense", that is not the same criticism. This is when someone tells you to remove your psychic dolphins from your psychic dolphin story because their premise is too ludicrous. This is someone telling you your romance novel has too much romance in it and could you ease up on the steamy scenes already? This is a grey area for sure, when someone starts telling you to remove the part of your genre that makes it your genre, that's another pretty big red flag. You need to put on the brakes and examine where this person is coming from before you start to doubt yourself.
  • Mood: Suffering
  • Listening to: A lot of progressive house for some reason
  • Reading: Salamandastrong
  • Watching: Gravity Falls
There's a frustrating element I've noticed lately in regards to Art. "Art with a capital 'A'", as a friend of mine calls it. And I suppose this blog was triggered by the cancellation of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan game Fighting is Magic. The fandom lost its collective shit because Hasbro sent the developers a Cease and Desist letter. The entitlement was just amazing to watch, and even worse was the sheer ignorance. Some of it stupid, like "Technically, all fanworks are parodies, so it's not illegal!" and "Copyright laws are so stupid!" to cruel, like "They can just take their development overseas, then Hasbro can't stop them!"

I was baffled by this. Because Hasbro had the right to protect their intellectual property.

See, I've been a freelance artist for a while now. And it's hard. It is so freaking hard, and part of the reason it's hard is because the default attitude of most people you deal with is, "We're not, like, going to pay you a lot. Or give you insurance benefits or anything. Because it's just, like, drawing, you know?" Leaving alone for the moment that more people are successful brain surgeons than successful artists, it echoes a larger sentiment: that Art is silly and fun and pretentious, not serious, and certainly not anything anyone should get paid for. In our highly visual culture, the pretty shiny has just become our due. It happens because it does, and we should get it for free.

A friend of mine related a lesson learned in one of her Illustration classes, where after a round of critiques, the teacher said, "Okay, which one would you pay money for?" And it entirely changed the perspective of the students. They were a little startled by the question, because suddenly the art wasn't just there for free. And suddenly the art was assigned a different kind of value aside from self-expression. A much more concrete value, that lets you eat and buy stuff. And it happens in every part of our culture. We pirate video games, and music, and movies. And become indignant when we can't. Also, angry when the creators ask for a little consideration. Case in point, the Hasbro thing. Another case in point is Deviantart itself. The points system is insulting to artists trying to pay their electric bill this month. Requests can also sometimes be insulting, doubly so for a professional artists who has no time to waste on projects that will not feed them. And believe me, when the most the average person is willing to give for a digital picture is maybe $35, breaking that down by hours becomes less than minimum wage most of the time.

I'm really trying not to get into another rant about fanworks, but it creates a disturbing trend for me. I feel it's kind of like corporate culture invading Art. First, you have this smoothly marketable thing, this character or concept, that is vetted in and out until it has broad, mainstream market appeal. (Apply this to anything: music, movies, whatever.) Then, part of that mainstream market starts doing Art of this highly vetted concept. It becomes free advertising. Free. Free for the corporation already making money off it. And then this weird line starts to blur, because on one side you have this corporate concept that's preempting other forms of self-expression because it's already got its vetting and appeal behind it, and on the other you have people who are willing to discount their own creative expression because it's just fanart. Then, this very same corporate culture can shut down anything in a legal sense, and it makes the creators of this Free Stuff howl in outrage. It's always okay to take Stuff For Free when it's Somebody Else's Stuff. We're all supposed to join hands in the Jungian space and agree that Art is all about expression, man, and when someone asks "Yeah, but how am I supposed to eat?" the question's disregarded as ludicrous.

This attitude towards Art is very pervasive. It discounts the original creators of content. It sneers at the idea that Art is valuable or meaningful (or original, in SO MANY cases). Art apparently belongs in the aether, an imaginary utopian hippie commune full of rainbows called Give Me My Free Shit, and if Art forgets itself and starts trying to wonder into the Real World where money and stuff is, it needs to be bitchslapped back into place. It's within the nature of an artist to share, but to ask for support like money and stuff? That's unforgivable. Then we're drama queens and selfish assholes, like Hasbro. Defending the thing that makes them money and shit; how dare they!? And the hypocrisy of it is nothing short of astounding. These people want to perpetuate the corporate elements of marketing and advertising appeal, and all the popularity it brings, but then gnash their teeth and wail when that very same corporate culture viciously puts them in their place. I don't even know where fake movie trailers and redubbed animations count on the Art spectrum, but I'm increasingly feeling that stuff like that is just an easy way out. Take somebody else's work and make it your own to bask in the praise. Harmless enough. It's just when stuff gets big, like Fighting is Magic, where people start ignoring the rights of the creators in order to feel like I dunno, like they're artists without having any of the hard work that went into it, that it gets disturbing. (In the case of Fighting is Magic specifically it's tragically misguided, because these guys did work hard, they were just doomed from the start because they had no idea what the hell they were getting into and somebody should have told them so.) It sends a very clear message to creators: don't bother being original. Don't even bother trying. But if you become successful, Your Success will become Our Success and we don't have to pay you for it.

