The Art of the Collage

Do you remember making collages in elementary school? I remember making collages for everything. I cut up so many magazines to make collages for my favorite books, my favorite movies, things that made me smile, and so on. I honestly remember making collages for fun outside of school because I was a huge nerd, chopping up old catalogs and newspapers we had hanging around our house.

Now I did not keep a single collage I made when I was younger because I never really had any reason to. I may have hung a couple up in my room if I liked the pictures, but any time I cleaned up my room the collages were usually the first thing thrown into the recycling bin. Collages were fun to make, but useless to hang onto.

I would guess it’s been about fifteen years since I made a collage and suddenly, in the last few weeks, I’ve had a very strong urge to make a collage. What I want to make is a vision board, which is basically a collage, but with a purpose.

And I’m super excited about it.

vision board 1

Example! Mine’s probably going to be a little spookier, cuz I’m a spooky lady.

A vision board is a tool to help you visualize and focus on your life goals. You can use any type of surface you want, like a cork board, the front of your fridge, or even a Pinterest board. The only thing you have to do is put it somewhere where you can see it every day. A vision board is meant to remind you that you’re working toward something and to never give up.

Now, if I make my vision board, I want it to be on a poster board. Something that I can easily hang near my bed and see everyday.

I know what you’re thinking, Daniel. Why do I even want to make a vision board?

Well, because I recently found some of my personal ‘to-do’ lists and I have had the same life goals for the past few years and have made zero progress on them. Zero, zilch, bagel. Nothing to show for these goals I’ve had since I was in high school.

It made me realize that something needed to change. After looking back over the last decade of my life, I realize my issue isn’t lack of skill or time. It’s lack of motivation. It’s because, after a long day of work, I come home, sit on the couch, and zone out watching Netflix. Yes, in the morning, when I first get up, I might think to myself, “Today’s the day! When I get home from work I’m going to do those amazing things I’ve wanted to do for years and it will be amazing!” But after eight hours in the office, all I can think about it relaxing. About grabbing a beer and chilling on the couch.

Well, hopefully, a vision board will change that.

Now I realize a vision board is a bit of a cheesy idea. It’s definitely something young white women on Pinterest do and they fill their board with cliche sayings like, “Go on more adventures” or “Love my husband more.” But you know what, I might be a white woman, but that doesn’t mean my vision board has to be useless. I am going to put concrete, tangible things on my vision board so that every day I wake up and the first thing I see is my to do list.

Wait…this is the most type-A thing I’ve ever done….Oh well, if the anxiety shoe fits.

Anyway, some things I’m going to include on my vision board/life to do list are:

  • Write a novel. I’ve literally had this as a personal goal since I was six and, in the past twenty-one years, I have written zero novels.
  • Become a certified cicerone. This is something I’ve been toying with since I started getting into craft beer. Not only would it basically certify me as a beer snob, it would also open doors to freelancing for craft beer magazines and marketing for small breweries. How cool would that be?
  • Run a half marathon. Literally been talking about this for a year now and all of my attempts to stay on a training schedule have fallen apart.
  • Go back to school. My current job offers an employee discount on college credits and, when I started, I told myself I would take advantage of that. Well, in total I’ve taken two classes. Been here almost five years.

That’s just the beginning, Daniel. I have so many things I want to put on my vision board and I’m excited to get started.

What would you put on your vision board, Daniel?

-EMS

 

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For a Professional Writer, I’m Super Bad at Keeping a Writing Schedule

How long has this blog been going for? More than two years at this point? And in that time only one of us has earned a punishment, and that was me. Last time I felt like I had a pretty decent excuse. I got a sudden migraine the evening I was supposed to write and ended up in bed, waiting patiently for my eyes to stop throbbing.

Well, I have officially earned the second punishment in the history of Seven Degrees of Smudde and guess what my excuse is this time? Well, surprise, surprise. I have none.

Want to know what I did today? Well, I woke up at 11 a.m., hung out with the ferrets while I watched reruns of Gilmore Girls, read the novella “Cannibals in Candyland,” and then binged the first season of Netflix’s “Frontier” in preparation to binge the second season tomorrow. It was about two beers and four episodes into this Netflix binge that I remembered what day it was. At that point it was a quarter after 10 p.m. and, honestly, I didn’t really feel like pausing my show to write. I just texted you and said to start preparing a punishment because I didn’t feel like writing.

