Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Get Work as an Artist

I’m tired of seeing resumes on my desk. If you’re an artist and you’re trying to get work, why are you sending me a resume? More to the point, why did the fancy school on your resume not teach you to submit a portfolio?

Don't get me wrong - I’m a proponent of art school, and I’m also a person who went to an art school. But still, I’m worried for the kids going to art school and what they’re learning about selling themselves or perhaps more aptly, what they're not learning.

To the point, if you’re an artist and want work, at minimum, this is what I need from you in order of most important to least:
  • A portfolio - Preferably one that's online, which showcases 10 - 15 pieces of your best stuff. Catered to the job you're going for, of course. In other words, don't send me a bunch of stationery if I'm hiring you to be a web designer. I want to see your web design work first and foremost. Feel free to sprinkle in a little of what you can do with print too, if you feel it's great.
  • A way to contact you. I honestly can not tell you how many times people forget this, or they give an unreliable phone number or email address. Make sure we can get in touch and that, if you're serious about the job, you are either there to answer your phone or able to call me back within 24 hours. It's called being professional.
  • A cover letter which tells me why you’re a fit for the job and something that’ll intrigue me about you as a person. Assure me, briefly, that you have the skill set I'm looking for and so long as your portfolio looks great, I'll happily bring you in for an interview.
The resume is almost optional. If you’ve had work before, and certainly if you’re going for a managerial position, I will definitely want to look over your credentials. But if I’m hiring you as a staff artist? I want to see what you can do, and we can then talk about the ways you go about doing it.

“But what about all the programs you need to know, like Photoshop and InDesign and don’t you want to know if I am using a Mac or a PC and, and, and…” No! Shush! Bad!

I do not care if you know Photoshop or not, if what I’m hiring you to do does not specifically cite Photoshop as a necessity. Macs and PCs are becoming more similar by the day, so I no longer worry about dragging a Mac native into a PC office – there are ways to make a great artist comfortable in any computer environment and from my experience, it’s worth the investment if you’re phenomenal.

The fact is this: There are ten thousand ways to make beautiful art or amazing designs and all I want you to be doing is working at your best. If I am looking for a designer and I want him or her to create a business card template which can be sent to a printer, then I assume he or she will know how to follow a spec sheet and create something lovely that is also of the correct format and file type that the printer requires – nothing more, and nothing less. How it’s done is none of my business, so long as it’s done.

Too, the time before a job interview is a great time to showcase your creativity. I love people who think outside the box when they submit things. I once got a portfolio that looked like a menu. Another person sent me a DVD with portfolio and a short, well-done movie about himself in place of a resume. Brilliant!

In the end, if you’re an artist and you think you can just follow the crowd when it comes to applying for work, you are going to get left in the dust. Reach deep down into your creative pockets and bring forth something that is truly you, and I guarantee you’ll not only find a job that fits you well, but one that’ll be worthy of your skills.

Friday, April 19, 2013

How to Write (Good) Fanfiction

I've been asked when I was going to cover this topic, so without further ado...

You may think good and fanfiction can't be in the same sentence together, and if you look at some of the stuff people post online (My Immortal, anyone?) you may have a point. However, many people enjoy writing fanfiction, myself included, and it's been that way for years even before the Internet. Some of these unofficial or non-canon stories are well-loved by fans and there's no reason you yourself couldn't pen the next great fic to go down in fandom history.

In a very broad sense, we write fanfic for many reasons:
  • We are looking to practice our writing or get started as a writer.
  • We feel we can do a good job of writing in a world which we love.
  • We simply get inspired to tell stories not seen in the actual canon.
Fanfic is not for the weak of heart -- people, even those who claim to be easy going about such things, will defend their own ideas of a popular tale, quite feverishly. But that shouldn't discourage you! You can learn many things from writing fanfiction, and not the least of these is learning to handle criticism gracefully.

Through writing, you will also learn what it feels to love what you're writing about. This is a very key element necessary in creating original works of your own. And of course, you can and should learn the basics of setting up scenes and characters for your own ideas, which fanfiction can teach you how to do.

When you write fanfic, you should write what you want and how you want, because there's no better use of fanfiction than to test the waters of reception for any given idea. If you are going to be a serious writer, you would do yourself a disservice following the popularized "rules" of fanfiction, such as pairing your original characters with actual characters, creating powerful characters, or alternate realities. You should simply strive to write characters in situations you would find fitting to them while keeping the whole thing interesting and enjoyable to your audience. Many of the best fanfics out there are the ones that don't follow the rules.

Still, you should try to follow these basics, as always:
  • Use proper grammar and spelling
  • Stick to one style of writing. If you're going for 3rd person omniscient, don't switch to first-person mid-story.
  • Try not to make the whole thing one big porno. At least add some feelings and conflicts and stuff.
  • Don't write "drabbles"... you cheater!
  • Write as if you were gonna' sell the thing (but stop short of actually selling it)
And one last but very important item:
  • Don't publish your fanfic if the author of the original work has expressed that they do not appreciate it.
Feel free to fanfic to your heart's content, but with one big word of caution: the minute you really start to enjoy the process of writing is the minute you should start considering penning some stories of your own. That is something you can be truly proud of and who knows: maybe people will soon be writing fanfiction of your stories!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Why Inspiration is Your Friend When Writing

If you're a writer, you've probably had this happen to you: You're sitting around, engaged in something as far from creative writing as possible, when it strikes. Inspiration! The thing that never comes when it's called and all too often comes when there's nothing to be done about it.

