Ink-Dipped Advice

The Idea Fountain

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First, The Personal

Yes, I’m back. The last post on this site was in March, when I was just starting to get into the Move From Hell. I thank you for your patience, and hope you will join me on this new journey.

The Move From Hell is mostly complete. I moved from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, to an environment that values artists and actually believes in paying them. When asked what I do and I answer, “Writer” the response isn’t, “No one does that. What’s your REAL job?” with which I was constantly met on Cape. The response here is filled with resources and events I might enjoy, and requests to take a socially distanced walk around the lake or at the Spruces to talk about some aspect of writing. Or art. Or theatre. It is a much healthier environment for me, on multiple levels.

Most people here are vaccinated. Most indoor spaces require masking. Most people don’t fuss.

As I said, a much healthier environment, all the way around.

I’ve gone fully remote, instead of a mix of remote and on-site clients. It is unlikely I would go back to onsite work, unless it was a part-time position with an arts organization. But I doubt I would even do that until at least next summer.

Now, The Professional

I’m happy to say that The Idea Fountain has come back on. During the actual move, when I was mired in trying to find a place to live, then trying to find mover who would actually show up and do the work, and getting some things into storage, etc., etc., during a pandemic, my creativity fled. I was able to do the minimum work required to keep us afloat during the move, but I was not working, creatively, at my best.

When I first moved here, I was so exhausted, on every level, that I was lucky to make it through the day for the first few weeks.

But lately, the Idea Fountain has turned back on, and I’m actually happy and able to create again.

What is the Idea Fountain?

It’s useful for both fiction and nonfiction work. My definition of the Idea Fountain is that something you come across in the course of your day sparks a flow of ideas. Those ideas often go on to have more ideas, and so forth and so on.

Sometimes, a call for submission turns on the Idea Fountain. Often, in my work with businesses, it’s their creative brief, or our consult conversation.

As I writer, I find looking at paintings and sculpture restorative. When I am stuck in my words, looking at art unsticks me. My uncle was a reasonably well-known artist in Europe, working in stained glass, woodcuts, and casting large bronze figures. I have several of his sketches that inspire me. Most of my art books are in storage right now, but I’m across the street from a college library with a huge art book section, and I can use my Community Card to check them out.

So, there’s usually a stack of art books nearby.

This weekend, I spent time sitting on my front porch, paging through a book about American ex-patriate artists in Florence, during the Impressionist period. I got an idea for one of next year’s plays for an organization for whom I regularly write in New York (the other idea for them came from a line in a biography I read a few weeks ago – when the Idea Fountain was a mere trickle). I also got an idea for what is turning out to be a series, rooted in a group of painting students doing a Grand Tour. While I was writing up those notes, so as not to lose the ideas, an idea with which I’ve been playing for years, starting directly after WWII started poking at me again, and I made notes on that, too. It started poking its head up again because of a reference to generations of artists who were also artists during world events (such as WWII).  A throwaway line I read in a novel sparked an idea for a short story.

All over the course of a few days.

The Idea Fountain has turned back on.

At the beginning of August, I’d resumed my regular first 1K/day of fiction very early in the morning, in longhand, which had gotten erratic during the move. I wrote on the front porch. It’s getting too cold and dark to do that, so I’m writing in the living room; eventually, I may start writing again at the rolltop desk. But that primed the pump to get the Idea Fountain flowing again.

How does that work in freelance/business writing?

On some projects, the writer is paired with a graphic designer (or brings one in), and the two feed off each other. I love discussing ideas with a graphic designer; they toss out image ideas, I toss out words, and we get there together. If I’m writing something without graphic needs, I dig into my knowledge of those for whom I’m writing (or I gain the knowledge). Is there an image within the company already that will spur the piece (for a marine life press release, it would be an endearing photo of a seal or sea turtle; for a holiday fundraiser, a photo of one of the decorated trees, etc.). Or I image characters and situations around which I can build a story for the organization (see my page on Mission-Specific Entertainment).

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: ideas are like cookies. They tend to come in batches. So prime your pump however works for you, turn on that Idea Fountain, and let it flow.  Ooh, a fountain spewing cookies. I like that image.  If you show up and do the work daily, on the schedule you set for the work, it gets easier and flows more smoothly. Show up consistently, even on the days that are difficult, and the flow resumes. Some days it might feel like a trickle, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will be to get the flow steady again.

