Ink-Dipped Advice: Working Through Grief

Life hits us all with the unexpected; sometimes the emotion is grief.

Much as we want the world to stop while we grieve, it doesn’t, so we have to learn to balance our needs with our responsibilities. Because we will never be hit with grief when it’s “convenient.”

At the same time, we have to deal with our feelings, or they will come back to destroy us at an even worse time.

This statue captures how I’ve been feeling lately. Frankly, I find it more helpful than the Kubler-Ross model.

But then, I believe art is one of the best ways to express, share, and heal.

I have two ways to deal with grief — I’m either immobilized or I bury myself in my work. Since I never know which mode will strike, I do the following to try to keep things balanced:

–Acknowledge that I’m grieving. To myself and to others. I don’t want anyone to think I’m “mad at them” when, in reality, I’m trying to handle my own emotions.

–Rearrange my schedule. If I know I’m going to need time off (whether it’s to provide care, comfort, help in arrangements, attend a funeral, etc), I rearrange my schedule. I tell the people to whom I have responsibilities what’s going on. I finish what I can/have to. I ask for extended deadlines when necessary. I hand off work where appropriate.

–What I don’t do is simply disappear without a word and not do anything. I communicate. I build myself a space where I can grieve. Time and space that I can inhabit without causing difficulties for those around me or harm to friends and colleagues. Because, as much as my grief is MINE, the entire world and the entire process is not just about ME. The entire world does not stop, even when you feel your world has stopped.

–I accept that while the rituals happen within a finite time, the sense of loss and the recovery is a process. There will be good days and awful days. I must acknowledge, honor, and deal with my feelings while still being fair to those around me. That’s not always easy. Again, communicate. “I need this time.” “I need a few more days.” “I’m going to finish X, and then I need Y time before I can take on something else.” I build in more time to do things I know will help me heal, and work harder not to take out fluctuating emotions on others.

–I accept that people may say the wrong thing, but most of them are doing the best they can. Grief can terrify the bystander. It brings their own fears and mortality into focus. I doubt most people who put their foot in their mouths all the way up to the knee and chew intend to cause more pain. They’re doing the best they can in the only way they can. Even if it’s in a way I can’t or don’t want to deal with, I attempt to accept it with graciousness and then vent or purge any pain or discomfort in my own time and space.

-I hold my boundaries. In spite of the above, some will try to turn your grief to their advantage. I don’t allow it. If they are persistent, then, yes, I break the above suggestion and speak up.

–It always finds a way into the work, in surprising and positive ways. I don’t necessarily sit down and state that I’m exploring grief in x play or y novel. But it often works out that way. And I learn something I wouldn’t have otherwise known, and can apply it the next time I’m grieving or working. My best work often comes from deep pain or deep joy.

–Self-care does not mean inflicting harm on others. Too often, people forget that. You can take care of yourself without harming someone else. They might be inconvenienced; they might hem and haw and try to make you feel guilty. Don’t.

–Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help if you remain overwhelmed. There are grief professionals, healers, energy workers. Find someone with whom you can work to heal. Because surviving the process takes work.

Remember, it’s a process. Eventually, instead of the pain and the loss as central, the joy from before the loss will take place of pride again — if you let it.

Blessings to you all.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Myth of the Worthwhile Unpaid Sample

 

If you cruise the job boards and read listings, one way you can cull the worthwhile jobs from the non-worthwhile jobs is their approach to samples.

Professionals ask for samples from your previous work. They might ask that it’s on topic; or they might just want a general sample for voice and style. But they are smart enough, respectful of skill, and capable of reading a sample and seeing if the writer’s style, tone, and craft are compatible.

Companies lower down the scale, who tend to put quantity over quality, will often demand an unpaid sample on a topic they assign. I’ve seen this in web content jobs, and, disturbingly, in some of the corporate script-writing jobs.

Sometimes, they are clear in the ad, and you can just move on without bothering to pitch. But some companies wait until you pitch and then demand you write a “sample” per their specifications as a “test” without pay.

This is different than a company that requests a standard editing or writing test that it wants for all applicants – although the top companies who do that also pay you for your time.

Freshly minted freelancers (and many fresh authors, scriptwriters, etc.) worry that if they submit material, it will be stolen. The only place that’s likely is in the land of the Unpaid Sample.

Note that this is different than an agent or an editor requesting sample chapters of your completed novel. That IS legitimate. Legitimate agents and editors don’t need or want to steal anything from eager authors.

The Scam Samplers give you parameters and demand that you write a complete article (or script) with sources, embedded links, et al – for nothing. In other words, they have a pool of unpaid writers. They then tell those who submitted that they’re “going in a different direction” or “the position has been filled.” The company vanished. The unpaid work then turns up, under a different company name, and a different byline.

I remember, several years ago, someone in a freelance group in which I participated, brought up such an ad. This guy was angry because he’d answered the ad, submitted the sample, and was told he didn’t get the job. A week later, the company’s website was gone. Three weeks later, he came across a new website for a similar company – and his work was up there, verbatim, under a different byline for a different company. He posted on the loop. Nearly two dozen other freelancers had submitted to the same company. All of them were told that they hadn’t gotten the job. ALL of their work was up on this website. Unattributed. Unpaid.

I’d seen the job. I’d pitched. But as soon as they asked for an article written specifically to them for their specs – I sent them a response with how much it would cost.

I charge for such samples. I charge a lower rate, but I charge. And I expect 50% in advance, and 50% paid on receipt of the sample.

When I got a nasty email in response, I told them no.

Something similar happened a few months ago, when I pitched to a company to write 3 minute corporate videos for their product. I hadn’t written for that type of product, but I’d written enough corporate videos that reflected the various company’s visions and products with a sense of humor that I felt good about the submission. I’d used several as samples for other jobs – and landed those jobs. I knew the samples stood up.

