conventions

When the Convention is Done

On the day after the convention my mind is a shadow play of overlapping thoughts in different colors that pass behind and through each other so that by the time I’ve discerned what one thought is, it has dissolved into something else entirely. Many of the thoughts are memory fragments condensed into a momentary flash of expression or a few words. Memories of me saying the right thing mix with moments when I misstepped. The moment when I said something kind that healed the heart of a friend dissolves into the moment when I attempted to reassure a fellow panelist and only later learned that I was “reassuring” the artist guest of honor whose depth of experience with the panel topic was oceans deeper than mine. Both are equally specific in my mind though I must be vague about my friend’s story as it isn’t mine to tell. I am fortunate that for the panel with the guest of honor I was the moderator and my usual moderatorial mode is to let the panelists talk, so I got out of the way and made no more missteps after the first one before the panel began.

That moment dissolves into remembrance of moments when another professional said or did something that showed respect for me and for the things I do. Those moments are contrasted with the times when I was in groups of highly intelligent, wonderful people and I was shut out of the conversation because the topic was not one I could add anything to. Moments of feeling large and valued versus moments of feeling small or invisible. A convention is all of these moments and a hundred more.

Some of the moments are more than a flash. One of my final panels was about literary fiction and genre fiction. It was one of those magical moments when all of the panelists were equally engaged in the topic, willing to passionately discuss and happy to give space so others could speak. We were all so excited by each other’s thoughts that our own opinions were re-evaluated on the fly. Such a joyful experience to debate and argue without antipathy. No anger or defensiveness, jsut the joy of engaging with new ideas. I loved every minute of it and was sad that I had to run off to another panel instead of lingering to thank my fellow panelists.

This year at LTUE I was more focused on being at the booth. I spent more than a week in advance planing and preparing the booth. I only did a few panels and no presentations. One of the booth changes we made was to only have a few featured items rather than trying to display everything equally thus overwhelming shoppers with too much choice. The work paid off. Especially combined with the fact that we had three new Schlock books since last year. It was the most profitable sales year we’ve ever had at LTUE. We don’t measure the value of the show in dollars, but being able to pay bills always allows us to enjoy things more. And the fact that people buy is evidence that they value what we create, which is even more of a boost than the dollars. Today I am wishing I was not so tired, because I want to dive into creating new things to share with all the lovely people who enjoy the work we do.

Keliana ran her own booth this year. On the first day she was low energy and apprehensive. She’s been having trouble believing in the value of her work. Then people came to her table and were excited by what she was doing. by the end of day one she could believe that all was not doomed. By the end of day three she was energetic and bubbling over with plans for the months to come. LTUE rejuvenated her in ways I am incredibly grateful for and I can only hope to repay that by paying forward.

Like my daughter, I also struggle to believe in the value of my creative work. It is easier for me to believe in and promote my collaborative works (Planet Mercenary, Schlock Mercenary, Hold on to Your Horses) than the works where mine is the only name on the cover. I’m consciously and carefully working to change that. I’m trying to reach out and claim worthiness rather than hustling and hoping someone else will bestow it on me. Right now our sales table does not contain any of my solo work. Over the next year or three I want to change that. Slow and steady, bit by bit, I will claim hours to work on my solo efforts in tandem with further collaborative ones. I won’t let the collaborative crowd out the solo. I’ve already begun, I just need to continue.

So much more happened than I’ve written down. Friends from out of town. Friends who helped at the booth. A hundred small conversations. LTUE was amazing. It always is. For today and tomorrow I rest. On Tuesday I pick up again and get back to work.

The Valuation of GenCon

The value of GenCon is hard to measure, because so much of both the benefits and costs are made up of intangibles. The costs are measured in time, stress, and money. That last one makes it tempting to let money be the deciding factor, because it is easy to quantify while the other things are not. But a profit and loss sheet does not accurately represent the value of GenCon. We’ve never yet had a financial loss, but many years we don’t hit a hoped for dollar mark. That can be hard mid-show when we can see that we’ll miss. At that moment anxiety gets loud, fed by fatigue. It wants to spin tales of doom. When that happens we have to stop and recalibrate. We have to pull our heads out of the spreadsheets and focus on the intangible benefits.

