The Challenge of Supporting Your Fellow Creatives

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We’d like to support our fellow creatives because we care, because they’re our friends, and because we know what we’re going through. It’s often challenging for us to do for many reasons.

  • We may have limited time and resources to help.
  • We may know creatives who aren’t good at accepting help.
  • We may know creatives who are busy.
  • We may, simply not know how to help or be able to.
  • We may have too many ways to help people and not know where to start.
  • We’re bad at helping. Some of us just lack the subtlety or knowledge.

It’s not easy, is it? I’m sure you’re nodding mentally if not physically. I’ve experienced all of these, and can’t say I’ve handled all of them well.

The challenge of helping our fellow creatives is even more complicated in that some forms of help don’t “help.” Sure you want to help that artist exercise, but buying them a gift membership to a gym may create social pressure they don’t need. You might offer to cook for a writer who’s a bit occupied, and then promptly make food they don’t like. Help that doesn’t help just becomes another problem.

To assist you – and myself – I brainstormed some ideas. How can we help our fellow creatives?

Ask: Ask what someone needs. Guess what they may be fine and you’re worrying too much.

Buy Their Stuff: I mean that goes without saying.

Check In: Look, just say hi now and then. You may find it annoys the person or they need space, but at least you know.

Connect Them: If they’re open to it, introduce them to fellow creatives, customers, and resources.

Do A Task: Someone is busy with that art project? Then pick up food for them or give them a ride.

Get Resources: Outright give that creative a new pen kit or website subscription. Holidays and birthdays are great times to do this for people who don’t like to accept help.

Gift: That creative you want to support? Buy their books, comics, etc. and use them as gifts for people. Spread the word.

Helpful Resources: This doesn’t always work, but there’s lots of great advice books, web services, software, etc. This can help – but can also burden people with something they “have” to use. Be careful.

Involve Them: I’ve taken to seeing if my fellow creatives want to do panels and events. I don’t push it, but it’s a way to get them connected and involved and having fun.

Learn: When listening and doing all of these things, learn about them and yourself.

Listen: Sometimes folks just want to talk about their project and so on. They want someone to listen – not necessarily critique.

Pre-Read/Beta Read/Critique: Sort of goes without saying.

Provide Guidance WHEN ASKED: Sometimes people are bad at asking for help, but if someone asks how you do X, show them. Be careful of providing advice unasked, that can become another burden.

Provide Resources: That creative may need your editing skill, or to borrow your sewing kit or whatever. Be open to it – or offer.

Publicize: Tell people about that cosplayer, author, artist, etc. This promotes them, connects them, and may result in them getting money which is always good.

Take a Request: That person may need a ride, a trip, some help. If they ask, keep that in mind. I mean you know, be open to it.

I hope that was helpful. It certainly go me thinking about what I do – and shouldn’t do, and can do better.

Steven Savage

The Angel Is In The Action

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We’ve often heard it said The Devil is in the Details, which is certainly true in writing. We can plot and outline all we want, but when one truly writes, that’s when we find out just how many unexpected details and findings can bedevil us. Writing is often overwhelming when we dive into a work because there’s so much we have to think about.

Worldbuilding is a prime example. No matter how much you plan, you’ll quickly ask questions, find holes, or create problems for yourself. Worldbuilding is challenging, and not everyone embraces it with the same (masochistic?) fervor as some.

Characters are another example. We’ve all had writing experiences where characters made up their minds to be different. These moments are delightful, but not so blissful is the realization 70% of your plans got tossed out.

Language is yet another example of bedeviling details when we write, in nonfiction or fiction. As you write, you keep putting yourself in the shoes of the audience – and we may find that we’re not wearing the right shoes. Creating something is a hellish chance to find that you’re not speaking to the proper audience, or you don’t know that audience as well as you’d like.

Our own outlines may cause us problems. We can see a beautiful map, a wonderful path, and then writing it down only brings out many confusing questions and issues. For some of us, the best laid plans don’t even get set down before they go wrong in our heads.

Any moment like these can derail us, confuse us, and make us despondent. We’re writing and our own writing is making us miserable.

A break may be in order, but let me suggest this – if the Devil is in the Details, then let’s keep going. The Angel is in the Action, as it were – moving forward we find salvation from our problems.

If we address the problems we find as best we can – even if taking a note to fix it later – we go on, accomplish things, and can revise work later. We may even find the problem can be revised elsewhere in our work.