Take it from me: one of the worst, most condescending and insulting things in the world for an artist to suffer is the idea that Art Is Silly. That office jobs and mechanics and lawyers and stuff: they do real shit. Are deserving of dignity. Artists don't. Artists draw funny little doodles that are amusing, even when it's multi-billion dollar animated movies or video games. I have had the concept of my time scoffed at, belittled, and shamed because I draw for it, whereas something like a call center job or even fast food there's no question of being paid for your time. So yeah. When people slap something together and call it Art, especially Art that belongs to other people, it's a little aggravating. And if you think it's easy to do Art, you're not doing it.

And that's the vibe I'm getting from people who Don't Do Art. They discount it, take it for granted, and are even bold and stupid enough to think it belongs to them. Why nobody told the Fighting Is Magic development team that maybe they shouldn't waste two years of their life on something that was illegal in the first place is beyond me. It shows an amazing lack of knowledge about Intellectual Property laws, licensing, and copyright, which any artist who has been screwed by a contract (or a nonexistent one that leaves no recourse to not getting paid) knows backwards and forwards. The first time you get paid in shoestrings, gum, and the "privilege of being able to include it in your portfolio", you learn real quick that money talks and bullshit walks. And I'd honestly like to know what the original animators and designers think of their work being advertised while they're not seeing a dime of all that exposure. Someone else is, and it's probably profit margins.

I'm not saying the maze of corporate money, marketing, Art, and expression is an easy one to navigate. There's a lot of grey area and fog, and I don't want to equate some eleven-year-old who loves Pokemon and is inspired to draw a picture of it is the same as someone who thinks no artist anywhere deserves money for their creations. Or that all Art everywhere should be free because I Deserve Free Shit. But there's an unfortunate attitude that's extremely prevalent that I'm honestly getting tired of hearing. Especially when I hear "What do you mean you won't do it for free!?" for the umpteenth time. That phrase basically says "You and your skills are worthless!" for anyone looking for a translation. And don't tell me it doesn't exist. I've seen blogs and forum posts in the video game industry that encourage finding gullible people on Deviantart who will work for free or cheap, and specifically say you're better off avoiding more seasoned professionals because they'll cost you money. There's a saying: Amateurs make it hard for the professionals. And I have to say, the worst kind of amateur is the one that says "I worked hard on this thing that isn't mine totally for free!"

What the hell are the rest of us supposed to say to that?
  • Mood: Disgust
It's been a while since I dared to broach the subject of fanfiction, but some recent discussions about its merits have driven me to the keyboard yet again. Maybe I'm just a natural curmudgeon, who gets her jollies stomping on other people's idea about art. Maybe it's the indignant fire in me being banked by phrases like "Do NOT redistribute, claim, copy, edit or use it in any way" on fanworks and people saying things like "That's someone's creative work, man!" in reference to said fanworks. Maybe it's because I fiercely believe that we don't need new excuses to lower ourselves to ever greater levels of mediocrity. Or maybe it's just because I like making fun of people whose best contribution in the creative sense is somebody else's far more successful idea.

1. Fanworks are derivative works. This is the big one. Holy crap, no one anywhere on the Internet seems to have any idea what the hell this means. First of all, fanfiction and fanart are not "creative works." Creative work implies you are the creator. As in, the holder of the intellectual property and the idea (if you are licensed, such as Warner Brothers being the licensed to make the Harry Potter movies) or at least its progenitor in some sense (like Rowling being the original author of Harry Potter).  So yes. That Zelda painting or that My Little Pony fanfic you poured a hundred hours of your life into: it's not yours. Nope. Doesn't matter. I don't care: at the end of the day you have not created in a legal sense. And believe me, when it comes to creative ideas, legal is all that matters. And don't tell me that shit doesn't matter, because it does. I see it every single time some idiot tween posts "DO NOT STEAL" all over their fanart. I laugh every time. It's like the greatest joke ever. These people actually think they're Da Vinci or something, forging bold new pathways into something never seen before, when they're copying someone else's highly vetted, extremely marketable and already successful idea. Don't get me wrong. I like fanart, especially Pokemon, and it's been neat seeing some people's interpretation of My Little Pony. At the same time, it's just as freaking heartbreaking to see young artists slaving away at copying the exact Flash style of MLP:FiM instead of exploring digression and their own self-expression. But screw that, right? I mean, art, pfft, what's that about?