What are the intangibles? Here is a list from this year:
Connecting with friends, catching up, hugging them, hearing about their lives.
Meeting new people who may become part of our expanding network of friends and business contacts.
Getting a line on a potential new printing partner.
Two contacts that might help me get Planet Mercenary distributed into game stores.
Seeing amazing cosplay, all the creativity and cleverness that is on display. All the mashups that delight.
Getting to play games for charity.
Reconnecting with a friend who has changed jobs and now works in a field where he may be able to greatly assist with a behind-the-scenes admin burden for the Writing Excuses cruise in 2019.
Figured out how to reconfigure our booth and business model to optimize next year.
Had ideas for at least three new creative projects.
Got information about applying for creative writing grants.
Got to teach and pay it forward.
Got to talk to people for whom our creative work made their lives better in some way.
Got to witness the ambient joy that is 80,0000 adults who understand that play should not end with childhood.
Got to see how the administrative work I do is critical to make this event happen for my team.
Got to have conversations with people who understand our business model and could sympathize with all the joys and frustrations.
Got to compare notes with others who ship products to customers and point each other at resources to make that job easier.
Participating in conversations where I learned interesting trivia that may someday inform a story or conversation.
Receiving creative respect from people who are supremely professional in their fields. That respect helps me recognize that I have become good at the jobs that I do even though I don’t have formal training for many of them.
Being told by my booth crew that we are worth investing in. That they willingly and enthusiastically build, haul, and sweat because we matter and what we create matters. This is from people I know are highly intelligent and who I know do not suffer fools lightly.
Listening to a comparison of how the RPG/game industry functions in ways that are fundamentally different from the literary publishing industry.
Got to be amused at Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing being called “literary publishing” but that is how it looks from the outside, all novels and stories are literary. Whereas from the inside “literary” is a specific sub genre of fiction writing.
Going out to dinner with groups of writers where we talk plot, travel, food, life, and then laugh uproarously at each others jokes.

I’m certain there are things which should be on that list, but which have slipped out of my brain.

Howard and I have this concept of the ten thousand dollar conversation. It is a conversation that opens a new possibility or improves a creative concept so that business revenue is improved by ten thousand dollars or more. We can never schedule these conversations. They always arise unexpectedly from the pool of intangibles. We figure out which things were critical only in retrospect. But I’ve gotten better at spotting which ones might be the ten thousand dollar conversations. This year at GenCon, I had at least three. They may not pan out, but the potential is there if I do the post-convention work that is necessary to make them happen.

I have six pages of closely written notes on the post-convention work I need to do in the next months. I said in a prior entry that GenCon prep begins in February. I’ve realized that is inaccurate. I’ve already completed the first preparatory task for GenCon 2019, I reserved our booth space. In the coming weeks I’ll have series of follow up tasks. Then there will be a lull. This coming year the lull will still have tasks in it. I’ll know more once I’ve had time to decipher my notes and assign deadlines for the associated tasks.

For today, I traveled home. I’m now trying to remember what my home tasks are. I’ve created a small to do list for tomorrow and a slightly larger one for Wednesday. These are only things that must be done, nothing that can be pushed off until I’ve recovered from the convention. By Thursday I hope to be back up to speed. I have shirts to ship, kids to launch into their school year, and notes to turn into tasks.

Onward I go, continuing this creative career that feels exhausting and frightening as often as it does exhilarating.

GenCon The Day Before the Show Begins

It is only when I arrive at GenCon that I remember why the stress is worth it. I arrive and my people are here. First and foremost my booth crew, who have done nearly as much preparation and advance work as I have. This year they had the booth completely set up before I even arrived.

This year our hotel is farther away than we prefer. This is a direct result of a brief mistake on my part on the day hotel booking opened. Thanks to the kind folks at the GenCon housing company, I was able to correct most of that error, but we’re further away. Because my crew did most of their work yesterday, Howard and I had time to teach me the route from the hotel to the convention center. The learning is necessary because something about downtown Indianapolis messes with my internal compass/map. I have to carefully learn my routes rather than trusting my instincts. One advantage of our hotel is that it is located on “The Circle” which is a beautiful historical section of downtown Indy. My learned path takes me past dozens of restaurants and interesting shops. Despite being further away, I’m glad I get to stay here at least once.

Another thing I did with my mostly free day was get extra sleep. I needed it after our 2am arrival at the hotel. Our plane got delayed four different times. The afternoon was spent on administrivia. I had to assemble and deliver the materials for our Game Chiefs who run the Planet Mercenary games during the show. I also had to double check the stock at the booth against my cash register to make sure everything matches up. There are always updates to make and things to do in order to optimize for each particular show. Then I had an hour or two to go over my presentation materials for the presentations I have ahead of me on Friday and Saturday.