If we keep writing, we’ll accomplish work, achieving both our goals and having a reminder of just what we can accomplish. By continuing to write, even when harassed by our own fear of details and fine points, we at least move forward and maintain our confidence.

If we work around our problems and fears and challenges, we may find we don’t even have to deal with them. Sometimes a retrospective reveals our fears weren’t an issue all along.

If nothing else, completing a work or a piece lets you revise it from a point of surety – even if you’re sure it’s not that good.

We don’t really learn something until we do it, and that includes fixing our stories or overcoming issues of missing detail. If we let the Devil hiding in the details get to us, we forget that it’s our work and we have the power to fix problems. Powering through, keeping going, lets us leave him behind, lets us find our Angel – be it a new idea, a solution, or a workaround.

Take action when writing frustrates you. Keep moving forward – even if it’s in circles. Maybe take a little break, but don’t let the Devil whisper in your ear you can’t do it. Find the Angel in your actions.

Steven Savage

Inspiration from Other Sources: RPGs

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A few times I and my friend Serdar have discussed how we take inspiration for our writing from sources other than writing. Serdar often takes inspiration from music, I get inspiration from management processes, and so on. Lately I had a strange and interesting inspiration I wanted to share.

Role-playing games – but probably not in the way you suspect.

I began studying RPGs in depth lately for two reasons – first, to study them for my related works, and as I’d taken an interest in trying some game design. Pleasantly, I found inspiration for my fiction writing efforts as well, and I wanted to share my insights.

RPGs are sort of storytelling games – I say sort of because some games or groups have different preferences, such as having more of a tactical military game. But, overall, RPGs tell stories and many game systems in the last two decades or so have been storytelling focused, such as FATE, Cortex, or Forged In The Dark.

You have to turn writing into rules, make rules support story. Just a few examples from my latest studies and past experiences:

  • FATE literally makes character traits part of the game. You define Aspects, vital character traits, that could be everything from “Magical Powers” to “Really awful manners.” That made me think of how many times we don’t think about “what stands out with a character.”
  • The Forged In The Dark games constantly emphasize cause and effect and results and impacts. It’s meant to construct stories (and surprise players and GMs) and keep up a pace, and is a good example of interesting engagement with the story.
  • Among the FitD game, Scum and Villainy, their “Firefly-but-not” game system has various well-realized space western/space rouge archetypes that help me see how you can view archetypes. Probably my favorite is the Scoundrel (aka Not Han Solo But Is) who’s abilities include things like being able to do dangerous things and get special “gambits” to allow them to take more foolish risks. It’s a great example of turning concept into rules – and thinking about concepts.
  • The punishing CRPG Darkest Dungeon added intense psychology and madness rules, which meant generic characters quickly evolved personalities. Sure they were mechanics, but they added the feel of a story and a drama, a reminder of how such things should have impact in a tale.

Of course, as I write this I can see great lessons from older games:

  • Champions, that famous formative Superhero RPG made disadvantages and backstories part of the game. It made you think about characters, and almost forced characterization even if you tried to avoid it (hard to avoid your tendency to go berserk around blood).
  • Villains and Vigilantes, another venerable game, had the concept of points you used to invent things or solve problems – basically you had Brilliant Ideas you could spend. A good reminder of how characters have inspirations, suddenly turn the plot around, etc. – as a rule.
  • The venerable and abused Character Class idea is a good reminder about making characters distinct. From early D&D to the wild classes of Apocalypse World are reminders of how different is interesting.

I could probably make enormous lists of these – and I may if I can find a non-boring way to do it. Either way, that’s one of my latest inspirations – RPGs. If you’re looking for some new ideas or to think over your writing, maybe a break to play a game or at least examine one might unlock some ideas.

I’d love to hear your insights.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 9/8/2019

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Hello everyone! Let’s get to the update of my projects – and as a reminder, if you want more in-depth issue there’s my newsletter!

August was a month far busier than I expected, and the end of the month involved quite a lot going on. I managed to keep up, but a few things slipped.

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: I got the News book back from the editor! Quite enthused with this one!
  • Chance’s Muse: The Seventh Sanctum book got sent off to the editor. As you can tell, my editor has been busy.
  • A School Of Many Futures: The sequel to “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” plotting is in it’s final phase – I have a scene-by-scene document I’m now revising. It’s definitely evolving into something way more involved and fun, from the “double reverse Harry Potter” subtleties, to Commander Briar Lindel-Passen beating up someone in a library (they had it coming).
  • Seventh Sanctum: I have set up a new dev environment to help with the update middle of next year and outlined a few new generators while I focus on the book!

