The Do’s and Don’ts I’ve learned along the way that drive how I live my life and where I’m headed. Also, the varying definitions of Success I’ve encountered along the way.

Accomplishment & Success: Can’t Have One Without The Other

Success. Accomplishment. Most of us crave them in some form. My question is…Do we recognize them when we achieve them?

Often, no. Without knowing what you’re looking for, you’ll never know if you’ve found it.

Story time:

Seven or eight years ago now, I had a conversation with my mother which involved both of us describing our ideals of “success”.

I don’t remember what hers were. I remember enough about mine to laugh at the naivete. Among my thoughts—

  • I’ve published at least one New York Times best seller.
  • I have enough money to show up to my high school reunion on a custom Harley and wearing leathers studded with semi-precious stones. (Yes, you may point and laugh all you wish.)
  • I never worry about money, even if I spend several thousand dollars a month on stuff that doesn’t matter.

I’m disappointed, younger self.

See, while these are obvious signs of accomplishment to the people who don’t matter in my daily life, they don’t truly mean much. The reasons why?

  • The New York Times best seller list is a money game between the big NY publishing houses.
  • I care about very few people from my graduating class enough to concern myself with impressing them.
  • Yes, money helps, but what would I SPEND several thousand dollars a month in random cash on?

So what ARE we looking for?

The Twins: Success & Accomplishment

Ever owned a house plant? So far, I’ve owned two in my life. One was a bamboo. The poor dear likely ended up in a dumpster when we rushed our last move.

Now, I’ve got a parade rose on my desk. The orange beauties need daily light watering. Just an ice cube or two. Success in caring for a house plant is easy to see.

My roses get wilted, I’m not getting them enough water or sun.

My roses stand tall and proud? I’m succeeding in my job as caretaker.

Seeking success is a matter not of “getting there” but of small, genuine accomplishments daily, weekly, monthly. It’s the invisible twin that holds no recognition until many accomplishments have built up over time.

Accomplishment is the obvious twin. This twin can be found in the daily details of everything from running a household to running a corporation. Getting up in the morning. Keeping the files organized. Washing the dishes.

Seek genuine accomplishment and success will likely follow.

Genuine Accomplishment a.k.a. DO THE THING!

We all have that ONE project. It’s sat in the back of your head for six months, six years, or six decades. I don’t care how long. The vintage airplane to restore. The book not yet written. The painting not yet painted. The language not yet learned.

You want to do it, but you don’t do it. You hesitate.


Among the winners: No time. No money. Could be “more productive”.

Now, if your project is restoring a vintage airplane to operating capacity, yeah, okay. The money part has some validity. You need parts and stuff. Although it may just be a matter of changing your budget somehow.

Nearly every no time excuse is exactly that. An excuse. I didn’t have the capacity to see or count all the minutes I wasted on stuff like Netflix and Surf when I could’ve been writing. I just know I did it.

As for needing time to decompress, etc, yes, day jobs can suck out your soul, if you let them. Don’t let them. After all, it’s your soul, your passion, your determination and drive. Not someone else’s.

As for decompressing, if The Project happens to be a passion, doing it won’t be a chore. It CAN be your decompression.

Now why bother overcoming whatever mental and physical hurdles we have to do the thing?
To accomplish something. It’s worth the pain.

Now I ask you, what’s your ONE PROJECT? What do you really want to do? Share with me in the comments, and let’s have a conversation!

Shadow Games of Belief and How We Self-Sabotage

Ever tried to catch a shadow? I remember as a kid seeing shadows, mine and other people’s and playing a game with them. Looking back, the best term is probably Shadow Tag. I’d try to jump on the shadow to get either the shadow or the person to stop moving.

I truly believed I could catch shadows.

Over two decades later, I know now that shadows are created when a solid object blocks light, and thus I can’t catch them. As fun a game as it was, and is with kids, I never succeeded in catching a shadow. I never caught a person with their own shadow either. At best, I would jump into the dark place made by the shadow and proclaim I had won. 😀

Now, obtaining adult success often feels like chasing those shadows as a kid. Sometimes, those shadows lurk in our subconscious beliefs.

I know it’s not.

I also know that no one else’s idea of success looks quite like mine.

I do know we all fight similar troubles getting there, though, when we look past the superficial stuff and get to the core of the issue. The superficial stuff is the finances, the health problems, all those pieces that look different like shadows on a sidewalk.

The core is the beliefs that stop us from doing.

Don’t give me that look. I’m serious!

I know, you probably believe that you have no beliefs holding you back. Like me all those years ago, you’re also probably wrong. Sorry. You’re not the first.

I was wrong when I believed my lack of success stemmed from a bad hand and bad luck. It came from holding beliefs about success inconsistent with logic and natural law.