For as bad with timing as inspiration is, it's still our friend, regardless. Too, it's important to deliver on your inspiration right away, or at least, as soon as possible. Why?
  • Something happened to inspire you. This likely means you're in a "good state" to write. If you can manage it, pull away from your current project and start acting on your inspired thought. Keep a journal and write it down, if nothing else.
  • There's no guarantee you'll remember your awesome idea later. And that goes double for still being inspired when later finally comes. Don't waste any of it!
  • Understand that inspired thought is rare and wonderful, even if you don't know how to use it right away. Again, write it down. A way will be found.

Sometimes people will come to me and complain of writer's block, but they have a million great ideas "saved for later". Don't be tempted to do this with your inspired thoughts. There's no guarantee of a "later" if you're stuck on the beginning of something! See what ways you can work with your inspired thought right now! When later comes, so will other inspirations, and you can use them, then. I say this too much -- don't fall in love with your first draft, and in a nutshell, this is why.

When inspired thought comes to you, don't squander it! Get a journal and log it, keep thinking on it, and as soon as you can, get writing!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Creative Writing From Start to Finish - Part III

We've come to the final part of our series on creative writing today, and I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed the journey. Since we’ve gotten through concept development, outlining, story structure and writing, it’s on to the last steps: timelining, theme weaving, and editing.

You might consider this the boring part of the tutorial and quite frankly, there was a time where I would have agreed with you. Nonetheless, the things we cover in this portion are equally, if not more important than the things we talked about in the last two chapters. And I promise, I’ll try to keep it all interesting. In fact, you may even enjoy it.

Writing timelines is a skill I always recommend people develop if they’re going to tackle a story, and especially one that is told in multiple parts or will otherwise be quite long and detailed. I don’t always save doing this for the end, and will often start timelining in the same instance that I pull my first story concept together, and work on it throughout the whole process. In general, my timeline isn’t finished until I’ve put significant work into my story, already, so there’s never a bad time to do one.

For a decent timeline, you’ll want to lay out major events of your plot, theme(s), and the actions of each of your major characters, in parallel lines along a span of time – the beginning and end of your story. When starting out, you may have a timeline that looks as simple as this:

But more than likely, you’ll finish with one as big as or bigger than this:

Whatever you end up with, your timeline has one purpose – to keep complicated plot points in line with one another. As you write your timeline, you will begin to see things line up in ways which may lead you to a theme, or two, which could help tie your story together.

Themes are sometimes credited as the glue of a story, since they do such a nice job of unifying things. At its core, a good theme is simultaneously the lesson and inspiration we get through reading and one of the best ways a reader can make a connection to our real world from one of fantasy. The main theme supports the plot. As with many things, themes are best if kept simple and able to be described in one sentence. A good theme may be as simple as “If we work hard and stay optimistic, we can achieve anything.”

The best way to define your theme is to read through your writing and see what kinds of ideas have already tied themselves together. It’s very likely that you’ve placed a theme into your story without even realizing it. Working with the above example of working hard and being optimistic, you may choose to emphasize a point in your tale when a character achieves something through hard work, in an especially poignant fashion. If you find an instance where a character does not get what they want through hard work, you may keep it as a conflict or re-work it so it better fits your theme.

There are artsier themes, as well, and you may choose to keep them secondary to the main theme. Themes revolving around the rising and setting of the sun, change of seasons, and other such things are in this vein. For example, you may choose to align each of your characters with a season, and when your summer character has her moment of glory, you may choose to depict it happening on a hot day in July. Themes such as this are wide open, and serve as nice little extras your audience will appreciate if done well.

Your final phase of writing will come with the editing process. As we’d discussed in the last entry, you will want your story to be moved along in a way where each scene is set up to show off a character trait, move the plot, or both. Everything else is fluff and should be discarded.

Let’s think of an example scene where two characters are conversing. One character may reveal she’s looking to have more adventure in her life, thus revealing something about her character and setting up a major plot point where it is assumed she will soon be on some epic journey. Her companion may state that he’s traveled to a place full of wonder and excitement, revealing something about his character in turn, as well as taking the next step into the plot. It’s very tempting for beginning writers to start a scene such as this with the two characters talking about the weather and what a nice day it is, but unless the weather is a factor in the plot or a character’s future actions, our audience doesn’t need to know too much about that stuff and it can be left out.

Finally, as you review your writing, you want to make sure you’ve done a good job of showing and not telling. What I mean by that is, it’s easiest to simply state that major plot points are happening as they happen, and give away the objective of characters by equipping them with dialogue which states specifically what it may be – but it’s hardly interesting.

Check your work and read over it. Are things too obvious? Do you leave room for your audience to imagine once in a while? Did you find yourself writing more of “the full moon was out” and less of “faint rays of light glinted off of broken glass, providing the only illumination to the ground”? Now is the time to fix little nuances such as these and make them more interesting.

One last word on editing – if you’re doing a professional job, pay for a professional editor. You will be glad you did.

So that wraps up our little course on creative writing! I hope you’ve enjoyed and I hope you’ve learned something in the last three weeks. There is so very much more to cover on this subject than what I’ve given you here, so I recommend you look into books and other articles on the subject as you continue to grow as a writer.

Remember – there’s no better way to learn how to write than to start writing. Stay creative, until next time!