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: I’m going to edit the book, do the cover, and probably get it published in the next two weeks. I might outline the next book, the big challenge being too many choices.
  • Chance’s Muse: Don’t expect much on this front for another few weeks, waiting on my editor.
  • A School Of Many Futures: Finish plotting and start writing! I already have Chapter 1 very solid, what with the rooftop chases, scholastic bureaucracy, and an argument over trivia nights (Beacon isn’t allowed to participate in any one involving theology, as he remembers all 300+ gods).
  • Seventh Sanctum: Not quite sure right now, I’d like to do a new generator as I work on the new codebase, but I’m also pretty wiped out from August and the book took a lot out of my generator-wise. Still, will try to at least do something more!

Steven Savage

SV Comic Con Roundup: Marketing Panel

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First of all, sorry this comes late. It’s been awhile since I and my crew did the Silicon Valley Comic Con panels on self-publishing, and i’m only now reporting on it. It’s been a busy few weeks to say the least – you probably noticed a decrease in my blogging.

But now, with a lot of that behind me, let’s talk the latest addition to the speaking repertoire for my local crew of self-publishers – Marketing for Self-Publishers.

We’ve been speaking about self-publishing for years. The panel we do has been updated over time as we got feedback, as things changed, and as we adapted to new venues. But what my crew has also done has tried to speak on Marketing for years – but most people wanted Self-Publishing 101 (which is understandable, as its still new to people).

Finally, we got interest at SVCC, so we ran for it. And what we did is worth sharing.

First, yes, we had experienced Self-Publishers from our usual group, this time speaking on our Marketing experiences. We even had a one-page handout, like our usual Self-Publishing panel. What we varied was adding someone to give us a reality check.

Our panel included an experienced marketing professional, someone who’d been in the trenches of marketing in Silicon Valley. This person was there to check our advice, add things from their professional perspective, and discuss the bigger picture. In other words, they made sure our advice was applicable, unique cases weren’t discussed as if they were universal, and survivorship bias got shown the door.

I’ll cut to the chase – it was fantastic.

The usual speaking team did great, of course, providing validated advice with plenty of examples. Alone it would have been a pretty good panel, everyone was very aware and experienced, giving good examples. But when you throw in the Marketing Expert, it just went off the charts in quality.

What happened was we got into a rhythm, the authors discussing experiences, and then having the marketing professional give their take. That professional advice too things outside of the context of individual experience or just publishing, and into a good understanding of marketing. It meant that people heard what worked for us, but also helped them get the bigger picture of marketing.

I’m enthused enough I really want to repeat this panel. I also want to consider this model elsewhere – having specialists discuss a subject with a “non-specialist” expert to check them and expand their knowledge. A few ideas off the top of my head:

  • A digital artist panel – that includes a graphic tech expert.
  • A panel on writing techniques – with an expert on language history to discuss the history of writing patterns and such.
  • A panel on how to run a convention – with a professional manager or project manager (call me).

So great panel, great finding, and some advice for everyone to try.

Steven Savage

Opinion Columnists: Why?

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As I would like this column to be timeless, I shall not mention what inspired it. So while skipping history, let me posit something: opinion columnists without some background and skill to have an opinion on are useless.

To write on opinions and viewpoints is fine, and useful. Having an opinion, understanding it’s an opinion, is a way yo ground what you say in context. Writing on it effectively is a gateway to help people understand your views and work with them or oppose them. To write an opinion also gives you the ability to look at your opinion – and change it or bolder it.

I’m fine with opinion columnists. I write enough.

But in time I’ve come to question professional opinion columnists, whose skill is . . . opinion columnist. Your opinions are based on your ability to have opinions and write about opinions. It creates a weird, inbred, thin-skinned world of people saying things with little grounding or reality. It comes close to being – and in some cases become – a grift.

A good opinion columnist is a person who has a grounding in something that’s relevant to more than having opinions and putting them on a page. Give me a scientist who has written peer-reviewed papers and done researches. Give me a writer who writes novels that can give opinions on the process. Give me a doctor whose done surgeries discussing the experience. Just don’t give me someone who’s only skill is writing about what they know.

In fact, maybe some columnists who are or were good at something should be watched warily to make sure that they don’t decline into being opinion-only.

