Saturday, July 26, 2008

Virtual Sketching and Butt Kicking

"fruit thingies" - in my sketchbook (which is close to getting full -- remember I will hold a drawing of my blog subscribers to give it away once its full)
copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater.

First of all, I wanted to post my sketch for the July Virtual Sketching project. The reference photo -- fruity things of some variety (oranges? mangoes? alien seed pods?) -- really wasn't the sort of thing I'd normally tackle, but hey, it was entertaining and yellow-orange-thingies are always challenging for me because of the nature of yellows in colored pencils. The sketches are supposed to be posted any time today so you still have time!

Okay, and now onto the butt-kicking. I do these periodically for those who need/ slash want them. I was already brainstorming about doing one yesterday after two writers in two different online venues asked me how I got so much done, and then the always wonderful Jo Castillo left a comment on my last entry asking for a butt-kicking . . . so I knew it was a sign from the heavens.

So here it goes. You all know what I do -- I have two toddlers, three editors working with me on four novels, a part-time art career, musical instruments I practice, meals to cook (I'm allergic to preservatives so everything has to be from scratch), blogs to write, etc. etc. I think I have a full, life, but I don't feel like I have an impossible life. It's a happy life doing what I love.

And here are the secrets to my success in this month's butt-kicking. Remember, butt-kickings are like hydrogen pyroxide -- if it stings it means it's working.

1. Know What You Want
This is the biggest thing. I know exactly what I want. I knew I wanted to be a published novelist. I knew I wanted to make my living as a self-employed creative type. I knew I wanted to play the piano, etc. You can't make something happen unless you know what it is you want to happen.

2. When You Say You Want it You Better Mean It
The fact of the matter is that when most people tell me they want to be a published novelist or a career artist, they mean want with a small w. A small w want means that you aren't absolutely committed to hunting down that goal with an elephant gun. A small w want means that you can get discouraged. It means that you can be pulled from your motivation by the latest episode of America's Got Talent. No one can make you want something more. It's got to come from inside you.

3. When You Really Want Something, You'll Get It
This is not psycho babble. It's really true. If the goal is specific enough and you are committed enough to achieving it, you will get it. I used to qualify this by saying that physical constraints applied -- you know, if you were five foot tall, you couldn't end up playing professional basketball. But now, I don't think I believe that anymore. I've seen the stories about people taking on overwhelming odds and I now think that however crazy your goal is -- first five foot tall basketball pro, leader of the free world, bestselling author, etc - if you really want it, capital W Want, then you will make it happen.

4. Know the Difference Between Can't and Won't
This is one of the classics. People in my colored pencil workshops tell me all the time, "I can't draw anything better than a stick figure." But what they really mean is won't. Anyone can draw with perfect photorealism. But only some people really want to. Capital W Want that means they put in the hours to achieve it. The rest of the world won't draw anything better than a stick figure. I caught myself the other day telling my husband that I didn't have the patience to knit. That's a lie, did you notice? All it means is that I'm not willing to have the patience to knit. If I wanted to knit, I'd make it happen. Don't lie to yourself and say that you "can't" do something or that you don't have the skills necessary to make it happen. That's self-defeatism at its finest and most insidious.

5. You are Your Own Best Friend
We all have friends that motivate us, right? That get us back on track and pick us up when we're down? These best friends tell us that not getting into a particular juried show isn't crushing or that that deadline pressing down on you is doable. Well, guess what. You had better be your own best friend. Because you have to have a little internal voice motivating you all the time. Nobody will believe in your dreams as much as you and no one can be as hard on you to achieve them as you. Except maybe Jiminy Cricket.

6. Who Are You?
What do you tell people? What do you want to be able to tell people? "I'm an artist." "I'm a writer." "I'm a five foot tall basketball player." Now let's pretend that these people can drop into your life randomly seven different times over seven different days. What will they find you doing? Will they find you, the artist, creating art or developing marketing plans for it? The writer writing? The basketball player shooting hoops? Or will they find you procrastinating . . . watching TV, folding laundry that could wait until after your dreams get tended to, reading my blog, running unnecessary errands. The fact of the matter is that you need to make your dreams your identity. Long before I was a published author, I told people I was a writer and an artist, and if you dropped in at my house randomly at any given time, that's what you'd find me doing.

It's a question of wanting it, people. It's why I like writing for teens. Do you remember being a teen? When you had dreams so big they actually hurt to think you wouldn't get them? You need to sweep away the years of cynicism and putting your dreams aside and really harness that wanting again. In the end, watching So You Think You Can Dance won't change your life. But finishing that drawing, writing that paragraph, planting that garden -- whatever your dream is -- that will.