Like the idea that I had to be capable of paying $32K in cash for a brand new car to be a success. Or I had to be able to pay cash for my house in order to be a success.

Logically, because I come from quite humble beginnings, there was no reason to believe these things were common or realistic, but I believed them.

As for natural laws, well no crop will grow that hasn’t yet been planted. I hadn’t done the planting, and so such wealth was beyond me to obtain. I had to look at my beliefs, and find the one driving my behavior on an instinct level.

I didn’t like what I found.

If I follow the advice of [a parent with little understanding of money or economy], I can become wealthy.

If I am wealthy, I am successful.

I don’t think so. Once again, I had to change my beliefs in order to change my instinctive behaviors. Worth it, BUT NOT EASY! First, I had to figure out what beliefs would actually lead to behaviors that would prove useful to me.

If I follow the advice of individuals who understand success, I can become a success.

If I am a success, I may become wealthy.

If I want wealth, I must understand currency and economy. (We have currency now, not money. Money would mean actual gold coins in your hand. I digress.)

I adopted these beliefs. And when I adopted them, my entire mode of action and behavior changed with them. Instead of waiting for opportunities to “get rich”, I did some serious soul-searching to find what I excelled at—what I loved doing enough to do it EVERY DAY.

I changed my definition of success to include a planet-load of work.

I started reading books on success, on business, on finance, and began building a plan. Granted, this took a solid ten years to see fruition. As I said, worth it. Not easy.

However, I can now say I consider every day that I work on that plan a success. Does that make me a success? Who knows.

In the meantime, what beliefs do you suspect in yourself that may be leading your success? What about the ones driving your failures? If you found the beliefs above in yourself, would you have replaced them the same way, or done something different? I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below!

10 Career-Killing Doubts and How To Squash Them For Writers

Yesterday, I said I’d be using Tuesdays to talk about Success. So, I ran across a Facebook status by the lovely Mette Harrison that inspired this post. Let me know if the link ever breaks.

For ten years, I’ve fought these devils of doubt in my own writing. Most of them are like little ankle-biting dragons that go straight for a writer’s (or artist’s) Achilles’ heel. You know, the ones that have acid-dripping teeth and venom? And some of them aren’t so little?

I’m here to show you how to squash them before they kill your career. Let’s jump right in.

1. Procrastination. It’s too hard today. I’ll do it tomorrow.

Everything worth doing is hard. Is this worth it to you? Then DO IT!

Remember, success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal? If you’re not writing, you’re not progressing as a writer. You’re not realizing the ideal.

End of story.

2. “I’m not good enough.”


Do it anyway. Get better with practice. Beethoven didn’t write ONE symphony to become known as the best composer in the world. He wrote nine.

And 32 piano sonatas, one opera, five piano concertos, and many chamber works including some ground-breaking string quartets.

The point is the man was prolific. He composed. Constantly. AND HE WAS DEAF.

I hope you heard that. Stop looking for excuses. Start writing.

3. There’s something wrong and I don’t know what it is.

Read a craft book. Swallow your pride. LISTEN TO THAT CRAFT BOOK.

Tomorrow is Behind The Scenes, so we’ll cover this at length, but long story short, it’s probably not a lack of creativity or inspiration.

You’re probably too creative for your own good.

Keep creative at the heart of the story, and LEARN YOUR CRAFT. Pride will get you nowhere.

4. I don’t have enough focused time to do this.

Do you watch Netflix, YouTube, T.V., evening news, scroll your phone, etc? You have time.

Before you quibble, yes neurodiversity exists, and individual writers only have so many minutes of writerly focus a day.

And we routinely sabotage it. When I had regular connectivity, I ate every meal while zoning out to a show on Netflix. All in the name of “focus.” Wasted at least three hours a day that I could have been writing.

What was I thinking?

You want focused time? Shut off your Wi-Fi router, shove your phone in a safe, and make it!

5. I need quiet and perfect working conditions.

I just edited half of this while surrounded by chatting nieces and nephews. Yet when I had my own home office, I wasted inordinate amounts of time on Facebook pretending to be “productive.”

I yearned for a better desk, better work environment, better this, better that.

The more perfect your working conditions, the more you will complain. You need grit, not perfect conditions.

6. I need more support from other writers and from my family members to write.

No. Writers are unicorns. Successful ones don’t exist and people ignore the evidence right under their noses. Like entire bookshelves of technical manuals, pop psychology, and fantasy. Get stubborn and do it anyway.

This happened to a mentor of mine. She informed a stock-brocker that she wanted to be a writer. The full, and hilarious story, in her post Good Things Happen to Those Who Hustle—Getting PAID to Write.

The point is, if you want to go pro as a writer, you’re on your own. We have to hustle, and we have to respect ourselves. After all, taking a writing career seriously is impractical, dangerous, and shouldn’t you be doing something more productive with your time?