A good opinion columnist is someone with a connection to the larger world. It may seem narrow or specialized, but we’re all a bit narrow and specialized, it gives us perspective and depth. Only those who are deluded think they know everything and can opine endlessly on it.

This is a good reminder for anyone that creates media. Being only good at creating media is going to limit you to recycling ideas, to regurgitating the past, and to shallow results. You need a gateway to connect you to the world to be able to connect your creations to the bigger picture.

You may expand your connections, but they will never be perfect. That’s fine. The ones you have ground your opinions so you can share them.

ADDENDUM: I find this relevant to many professions as well. My own profession, the ill-defined overlap of Scrum Master, Project Manager, and Program Manager, is one you need a connection to be good at. To just be good at Scrum or Project Management only goes so far – you need to be good at something else to ground it, like communications or business analysis or something. Anything general and abstract needs something to tie it to the world to be relevant.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Cooking: Bowl Meals

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I’m continuing posting some of my favorite cooking tips and recipes for my fellow creatives and professionals. After all, we’ve got to eat and eat healthy, but we’re also busy, stressed, and 95% caffeine. We don’t have time for fancy stuff but we also don’t want to live on corn chips.

So let me talk about one of my favorite meals where delicious, fast, and healthy meet – Bowl Meals

Bowl Meals are things we’e always had before – a big bowl of food that’s an entire meal. Bibimbap, Poki Bowls, your average stir-fry, etc. are great examples of this near-universal meal type. Throw it all in a bowl and eat.

But how do you come up with stuff that’s fast, healthy, and delicious. Fortunately, I have a formula.

Steve’s Bowl Meal Formula

1 1/2-2 Cups of vegetables, at least one cup being healthy greens. You can steam these easily in the microwave with a bowl with a bit of water, microwaved 3-4 minutes.

  • For greens try spinach, broccoli, kale, cabbage, or brussel sprouts.
  • For other vegetables try shredded carrots, diced onions, chopped peppers, bean sprouts, and other non-starchy vegetables.

1 cup of a cooked healthy grain. Try brown rice or a mixed grain, maybe even noodles!

3/4 to 1 cup of legumes or a similar healthy protein like tofu.

  • Experiment with this a lot. I use garbanzo beans for their solidity, but also use baked tofu, green peas, and black eyed peas which have a fascinating strong taste.

A few extras like sesame seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, and other kicky and interesting additions.

Your favorite sauce or spice sprinkle. My favorite three are:

  • 2 Tbsp of kimchi.
  • 1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, a dash of hot sauce or oil.
  • 1/2 Tbps gochujang, 1/2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar. If you don’t know what gochujang is, its a fermented pepper paste you can find in Korean markets, and it’s amazing.

This is easy to put together with canned, purchased, or premade and frozen ingredients. You can also scale this in bulk, if only by just dumping everything into a big bowl and having people use a spoon. I use this simple formula a lot, and have a few favorite variants I go into later:

The reason Bowl meals work is because this formula is:

  • Nutritionally balanced.
  • Satisfying with plenty of flavors and fiber.
  • Easy to make. Experiment and write down your best findings to repeat.

Now a few tips:

  • If you’re not a mostly-vegan like me and/or just want some meat in this, add about 1/2 a cup of cooked/shredded meat or a cooked/hardboiled egg, but remove about 1/4 cup of grain and 1/4 cup of the legumes.
  • If you’re not up for a lot of grains (sometimes you want a less carby meal) just make it half legumes and half vegetables. I’ve done this a lot. If you’re using meat, just cut the grain and up the legumes.
  • Try various “extras.” For instance, one of my strange findings is that raisins and sun-tried tomatoes are amazing together.
  • Learn to make sauces and freeze them so you can throw them on the bowls as you make them. Home-made sauces are a good bet as you can make them healthier and with lower sodium.
  • Stock up with canned beans, get fresh greens (or freeze them), make and freeze rice and/or pasta, get those easy pre-heat rice packs, and if you want to use meat cook it in bulk and freeze it. You can then just churn various bowl meals out.

Now two of my favorite bowl meals:

  • 1 cup of rice, 2 cups of spinach shredded, half a can of garbanzo beans, 2 Tbsp kimchi. Stir.
  • 1 cup of rice, 1 1/2 cups of steamed broccoli, half a block of tofu. Sauce is 1/2 Tbsp gochujang, 1/2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar – mix the sauce separately and mix it into the rice first.

