Feb 112016

If you’re a writer who’s looked at deviantArt, you know that the site was never meant to accommodate writers. And the site has never shown much interest in developing features to help the growing writer community there. But there are just some things you can’t do on wattpad that you might really want to do, and deviantArt is actually a good way to do those things if you’re willing to put in a little effort.

deviantArt has several areas that allow you to either share your work or connect with readers and the deviantArt community: the Gallery, Scraps, the Journal, a status post feature, Communities, and Groups. Users of wattpad and some other favorite writing sites will be familiar with some of these, but we’re going to spend a couple of posts looking at these features and what they can mean for writers.

I’m going to be using a pair of site-specific terms as we move through this. deviantArt calls its users “deviants”. (If it bothers you to be called a deviant, then deviantArt is not the right site for you. It’s okay.) It calls each post made to the Gallery and Journal “deviations”. (It’s a theme. Get it? *wink*) Where relevant, I’m also going to be linking each of these sections in my own account for those who want to see how that area actually looks and works.

The main feature of deviantArt is the Gallery. It’s great for sharing standalone stories (and poetry, if that’s your thing). It’s a bit more challenging if you want to post a serial story. deviantArt has no internal mechanism for linking related deviations, so you have to be willing to create your own breadcrumbs to help readers move through your story. Each deviation has a space for creator’s notes, where you can share a summary of the story or chapter (although it posts below the deviation) or your process in creating that story. If it’s part of another project (even if that project is off deviantArt), you can link out to the original or larger project.

The site also offers a folder system in the gallery, so you can group stories together by type, genre, story world, character, etc, and a deviation can be in multiple folders. If you’re writing a serial story, you can add all of the parts into a folder, and then tell the folder to organize itself oldest to newest to keep the parts in order. Readers can then use the built-in navigation tools to move through the story. (To see this in motion, check out my serial project Chasing Normal. You can also see how I handled the breadcrumbs for people who encountered the story outside the folder.)

Because deviantArt is home to all manner of artistic deviants, you’re not just limited to sharing your stories. If you’re an illustrator or design book covers, you can share those, too. You might choose to use them on your stories. (Again, see Chasing Normal to see how this works.) Or you might choose to organize them into a folder of their own to show off for comment.

(I maintain a folder for my story and audiobook covers. You’ll notice that, where appropriate, I’ve linked to the projects I made the covers for. If I had a premium account, I could set up the folder so that story covers were separate from audiobook covers, but that’s really more than I need.)

If you want to share a work in progress, or maybe you create a little bit of story that you don’t want to lose, deviantArt has a special gallery called Scraps. These deviations don’t get shared with your followers, but they’re publicly available to anyone surfing your account. If you have a work in progress or a scrap you want to keep tack of without sharing it with the world, then there’s Sta.sh (accessible through the green Submit button for logged-in users). What makes Sta.sh really cool is that you can work on stories there privately, but it also gives you a link if you want to share it with a select group of people. When you’re finished, there’s a button to publish directly to deviantArt (gallery or scraps).

The Sta.sh feature has one other cool use. For obvious reasons, writers can’t benefit from deviantArt’s Print shop, but they can use the Premium Content feature, which allows deviants to attach a high-quality Sta.sh file to an existing deviation. People wanting to access that file pay to download it. (I haven’t used it yet, but I have some ideas I’d like to play with.)

This is a lot of information, and we haven’t even covered the community-facing features of the site. Those will be covered in the next part.

Feb 092016

If you set up some goals (or resolutions) for yourself at the beginning of the year, you may have also set up some sort of reward. After all, if you put in all that work, shouldn’t you get something out of it?

This kind of reward system is referred to as “external motivation”, meaning you’re relying on something beyond yourself to motivate yourself to do something. We’re all pretty familiar with this form of motivation, and we’ve all engaged in it to some degree throughout our lives.

Most commonly, we remember it from our school days, when a teacher might give us a sticker or other small reward for a job well done on a paper or extra minutes at recess as a class reward for engaging in a certain behavior or participating together in an activity. But we also encounter it at work when we receive gift certificates or T-shirts for reaching certain goals. It’s a tangible reminder that we did something right.

You can set up your own personal external motivators, too. If you’re working toward a healthier lifestyle, you might reward yourself with a small dessert for eating healthy or new music for completing your exercise routine for a certain number of days in a row. You give yourself a small, tangible present related to the goal you’re working on. Or, more commonly in this day and age, you might give yourself permission to binge watch a show to celebrate completing a project you’d been avoiding.  Whatever you choose, you’re still giving yourself a reward for working hard.