I don’t know. How many job openings do you have?

Sorry, unicorn professional author, you’re on your own.

On the other hand, come to WANATribe! Seriously. We’ll take you seriously even if no one else will.

7. Other things are more pressing than writing, even though they matter to me less.


Ever read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? I never finished it. I do remember the difference between Urgent and Important.

Urgent has to be done now.

Important? That MUST BE DONE.

You want to make a career of writing? Then writing is BOTH! The other Urgent stuff? Let it go!

8. First drafts suck and I hate writing them.

First drafts do suck. No one enjoys mining ore by hand. If you ever want to find the ore worth refining in revisions though, then you’d BETTER write the first draft.

9. There’s really no hope of success so why even try?

No one wins a race by staring at the finish line. Run, damn it! Write!

I’m not spending more words on this.

10. I tried writing to a trend and it didn’t sell, so I give up.

Because by the time you finished, the trend passed. Don’t write trendy. Write REAL. Write what’s universal. Love, pain, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness, striving, success, failure.

In women’s fashion, we have 52 seasons a year. One for every week. Even on my best week, I can’t write, revise, have beta read, send out for editing, finalize, get cover art for, finalize cover art for, and publish a novel, or even a novella. It’s not happening.

Anyone who tells you it can be done probably just sold you a webinar.

It takes at minimum, for a practiced author, a few months to put together a completely polished manuscript. By then, the trend has passed. Why do you think trend books have such a high error rate? ;P

So don’t write to the trend. Write the stories written on your heart, and in the meantime, figure out some way to pay the bills until your stories do.

Yes, most of these relate to writers, and I wrote the tips for writers, but I know I’ve got non-writers out there as well. How do you deal with some of these when you come across them? What are your favorite tools to fight back against the ankle-biting dragons? I’d love to hear your favorite tips and tricks in the comments!

The Strangest Secret to Success. The Worthy Ideal

How do I succeed? How do I become a success?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve asked myself both questions in a thousand ways over the course of my life. Mostly because once you’re accused of failure enough, success starts feeling like this.

I agree, Tulio. I agree. So, I skated by high school with C’s and D’s and the burning desire shared by most teens to “change the world”! So far, I have not changed the world. But this post is about success anyway. I don’t have to be a superstar to get it. In fact, I’d wager some superstars still think themselves utter failures. 😉

So What Is Success, Anyway?

I’ve found only one definition I can stick by. Mostly because it doesn’t sound like those cheap, clichéed posters plastered all over my high school walls. You know, the ones shouting about how your Attitude Determines Your Altitude and all that?

Last I checked, if all you have is a positive attitude, Everest will STILL give you frostbite. Sorry, positive thinking people.

So the definition? Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. I encountered this definition in a sales presentation from 1956 by Earl Nightingale. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The Strangest Secret.

This 32 minutes can change your life. Highly worth the listen. The definition of success I gave above can be found at approximately 1:45 into the video.

By that definition, both my degree in theater, and my certificate for massage therapy, and my massage license were abysmal acts of FAILURE. Because my ultimate goal is to make a living AS A WRITER. I learned a lot. I wouldn’t give up that world experience for anything. But during those years, I was not progressively realizing the ideal of making a living through my writing.

And let’s look at that final phrase. Worthy ideal. Who decides what a worthy ideal is?





I mentioned this post to Shay last night, and after some attempts to understand each other, had this question posed to me:

How do you define your personal success to someone who has loftier goals in mind FOR you?

In my mind, the simple answer is, you don’t. They have already defined a particular brand for success in their mind. What you are doing does not fit this brand. Thus, you are not succeeding. Much of it goes back to this concept of the worthy ideal.

The Worthy Ideal

Everyone expects Elsa, but I feel like Gru in a dress…

Most people get the Ideal half of this phrase. That’s setting a picture of the goal in your mind and going for it. The problem I observe is that so many of us get stuck trying to thrust OUR idea of Worthy onto other people.

Back to Mount Everest. Both climbing Everest, and living a positive life can be worthy ideals. However they are not instantly interchangeable. Living a positive life because you are a positive person in no way makes you fit or experienced enough to climb Mount Everest. And some of the folks who do climb Mount Everest? Well, they did it for personal reasons that had nothing to do with positivity.

So what you see as a worthy ideal will not necessarily be the same as what someone else sees as a worthy ideal. I love writing. I see being a writer as a worthy ideal. Shay loves art and sees being an artist as a worthy ideal.

Many thousands of people see both of these goals as impractical and ridiculous, even childish fantasies, rather than worthy ideals, because they just “aren’t practical”.

A Final Note On Practical

First, set aside half an hour, and go watch that video. I’ll wait. Nightingale NEVER specifies what KIND of worthy ideal he’s talking about. Or how practical it has to be. Here’s why.