Each thing completed is the culmination of tasks that have been hovering in my attention for months. I’ve fulfilled my obligation to my game chiefs and to the players who purchased tickets to our games. I’ve succeeded at providing housing for my crew, and merchandise for the booth. In the morning when we begin making sales I’ll have succeeded in preparing for the booth. Each thing done is a stress lifted. By Sunday evening I will feel lightweight. By then I will have traded those stresses for fascinating conversations, friends greeted, new people met, things learned, sights seen, and moments of joy. The net balance will be distinctly in the positive. It is every year. Sometimes when I’m paying out the stresses in advance I lose track of that.

The doors open tomorrow.

My GenCon Indianapolis Schedule

I will be spending the next week in Indianapolis to attend GenCon. If you’re also at GenCon or at the GenCon Writer’s Symposium, I hope you’ll make time to find me and say hello.

I have a lot of scheduled events, but in between them the best places to look for me are either in the Writer’s Symposium common areas or in the Dealer’s Hall at booth 1649.

Thursday
5pm Freelancing Life
A panel discussion about freelancing that takes place in the Ballroom of the Marriott Downtown.

Friday
9am Breaking Through the Blockages
A solo presentation on overcoming writer’s block. Austin room in Marriott Downtown.

3pm Cover Design Principles
A solo presentation about the basics of cover design intended both for people who want to create their own covers and those who are working with design professionals on covers. Austin room in Marriott Downtown.

4pm Public Face, Private Life
A solo presentation about balancing the need to be public online as a creative professional vs maintaining privacy and emotional balance. Austin room in Marriott Downtown.

6pm Worldbuilder’s Party
Howard and I will be hosting a game of Munchkin Starfinder as part of the Worldbuilder’s party. We hope you’ll stop by and play with us.

Saturday
9am Structuring Life to Support Creativity
A solo presentation about ways to arrange your life to allow time and support for your creative pursuits. Austin Room in Marriott Downtown.

12pm AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Howard Tayler
Howard and I will be sitting in a room ready to answer questions. Hopefully some people will be there to ask questions. Atlanta Room in Marriott Downtown.

3pm Schmoozing 101
A co-presentation with Elizabeth Vaughn. We’ll be talking about social skills, introductions, starting conversations with strangers, tools for keeping conversation going, and how to gracefully exit conversations. Among other things. Austin room in Downtown Marriott.

How to handle a harassment complaint at your event

Alternate title: Good practices for organizational management of a harassment complaint

Note: This document is not exhaustive and may be updated with additional suggested policies. I am not a trained harassment manager and there may be more detailed documents that you should reference when planning your event.

Step 1: Have a harassment policy
You can call a Code of Conduct, or some other name, but you must have a policy that clearly states what behaviors are not allowed at your event. The policy should state that failure to follow it can lead to expulsion from the event without refund. It should also have clear instructions for how to report a violation. All of your attendees should be asked to agree to this policy if they want to attend your event. If you do not have a policy, stop running your event until you do. This is for your own legal protection as well as the protection of your attendees. You need legal grounds to remove disruptive people from your event.

Step 2: Safety Committee
You need some people who are designated to handle any violations of your behavioral policies. They need to be trained and given a detailed instruction set (like this one you’re reading) for how you expect them to handle any issues. Having set up your committee, TRUST THEM. If you do not trust their judgement, then you have an organizational problem. You as event organizer have enough things to handle, don’t spend time second guessing your committee. There may be situations where you need to be involved in the decision process, but for the most part let your committee have the power to handle things.

Step 3: The victim comes to you
When someone comes to you to report a violation of your policy, the first concern of the staff member should be to make the victim feel safe. If there is an imminent danger or ongoing disruption, that must be managed first. The victim should be brought into contact with a member of the safety committee as quickly as possible. Either walk them there (if in person) or perform an email introduction (if online). Any staff who are not on the safety committee should step out of the process at this point. Helping the victim feel safe might include finding a private location, getting a friend to sit with them, switching to a safety person of similar gender. Always thank the victim for coming to report the incident. Reassure the victim that you want to know what happened.

Step 4: Listen
Listen to an account of the incident. Have the victim write it down, or write it down as they tell it to you. Be sympathetic to the victim. Validate their feelings. Ask for clarifying details. Find out if there are corroborating witnesses who are also willing to report. At the end of this step you should have a document signed by both the safety person and the victim that states what happened. (and additional reports from any witnesses) Both the victim and the safety committee should get a copy of this document. This document becomes a critical legal protection to both you and to the victim should things get complicated later. In a case of false reporting, this document also functions as a protection for the accused. Do not promise the victim any specific outcome from the report.