Take notes on ideas, even if they seem like tangents. Perhaps they’re not right for this particular project, but they will be right for a different one. Creative time is never a waste, and not every result is immediately tangible.

The more joy you take in the process, the more the ideas will flow.

How do you get your ideas flowing?

Creating Your Artist/Vision Statement

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One of my favorite parts of the business is working with creatives across disciplines honing their artist or vision statements. It gives me a chance to experience their passion for their work, and help them shape it into an active, engaging piece that can be used in grant applications, cover letters, on websites, in bios, in media kits, and more.

How do you get there? Especially if your interests and work have a wide range?

Play.

That’s right. Remember the kind of fun you had as a child, playing, without pressure to do or be anything specific.

Remember what excites you about your work. What makes you passionate about.

Write, or make a collage, or draw, or take a walk and mutter to yourself.

Remember the wonderful projects you worked on in the past, and what appealed to you about them.

Think ahead, to the kind of work you see in your future, what drives you there, what electrifies and astonishes you about it.

Is there a thread, a theme, that runs through it?

Much of my work is built around themes of loyalty to loved ones, breaking out of conformity/expectation boxes, and creating family, by choice as much as blood. The most exciting projects I worked on (even if I wasn’t a creator) have also contained those themes. It’s the type of work I’m drawn to when it’s created by others, and those are themes that keep coming up in my own work, in different ways.

Working on a theatre production is creating a family of choice, even for a limited time, and that’s where I spent the bulk of my professional career.

Once you recognize your themes, threads, and what stimulates you, look for active words to describe them.

The key here is “active.”

Avoid, or edit out passive. Phrases like “had been done” and “was hoping to achieve” derail you. You “did” and you “achieved.”

Keep your sentences short, active, and full of life.

Instead of using adverbs, use verbs, nouns, and adjectives.

The reader should experience your excitement with you as they’re reading. They should feel like you are in the room with them, in conversation. The words you choose vibrate with energy.

Keep the ego out, but the action in. Show, in active terms, what you’ve done and what you dream, while keeping out the narcissism.

Remember, too, that your artist/vision statement is a living part of you and your work. It grows and changes, as you do. It’s a roadmap, not a prison.

Revisit it often. Update, shape, hone. Reveal your love, show your soul.

Play.

The creativity you use in your statement both supports and informs the creativity in your work.

Research Time IS Work Time

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A potential client discovered me via LinkedIn, and contacted me about a project. They wanted me to write a white paper-ish document. I use “ish” because it didn’t truly fit the definition of white paper, but was similar. It was in a field out of my usual wheelhouse, but a topic in which I was interested and could get up to speed quickly.

They had no interest in a per-project rate for this; they wanted to pay per word.

I rarely do a per-word rate anymore; per project makes much more sense for both the customer and for me. When they quoted me the per word rate, it was considerably lower than what I use.

I told them that the per-word rate was below my usual rate.

Them: It’s non-negotiable.

I already figured out I wasn’t going to do this gig, but I wanted to get more information, just to either prove or disprove my growing suspicions.

I asked them how much of the research they would provide, how much I would provide, and what sources or references they would point me toward. Some of the information/sites I knew were behind pay walls. What was the budget for that? From the creative brief, it would take somewhere between 12-20 hours of research, along with interviews and fact-checking, to complete the project, if I had to start from scratch.

The answer: None. I was expected to handle all the research.

I then explained that it made more sense to use a project rate quote than a per word quote.

The response: “We don’t pay for research time. We only pay by the word.”

Me: I’m not paid for research?

Them: We don’t pay for research.

Me: Are you willing to provide the research?

Them: No. You’re responsible for the research and fact-checking.

Me: But you don’t pay for research?

Them: That’s correct. We only pay for the words written.

Me: I’m not the right fit for the project.

Them: We don’t negotiate rates.

Me: I understand. And I am not the right fit for this project. Thank you for thinking of me. Goodbye.

Had I accepted this project, I would have worked for less than half of my per-word rate AND put in 12-20 hours of unpaid research. AND paid for anything that was behind pay walls.

In other words, it would cost me money to work for them.

Research time is work time. Finding trustworthy sources, hunting through archives, taking notes, making sure one has the references correct, fact-checking. All of that takes time, and that time is worth money.

Even if a client provides research, one still has to read it and, in some cases, fact-check.

That takes time.

That time consists of billable hours.