End butt kicking.

Monday, July 21, 2008

You gotta have goals.

"Memory" - 16 x 16" colored pencil on board.
Copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater.
My panel for the Equine Mural Mosaic (which is fascinating -- check it out)

Regular readers will know that I am in love with goals. If goals were a vegetable, I would pick bushels of them, eat them until I was sick, and then freeze the rest so that I could have a continuous supply of goals through the cold months.

One thing I have learned about goals, however, is that, like vegetables, if you don’t use ‘em or freeze ‘em right away, they go bad. Some of them go bad in a spectacular fashion. Like if you vow to lose 20 pounds at the beginning of the year, forget about the goal, and then discover Haagen-Daas ice cream sometime in June . . . not only is that goal to lose weight gone bad, but it’s bad like stinking in the bottom of your crisper drawer bad. With rotten goal juice eeking around it.

And other goals go bad in a sort of failure to stay relevant way. Like if you suddenly crave sweet potatoes and buy a ton of them. If you don’t cook all of them, you’ll have those few lonely ones left over. They’ll never go bad in a fantastically awful way, but you’ll end up throwing them away after eight months because you just don’t want them anymore. So goals should be checked often and the ones that are really timely ought to be attacked immediately.

So enough with the metaphor. I wanted to write a post today about New Year’s Resolutions. Stop staring at the screen like that, it’s rude. I know it’s nearly the end of July (yes, it’s nearly the end. The 21st. Can you believe it?) but they’re still a good topic. Because halfway through the year(ish) is a great time to pull out your Resolutions and see which of them are done, which of them are so irrelevant you’ll never truthfully attempt them, and which of them are oozing stink-juice in your veggie drawer.

Here’s the sordid truth about New Year’s Resolutions: very rare is the resolution which actually stays good for a year. Twelve months is a long time. Priorities change, economies shift, careers jiggle, exercise goes better than planned, things get born under your porch with six limbs and eyes that glow red faintly in the darkness. It just makes good sense to reevaluate your goals partway through the year to make sure they’re still functioning the way they’re supposed to.

Here are my New Year’s Resolutions I made at the beginning of the year. Let me show y’all how I’m changing them to make them fit my changing priorities (without welching on any of them).

1. make x amount of money with my art
2. make x amount of money with my novels
3. make x amount of that with prints.
4. Contract for sequel to Lament.
5. Memorize 2 O’Carolan pieces for the harp
6. Visit NYC
7. Inspire someone to be an artist
8. Comfortably run a mile
9. Record a lament for Lament.
10. Get an agent
11. Contract for one other book.

I've managed to accomplish #1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 11. Instead of just crossing them off the list, I’m revising them.

NEW 1. Establish a solid financial plan for the next two years. (See how this is related to my first three goals I accomplished?
NEW 4. Begin writing Re: Myself, my next work in progress. (See how this one flows naturally from finishing Ballad and handing it in to my editor? The idea isn’t to keep myself constantly busy for the sake of being busy – but rather to keep myself motivated and on track for my career and personal life.)
NEW 7. Talk to one hundred teen writers about the business of writing. I’m about a third of the way there already. (similar purpose, just different career)
NEW 10. Keep my novel website updated regularly.
New 11. Double my number of subscribers to my writing blog ( and my short story blog ( (see how both of these are about furthering my writing career, just like the original goals)

Now for the ones I haven't done yet. Two stay as they are: I'm still going to NYC and I'm still going to record the lament -- I've written it, I just need to make it into the studio.

But two need to be changed.

I didn’t do #5. I’ll confess, I let these two musical pieces sort of go stale next to my potatoes. I had thought I’d be playing my harp more, but really I’ve been working with my acoustic guitar more as the harp needs new strings. So I’m changing #5 to something that will actually have meaning on the list: Buy an electric guitar for my birthday in November and start to learn some fun tricks on it.

And I worked diligently on #8, running a mile, until it got hot – really hot – and then I decided that I really needed something that I could do indoors. I’ve been dying to get killer abs, so I switched this to sit-ups instead. (and whoo do I see a difference . . . you could throw bricks at me now and my abs would repel them). Anyway, so my new number 8 is to do sit ups three times a week for the rest of the year. Still fitness related. But totally air conditioned. Go on, call me a wuss . . .

So how about you guys? Have you revamped your goals yet? Do you need to?