Goals are not, by nature, a practical thing. There, I said it. Goals are concerned entirely with what you WANT to happen, in a way, the theory or idea of it happening, and not the actual doing or use of something. Goals DRIVE practical behavior. I want to be a writer, so I write. Shay wants to be an artist, so they agreed to illustrate Dragon Hoard Books. (Don’t forget, another one this Saturday.)

When someone tells you, “That goal you have isn’t practical,” what they’re saying is, It doesn’t fit in my concept of worthy ideal.

In fact, I TRIED going the practical route. I got fully licensed as a massage therapist in Idaho. Then, not only could I not find a job, but anyone keeping up with my blog saw the health crash that happened. I physically COULDN’T be a massage therapist. So the get training, get a day job that pays $20 or so an hour, and then build my writing career slowly if I remembered? Wasn’t practical.

So what do you think? Are your goals worthy of your ideals? Do you see your ideals as worthy? What kind of success do you crave, and what’s your plan to get it? Watch the video, and then let me know in the comments!

Top 3 Reasons I Don’t Have A New Year’s Resolution

It’s that time again. The one where we sit down, take a sheet of paper and write out ALL THE RESOLUTIONS!

How about no? Yes, this’ll be short. My brain’s a bit fried, with another move coming, but I’ll let you in on three reasons I’ve not made any New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Not another one! – I’ve got too many goals right now. Too much going on. Too many long term plans. And I’m not about to label them just for the sake of a holiday that happens as frequently as my birthday.

2. Days aren’t reasons. – Don’t get me wrong, spending time with people is fun, and I love my friends, but a day on the calendar, especially for a writer, is just another day to make words on paper. The New Year holds no particular power over me to compel me to become better or stronger.

3. I’m time-blind. – It’s an ADHD thing. You can look it up. By the time I remember I made a resolution, it’sll be New Year’s Eve 2017! Mostly because I can go five hours without realizing a single hour has passed.

So do I have a ton of things I want to accomplish this year? Sure. I mean, I’ve started a webcomic, connected that to a Patreon, altered my habits to find ways to get more writing into my day, working towards my first novel’s publication (September, tops) and a bunch of other stuff. Including getting back on top of my physical health and setting up a training routine to accomplish an Iron Man in five years. I’ve got plenty I want to get done, but a New Year’s Resolution ain’t one.

Weapons of a Warrior Artist: Your Tribe

So, last week, we talked about the value of having an understanding of your own identity as an artist.  In the last year, I’ve found two invaluable assets in this process.  One is having a great therapist.  The other is connecting with your Tribe.  When I started this whole blogging adventure, I didn’t have a clue what was meant by “your Tribe.”  I knew Kristen Lamb talked about the idea.

Heck, she’s got a whole website – WANATribe – dedicated to helping writers find their tribe and the idea that no one ever truly succeeds alone.  I confess, when I first signed up, I didn’t take advantage of it.

I was that stuck up internet prep that looked at a website with hidden benefits and judged it based on its looks.  (Shhh, don’t tell Kristen.)  😉

So what am I talking about when I say Tribe?

TRIBE: A Community of Like Minds

Most of us have felt like that awkward teenager with no friends at one point.  Many creatives WERE (maybe still are) that awkward person with an extremely tiny social circle.  Tell me honestly, does this cloak make me look fat?  Anyway…

Going back to last week’s post, Identity – Know Thyself, Heather really knows herself.  She knows who she is, and she owns it.  That ownership allows her to make a living creating the art SHE wants to create, and presenting it to the people who love her for it.  Her husband, her production team, her fans, all of them are like minds to hers in ways that matter.  And yet what I find fascinating is that she still felt a need to approach mainstream industry with her work at some point.

Why The Urge To Go Mainstream?

Many of us have it.  Perhaps it has something to do with the media culture we live in.  We’re surrounded by two concepts that probably contribute strongly.  First, credibility.  Second, the expert.  Let’s tackle them in reverse order.  First, THE EXPERT!

At its core, the Expert is that individual who has “authoritative knowledge” of a subject.  You know, the kind of knowledge that allows the Expert to look at you and say, “You’re wrong, here’s why you’re wrong, and here’s how I know you’re wrong.”  Sometimes, they do so in a polite way, and sometimes they do this in ways that make you feel small and insignificant and childish.

Because they’re the Expert and you’re not.  They KNOW the things.  And you do not.  So what makes an Expert?

Ze Credibility, of course!  See, in order for us to listen to someone with “the knowledge,” first we have to actually believe they have “the knowledge.”

Now, in some settings, this works rather well.  If, for example, I need brain surgery, I’m going to go see a brain surgeon.  I’m not going to go to an acupunturist.  (Nothing wrong with acupuncturists.  They just don’t have the know-how for brain surgery.)