2. Copyright is largely defined by what makes money. Name a webcomic artist you like. All the work they do largely goes into posting their stuff for free and hoping that the idea takes off. I'm amazed at the number of people who draw Balto-ripoff wolf characters, then froth at the mouth when someone "steals their pose" or their "character design." Sure, man. Sure. Your crap knockoff thing is the next Harry Potter. But, ahem, let someone actually start making money at knocking off Harry Potter, like that guy a few years back, and watch how fast the lawyers show up. And oh my God, do not even get me started on what the value of art even is in this society. If you are anybody who has actually tried to make money drawing and freelancing, you have probably been paid in "exposure." Seriously, there needs to be a tax break for that. Fanworks, more than anything, should be all about digression and self-expression with no strings attached, but it doesn't. No, it becomes this horrible bitchfest battlefield where people are allowed, somehow, to say that their Rainbow Dash is theirs and only theirs, and no one else is allowed to say anything. It just goes right back to how laughable the idea is in the first place. It's this engorged, misplaced sense of self-importance, when you did jack squat to make that idea happen. Seriously, the definition of derivative works includes the phrase "lacked any original expression." We're through the looking glass here, people.

3. Parody and educational uses are Fair Use. I did a thing a while ago about how too many DA artists design horrible wolf characters. And found some horrible wolf characters and posted them as part of the tutorial. And had several people scold me for "not asking the original artist's permission." Fair Use is this wonderful, magical law in Internetland, that basically means when it's yours, people need to ask and pay, but if it's not, it had better be free and if it isn't you're going to pirate the shit out of it. Ahem. Fair Use actually says (among other things) that for the purposes of critiquing something by making fun of it (parody) or for educational purposes, you don't need the original creator's permission. Yes. Weird Al likes to ask the original artists out of a sense of propriety. It doesn't mean that there would be legal precedent for those poor wolf artists to legitimately sue me. This is yet again why the "DON'T STEAL" thing is hilarious to me. Because trust me, if Hasbro decided to throw their weight behind any kind of legal complaint, they'd have precedence. They just don't, because it would alienate fans and they'd lose money (see Rule #2.) But trust me, the moment somebody starts making an enormous amount of money off their intellectual property, they so will. If you have any doubt, look up interviews with the creators of My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic and how much they've sweat over how easily they could lose an entire year and then some's worth of work for bald-faced, legally defined copyright infringement. (Another thing people don't seem to know the definition of.)

4. Fanfiction has never been lauded.  I think the thing I love the most about fanfiction especially, but all fanwork, is that it seems to enjoy this weird sort of limbo according to its biggest proponents. It is above reproach, yet rails against how unfair it is that it's not regarded with the same kind of legitimacy as, you know, real art. I've said many a time that fanfiction fosters a malformed environment, giving its purveyors a bloated sense of ego when all they're getting critique from is other fanfiction writers. (Most of which, I gotta say, if the general writing skill is anything to go by, have never read a decent book or developed a literary aesthetic of any kind. Most of which.) However, fanfiction insists it's a real boy, not a puppet, despite proving time and time again that as a medium or art movement or whatever the hell it thinks it is, it lacks the maturity to suffer the sling and arrows of critics (mainstream or otherwise). Letting alone the "God forbid you actually tell someone they suck" idea, even its criticism is skewed. Fanfiction is highly incestuous and highly closed off. Only certain people move in certain circles; i.e. the fans of that one thing. Maybe Zelda fans are going to check out Balto fanfiction, but in the end, it's still just fans of that something. And hell yes, I will tell you that is not as legitimate as someone like Stephen King or Shakespeare writing stuff that people didn't know they liked until they read it. In a heartbeat. Fanfiction loves the equilibrium legitimacy argument, because it absolves it of any and all flaws without sacrifice. Egotism of the worst kind.