The “producer” got back to me and said they loved my scripts. Now, they wanted me to participate in a TWO HOUR Skype session with the client, and then write a spec script for the product itself to see if I could “get” their tone. Then we would start talking contract. Because, of course, in spite of the rate listed in the ad (which was near the top of my range), that might change (go lower) during contract negotiations.

I spent two and a half decades working production in theatre, film, and television. Any professional director or producer can read a similar script excerpt or sample and know if the writer “gets” the tone. There are also specific Guild rates for all of this type of work, including working on a script that is later rejected.

I sent them a rate for that amount of work.

I got an immediate email stating no, no, no, they weren’t PAYING for this work. There were many strong candidates and this was part of the competition to see who would get the job.

I wished them well and withdrew from consideration.

This led to a barrage of nasty emails over 36 hours berating me for my unprofessionalism and that I should be grateful for the opportunity. To waste two hours of my time on SKYPE and write a complete script for free. Not grateful when someone tries to scam me.

I forwarded them all to my lawyer and had him deal with it.

These are the jobs that aren’t worth a freelancer’s time and effort. You won’t be paid; you won’t have anything worthwhile to add to your portfolio.

A legitimate, professional company has personnel who can read, comprehend, and project whether or not a particular writer’s style is right for their vision. I do script coverage for several small production companies and individual directors. That’s the job – discernment of art, craft, and style. If they want a project-specific sample, they are willing to negotiate a sample rate.

If either side decides it’s not the right fit, you part with cordiality.

Everyone’s time and skills are respected, and properly compensated.

Anything else is not worth the time, energy or frustration. Let the scammers eat themselves.

Ink-Dipped Advice: My Deal With the Muse

There’s been all sorts of fa-la-la going on lately, especially on Twitter, about how often writers do and should write. And I don’t mean in a deck-the-halls way. I mean in an I’m-refraining-from-swearing way.

It’s interesting where the harshest criticism against those of us who write every day comes from. There are two factions: One faction is those with the luxury of a day job in a different field or a partner who pays the bills, who only write “when they have time” or “when the muse strikes.” Unpublished and under-published writers often fall into this category. Writing is what they do on the side, not how they keep a roof over their heads. Because their day job gives them financial security, they feel it also gives them the right to deride, bully, and even shame those of us who earn our living at it.

Honey, I have no shame. Not when it comes to my writing. I do this because I love AND because I value my craft and my art enough to be paid for my work.

The other faction surprises me: Writers with traditional publishers who have agents and advances that allow them to take two or three or five years to write a book. Sometimes, they have other sources of income or a partner shouldering the bills. But often, they started out by writing a lot to keep a roof over their heads, but now they don’t have to. Hey, good for them, they’re living the dream, but have they forgotten what it’s like?

I distill it down to this:
Is writing your business or your hobby? Is it the way you keep a roof over your head?

If it’s your business and how you keep a roof over your head, you show up every day like you would at any other job and you put in the work.

There’s nothing wrong or bad or anything about writing on the side or writing as a hobby. It’s just a different career trajectory.

Getting paid for my work isn’t shameful. It doesn’t make me “less of” a writer or a hack.

It makes me a professional.

I remember, even when I worked on Broadway, how people told me I should “get a real job.” It’s also around the same time I kicked musician and poet boyfriends to the curb who spent all their time in bars with floors full of peanut shells, downing watered-down drinks, and moaning that landing a publishing contract or getting paid to work was “selling out.”

I call it “going pro.”

Because I simply do not have the time or the patience for creative vampires.

Also, there’s a misconception that “writing every day” means you never get a day off. What “writing every day” means you show up the way you would any job and do the work. You CHOOSE days off. You take vacations. Sometimes you’re sick. Sometimes you have to deal with a crisis. But you still show up regularly and do the work. Sometimes you’re tired; sometimes it’s a hard day. But you show up and do the work.

I’ve written about “The Muse” before on Ink in My Coffee, especially during the years I made the transition from working on Broadway full time (which means many more than 40 hours a week) while writing an additional 40-60 hours a week to writing full time. I’ve personified the muse, joked about it, etc.

But the bottom line is that I made a deal with the muse: I will show up and do the work regularly. When the muse smacks me upside the head with the Frying Pan of Fresh Ideas, I will make notes AT THAT MOMENT – even if it’s on a napkin or a sticky note – and I will be grateful, every day of my life, that the muse is my partner on the journey. I will honor, respect, and work with the muse. And the muse will not abandon me. Even if sometimes I get a kick in the butt or silence for a few days.

When you put off or  ignore the muse, when you tell the muse you “dont’t have time” or you’ll “get around to it”–the muse will pack up and leave.

Creative energy is a sustainable source. It feeds on itself. The more you create, the more energy you have to create, and the more you can create.

So meet your muse. Evolve with your muse. Make a deal with your muse.

Then fulfill it.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Care Under Stress

I am overwhelmed with deadlines right now. I’m grateful to be in a feast cycle. I’d planned and scheduled and thought I was giving myself enough time. I’d even built in some extra time, which was eaten up.

Changing some of these deadlines is not an option. I have to step up to the plate and meet the challenges or lose the opportunities.

I intend to meet the challenges.

During this, it’s tempting to let my daily yoga and meditation practices slide. Yet, on the days I’ve done that, my day falls apart.  When I take the time — time I worry “should be” spent doing something to meet the deadlines — I’m more productive in meeting said deadlines.

Therefore, taking the time to do more when it supports the rest of my day winds up making more sense than using that time in a way that seems to meet the deadlines, but in reality, puts me farther behind.

Learn from my mistakes.

When you are under the most stress is when you need to build in pockets of time for stress relief, so that you can attack the pressures with balanced, productive energy.