In the creative world, though, we’re not doing brain surgery.  There’s not a specific set of facts and figures that can spell out what is excellent art and what is not.  The ones who decide whether a piece is worth their time aren’t the “experts” in the industry, they’re the consumers of the product.

Remember what Heather said about her budget?  She has no mass marketing budget, no insider connections in the music industry.

We Need Our Tribe, Not The Mainstream

Collaboration Hands
Cooperate, collaberate. Don’t worry about expertise unless it’s necessary.

So how do we find our Tribe?  Exactly the way Heather did.  Go to functions that interest you.  Reach out to people who create things that draw you in.  The Tribe is not just your fans, either.  It’s EVERYONE who’s instrumental in your success.  The Mentors, the Friends, the Fans, the Collaborators.

I’ve had no more poignant example of this than last night.  I got home to find a package on my doorstep.  I hadn’t ordered anything, but I was expecting a copy of Pemberly: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon.  I had the privilege of proofreading it.  And lo and behold, that’s exactly what I found in the cardboard.  Never in my life had I felt such a sense of accomplishment as I did holding that paperback in my hands.  That experience would never have occured without my actively seeking out MY tribe.

Nor would the new project in the works with an artist friend of mine.  More on that as it develops.

Nor a thousand other conversations, connections, or experiences.

Because we’re not worried about “Experts.”  We’re concerned with each other’s success – as authors, as artists, as people.  And I’m not talking making money, I’m talking repeated expierences with that feeling of holding a completed project that either you helped with, or you created.  There’s no feeling like it in the world.

THAT is why the Tribe is the second Weapon of a Warrior Artist.  Because they help us train, practice, and hone the rest of our weapons.  You see, Warrior Artists aren’t here to create mainstream media.  We’re here to challenge and confront through our art.  And to do that, we need a haven of strength to recharge in.  That’s our Tribe.

Weapons of a Warrior Artist: Identity – Know Thyself

‘takes a deep breath, and heaves a sigh’

Sorry, I made the mistake of looking at Facebook after the 9th.  Not a good plan.  Really, folks, click this post, and take a fiver.  After all, Warriors are amazing, and so are Artists, so what happens when you have a Warrior Artist?

In Dungeons & Dragons, we call them Bards.

(I love Lindsey Stirling!)

For some, the weapon is music, for some it’s the written word, and for still others, it’s visual – whether digital or physical – art.  The medium doesn’t truly matter for these Warrior Artists, because what they have in common is passion, belief, and identity.  Right now, I want to focus solely on Identity, as it’s foundational to everything a Warrior Artist creates.

Who Are You?

Before we go on, I want you to do something.  Get a piece of paper and a writing implement.  Now, write down between five and ten words you would use to answer the question, “Who are you?”

Now get another piece of paper and do the same thing for this question.  “How do you identify?”

Got those down?  Chances are, if you really look at both lists, they’re a bullet by bullet of characteristics and skills.

Now, crush that piece of paper into a ball, and toss it across the room – no, not in a trash can.  Why?  Because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Individuals are the smallest forms of synergy.  With me so far?  No?  Alright, let’s take a quick look at your lists.  Pick one thing on yours, I’ll pick one thing on mine.

Mine will be writer.  (Note, I could as easily go with transman for most of this.)  Now, writer is a profession, a set of skills, and a characteristic.  I could identify as a writer, and say that writer is my identity, but that’s only part of me.

I’m also a hobby sketch artist.  And a transman.  And I have ADHD.  And I could keep going.  However, none of these defines all, or even half of me, because they are all PART of me.  Yet I have no singular claim to any of them.  It is understanding – or striving to understand this – that is the key to Identity when it comes to a Warrior Artist.

I could (actually did) dedicate an entire blog post to the concept.  My post Dismantling Self: The Distorted Reflections We Show The World came up in September as my way of describing my experience with this whole concept of identity, self, and why it’s no longer something I cling to.

I Can Skip That, Right?

If you’re an artist reading this, and you’re tired of wondering why creative block is still a thing, you absolutely can’t skip trying to understand this.  Back in February, when I first ventured into the blogsphere, I wrote about a cultural shift that will allow us as artists to stop ourselves from falling into the bondage that is working for free and making other people money.  The problem is we – as individuals – are notoriously bad at standing up for ourselves when it comes to our art, especially at first.

We crave hearing that we’re great.  That someone loves our work.  That’s fine, and that is also why Identity and the ability to take apart the way others see us and stay true to our own values – NOT our characteristics – is vital.  It’s what allows us to know when someone is genuinely interested in our work and our capabilities and our success, or when they’re blowing glittery smoke up our tails and trying to convince us to do something for them that will, in the end, leave us with nothing more than the ghost of a good feeling.  Most of all, it allows us to hold the bearing of a professional, and utilize all that go pro advice wandering around the internet.  When we take ourselves seriously, others have no option but to take us seriously as well.