Project quotes make more sense for a piece such as this. You can look at the creative brief, figure out how long any research/reading/fact-checking is likely to take, figure in a decent rate for writing the article, and come up with something that works for both of you.

If the potential client’s budget can’t encompass your project quote, you can negotiate scaling down the scope to fit into the budget, or you can refuse the project.

“We don’t pay for research time” is a huge red flag. It means the potential client expects free labor as part of the contract, and is a good indication of future scope creep without compensation.

Value your time. Charge appropriately.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time Blocks for Practicality and Flow

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Last week’s #RemoteChat was built around what we do in 4- hour time blocks, and writer Paula Hendrickson had a great question that got me thinking about how my own process has evolved.

I mentioned how vital it is for me to do my first 1K of the day early in the morning. Most often, it’s fiction, either whatever novel I’m drafting, or a play. That is my prime creative time (the time itself is getting earlier and earlier, and sometimes it winds up being what is, for other people, the middle of the night).

If I get to the desk (I often draft in longhand rather than on the computer for the first draft) right after I’ve had my first cup of coffee and fed the cats, but before I do anything else in the day, my brain is in prime creative mode. I usually write 1000 words in about an hour to an hour and a half, which is not a pace I can maintain the rest of the day. (These are first draft words – revisions are a different process and take a different amount of time).

Hendrickson asked, “Don’t you find it hard to end the creative writing part of your day and switch to work mode?”

I used to, years ago, but while I worked in theatre, I trained myself to work in creative blocks so I could create up to and around the time I needed to spend in the theatre. That translates well to my current almost-all remote writing life.

Flow, Flexibility, Working at Peak Creativity

I try to keep my work frame as holistic as possible, because I try to approach everything as creative.  It’s all work, even though novel and playwrighting tap different facets than writing a marketing email blast to launch a product, or a press release for a non-profit, or a speech for a corporate event.

When I’m really in the flow of whatever that early morning project is, in the best of all possible worlds, I would keep going until I’m written out on it for the day.

But the reality is that I often have deadlines on other projects, meetings or interviews or keeping up with admin or specific research scheduled, and I can’t just keep writing all day on one project. I have to move back and forth between them.

Writing 1-1.5K first thing (on a strong flow morning, it’s closer to 2 or 2.5K) launches me creatively. No matter what else happens, I have that 1K written, and it’s 1K more than I had the day before. Also, 1 or 1.5K usually brings me to a good stopping point where I need to take a breath. Not only does it move that particular project forward, it puts me in a good creative mindset for the rest of my day. It’s a warm-up, like stretches for an athlete or scales for a singer. It warms up m brain and my creative engine.

After that 1K is done, I do my morning yoga/meditation practice, shower, eat breakfast, etc. Then I go to my desk and start my “workday.”

At the end of the previous workday, I spent a few minutes running through, in my head, what needs to be done the next day. I used to write detailed To Do lists, but I started resenting them, so now I keep them in my head. I check my calendar (I keep a detailed calendar with project deadlines in different colors and meetings).

Time Zones, Interruptions, Creative Saboteurs

Sometimes my official workday starts very early. I’ve had instances where I needed to give a presentation to an audience in the EU when it was about 5 AM my time. That’s the exception, not the rule. In most cases, no matter what the time zone, there are enough overlapping work hours if we need to be in real-time contact. Most of what I do can be asynchronous.

One of the reasons I had already cut back on my on-site work pre-pandemic was because there are certain people who can’t stand to see others productively working. I’ve talked about how deconstructive “multi-tasking” is in earlier posts. One can handle a variety of projects on a variety of deadlines by focusing on what needs to be focused on and having uninterrupted worktime. The projects take less time to complete, and the quality of the work is higher.

No one needs to stare at me as I write. No one needs to “just pop in” while I’m working. Don’t interrupt me. Shoot me an email. I’ll respond. I only accept phone calls by appointment, and, if I’m on a Zoom call, I turn my phone off.

The pandemic changed the landscape of the workday for me, and made it even more important to have flexibility, and not have to be tied to the computer or the office for 8 consecutive hours. Essential businesses and healthcare have specific hours set aside for specific age groups. I need a certain level of flexibility in my day to deal with them.

When I approach my official workday, I know what needs to be done within the time frame of that specific day, whether it’s a completed project or a step in a project. After decades of doing this work, I have a good idea of how much time each step takes.