5. Entitlement does not equal good ideas. This is big thing for me, mostly because of the This Is Why The Fandom Can't Have Nice things deal. You didn't create it. Any of it. Not any of the stuff you love and are fans of. Yeah. You love it. It comforted you, provided an escape, helped make the hard times a little easier, made you resonate with humanity as a whole, maybe even helped form a part of your identity. It still ain't yours. And what I love the most is this idea that art is somehow easy. That the writers of Mass Effect 3 were somehow dumber than the multitude of fans who screamed about the ending. That Snakes on a Plane wasn't some god-awful mess of a movie because the Internet wrote it. That you, or your forum buddies, or your circles are like, profound visionaries, man, cause you understand what it means to be real fans. And! And! I love how this dovetails so neatly with the simultaneous attitude of fanworks that they're not allowed to be critiqued. Legitimate, real, profound, and successful art is not easy. And to all the people out there putting yourself into a box and saying "I'm successful because I draw fanart!": screw you. You are not for one second as legitimate as the original nobody with no pageviews. The creator has ultimate vision, and yeah, licensing screws up good ideas (ask Bill Watterson.) You want to do something about it? Go be an artist. Go find out how easy it is to be creative, not derivative. But don't mistake being a fan with being a creator. Because once you step over that line, you're deluding yourself into thinking that what you have to say is the same thing as being popular and highly marketable.
  • Mood: Disgust
I ran across this post today here on Deviantart:… . Some of the videos and links invoked inspired me to discuss the creative process. And negativity.
From time to time, I think I am very lucky in that my existence is caught up in what I do. I write, because I can't not write. And I draw for the same reason. Other people, apparently, are not this lucky. So I guess this journal is for them. Anyone who has ever doubted, anyone who believes they are a hack, anyone who believes that creativity done right flows all the time and never, ever stops (that's crap, by the way.) And, perhaps most importantly, that the Internet is the end, all be all of Art.
I personally have a difficult time doing everything the Internet demands. I have difficulty with Twitter, I'm lousy at my Facebook, and my account here on DA is probably the only thing that I check consistently. But, that's because I have a life. I have a project that I'm working on pretty much all the time, a dog that has to be walked, and most of my down time I choose to be focused on what I want to do, rather than the latest bit of Internet. The Internet is the most powerful tool of communication we've ever created. It also shows the worst of humanity way more often than it should.
I heard a parable once about living a life: that your life is an empty jar, and you can choose to fill it with rocks or sand. The rocks are the major, important things: your goals, your dreams, your relationships, your career. The sand is all the other minutiae: day to day crap, drama, going to the grocery store, and so on. You can fill a jar with sand, but if you do there's no room for the rocks. That's why you put the rocks in first. The sand fills up the spaces and the cracks in between.
So, when I see people talk about being afraid to create new content, because they are afraid of what the howling mobs on the Internet will think of them: all I can think of is that these people have filled their jars with sand.
I've noticed a phenomenon that suggests that art is meant to be social. It's a social event. You draw with friends, so you don't get bored. You draw with an audience, so your self-confidence can be propped up. You draw with a class so you can stick to a schedule. Art, for whatever reason, has become about less about focus, about introspection, about the journey to the truth that lies at the core of every human life.  Art seems to be moving away from its traditional role of criticizing and critiquing society, breaking new roads and giving new insights to its culture, and moving in to the mainstream cry of "Please accept me!"
I've got news for you, folks. Artists have always been lonely. We might make connections, but we belong to a world that demands us as individuals, more alone than regular people. Because if we're not alone, the process suffers. Art suffers. Art is not about being accepted. It's about creating something new, something that hasn't been there before.  A new voice, a new perspective, even a new emotion or a new awareness. And, yeah, we're damn brave for what we do. Because we do it more alone than anyone else. We're more alone then athletes, surgeons, engineers, and the idiots who do nothing with their lives but watch reality TV and post mean comments about your painting.
A lot of what these people seem to be whining about is that the Internet is a toxic place for feedback.
At the risk of sounding facetious: well, duh.
Philistines have always been the bane of the artist. Marcel Duchampe's Nude Descending Staircase was unveiled to scathing ridicule. Michelangelo's health was ruined by the Sistine Chapel. Art is easier and more accessible than ever, and these people want to complain when Michelangelo painted 5000 square feet of frescos? If Art is not worth sacrificing for, it's less meaningful than you think it is.
And, yes, that means suffering the slings and arrows of people who 'just don't get it'. Who the hell cares?
I can assure you that Da Vinci was not asking the peasants on the street what they thought of his work. If he was asking anybody, he was asking other master painters. I don't care what the latest angry 11-year-old has to say about my critique of how to design wolf characters. A) They don't know what they're talking about because they're laughably lacking in experience, and B) they don't have to listen to anything I have to say.
I draw for myself. I write for myself. And anytime I feel like I'm getting a little bit too big for my britches, I go to a used bookstore, and look at how many other novelists ended up there. Because odds are, I will, too. I'm probably not going to be the next J. K. Rowling. But, at the end of the day, I'll be satisfied with myself, what I had to say, and how I chose to say it. On my own terms. Because that's what being an artist is about.
We might be more alone, but we have the most freedom of any other existence. Our identity is the envy of everyone else in their most secret hearts. Cherish that. Especially the next time somebody tries to shit all over your creation. Yeah, yeah, we all want to be accepted and all that, but no matter what, we are all "unutterably alone."  You might as well have fun with it while you're here.
To everyone too scared to create: go back to the center. Go back to being alone. The Internet will be waiting for you when you get back. In all its stupid, burping, loud, obnoxious glory. The Internet should not define you. Your artistic vision should. And if you've lost sight of that, that's why your fear has gotten the better of you.
Art. What else matters?
  • Mood: Tired
  • Reading: Clan Apis
  • Watching: My Little Pony