Step 5: Help the victim process
As part of listening to the victim and validating their feelings, discuss with them what they feel would be an appropriate consequence for the incident, ask “what would you like to have happen?” Document this answer in the report. It can help your committee’s decision making. Thank the victim for making the report. Give them contact info for the person who will be case manager for this incident. (Probably the person they reported to.) Tell them they can reach out and add to their report as needed. If they do reach out, note that on the report with date and time. Tell the victim that you will confer with your safety committee to make a decision about what is to be done and that you will get back to them within 24 hours with further information. (A longer timeline is acceptable if the victim is informed about why the longer timeline is needed.)

Step 6: Immediately contact your committee
They should be on call for exactly this sort of thing. If any committee members are close friends with either the victim or the accused, they should remove themselves from the discussion. If the entire committee is friends with either the victim or the accused, then seek out someone who can be impartial about the incident and hire them to arbitrate. Share the report, the victim’s requested consequence, and any observations the safety person may have. Compare the report with your policies to see if the consequence becomes obvious. Decide on a course of action. This can include anything from taking no action at all, to immediate expulsion from the event for the accused, to contacting the accused for more information or their own report, to contacting law enforcement, to consequences for a false report. Get a counter report from the accused. Have one of your staff advocating for the accused. The step-by-step process you are reading does not cover what actions are appropriate as consequences. That is a separate and nuanced discussion that is outside the scope of this document. Hopefully you had that discussion in detail while writing up your policy. Deciding what action is appropriate is tricky. Impartiality is critical. Part of your decision is choosing who will confront the accused (if confrontation is merited) and what back up they might require to keep everyone safe. Also who will advocate for the accused.

Step 7: Report to event managers
This step may take place between Step 6 and Step 8, or it might be something that just comes up at the next business meeting depending on the severity of the incident and how empowered the safety committee is to make decisions. Do not allow this step to be a blockade that prevents action. The key is to make sure that event managers know that an incident happened and have enough information to not be surprised if they are asked a question about it.

Step 8: Take the action
You may cycle through steps 6 to 8 multiple times as you gather additional information and reports. The key in this step is to act decisively and in a way that ensures safety of everyone involved. Make sure your action matches your stated policies. Also make sure that you extend as much courtesy and kindness toward an accused person.

Step 9: Inform the victim
Within 24 hours of the report (or on the previously agreed timeline), the victim should be contacted with either an update or the resolution of their issue. Make sure you assign a safety person who knows it is their job to keep the victim updated and to relay any ongoing concerns from the victim to the committee. Document those contacts and concerns in the report. Maintain contact with the victim until the incident is officially closed.

Step 10: Appeals and press
Someone is likely to be unhappy about the decision your safety committee made. They may post angry things to social media. They may outright lie about the events that happened. The only answer you give to any questions about the incident from people who were not directly involved is “For confidentiality reasons, we do not discuss any harassment complaints.” This is the answer that protects everyone. It preserves the confidentiality of both the accused and victim. It saves your event from legal liability and ongoing drama. The only time you ever release information from your harassment reports to anyone outside your safety and event management committees is if there is a legal case in which those documents become evidence. You do not need to prove you made the right choice. You as event organizer have the right to expel anyone from your event. At least you do if it is in your written and posted policy. Both the victim and the accused have the right to go to a court of law to challenge the decision you’ve made if they so wish.

Step 11: Post Mortem
The safety committee should meet periodically to discuss any incident reports and make sure appropriate follow up actions are taken. Equally important is that they examine their own handling of the incident to identify any weaknesses in the process or in the written harassment policy that need to be addressed. Make changes so that the next incident is handled as well as this one or better.

Structuring Life to Support Creativity take 2

A week ago I got to reprise my presentation on Structuring Life to Support Creativity. Unfortunately I heard from people who had to miss it because of conflicts or space issues. So I’m putting up the notes from the presentation here. They are rough notes rather than a fully flowing blog post. If I were to write this out fully, it would need to be 10,000 words or more. I first gave this presentation in 2013. There are some differences in information that I covered, so reading the original version might also be worth your time, you can find it here.

I always begin this presentation by saying that creative pursuits are patient. They will wait for us until we have time to get back to them. It is important to remember this when we are in a period of time where we need to do other things. I’ve had long spaces of time where I had to set aside fiction writing because I needed to focus my creative energy on business, or family, or health management, or grieving, or emotional processing. I lost nothing by taking care of these things first and then coming back to writing. Usually my creative efforts are better for taking time out to manage life events.