God, listen to me. I didn’t feel like writing. I’m a professional writer. I get paid lots of money to go to work, sit behind a desk, and write things for eight hours. I’m also a pretty responsible and organized writer at work. I rarely miss deadlines and when I do, I let my team know that I’ve been delayed. And while I might not have a good excuse for being delayed, at least I know my schedule well enough to know that I’m fucked.

And yet, when I get home, I become a terrible writer. A terrible writer who sometimes forgets when things are due, like I did today.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m like this. When I was younger, I was always writing. I never stopped writing. You probably remember, Daniel, the way I always carried notebooks with me and would sit for hours writing in them. I always had a story I was working on. Granted, back then, I didn’t have any deadlines to meet, but I’m 100% positive I would have met my deadlines if they had existed. I would have met them because I always felt like writing.

Now that I’m older and I kind of have the writing job I always wanted, I don’t feel like writing. I feel like sitting and watching Netflix and reading trashy horror novels.

Sometimes I think it’s because I’m getting older and I don’t have as much of an imagination as I did when I was a kid. Sometimes I think it’s because I spend all of my time writing at work that when I come home it’s the last thing I want to do. Sometimes I think it’s because unless there is an immediately tangible reward or consequence to a task, I have no motivation to complete it, which is a common theme in my life. For example, unless I have an early meeting at work or I’m going somewhere fun, I cannot get up with my alarm in the morning.

Anyway, I hope you have fun thinking up my punishment, Daniel. Sorry for getting this up so late! I need to keep better track of myself. In other news, “Cannibals In Candyland” was just as ridiculous as it sounds.

-EMS  

 

I’m Never Prepared

Dude, I feel like I’m never prepared to write for SDoS. No matter how well I plan out my week, I always end up writing my post during my lunch break at work, struggling to brainstorm a topic in between my meetings and work projects. Logically, I know that if I just take a few hours to brainstorm and outline my thoughts, my SDoS posts would be so much better, but it’s hard sometimes to find the motivation to put a lot of effort into something when I’m not feeling particularly inspired.

I think that’s the root of my problem. I think I’m in the same place that you are, Daniel. I’ve run out of ideas and it’s hard to find more things to write about when all I do is work, crochet, and chill at home. I’ve written about all of those things. I need something new.

Earlier this week you asked me to teach you how to be inspired and I jokingly said you need to stand on your head and drink kombucha, neither of which I will willingly do. But the more I think about it, the more I like the analogy. Finding inspiration is like standing on your head and drinking kombucha: physically tasking and not appealing at all.

A lot of people seem to think that I’m a creative or inspired person, but in reality I rarely feel “inspired” anymore. Yes, I crochet and I write and I sometimes craft things, but in reality all of the things I create don’t magically appear, conjured by a flash of magic inspiration. In reality, I crochet things I see on Pinterest, write things based on parameters given to me by my boss or a writing prompt, and make things to fill a need in my life rather than to satisfy a whim.

My creativity isn’t spontaneous, romantic thing that sweeps me off my feet, it’s more like a task on a to do list that takes time and energy.

Inspiration is like standing on your head and drinking kombucha. You’ve got to take some time and get yourself into a headstand and then you have to force yourself to do something you really don’t want to do, like drink gross kombucha or write a bunch of garbage until something wonderful happens.

There’s a quote from Stephen King that always comes to mind when I finally force myself to sit down and write my SDoS post:  “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

Sometimes I wish Stephen King could just follow me around, poking me with a ruler and reminding me over and over that if I want to write I just have to sit down and do it. Don’t loggy gag, don’t sit around and use the “I don’t have any ideas” excuse.

Obviously this post is more a reminder for me than it is for you, Daniel. You are a very inspired person and just listening to the way you talk about the blogs and your roleplaying campaigns, I know that you’re a way better writer than me. I really should be asking you to teach me to be inspired, not the other way around.