When we start talking about external motivators, people feel awkward because it seems silly to keep rewarding yourself with these things past school. But some of us work better if we have something to aim for. The real problem with external motivation is that it can build a kind of dependency. If the reward comes from someone else, we run the risk of changing our goals to meet what the other person wants in order to keep getting the rewards. If the reward is something we’re giving ourselves, we can start making excuses for why we should be rewarded more often for work that we initially would never have considered rewardable.

It’s a fine line, and definitely something to keep in mind. But if you can keep everything in perspective, external motivation can be a great way to push yourself through a tough project or help keep you on track to a major goal.

Feb 032016

One of the more fun parts of coming home, especially when your current work space looks out over your old play space, is that it forces you to look at your life choices. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up studying ballet and performing in choirs and bands, often practicing and creating my own little “performances” in my backyard. Like so many kids, I wanted to be in the spotlight.

No, that’s not true. I wanted to be a soloist, because that was where the more complicated, interesting choreography and musical passages were (and I spent a lot of my free time learning not only my part, but the part I really wanted to be playing. Again, not terribly uncommon.). And if you were the soloist, you got to spend more time dancing, singing, or playing. The spotlight was an unfortunate side effect of being a soloist.

Thanks to this internal struggle, I spent most of my time as Corps or ensemble, gaining the occasional demi-soloist, character, or featured piece when a teacher just couldn’t spend another minute watching me fail to get out of my own way. As a result, I’m really good performing as part of a group…and not entirely comfortable being on stage by myself.

And so it was with this background (coupled with a nearly crippling stage fright that two decades of teaching failed to beat out of me) that I walked into my first voiceover audition. I decided a booth had to be less scary than a stage, but the minute the audition was over and I realized that I had possibly just signed up to have my voice either permanently on file in audiobooks or (even more terrifying) broadcast live once a week, I started rethinking my bravery in seeking out the audition to begin with.

I got the audiobook job, and a game job right behind it, and dozens of jobs since. And I still freak out when I sit down to start working on an audiobook. There’s no Corps to hide behind, no ensemble to blend in with. It’s just me, the book, and the microphone recording my every sound. It’s the soloist role I always wanted, without putting me into a spotlight during the performance.

Feb 012016

As part of the “create a design notebook” post, I mentioned being consistent in organizing the contents so they can be relocated. Sure, you could just search your site for whatever you’re looking for, but it can be simpler (or even more inspiring or revealing) to simply surf to the right collection of posts and skim until you find what you were looking for. Not only that, but some blogging and notetaking apps don’t offer a built-in search tool (or only offer one to paying customers).

So, it’s worth your time to sit down and figure out how you want to organize your materials. There are different layers to organizing your content: categories and tags.

Let’s start with categories. You’re most likely familiar with these on blogs that break their content down into subtopics. For example, if you look at the sidebar of this blog, you’ll see that I’ve identified a number of categories I sort my posts into based on what I like to blog about. If you looked at my Evernote account (where categories are called “notebooks” and groups of notebooks are called “stacks”), you’d again see a number of categories and grouped categories, this time based on either an area of my life or project.

These categories or notebooks are the broadest groups of posts, and usually the largest collections of posts. (I do have a notebook in Evernote that isn’t, just because of the nature of the project it supports.)

A tag is a keyword that further identifies a piece of content. While a blog post about worldbuilding might be under the same category as a blog post about developing a supporting character, tags sort them further so that someone looking for one won’t necessarily be bothered by the other. Again, if you look at the blog’s sidebar, you’ll see I have a large collection of tags I use to identify my content. And you’d find the same thing if you were able to look inside my Evernote account.

What makes tags really useful is that they aren’t necessarily contained by the categories where they’re used. On this blog, I have used tags across multiple categories on a fair few posts. It’s not just a way to further organize a category (although tags can be used that way); it’s a great way to build connections between content that wouldn’t otherwise be connected, and that opens the door to exploration and experimentation.

You may be reading this and thinking, “Oh, so hashtags do the same thing!” While some sites (like deviantArt) do use hashtags as a kind of tagging system, hashtags are a more social tool that help people with common interests or who are at the same event connect with each other. It can be used as an organization tool, but it’s really meant to be more of a social tool.

Investing a little extra time at the beginning of organizing and cataloging your work can make using your research and notes easier on future projects.