So there you go, one of my healthy, fast, and delicious cooking meals. Give it a try and let me know your best findings.

Steven Savage

Stress Management As Productivity

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We’re awash in productivity advice telling us how to get things done, how to prioritize, and so on. I should know, I give some of this advice, but I’d like to pull away the curtain a bit and discuss what a good chunk of productivity tips involve.

They involve stress management.

Sure, productivity gurus and coaches won’t say that. In fact, they may not even realize it – they’re all focused on how much you get done and how to make it easier. But to get things done requires focus, reduction of distraction, and reducing mental friction – which is really a form of stress reduction. These gurus and coaches, even the good ones, may not see it.

So, I’ll put it simply: a lot of productivity tips involve preventing, reducing, or controlling stress and worry.

A lot of productivity advice will have you review and be aware of what you’re doing, from backlogs to graphs to BVBs – Big Visible Boards. Though this may sound anxiety producing, it gives you an idea of where you are and what’s going on – it reduces the anxiety of the unknown.

“Responding to change” is a big part of productivity advice, and a core part of Agile philosophy. But by saying you can respond to change, all the advice-givers and coaches help you acknowledge and cope with change. By admitting things change and you can to, a lot of anxiety is removed.

Review sessions, retrospective, backlog polishing? All those times we productivity enthusiasts tell you to look at what’s coming up, prioritize work, and ask what’s important? That’s stress-reducing as well – because you’re able to ask what’s in the future, then get back to the present. It’s a trick for helping you stay aware – so you can stop stressing.

Breaking work down to manageable chunks? Next steps to take? That’s all helping you stay aware and take manageable bits of work you can get done – so you’re productive, aware, and not overwhelmed. It’s simple time management, but it reduces fear and anxiety.

Most productivity advice has a strong element of stress reduction or is about stress reduction. I just like to admit it now that I see it.

However, this truth also conceals something else – if methods of productivity cause stress, it’s important to ask why, because that’s revealing.

Is it because you’re focusing on the method and not the results, worried about dotting every “i” and doing each task perfectly? Then you’ve learned something about YOU.

Is it because external factors are keeping you from working? Are you organized but there’s so many dependencies and problems and needs you can’t work? Then you learned something about your ENVIRONMENT.

Is it because the method isn’t working with your life and challenges? Then you learned you NEED A NEW METHOD of productivity.

Productivity tips and systems should reduce stress. That’s the point – directly or indirectly. If we admit it, we can be more productive.

Which is, if you think of it, less stressful.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 8/26/2019

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The latest update is here!

Sorry for the lateness of the blog posts, by the way. It was one of those weeks. So let’s see what’s up!

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: The News and Worldbuilding book is done! Now for the next step!
  • Chance’s Muse: The Seventh Sanctum book is also done! I’ve been on a roll!
  • A School Of Many Futures: The sequel to “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet” plotting is still going on. I wanted it done this week, but due to delays, it won’t be ready to write for another two weeks.

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: The news book goes off to the editor!
  • Chance’s Muse: Also off to the editor! You may sense a theme.
  • A School Of Many Futures: Work on the plotting of course. I will have the major outline and possibly a full scene-by scene in about 3 weeks. Hopefully.
  • Seventh Sanctum: OK I didn’t get back to Python or new generators, but I’m going to try harder this time 😉

Steven Savage

Quick Chickpea Curry

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Everyone, my newsletter readers liked the idea that I’d post recipes now and then. We creatives get awful busy, so knowing how to make good, fast, nutritious food is important. So I’ll do this every now and then.

This one is a fast curry that you can throw on rice or polenta and just eat right away. Serve with a good spinach or kale salad for a full meal!

2 servings.

  • 1 ½ cups diced tomatoes (one 14.5 oz can drained, or 2-3 tomatoes)
  • ¼ tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 3 tsp crushed garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 ½ tsp curry powder (use S&B)
  • 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (one 14.5 oz can drained)
  1. Mix all but chickpeas. Microwave on high for one minute.
  2. Stir. Microwave on high for one minute.
  3. Mash tomatoes with fork. Add chickpeas
  4. Microwave for one minute.
  5. Serve

May want to substitute other peppers like chipotle or ancho for black pepper.

If you want to work greens in, put about 10-16 oz of spinach in the bowl first with just a bit of water, and microwave a minute or two so it wilts. Then add the rest of the ingredients. On top of rice you’ve got two veggies, one grain, and your proteins!

Steven Savage