I guess I’ll end this post with another reminder to myself and any other writers out there on the internet who stumble upon this post. It doesn’t matter how good your writing is, what matters is you wrote something.

Writing is like going for a run. It doesn’t matter how fast you go or how long you run for, what matters is that you went for a run. Same goes for writing. I hated my last three SDoS posts and my last two WMR posts, but at least I sat down and wrote them.

-EMS

 

Writers Block?!

“I don’t believe in writers block.  Do plumbers get plumbers block?”

— Django Wexler

So writing has been my new big hobby.  I am now running two campaigns and write in one of two blogs each week.  I am slowly drafting a real book or novella.  I am in the middle of Story by Robert McKee, a book about crafting story and making the most of your words.

I was bound to encounter this writers block I kept hearing about.  And its proving a difficult thing to overcome!  Specifically I’m encountering this with the Rogue Trader campaign.  I have a ton of content written up already and is just waiting for me to flesh out, but the last story arc of the campaign is eluding me.  I’ve work-shopped it a couple times, and the ideas are pretty alright, but I’m having quite a time trying to fill out interesting and unique quests.

Past posts I’ve made have put forward the strong ideas I have about narrative and goals in story writing.  My goals for the Rogue Trader campaign are to have a campaign that my players have a vested interest in, and I always want it to be actionable by the players.  The moment that I run a campaign and I’ve talked for more than five minutes I feel like I’ve failed.  Its a role playing game, and I never want to have my players become bored listening to me talk.

I want to keep my players engaged, and much like a video game, I keep trying to play to their innate desires as characters and players.  Players want to have fun and do things while their characters can have fun, emotional arcs through the story.  My players with few exceptions give me very little to work on that front.  I’ve asked them for more to work with and I’ve begun role-playing exercises meant to try and make them think about their characters in complex ways.  However, this has availed me very little.

I press on though, and that’s suitable.  I feel like I’ve blown through all of my unique ideas though.  The remaining ideas I have for quests don’t align or link up to form grand, overarching ideas.  It feels mishmashed and I hate it.  The quests I want to write have interconnecting threads, themes, and motivations that make sense and are possible.

I don’t want to fill in the blanks with meaningless filler just to navigate towards something I want to do.  Tools like that cheapen the effect I’m going for.

I hate NPC’s that have emotions or motivations that translate to “convenient for the GM.”  Having combat encounters for the sake of keeping the players entertained is almost always a poor idea, at least in Rogue Trader.  If I have a hive gang attack because they are looking to score some cash, the players will assume that they must’ve been sent by somebody.

I can’t really elaborate on the questline I need to flesh out because one to two of my players read this and it would be wiiiiiiiiild spoilers.  I have some cool moments I want to navigate through and I don’t want to rob them of the experience.

There are a number of things I’ve read about doing to try and clear my problem but it doesn’t feel like it works.

  • Keep writing anyway.  Stuck on one part?  Write another until the problem clears itself up!

My issue is that my next big hurdle is campaign order and structure.  Which quests happen in which order.  Since I don’t even know what the individual quests hold, I can’t even do placeholders!  Maybe I’m over thinking it?

  • Back up and try something else.  Write a bunch of scenarios and see which one is the best!

This has failed me.  All the scenarios I write feel like they lose something personal and begin to feel like filler.  If a scene or an act doesn’t have a premise and a meaningful conclusion I feel like its pointless.  Now I get as a role-playing game these things can be fun because the players make it their own but all I keep coming up with is “Go to location.  Do the thing.  Return.”

But its Rogue Trader so I need to try and write things in such a way that the players don’t fly away out of boredom or blow it all to hell.  This is why Dark Heresy is the #1 Warhammer 40k system: there are no fucking spaceships.

  • Don’t try and jump in and write.  Make the outline, then the draft, then write it.

I love this one, and its how I actually usually write my quests.  This is what I’ve been currently trying but since I’m stuck with even the core idea of the quest line I still feel stuck, even when I begin to list out segments and settings.

On top of all of this: the campaign is continually marching on.  I can’t take a month to work on it since my players expect to play every other Saturday.  And if I take a month off to work on it, something else will fill that RPG void and I’ll lose my platform to run my campaign.