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Jan 282016

Over the last year, I’ve been working through old writing projects, trying to identify what I really enjoy writing in terms of lengths, genres, and topics and what I really need to work on to level up my writing. One of the things I’ve noticed I’m kind of obsessed with, both as a writer and a reader, is beats. For so long, I thought of them as just a moment to describe what a character is doing. But I’ve come to realize they’re a really useful tool.

Beats are those moments in prose where a character takes some sort of action. It can be as small as a facial tick. Or as large as running through a door. It can be used to create a pause in dialogue, simulating the natural pauses we take in our own speech. This can sometimes come across as stage directions, moving characters and props around the scene through direct, often inelegant, exposition. The writer is just trying to get everyone and everything into the right place (or sometimes trying to buy some time in a scene).

But we usually don’t move just to move. Not really. There’s a puppetry principle that reflects a more natural movement by focusing on meaningful movement: Each action has a purpose, a reason for happening, which better reflects how and why we move. Thinking of beats as actions that happened for a specific purpose beyond blocking enables a beat to show off some aspect of a character’s personality or their relationship with the character they’re talking to or about. It might even tell you how they feel about the topic being discussed. The beat becomes their body language, translating much like we use body language.

Regardless of whether you’re using a beat as stage directions or to engage in some meaningful movement, it can also help pace the scene and the dialogue to feel more natural or to add emotion and tension.

Jan 252016

One of the things I enjoy about watching hitRECord projects develop is how they handle that development. A project will be broken down into a series of challenges, arranged by skill sets. Creators then contribute to each challenge, often building off others’ contributions, exploring different visions , interpretations, and points of view. Each challenge builds on the ones that come before, until either a solid project comes out of the collaboration or the project is tabled for one reason or another.

I think there’s something very useful in that for the solo creator or for any creative team, really. Larger projects are a monster to begin with, especially when they require a number of components or skills. So, hitRECord’s method of breaking a project up into bite-sized challenges is a great way to make the monster-sized project feel more manageable and maybe even a bit more able to be accomplished.

How can you incorporate challenges into your creative process?

  1. Start by identifying what work needs to be done on your project. What assets or components need to be created? Do you need to learn any new skills to complete a part of the project?
  2. Group like assets, components, and skills into a single mini-project. Each of these groups will be one of your challenges.
  3. This is the hard part. Figure out the best order for you to tackle your challenges. Some mini-projects will need to happen before others. Use that to help find a good order. (And be open to the fact that shuffling is sometimes necessary, especially if you find a skill gap in your knowledge that affects more than one project or component.)
  4. Tackle your first mini-project. When it’s finished (or at least ready to move on from), tackle the next. Keep going until you’ve finished all of your challenges and have a completed project.
  5. Show off your hard work!

Remember as you’re developing your challenges that these should be fun, but should also push you to become better at a skill or a technique, or deepen your understanding of your craft. And also remember to keep an eye on the larger project to make sure your mini-challenges are staying on track. If you find yourself getting off-track in a mini-project, but what you’re doing is too cool to stop and get back on track, then make a note of it and make it an independent project.

Your turn: Go out and create (and complete) a challenge-based project.

Jan 212016

One of the challenges with building your own learning path is that you go in not knowing what you need to know. If you’ve taken the time to research and gather good resources, then you have a good chance of building a learning project that won’t deal you too many surprises. But as many resources aren’t created with the beginner in mind, or are created by someone who can’t remember what it was like just starting out, it’s not foolproof.

And these little surprises can manifest in a really fun way. You’ll be working on a project, confident in the knowledge you’ve gained from your gathered resources, and then you’ll come across something you haven’t thought about, haven’t read about, haven’t seen. And then you’re stuck. You may even consider quitting because things just got hard.

Don’t quit. You’re not stuck. You just have to find resources to learn how to do that one thing so you can move forward. It can feel frustrating to have to back up to the research phase, but if you reframe it as a side quest, it can make things easier. Then, you aren’t necessarily backing up. Instead, you stepping out of the main quest, the project, to unlock a new skill.

In a way, being able to take that side step is nice. On the one hand, you have this automatic frame for the side quest project because it’s part of the original project. It’s always nice to have to not make every decision from scratch when you feel like you’ve been dealt a curve ball. On the other hand, developing and creating this side quest project can create a piece of bonus material for your fans, related to the original project, but a creation all its own that can help flesh out or support the original story.

Either way, you win. Yes, you’ve had to pause the original project for this little learning project, but you can then move forward on the original project with a new skill, new content, and possibly a bit of bonus content. That’s pretty cool, and a much less scary way to look at the holes hidden in your growing knowledge of a skill.