Know your goals and priorities
The first task to do when trying to fit a creative pursuit into your life is to step back and examine which things are the most important to you. For me family and loved ones are more important than creating books, even though I love both. This is the major reason that I sometimes spend long stretches without writing fiction: I am spending energy on the hugely creative task of raising children. And any creative task you undertake will interfere with any other creative task you want to do. A lot more occupations are creative than are generally considered creative. We create friendships, orderly homes, art projects, parties, etc. Service that we do for churches, schools, or communities can be hugely creative. Sometimes the work we do for a day job is also very creative. Grieving and emotional processing of life are when we re-create ourselves. Stepping back and analyzing what is most important so you can spend your creativity on that will help you be happier in your life, even if it means you’re spending a bit less time on the thing you thought was your one creative pursuit.

Recognize the pillars of your life.
Many creative people have a day job that literally keeps a roof over their head. Often this day job is viewed as a frustration or a distraction. However the ability to pay bills actually supports creativity. Maslow described this in his hierarchy of needs. We are less able to put energy into creation if we don’t know where our food will come from next week. Household tasks are another pillar that many people resent as a distraction from creativity. However if your surroundings are chaotic, the clutter in your physical space and clutter of undone To Do items in your head may make it difficult to accomplish the creative work you want to do. Social relationships are a third pillar. There is significant variance in the human need for company, but most of us do best, and are most creative, when we have emotional connections with others.

I mentioned before that things like grieving can interfere with creativity. The same is true of frustration or resentment. Any energy we spend on resenting a necessary life task subtracts from the energy available to create new things. Time spent maintaining your pillars creates a space where your writing or art can happen. I become much happier about doing maintenance tasks when I can see how they make the creative tasks possible.

Know your supports and emotional drags
Figuring this out starts with looking at the people in your life. Think about them.
Who supports you in ways that energize you?
Who claims to support you, but somehow you always end up discouraged after being with them?
Who doesn’t support you or actively interferes with your creativity?
You may want to adjust the quantity of time you spend with people who sap your creativity. Or you may want to re-frame that time so that it is further away from your creative spaces. Go to a movie and then talk about that movie instead of going to lunch and end up explaining why you want to be a writer.

Also look at your pillar maintenance tasks. The things that keep your life structure stable. This is when your family/housemates/friends become very important. Because some of those maintenance tasks do drag on your creativity while others are neutral or feed into creativity. If laundry sucks your soul, perhaps make a deal with others in your house so that they manage the laundry while you manage something else. Communication with the people in your support network is crucial. As you are building space in your life for creativity, they also have to give space for that creative effort. Make sure that these discussions include the sacrifices you will make to meet their emotional needs right along side the sacrifices you need them to make for your creative pursuits. (IE, you get one hour of uninterrupted writing time each day, but on Saturdays they get to go out to do their hobby thing.)

Consider what blocks of time and what physical space you can devote to your creative pursuit. Having a physical space can be helpful, even if the space is only contained inside a laptop or notebook. Entering your creative space can teach your brain to open up your creative thoughts, helping you to get in the zone faster. In order to create that space I’ve known people who depend on the smell and flavor of a favorite beverage, others light a candle, or have turned a closet into an office, or have an actual office. Some go to a coffee shop or a library. Some just put on headphones and particular music. The key is that at the schedule time you enter your creative space and train your brain to open up your creative thoughts. Then when you exit you can carry the thoughts with you or close them up as necessary to face the next task of your day. If you haven’t organized a space or made a schedule for time, then that is likely a significant drag on your creative efforts.

Plan your creative effort around your pillars
There are scientific studies done about willpower and how it is a limited resource. Anecdotally, I know this is true for me. Every decision I make is an exercise of willpower and makes following decisions more difficult. This is one of the reasons that decision heavy tasks, such as parenting, can be a huge drain on creative energy. Knowing this can help you as you structure time in your day to make room for creativity. It takes a large amount of willpower to stop playing a video game and go write. It takes less willpower to start writing right after you have finished lunch. In fact if you build a habit of lunch-then-writing the transition to writing takes no willpower at all. And the transition to lunch is helped by the biological imperative of hunger. I call this process setting a trigger.

I rely heavily on triggers. The routine of getting kids off to school in the morning triggers me to get out of bed early. Then once they are out of the house, the quiet reminds me that I need to get to work. Using an externally impose structure like a school schedule is very helpful in scheduling creative time. Our schedules go very mushy in the summer when we don’t have that external structure. In the absence of kids or school structure, I know creatives who sign up for classes, make writing date appointments, use a day job, or use scheduled volunteer work to provide external structure in their day. Using an external structure reduces your willpower load.

It is possible that some of your pillars will absorb creative energy for a time. If you’re struggling to pay bills, then the best use of your creative energy might be to go back to school and get training, so you can get a better job, so that you can be less stressed by bills, so that you have more room in your brain for creative things.