I acknowledge that I’m probably wildly overthinking this.  My difficult has always been brainstorming and coming up with ideas.  I’ve never felt deeply creative.  Many of my friends are an endless font of inspiration and ideas, but I feel like I struggle to even come up with set pieces.

My players are finally on the trail of the story at large.  I’m hoping this is the event that kicks my brain into gear.  I usually produce good work at the eleventh hour.  I learned this in college- all nighters were my bread and butter.  I don’t want to work that way, but we will certainly see what happens.

-DTM

Learning to Do Hard Things

This isn’t one of my posts digging at the bottom of my existentialism, but its definitely a lovely trip to the shoreline of my wandering thoughts.  Let’s have a picnic!

I’m still searching for the thing I want to be doing.  Not sure what I want to do, or what exactly I want it to do for me, but I definitely feel like I’m searching for my next big thing.

So I’m about to GM my 15th session of Rogue Trader.  That is nearly three times as long as my first attempt at GMing.  But I think I’ve found my groove- I’ve know what I want the campaign to be, I’ve learned what systems work best for my players, and I’ve compiled the tools I need to keep the campaign at a nice, semi-immersive level.

I really want to keep doing this.  When I’m in the right rhythm, and my players are nice and interactive, its a lot of fun.

It’s been giving me an outlet I didn’t even know I needed.  I’m a daydreamer.  I listen to music and think about cool moments or short little tidbits.  And I’ve always done this- in fact, if I listen to a lot of music I used to listen to when I was young I remember what I used to daydream about.

So running a Rogue Trader campaign has sort of made me evaluate the idea that maybe I want to be a story teller.  Maybe I should write a book, or pursue GMing professionally, or perhaps try and become a game designer.

It’s also made me wonder whether it would be fun to be an actor/voice actor.  I have a lot of fun play acting the characters.  Practicing their voices, writing their stories, and trying to really refine how they feel.  During Rogue Trader I really want my NPC’s to come across like living, breathing characters.

So writing and acting both sound like a lot of fun.  But now I have to learn to write and act.

And its going to be hard.  It takes years to get truly good at these things and I get discouraged that I’m discovering these things so late in life.  I did my time in college, and now I have to start over.

But I mean- that’s what I wanted to find.  Something that I wanted to do and I’m willing to start on the ground and work my way up.  I’ve been getting books on writing, and listening to podcasts and stuff.  I just have to start actually doing it.

I need more time in the day.  I need to take the time to take the time.  Things are hard, but the hard things are worth doing.

 

Making my Own Opportunities

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

There is some controversy about where this quote comes from. It has been attributed to a Roman philosopher named Seneca, to the football player Darrell Royal, and an American insurance salesman and writer named Elmer Letterman.

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You gotta read this, Daniel. So good!

Before you start imagining me, sitting at my desk, reading classic literature and smoking a pipe, let me tell you where I actually found this quote. I found it in the wonderful novelist Nick Offerman’s book, Gumption.

Not quite as regal sounding as a Roman philosopher or great American writer, huh?

When I read this quote, it really resonated with me. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it or some iteration of it before, especially since it goes hand in hand with things like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “you better work, bitch.” However, I think it stuck with me because it doesn’t attribute success to just hard work. Yes, hard work is essential to accomplishing your goals, but in this day and age you could be the hardest worker and still get nowhere.

As a fellow millennial, Daniel, I’m sure you’ve heard all the terrible things people say about our generation. We’re all selfish and entitled and don’t know the meaning of hard work. As a fellow millennial, you probably also know that this is complete and utter bullshit.

It seems like every person I know who’s close to my age works their ass off. All of my friends work forty or more hours a week, find odd jobs around town to make extra cash, and still need to pinch pennies every single week. You can just glance at the news to see that people our age are having a hard time finding steady work, even with college degrees, and yet for some reason lots of people seem to think it’s our fault.

We’ve been preparing all our lives for our lucky break. Now we just need the opportunity.

After reading this quote, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own goals. Some of them I have been actively working towards, like running a half marathon. However, I realized for some of them I’m just sitting around waiting for the opportunity rather than using my time to prepare for when that opportunity arises.