Appointments have specific times, but I don’t break down my blocks into 15-minute or 30-minute intervals. I give each block breathing room.

From Theatre and Writing Life to Writing Life

When I lived worked full time on Broadway, shows were at night, and on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees. Monday was dark day, my day off (although I often spent Mondays day playing on whatever television show shot in New York). But, as anyone who works in theatre knows, the work isn’t JUST the show. There are special events and prep work during the day. I usually did one or two daywork sessions on my own show, and one or two daywork sessions on a different show, because you want to stay fresh in people’s minds. That way, when your show ends, you have relationships and can move to other shows.

On a matinee day, my daywork started at 9 or 10 AM, I worked two shows, and was often home after 11 PM. Later, if we went out for a drink or to see another show or listen to music. On a “regular” show day, I might have daywork starting at 1, and then the show at night. Or I might not have to be at the theatre until an hour and a half before the evening show.

I still got up early in the morning to write.

I didn’t have word quotas at that time. It was all dictated by how much I could get done within the specific hours for that day. Early on, I felt frustrated and like I flailed.

As far as I was concerned, I worked two full-time jobs. Although, anyone who works professionally in theatre will tell you that theatre demands more than a full-time job.

I rarely wrote when I got home from the theatre, although if I had a deadline, I sucked it up and wrote until three or four in the morning. I found it harder to switch out of theatre headspace into writing headspace than the other way around. I was better off going to bed around 1 or 2 AM, getting up at 6, and hitting the desk.

On days where I didn’t have to be at the theatre until 1, I could let it flow all morning. On days when I had to be at the theatre for an evening show, I trained myself to turn off the writing spigot at 4:30, so I could transition from writing headspace to theatre headspace, eat dinner, shower, etc.

It was difficult at first (lots of setting timers or alarm clocks). Rather Pavlovian. But, doing it regularly, it became a habit.

It became a habit that serves me well now.

I found that I could stop writing on one project and let it simmer in my unconscious while I consciously worked on something else (be it a different piece of writing or the show). When I finished the project in focus, or the part of it I could do, it receded to percolate, and the other project moved to the forefront again — with progress made while it percolated. I could dive back into it because my unconscious was working on it while my conscious mind worked on the project in front of me. Neither project suffered. I could flow back and forth, and let the creative energy of each project feed the other, even when the details were different.

Once I started my transition out of full-time theatre work into part-time theatre (as a swing), it was harder to get things done writing-wise and structure my freelance day.

National Novel Writing Month helped me with the structure and flow. The early morning writing sessions worked because then I didn’t worry about that day’s word count all day. NaNoWriMo got me into the rhythm of 1-2K/day as a regular flow, and I’ve found that serves me well now.

Practical Blocks:

The official start of my workday starts with emails. I try not to get bogged down in them, and I try to keep up with them. I look through them, delete what doesn’t need attention, answer what does, organize anything that has to do with a current project.

The next practical block consists of the morning social media rounds. I have personal and business social media accounts, and I run social media accounts for clients. I visit all of those, one at a time; see what needs to be answered; post a response or a piece of content (if it hasn’t been scheduled), etc. I try not to get bogged down, although sometimes I do. Running through my own SM accounts first means I feel the pressure of the client accounts, and stay aware of time.

I do have one client who has a particular block of hours dedicated to their work each week. In that case, during those blocks, I handle all of their work – direct response emails, creating ads and email blasts, positing new content, research, audience engagement expansion, etc., during those designated hours. That is a self-contained block of time. Although the actual hours might vary per day, when I’m in that client’s block for the day, that client’s variety of work has my full attention.

For the clients for whom I schedule social media posts, I set one or two blocks of finite hours once or twice a month per client for social media scheduling.  I plan the content/images for each post in one set of practical blocks, then upload/schedule on platforms such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Buffer, etc. in other practical blocks.

I do a practical block or two in the afternoon, usually right after lunch and at the end of the workday, mostly focused on email, in case something needs my immediate attention before I end my workday. I do another round of the social media accounts in the afternoon, in case anything needs response.

I used to schedule a big block of time on Fridays for admin work. That became overwhelming, so I now do admin amidst the Practical Blocks, and a late morning/early afternoon short admin session on Fridays, so Mondays aren’t so overwhelming.