So, always try to be as diligent as you can when you’re creating a learning project, but be open to those moments when you find gaps and make the most of those gaps. You might be truly surprised by what you learn and what you create.

Jan 182016

Confession time: I hate writing novels.

You wouldn’t know it to look at my NaNoWriMo involvement, but I hate writing novels. I never feel like I have that much to say, no matter how thoroughly I outline and prepare beforehand. I had this problem in school, too. The teacher would assign a ten-page paper; I would write an eight-page paper that concisely covered all of the assigned topics with the proper structure. By the time I got to high school, my teachers had given up on me ever writing long papers. My college professors were less forgiving on the first paper, but more often than not let me slide on later papers. Writing my Masters thesis was like pulling teeth, and eventually my computer gave up all hope and destroyed the original file and every single backup I’d dutifully made.

So…maybe novel (and any other long-form) writing hates me, too. Heh.

Fortunately, I can write short stories and novellas all day. And that’s a good thing. There are many writers who, like me, aspire to longer fiction but prefer the confines of shorter fiction, and a fair number have them have found a workaround. You look at the works of masterful science fiction and fantasy author Roger Zelazny, and you’ll find as many (if not more) short story collections than you will novellas. (He wasn’t a fan of the novel length, either.) Some of Zelazny’s collections are just that: a collection of short stories related by topic, theme, or time period in which they were written. Others are a collection of serial short stories, linking together to tell one novel-length story.

Short story anthologies by new writers are considered a hard sell at the moment by traditional publishing, but a collection of serial shorts stories can come off enough like a novel to get a foot in the door (if your writing and editing are well-practiced and implemented). But that’s not to say you can’t create anthologies and go the self-publishing route. Either way, it’s a way for the short story writer who’d like to release a novel-length book to reach that goal.

But it’s not just writers who can benefit from this approach. Video producers are learning they can produce a webseries, and then string the series or season together into one viewing experience roughly the length of a movie. Webcomics are taking their regularly released strips, pages, or panels, and pulling them together into volumes.

If you’re a creative who dreams of one day creating a large project in your field, consider creating it in pieces and then blending the pieces together into that single large project.

Jan 142016

Let’s start with a little background. I started dancing when I was three years old, and it quickly became the gateway to my participating in choirs and picking up a handful of instruments throughout school. I desperately wanted to act, but drama and I struggled to get along. Eventually, I decided I was meant solely to interact with music and made my peace with the situation. But the older I got, the less time I had to engage in the performing arts, and I drifted away in pursuit of a career in education…that ended up not panning out all that well.

In those last few years of trying to pull some sort of rabbit out of the hat to stay in my field, I ended up with a roommate who couldn’t tell the difference between a voice chaser and someone wanting to give voice acting a try. I explained it to him, repeatedly. I explained to him that drama was the one performing art I’d never been successful with, repeatedly. He wouldn’t listen, eventually banding together with a mutual friend to strong arm me into a pair of voiceover workshops they’d found at a local college. I thought they were crazy, but I was working on Dead Bunny at the time and figured it couldn’t really hurt. It was actually kind of fun, but nothing more came of it.

A few years later while at a particularly low point, I remembered I’d meant to investigate the local Talking Book & Braille Library. A week later, I was narrating for them. And it was fun! (Lifelong avid reader and teacher. It was kind of a good fit. *wink*) As I continued narrating for them and exploring other places to narrate, I realized I struggled a lot with characters. With my low-key personality, the small animation projects that trickled through Voice Acting Alliance at the time weren’t an option, so I decided to give audio drama a try. The idea was if I could just focus on developing and playing characters, I’d eventually be able to carry that back over to my narration work. I didn’t expect to stay in audio drama long, and I didn’t expect to be any degree of successful at it. I just wanted the experience, and maybe a little training from the audio drama groups I met.

That was three years ago. I’ve been in nearly two dozen audio dramas at this point, some of them with groups I’ve previously worked for. The drama that eluded me in childhood has finally found me, I guess, or maybe it just needed time to take root. Either way, something has changed. In November, after a couple of years of being part of award-nominated and -winning ensembles, I was nominated for an individual award in Pendant Productions’ annual Pendy awards for this scientist character I had a really good time getting into and playing.

Well, I won. The girl who couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag as a child has now won the 2015 Pendy for Best Actor in a Seminar Short. Who knew? 😉

And I’m even starting to figure out audiobook characters!

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