New Years, New Worlds

The New Year as currently celebrated in Western Europe (and
from there in European-colonized places like the USA, Canada, and Australia)
started in 45 BCE with the adoption of the Julian calendar, instituted by the
Roman emperor Julius Caesar. However, this was far from the only way to
celebrate the New Year, then and now. Traditional Chinese and Jewish New Years
are both calculated on a lunar cycle and typically fall in early spring and autumn,
respectively. The Iranian or Persian New Year is celebrated on the spring
solstice (around March 21). And during the Middle Ages in Europe, depending on
where a person lived, they might have celebrated the New Year on any number of
days. In fact, across history and the world, there’s not a single time of year
that hasn’t played host to the New Year in at least one culture. (Don’t believe
me? Check out this list of different New Year’s
days on Wikipedia

This matters to us as speculative artists because we are in
the business, one way or another, of creating worlds that don’t exist, and part
of doing that is thinking about how those worlds would work, and how the people
in them think and go about the daily lives that are about to be disrupted by
whatever adventures we’re plotting for them. This is particularly true for
writers, but I would suggest it matters to game developers, concept designers,
illustrators, and other artists as well to think about how the world they’re
creating works, and to make a conscious effort not to just repeat the
unconscious assumptions of our own cultures when we’re creating those worlds.

Give yourself a moment to think: When does the year start
for the people of the place I’m creating? Why? What’s the story that people
tell about that time? How do people celebrate? Is it appropriate (or even
required) to give gifts, or clean house in preparation, or wear new clothes, or
eat particular kinds of food?

In ancient Egypt, the year was divided into three seasons
based around the flooding of the Nile River—Flood, Emergence, and Low
Water. The year began with the flood, lasting roughly from what we think of now
as June to September. Why? Because for the common people, farmers on a thin
swath of fertile soil created by those annual floods and surrounded by inhospitable
desert, the river controlled what work needed to be done and when it could be
done, so the whole of their year revolved around that.

Think of the difference between both that and the four
agriculture-based seasons most of us live with, and a calendar created by, say,
a society that evolved underground, completely disconnected from the sun, moon,
stars, and the elements? Perhaps they would build their calendar around the
time when permafrost made the ground too hard to dig, or perhaps they would ignore
the cues of the natural world altogether and build their calendar around the
story of a god or cultural hero or historical dates.

Of course, this kind of reasoning doesn’t hold true just for
the start of the New Year. What kinds of holidays does your culture celebrate?
Spring and fall equinoxes and summer and winter solstices might be an easy
answer, but does that make the most sense for your culture? Or are there other,
more unique holidays that you could give them? The birth or death of a cultural
or mythological hero might be interesting, or the day that a particular monster
or villain was defeated. The day of the first frost might be significant to
them, or the rising of a nebula or quasar that’s visible from part of their
planet. Or maybe they reset their calendar when they left their world of origin

How are holidays marked? With group prayer, private
contemplation, community gatherings? With celebration, or with penance? If
gifts are given, are certain kinds of gifts traditional?

Most importantly, what do your characters think of all of
this? Does your heroine hate the fuss around the New Year, or miss being around
her family when it comes? Does your hero have the money to buy a new
traditional outfit, or does he clean up his old one as well as he can to avoid
pity and shame? Or maybe your point of view character is from a minority
culture within the larger one that celebrates its own holidays in opposition to
the dominant way in their city. How do people look on that minority group and
their practices? How do they think about the dominant culture and their ways?

Above all, remember that the people in this world of yours
are people, as varied as the ones in our world. They think and feel and believe
different things about the world around them. Give them a unique culture to
react to, but never forget that their reactions are still going to be their
own, not just a monolithic mirror of the worldview that you’ve created.

Whenever and however you celebrate the New Year, we at the
Dream Foundry hope yours is full of brightness, wonder, and creativity!

Setting Creative Goals... and Keeping Them

No matter what your art is (writing,
illustration, game design), you’ll often hear that you should work at it every
day. If you don’t do this, some people say, you’re failing as a creator.

Now, that might work for some people, but I’ve
tried writing every day on several occasions and it just doesn’t work for me.
It makes the whole thing a chore that I start to hate very quickly. Instead, I’ve
found that three scheduled sessions of at least a couple of hours keeps my
juices flowing, my motivation up, and my productivity on track.

The most important thing for me is that I have
a plan. Every time I sit down for a creative session, I plan out ahead of time
exactly what I want to achieve that day. And at the end of every session, I figure
out when my next one is booked for. That stops one or two days off from slipping
into more.

Another thing that works for me is to always
have deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed, and to make sure that I’m accountable
to someone else for those deadlines. If the only person I have to answer to is myself,
I will inevitably let things slip. What I would recommend is having a partner
in creation, someone else who also wants to achieve things and may need a nudge
every now and then. If you can arrange to meet up physically and keep each
other focused, then great! If not, maybe keep a chat window or video call open
during creative sessions and check in every half hour or so, to make sure
you’re both still on topic. And, if all else fails, just email each other your
schedule and your plan, and then report back after the session to celebrate
your victories. If you’re a writer who is more motivated by spreadsheets,
streaks, or games than by a creative partner, consider using something like,,
to encourage you to meet those writing goals. Artists might get practice ideas
or the challenges, timed practices, and random poses on
And no matter what your art, if you respond to gamification, something like
might be just the thing to get you making the most of your creative time and
give you a sense of accomplishment as you make progress toward your goals.

That last point is important—make it easy to
celebrate your successes. If you have a big project, then just looking at the
whole thing may make it seem insurmountable. But if you break it down into
small tasks with sensible deadlines, you can have the satisfaction of ticking
off tons of little victories that you should absolutely congratulate yourself
on. If rewards help you (like “I can have a chocolate after I finish this
chapter” or “I can watch an episode of my favorite show once I’ve filled a page
with sketches”), then don’t hesitate to use that.

Most crucial of all is to find a system that works for you and just go for it.

What works for me is a rolling spreadsheet of upcoming submission opportunities (theme, word count, hard deadline, and possible publication all right there), sessions scheduled outside my flat with an accountability partner, and a list of very specific targets for each session. But the thought of all that organization might make you want to curl up and die. So try things out to see what fits, and once something works, don’t ever let anyone tell you it doesn’t make sense. The only person it has to makes sense to is you. And if it keeps you creating, then it’s doing its job and you should stick with it no matter what.