Analyze your blocks
Some things will interrupt your creative time. Other things will prevent you from starting. A challenge I regularly face is that if I know an interrupt is coming, say I have an appointment in an hour, there is part of my brain that doesn’t want to get started on a creative task because I know I’ll be interrupted. To combat this, I had to teach my self that five minutes is enough time to get something done. This is where visualizing my creative thoughts as existing in a cupboard in my brain has been very helpful to me. I open the cupboard and use those thoughts for five minutes then close up the cupboard again and move on with other tasks.

Alternately, you can rearrange the other parts of your life to defend large chunks of creative time. I know many writers who do this. It works best if your support network understands the need for those large blocks of uninterrupted time and participates in helping you defend them. If your support network doesn’t do high-focus creative work, it might be good to spend some time helping them understand creative flow. Because a two minute interrupting half way through an hour of writing time means that you don’t have an hour of writing time, you have two half hour writing times. Minus the time spent putting away whatever thoughts were opened up by the interruption. It often helps to have a visual signal to tell people not to interrupt you. We set up a string of flower lights at the entrance to my office. When the lights are on, my family knows to only interrupt if absolutely necessary.

The list of mental/emotional things that can block creating is a presentation to itself. I called that presentation Breaking through the Blockages and gave it at LTUE in 2015. Clicking this link will lead you to notes from that presentation. In addition to the points covered in that presentation, I add the thought that if you are doing emotional processing of grief or a life change, that emotional process is a creative one. It will absolutely interfere with your other creative efforts. We don’t usually think of grief as creative, but the process of grief is frequently one of letting go an old way of being while creating a new self that no longer centers the object of the grief. Self re-creation and grief are messy processes that slop over into unexpected spaces and pop up at inconvenient times. If at all possible don’t layer guilt for not creating on top of these processes. Remember the very first thing in this post, creativity will wait for you. This can be tricky to remember if one of the things you are grieving is lost creative time.

In my first iteration of this presentation I spent an entire segment on biological rhythms. This time I passed over it lightly, mostly because an audience question reminded me. We all have times of day where we’re energetic and times when we feel sluggish. Pay attention to your patterns, and if at all possible, schedule your creativity for the time of day when you feel energetic.

Transformations vs. incremental changes
When people come to a conference or creative retreat, they sometimes leave filled with energy and plans for renovating their entire life. Take a moment to consider how you want to manage that renovation. A massive effort to change everything often fails for several reasons. Habit is strong, and if you want to create a new pattern, you need to create structure that makes falling back into the old habits difficult.

The example I used was deciding that I spend too much time on facebook. If I declare that I’m going to spend no more than an hour per day on facebook, but don’t put any structure around that declaration, I’m likely to fail inside of two days. If I decide that any time I get on facebook I will set a one hour timer, that is better. I have a trigger to remind me to exit facebook. However I have to use willpower to set the timer and then I have to use willpower to turn off facebook when the timer beeps. It is very easy to forget the timer or distract past the alarm. If I install nanny software that automatically limits my facebook time to one hour per day, that has a better chance at working. I only have to decide to install the software once instead of once per day timer setting. And if I want to extend my facebook time it requires a decision and effort to do so. If I wanted to be even more certain that I’ll stay off facebook, I could delete my account entirely. This puts a significant logistical barrier to returning to facebook. An even more thorough method would be to completely cancel my internet. This last option would forcibly change many patterns in my life, and would have a signifcant impact on other members of my household, which brings me to the next reason that huge transformational life renovations often fail: transformation is hard on your support network.

Making sweeping changes all at once will make other people in your life uncomfortable. Because they are uncomfortable they may (consciously or unconsciously) pressure you to “return to normal.” For this reason massive life transformations can seriously disrupt relationships, which is why communication is critical during transformations. Also critical is disrupting old habit paths and putting road blocks to getting back to them. Certain life events make some level of transformation inevitable: Moving, getting married, getting divorced, birth, death, new day job, diagnosis, adoption, etc. These events inherently make some old habits impossible and provide an opportunity to build new habits. Building new habits is a creative process that will interfere with your other creative process until the new habit is established.

In order for a transformation to work, you have to be willing to let go of your old way of doing things. This may mean letting go of things you like in order to fix something you want to change. An example: I’ve long wanted to switch my online store software to a new system because the one I’ve been using is out of date. I began the process and then discovered that the new store system connects smoothly to my accounting software, but only if I switch to the online version of the accounting software. In order to fix my broken store system, I have to let go of an accounting system that was working just fine and re learn how to do my accounting. I have to be willing to change the thing I like to fix the broken thing.