Flow Blocks:

After the SM rounds in the morning, it’s time to get down to morning creative work. Maybe it’s an interview. Maybe it’s a Zoom call. Maybe I’m creating an email blast, Maybe I’m taking the information from different interviews and putting them into my article. Maybe I’m writing a press release, or working on an artist statement or client’s business brochure.

These are flow blocks. I have a basic idea of how much time each task takes, with flexibility for unexpected obstacles (computer updates, the need to get back to a source for clarification, etc.) I don’t have hard-and-fast hours set aside; I let the work ebb and flow as it needs. When I’m finished with a project, or a section of a project, I’ll stand up and stretch for a few minutes, check email/SM, clear my head for the next project.

Whatever I’m working on at the time is the most important item in my world at that moment, and everything else is blocked out of the conscious mind. Doing so allows me to give full attention and creativity, with a higher rate of productivity and a higher quality of work.

At the same time, various creative projects that are percolating are humming at the back of my brain, waiting for their turn, but not distracting me. As I stated above, they are progressing during that percolation time, even when they are not front and center in my attention.

There’s a big difference between juggling multiple projects, with complete focus as needed, and being constantly interrupted in the name of “multi-tasking” that doesn’t let you get anything done well.

Afternoons, after lunch, I prefer to do editing work or research. It uses different creative synapses than the writing. I draft stronger work in the morning; my editing eye is better in the afternoon. Whenever possible, that’s how I arrange my flow.  If I need to have another writing block later in the day, I do so. It boils down to contract deadlines and pay rate.

Reading is usually scheduled in the afternoon. Afternoons and evenings are when I usually work on the books I review, or the contest entries when I’m a judge, or research materials/background for various projects.

Some days, the flow is strong on a particular project, or that’s the only project that needs my full attention, and then I’ll flow with it all day.

Breaks, Hydration, Meals

I tend to push through for too many hours without a break and exhaust myself. Sitting for too long causes physical pain, eye strain, and emotional mush.

I’m in the process of training myself to take breaks.

Flowing with the blocks combined with listening to my body helps. When my back starts to hurt, or I get a headache, I stop. Often, I notice the physical discomfort as I’m finishing a block. When it dovetails nicely, I take a break to stretch or get something fresh to drink. I might do a few yoga asanas, to counteract a specific tension.

I usually hop on social media for a few minutes. I’ve spent much more time on social media during the pandemic, and I’m starting to scale back on it. It is an important part of my work – even the personal account has a lot to do with my writing work – but I don’t want it to overwhelm the work.

The best boundary I set is to take a real lunch break. So often, when I worked hybrid and was only onsite with a client for a few hours here or there, I skipped lunch or ate at my desk. Working remotely, I make sure I take a genuine lunch break, in a different room than my home office. I cook, I play with the cats, I might read something for pleasure.

When at all possible, after lunch, or after the next Practical Block, I take some time on the acupressure mat, about 20-40 minutes. That helps unravel knots from sitting at the computer, I can rest my eyes, I can clear my mind and re-focus for the afternoon. That break makes my afternoon far more productive and run more smoothly.

End of Day

A genuine end of day is important. I have a set time when I stop interacting with clients (unless it’s an emergency). I might stay at my desk a little past that time, to wind something up, but client contact stops until the following business day.

When I’m done, I shut everything down, and walk away from it.

We started having cocktail hour when we moved to Cape Cod, to a house with a lovely deck. It’s a nice transition time after the workday and before I start cooking dinner. There’s not always alcohol involved; it might be a Shirley Temple or white-cranberry peach juice in a festive glass. As the pandemic stretches on, I find myself drinking less alcohol.

But having a firm end of day means I have the chance to refuel, mentally and physically, for the following day. It is an investment in the next day’s work.

Technology-Free Days

I try to have one day a week where I’m not online at all. No social media, no internet muddling, no phone calls, no television. I might listen to music, but that’s it. I call it my “Day of Disconnect.” It’s vital to keeping the creative flow.

I let that fall by the wayside during the pandemic, because we were constantly living in crisis mode. I plan to start re-instating it in the coming months.

Evolving Process

Talking in terms of blocks and flow sounds contradictory, but in years of trying different techniques to point my best creative energy to specific projects, I find it works. If I make too many lists or break down my time into assigning every minute a task, it looks pretty on the page, but it sabotages my work energy.

It’s a constantly evolving process. What works well now might need adjustment in three months or six months or a year. That keeps creativity fresh. Try new tools and techniques, and see what makes sense in your particular situation.