The Benefits of Knowing Identity

Writer's Tools

The largest benefit I’ve seen has been from first-hand experience of other professionals.  They know what they love, they know what they want.  It’s the knowledge they have of their own Identity, their own Core, that carries through in their art, and it changes the way I see the world.  Yes, I’ve encountered works clearly created by people who knew this about themselves, but until the beginning of this year, I didn’t know anyone personally.  Then I met a few.

Kristen Lamb of Warrior Writers and author of Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital Age gave me renewed purpose in my own writing.  She’s also currently my boss, and the only reason I ever started blogging.  And we met through a chance encounter on the internet.  My Facebook threw one of her blog posts at me.  I loved her no nonsense style and the sense that here was a woman who made no apologies, took no prisoners, and knew what she wanted and where she was going.  If you read my blog and enjoy it, thank her for writing ROTM.

Maria Grace of Random Bits of Fascination has done the impossible, as well.  Her Regency work Pemberly: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon managed to get me interested in Regency fiction, enough that I’m planning to read Jane Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice at some point.  After all, who doesn’t love dragons?  It’s an honor and a privilege to work with her, and she’s another I would consider to know exactly what she wants out of her art and out of life.

These are two I can think of most quickly, and there are many others.  My point is, when you encounter the works of a Warrior Artist, you KNOW it.  You know it because it doesn’t feel like just another book or just another picture.  Whether the subject matter is real or not, there is a gravity to the work that doesn’t exist without the creator’s willingness to include a piece of themselves in the creation.  It is that gravity, that sense of reality, that changes people.  When that happens, an artist can begin to change the world.

What pieces of art – be it visual or written – have you encountered that changed your life because of that quality?  That sense of the artist’s presence in the piece?

Inspiration Abyss: Unblocking The Creative Block With Practice

Four days into National Novel Writing Month, and I’m behind.  I’ll admit it.  Some types of writing I find come easier than others, and I got far too comfortable pantsing (for those unfamiliar with the term, that’s where all your writing happens by the seat of your pants.)  About a month ago, I looked at the 48,000 words of raw novel ore I do have, and realized I’ve got that, hours on hours of audio recordings based in the same world setting, and a thousand and one nights more ideas for this little star system somewhere among the galaxies.

I looked at my work in progress and panicked.

Now, my 21 or even 24 year old self would have panicked, cried writers’ block, and curled up in a corner until the Fairy God Muse swooped in and wrote my Encyclopedia Vermillion themselves.

Yeah, right.

We talked about this.  That’s why I buried the rotten liar.  And yesterday in a conversation with another writer friend, I realized part of why we creatives have come to rely so heavily on this ephemeral concept of “the Muse.”

Unhealthy Is Not Artistic

I'm a Greek goddess, fool, not your personal neuroses.
I’m a Greek goddess, fool, not your personal neuroses.

See, there exists in our digital world a distinct creative culture, spurred on by what forces I couldn’t say.  I’m not a sociologist and don’t pretend to be.  However, this culture embraces all manner of practices that, in the end, lead only to obscurity, failure, and the idea that no one truly understood my genius.  No where is this more prominently displayed than the concept of the creative block.  For writers, this is termed writer’s block.

It’s the idea that some force is preventing the creative from producing ANY NEW WORK.

I’ve met a number of people who want to create art of a variety of types for a living, yet claim they must rely on their Muse in order to work.  Conditions must be perfect for them to “feel the flow.”  They are artiste and so must be in the zone before the magic can happen.

Yes, it’s true, creatives – for whatever reason – seem to have higher rates of things like depression, anxiety, [insert other psychological condition here].  I deal with them too.  We can’t let those challenges dictate our dedication to our craft.  Remember, you are not your diagnosis. Neither is your art.  Plus, I don’t believe these are truly the cause of creative blocks anyway.  I suspect it’s fear.  Fear of not producing at our best.

So let’s crack this open a little further.  If we do face these kinds of challenges, but we still want to create, what do we need to learn?

Find Your Drive

Remember how yesterday we took the piece of the Muse we actually needed?  Passionate drive and dedication will serve you far better than any Muse ever will.  The fact is, your creative zone is a function of your mind.

I suspect it’s far easier for those in a physical artistic discipline to remember this, but The Zone comes easier with practice.  I used to dance five days a week, twice a day three of those days.  Finding The Zone in a dance was as easy as breathing during that semester.

Yet those of us who regularly practice an art that’s more based in the mind, whether it’s writing, drawing or painting, what have you, seem to cling to this notion that we have to wait for our mind to be ready.  That we can’t find ways to MAKE it ready.  And also, we seem, especially at first, completely unaware that the more often we give our mind a taste of where that Zone is, the more likely we are to be able to put ourselves in The Zone and stay there.