The alternative to massive life transformation is incremental life change. This is transformation in pieces and at a small scale. It allows you to change a portion of your life and to let that change settle in before changing something else. Small changes can have significant ripple effects. For example: setting up a physical space for your creative efforts is not hugely disrupting to your regular life patterns or to your support network, but having it suddenly enables you to signal when you’re busy, allows you to set up creative triggers, and helps you open up your creative thoughts. Small changes can be significant. And accumulation of small significant changes will, over time, result in life transformation.

Health and Spoon Theory
If you have not heard about Spoon Theory, I recommend reading the linked article. It is a handy metaphor for understanding that we are not all granted the same quantity of energy each day. Some people can make 1000 decisions (or exercises of willpower) per day, others can only handle ten. Sometimes just managing ill health uses up 3/4 of your available energy, pillar maintenance uses up almost everything else, leaving only a sliver of energy for creativity. Being a caretaker for someone else can have the same toll. This is hard and not fair.

Unfortunately grieving (or raging) of your limited supply of energy also uses up the supply. Grief is often a necessary process in relation to ill health or caretaking, but pay some attention to moving through those emotions mindfully. Process them with your support network, with a therapist, with the help of books dealing with your issue. It can be easy to just sit with grief instead of moving through it. Resist the urge to shove it aside so you can focus on other things. “Shove aside” can be a necessary short term strategy, but unless you process that emotion, you’re stuck with it. And it accumulates. And it leaks into every aspect of your life.

Be aware that diagnoses almost always trigger grief (and a host of other emotions.) If you or someone you love gets a diagnosis, you’ll need to process it. The amount of processing depends on you, your past experiences, the pervasiveness of life change, how others around you are handling it, and a host of other factors.

If you are a healthy person, be aware that you know someone who isn’t. Take time to be part of a support network for someone who struggles. Solid support makes all the difference in being able to carve out creative time.

Break your patterns / get out of your box
As you are renovating to make room for creativity, be careful not to remove from your life all of the “distractions” that filled up your creative aquifer. Creative minds need rest. They need time to switch off from all the thinking. This is why you often see creative people diving into binge watching TV or playing video games. They need a comfortable retreat. That is important. However be on the alert for dysfunction in your habits. Eight hours of sleep is necessary for health. Fifteen hours of sleep is a sign that something is wrong. Two hours of video game may be refreshing. Ten hours of video game has almost certainly passed the point of diminishing return.

When you discover that your habits keep you contained in the same round of things, take time to do something new. Try a new activity. Go to a new place. Talk to new people. Get outside your comfort zone. Even if the new experience is uncomfortable and/or unpleasant while you’re going through it, you’ve still filled your brain with new material that you can draw on when you’re creating. Also, many times new experiences end up being enjoyable.

As a suggestion: donating time to helping others is a brilliant way to have new experiences and to fill up your creative/emotional energy.


Expect iterations

As you’re making changes whether they be incremental or transformational, you should expect a try/fail cycle in figuring out your life structure. Even if you do figure out the absolute perfect system where all the parts are working smoothly together, something in your life will change and that system will fall apart. If you know in advance that this is inevitable, you make be able to skip the part where system failure feels like a personal failure.

The example I often use for this is laundry. When Howard and I first got married we had one laundry basket. It was simple and effective. Then we had a baby, and another, and another. I discovered that adding a baby managed to triple the amount of laundry. The basket was always mounded and there were mounds on the floor. I always felt buried under laundry and overwhelmed by it. Then one day someone (probably Howard) said “Sandra, you can have more than one basket.” And he was right. Purchasing one basket per person suddenly changed a massive mound into neat baskets where clothes were sorted by person. All it took was recognizing that the system which worked great for two people was a complete failure at trying to handle five people.

When creativity is getting squeezed out of existence, stop and take time to figure out why the system that used to work isn’t working any more. Salvage pieces that are still working and rebuild.

I close the presentation with questions from the audience. Often the answers to specific questions generate some of the best insights of the presentation. Frequently this happens when one audience member has an answer for another audience member’s struggle. So I close with the reminder that if you’re struggling, you’re not the only one. If you ask your support network, online friends, family, odds are good that someone has exactly the words you need to help you move forward.

Best of luck in your creative efforts.

Slower Post Convention Recovery than Expected

It always takes me a few days to recover from a convention. LTUE ended on Saturday and by the end of it I was so tired I was not entirely coherent. Fortunately I had a good friend to help me make sure all of the things went into boxes and all of the boxes went into my car.