Maybe the previous generation was right about me. Maybe I am just a lazy, entitled millennial.

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Me after a long run. 

One goal I’ve had since I picked up a pen was to write a novel. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school and I would love, love, love to publish one of my stories for the world to enjoy.

Except, in the last four years, I haven’t been preparing for it at all. I have written three, maybe four short stories in the past four years. That might sound like a lot, but that’s definitely not enough to prepare to be a writer. I’ve been sitting around, waiting for something to strike suddenly and change my life rather than getting up and changing my life myself.

I feel like I also sit around waiting for easy opportunities rather than taking advantage of the tools at my fingertips. Yes, it would be so much easier to get picked up by some big publishing company and have them edit and promote my work, but that won’t happen until I get my name out there. And how can I do that? Well, in this magical age of the internet, I can self publish. No one’s stopping me from writing my stories and posting them somewhere. Maybe even on a WordPress blog. What a concept!

This is where I subtly work in our new blog, Write Makes Right. See how I did that? I’m a marketer.

But there’s more to it than just posting what you’ve created on the internet and hoping people will stumble upon it. If I want to make my writing dreams come true I have to be my own editor, promoter, and manager.

Terrifying? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Sorry for this one being a bit rambly, Daniel. Nick Offerman talks so much about creativity and hard work in his novel that, once I finished it, I was eager to get out and just do something. Anything! I just felt the urge to create and write and this blog post is a product of that passion.

This is also an example of how I need to hone my skills if I’m going to be my own editor.

See you next week on Write Makes Right!

–EMS

I Back-flip Into Holes

I’ve always envied you Emily.  You have maintained a focus on yourself and your goals your entire life.  You’ve been falling down holes for years.  And luckily its usually the same hole!

My hobbies shift with the times.  I get really into various things for like a year or two and then I move to something else.  Well recently I sold off the majority of my Magic cards.  I also traded in a huge portion of my Batman comics because I just couldn’t keep up.  Last year I was in an in between phase when I decided to run a Rogue Trader RPG campaign.

Its probably my only solid hobby right now.  I am reading for entertainment less, I’m not getting through my video game backlog, and I have essentially stopped watching shows.  I fancy myself an ‘immersive GM,’ so I spend my time writing what I hope are interesting settings, quests, and enemies.

I bring all of this up not to brag but to emphasize how much time I spend on this.  I’m always thinking about it, planning for it, and writing down ideas and quest lines.  Most evenings after work I probably sit down and write at least a little bit.  I agonize over it, but I really love it.  It’s fun and satisfying!

But Emily, I back-flip down holes.  I throw myself into whatever my current hobby is hard.

So I decided I’m going to run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign for my work.  Some of my coworkers will get to be players in their very first campaign.  I’m going to have to write a campaign that’s not only exciting, but introduces these people to the campaign setting.  On top of all of that, the quest line needs to slowly teach them how to play the game.

One campaign was sucking up a huge portion of my time.  Now I’ve agreed to two!  I’m going the distance.

Did I mention I’ve never officially run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign before?  So I need to learn how to GM it like a boss.

But fuck it, ya know?  I’m enjoying writing.  So much so that I am considering writing an official book.  So to keep my writing muscle flexing and getting swole, you and I are starting a brand new blog in which we will write a story back and forth, 500-ish words at a time!  Starting next Friday?!

BUT FUCK IT, YA KNOW?  I’m going to start my own writing project on my own goddamn blog.  I have been playing with the idea of writing a motherfucking prequel story to the Killian Rage from my goddamn Rogue Trader campaign.  It would be my first semi-serious online novella series.  Just to see how it goes, fuck it.

You may occasionally trip and fall into a hole Emily.  And its refreshing to see someone so dedicated to their self and their hobbies.  But I’ve never been known to trip.  My hobbies go too fast and hard for me to nurture them appropriately over the course of years.  So if I’m going to full enjoy a hobby, the only way I know how is to overload the machine and shove the whole damn thing into a hole.

And then I’m falling; surrounded by the elements of my work.  Running two campaigns, and potentially three blogs at one time?  Sometimes you see the the ground rushing up to meet you and all you can do is point and scream:

“ROLL INITIATIVE!”