After all, you’ve heard of Neuroplasticity, right?  In simple terms, it’s the trainability of the brain.  Train your brain that this is what we do, and it will learn.  Also remind yourself, especially if you want to make a living off your art, your writing, what have you…

This Is My Job

If you want to get paid, the creative block does not exist.

Why, you ask?

Let’s pick a job.  Coffee barista, as an example.  Let’s say you call in to your boss and say, Hey, boss, I’m having a “coffee barista block” today, I can’t work.


‘raises eyebrow’ …Reeaallly?

I think we both know that wouldn’t fly.  In fact, I think I can hear the You’re Fired echo from here.

Most creatives making any living at all with their craft are A) not millionaires, and B) for the most part self-employed.  We set our own hours (often outside of regular work hours, because many of us still need a day job), we sit down, and we make ourselves work.  And if we don’t do those things, there is NO PAYCHECK.  So we may as well fire the employee.  Oh, wait, that’s us.

Maybe you have health problems.  I do too.  Maybe you struggle with a mental disorder or illness.  I do too.  That can make it tough.  But it also makes the success that much more sweet when it does come.

Inspiration Abyss: Turning The Heart Of Your Dead Muse Into Passionate Drive

So, as I lay me down to sleep last night, I realized…yesterday’s post encouraging any creative type – be you graphic artist, writer, sculptor, web designer – to assassinate your muse left out one critical point.  At the risk of sounding a little too much like a bad rendition of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, YOU MUST KEEP ITS HEART.

There, I said it.  You’ve got to do the bloodiest thing imaginable.

Because the Muse’s heart is PASSION.  Remember Passion?

Now it seems, I may have unintentionally given the definition of Passionate when I initially described Passion yesterday.  I talked about it being a strong feeling or belief, and now look up the definition today, and it talks about uncontrollable emotion?


Uncontrollable emotion is what we don’t want.  We talked about this, remember?

Emotions Are Liars

Imagine Skeletor calling in sick one day.  Who would He-Man defeat?  Or would Evil Lyn take over and destroy Eternia?  Who know?  Either way, heroes and villains don’t get to call in sick.

But there are days our emotions would like us to.

I want to draw a distinction here between emotion and mood and the very real symptoms of a mental illness or disorder.  I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with a few chronic conditions.  (I finally have some suspicions as to a cause, but we’ll see how things turn out.)  Because of these conditions, if I don’t take necessary, consistent steps to take care of myself, there are days when I really CANNOT get out of bed.  Even for those of you without a chronic illness, mental or otherwise, there are days where it’s better to stay in bed and recover.  If you’ve come down with a major flu, and you’re better off taking a few days to recover, then buckling down to get back at it again?  Do it.

Health is important.  Never sacrifice your health for your art.

On the other hand, I know the difference between a day when my Major Depression has leaded down every limb with the weight of a thousand neutron stars, and a day where I just don’t feel like getting out of bed because the ideas seem ragged, nothing wants to come out my fingers, and I don’t know where to start.

In the second case, my emotions have me convinced I’d be better off waiting “til I CAN write” to sit down in front of my computer and put anything down.  This is why emotions are dirty, rotten liars with as much sense as a meth-addicted gnat.

From Passion to Passionate Drive

Remember the fireworks earlier?  Those are Passion.  They shoot blazing into the air, sparkle for a few glorious seconds, and fizzle back into the dark, perhaps leaving a trail of dusty smoke that lights up as the next blaze ignites.

This is why a fresh Muse Heart glows.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t glow for long.  If you’re not careful, it can fizzle without proper preservation.  What our goal is, is to take the still-glowing heart and preserve it into a constant beacon that will sear through those emotional currents of, “Maybe another day.”

We want to take the brightness of the firework, and turn it into something more like this.

Yes, that is a picture of a star.  A star is a self-sustaining ball of gas hanging in the middle of a void.  It gives off its own heat, its own light, and is responsible for sustaining life on other planets as well, both Earth and fictional worlds.

THAT’S what we need.  We need DRIVE.  We ALL have the PASSION for our work.  We need to take that Passion out of the Unholy Trinity that turns it into the Muse, and turn it from a few second firework into a long-burning, self-sustaining fusion reactor that informs our dedication to get down to cases every day, no matter what those pesky Emotions are telling us, and DO. OUR. CRAFT.

Once again, Inspiration happens any time you have the desire to do something.  Even if it’s a sad, pathetic, grudging desire fueled only by the knowledge you committed to doing this every day.

Find your drive.

What do you think?  Still waiting for The Muse to whisper the dulcet tones of Idea in your ear?  Let me know in the comments below!