Sunday and Monday involved extra sleeping, staring at walls, and losing track of thoughts. Today is the first day where I feel back on track, but still not up to speed. I have a long list of post convention tasks and tasks that piled up because I couldn’t pay attention to them during the convention. One of which is a write up of the notes from my Structuring Life to Support Creativity presentation. I promised them to people who couldn’t attend because the room was too full. I’ve got the notes partially done, but the process is slow because that sort of post is very thinky and my supply of thinky is still limited.

How was the show? It was good. I never had a moment that felt big or personally pivotal, but I got to watch several friends have that sort of moment. I love seeing people I love make agreements and be excited about the things that are coming up for them. And I got to have dozens of conversations to catch up with people I care about deeply, but only get to see very occasionally. I got to teach a class and got feedback that it was useful to others. I got to participate in some amazingly fun panels with fellow panelists who taught me new things about their areas of expertise.

…and I know I have additional thoughts about the show, but I’ve just run out of brain for wording them. I’m going to post this as is for fear that if I don’t I’ll never get back to finish it up. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be able to catch those additional thoughts and get them down.

I’ll be at LTUE this week

LTUE begins tomorrow. For me it begins at 9am with my solo presentation: Structuring Life to Support Creativity. I’ve given this presentation at LTUE before, but it has been several years and I’ve re-structured the presentation to incorporate new thoughts and experiences that I’ve had in those years. So even if you’ve seen the presentation before, it will have new material in it.

In between scheduled panels and presentations, you’re most likely to find me in the dealers room at the Schlock Mercenary table. Though I won’t be there all the time since I have some meetings to attend and friends to catch up with that aren’t on my public schedule.

My schedule is as follows:

Thursday
11:00 am, Cascade A (UVCC): Structuring Life to Support Creativity
5:00 pm, Canyon: Collaboration and Coauthors

Friday
1:00pm, Elm: Fashion and Clothing Through the Ages
4:00pm, Maple: Normal Child Development

Saturday
9:00am, Arches: Balancing Platform and Artistry
10:00am, Ampitheater: How to Run a Killer Game Kickstarter²
12:00pm, Canyon: Working With a Freelance Editor

Not Being at an Event

Salt Lake Comic Con is happening this weekend and I am not there. I could have been there. They were willing to put me on panels. Instead I decided that I needed to focus on our currently running Kickstarter, fulfilling our prior Kickstarter (so close to done), and keeping school efforts stable for my two kids who are partially home schooled. I think this was the right decision as those three things are higher priorities in my life than anything I might have gained by attending the event.

And yet…

I see tweets from people I like who are there. They look like they’re having a great time. They say they’re having a great time. I know that social media is giving me the highlights reel. I’m seeing the shiniest moments and none of the exhausting / discouraging ones. But still a portion of my brain whispers that I’m missing out. I could have been there. This is when I remind myself that in order to be there, I would have to give up being here. If I’d gone I would have arrived at Sunday exhausted, in dire need of introvert time, and with a massive sense of guilt that I’d ignored important priorities for three days.

There are times when attending an event meshes well with my ongoing priorities, other times it simply doesn’t. There will be another year, another event. There will be a time when I am tweeting my highlights and someone else will wonder if they are missing out.

For today, I have some household errands to run and packages to ship.

Hotel, Jet Lag, and the Discovery of Stroopwafels

Today was spent at the Atlantic hotel in Kiel. There were staff meetings, registration, and orientation as we got the last pieces in place for the conference portions of the cruise. We’ have a good crowd:

In this photo Howard, Mary, and Dan are all pointing to Kenna, who is our queen of assistants and whose standard answer is “I can do that.”

One of the things that made me really happy was seeing attendee’s faces light up when they saw other attendees. These are people who may live half a world away from each other, but they are friends because of these Writing Excuses cruises. I love to be a part of the organization crew who made that possible.

I’m not suffering too badly from jet lag, though a noon nap was necessary today. Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have finished acclimating. I’m drinking lots of water and making sure I’m exposed to natural light as much as possible.

Today was also the day I first ate a stroopwafel. It will not be the last because, though they are treats from the Netherlands, Amazon in the US appears to sell them. A stroopwafel is a wafer cookie with two waffle layers and a gooey syrup filling. The whole thing is coated with cinnamon and sugar. It was delicious to eat and just as fun to say.

Tomorrow we board the ship. I’ll leave you with this little crocodile who was hanging out on our hotel sink.

He’s also featured on the do not disturb sign and some other hotel literature. His stomach says Qrogl, and I seem to remember my sister’s German-raised children loving a cartoon crocodile with that name. So, from Germany Qrogl says hello and hopes you will wash your hands thoroughly.