Inspiration Abyss: How To Assassinate Your Muse And Still Make Art

Well, yesterday did not go as planned.  Story of my life most days.  My Muse abandoned me to the Abyss of No Inspiration somewhere around the second run to the county offices, after a mad hunt for a missing Social Security Card.  You know that piece of paper the government somehow expects you to keep track of your whole life when they can’t even keep track of which of their officials are actually corrupt anymore?

Politics aside, I mentioned yesterday that it’s NaNoWriMo once again, and if I was counting this blog in addition to my project toward my word counts, I’d be well on track to winning already.  Yay for me!  Except I’m not, because I may be a rebel, but I’ve got my own goals to accomplish, and this blog is only one of them.  The other two, at least this month, are get my artist the first scripts for our new webcomic venture, and start organizing all the random info in my brain about Vermillion into a handy Encyclopedia so I don’t confuse myself when writing books and comics about this world in the future.

And yet, that elusive creature, the Muse seems to elude my grasp.

Inspiration: Holy Grail of Artists

For those Inidiana Jones fans who remember this scene, you know what happened to the guy who chose the jewel-encrusted golden cup?  He got a fast-forward track to old age, sudden death, and rotted away in all of thirty seconds of screen time.

There are so many times that’s what it’s been like waiting on the mystery of Inspiration for my writing, it’s not even funny.  I remember so many times in college telling my friends that I was going to finish my book “when the inspiration hit.”

‘cynical laugh’

Wait long enough, and the Fount of Inspiration will dry up entirely as the imagination wanders on to other projects, side shafts in the mine that may (or may not) lead to any ore vein at all.  And then you wind up, five years late, staring at scenes from the original idea that you don’t remember writing, wondering what idiot in their right mind wrote that piece of chicken scratch.

Oh, wait.  I did.

Now what?

Assassinate Your Muse

Sometimes, you just have to checkmate your brain.

Okay, before you creative types reading this digitally lynch-mob me, hear me out.  The Muse is a wonderful creature made of Inspiration…and a few other things.  In fact, this creature is entirely comprised of a few major ingredients, some of which make them the most fickle creature in the realm of the Arts.  And also the will o’wisp responsible for dragging so many promising artists into the abyss of obscurity.

Ingredients of the Muse

Inspiration – This is the mental stimulation to do something.  It’s actually a fancy word for a pretty common state of being.  You can be inspired to do just about anything, from creating spectacular art to clipping your cat’s claws so she doesn’t rip your jeans (again).  Oh yeah, it’s also the process of drawing a breath.  So artists, don’t forget to breathe!

Passion – This is what we artsy people often mean when we claim we have to wait for “inspiration.”  We’re actually looking for Passion.  That strong, burning feeling or belief, specifically in our work.  Kinda like this!

But there’s more!

Emotion – You know, that instinctive state of mind that creates our moods and usually has something to do with whatever happens to be going on at the time.  You know, FEELINGS.  In fact, science has, so far, been able to measure biochemical alterations in the body based on seven specific states they term emotions, and these last mere seconds at the longest.  That’s why they’re fickle little [REDACTED] at best.  And because they’re a key ingredient in your Muse…well, shoot them.

Unreliable Narrators & The Habit Factor

Remember that Abyss of No Inspiration I mentioned in the beginning?  Yeah, I know the GIF above is trippy.  I did it for a reason.  See, what happens when an artist of any kind decides that the Muse is the thing that gives creativity its spark is that we spend all our time chasing that fickle little will o’wisp down the mine shafts of our imaginations (and those places are endless maze-dungeons of crazy, believe me), and waiting for just the right sparkle of ore to catch our eye.

That one idea.

That one paragraph.

That one drawing.

We slide down one of those crazy looking, never-ending tentacles into a bottomless pit of nothing, because once again, the Muse is AT LEAST 1/3 emotion.  That 1/3 is completely independent of your habits, your will to live, your desire to succeed, or your commitments to your art as a creation independent of that crappy day you had at work yesterday, or the fact that the DMV can’t get their act together, ever, or worse, your hard drive crashed, or your basement flooded and your whole manuscript was on the floor, and now all those hand-penned edits you spent hours making are ruined.

Those have all happened to me.

That last one happened several years ago, and I actually spent a few YEARS moping about it while my Muse was off in Tahiti or somewhere, knocking back cocktails I would never drink and laughing about the fact that I was feeling sorry for myself.

That Muse came back like some sort of needy ex-lover and I started pantsing scenes here and there again.  I also started actually studying writing craft, and realized I many of the “techniques” I’d adopted were the result of a Muse who was just as much of an amateur as I was.  So I did what I suggest above.  I rid myself of the Muse, and as much as I enjoy the feeling of artistic Inspiration when it comes, I’ve learned that I can’t count on it.  What I can count on is, once again, getting down into the mine, every day.  So, back to it.