I’ve talked about productivity too often in this post. But we have to remember that pandemic productivity is different than non-pandemic productivity. We are under enormous daily strains.  Businesses are opening too soon, and too many companies are pushing too hard for increased productivity (at higher rates for lower pay than pre-pandemic) while we’re still trying to survive a worldwide trauma. More than 500,000 people are dead in the US alone. We’re not being allowed to process, to grieve, or to find a path to healing. Healing itself will take years. Surviving is a victory. Re-defining productivity, work culture, and demands are all a process we need to participate in so that there is a sustainable future.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Inspire, Rather than Bully

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I’m regularly removing myself from email lists, especially those that claim to be dedicated to causes, because they spend words and our time bullying and shaming instead of inspiring.

“We’ve Been Emailing You Non-Stop”

This landed in my in-box a few days ago. Yes, you have. I’m on your email list. Every time you send out a blast, I’m on the list. Or, I should say, I WAS on the list. The headline of this email alone was enough to make me unsubscribe.

If I haven’t done what you want in response to your email, that is MY CHOICE. Especially if it’s sent from a no-reply address.

An email is an enticement. When it bullies, you’re doing it wrong.

Shaming me for not donating to your cause every single day or every time you send me an email guarantees that I will remove myself from your list and not EVER donate to your cause, even if I believe in it.

I will find an organization doing similar work that doesn’t fundraise through bullying or shaming.

Also, when every email, every petition, every contact asks me to donate – even if it’s a small amount – I’m outta there.

When I have the money to spare, I donate it to causes in which I believe.

IF and WHEN I am in a position to make a regular pledge, I do so.

It’s not just nonprofits that do this. Several years ago, I received an email from a start-up business in an industry in which I spend time and money. The start=up asked if I wanted to receive emails about their new products. I said yes, put me on the list.

I received emails about the products — a little vague, but they were starting up. It wasn’t what I wanted or needed at the time, but I figured, as they came up with new products, there would be something, and I’d buy it when I saw it.

Instead, I got nasty emails, berating me for not buying their product, after asking to be on their email list.

Say what? Being on the email list means I learn about their products, with an eye to buying something that I want. Not buying something because it exists.

I unsubscribed and let them know why, using direct quotes from the nasty email. I got a response saying, “That’s not what we meant.” To which I responded, “But that is what you said. If you’re sending out words that don’t communicate what you mean, hire better writers.”

If every interaction is only an hysterical demand for cash, with a veiled threat underneath that I am a bad person or not committed to the cause if I don’t give all my money to whatever cause that is – that is a perversion of “call to action.” It’s bullying, plain and simple.

Since I do not cave in to bullies who approach me in real life, why would I do so from a bullying email?

This is NOT a “Call to Action.”

A genuine “Call to Action” sets out the case in positive terms – the goal, the steps planned to reach the goal, what is needed for those steps, and how the recipient can participate in successful accomplishment.

It is done in a way that provides information, inspiration, and excitement in the reader. It makes the reader want to be part of whatever it is. Want to be part of the success. Because it incites a response that is excited and joyful, not a sense of shame. Or a response of, “X should not be happening. This organization is working to fix a bad situation, and I want to be part of the solution.”

Most importantly, it entices and engages.

It gets the audience excited about the goal, the purpose, the values, and the process of achieving them. It inspires with “look what we can do when we work together toward this goal. It’s amazing!”

It doesn’t use the “I’m so disappointed in you” or “you don’t really have a commitment to this cause, or you would do as I say.”

You cannot be an organization genuinely working for equity and justice (which means working on anti-bullying) if you use the tactics you supposedly fight against in order to raise money.

Bullying and shaming tactics might gain a few conversions here and there, but sustained support comes from engagement and making your funders feel like they are doing something worthwhile because it makes a positive difference, not because you are shaming them into it.

I’ve left several nonprofits because, in our meetings, when I bring up unethical approaches or accepting money from unethical sources, I’m told that it “doesn’t matter” how they get the money or from whom.

I disagree. It matters. How an organization fundraises and from whom they accept money tells the world a great deal about the integrity and values held by that organization.

Especially after the last six years, it matters.

If you want long-term support, build positive partnerships. Invite, entice, engage. Include these partners in the steps to reach the goal.

If you are constantly falling short in your goals, it’s time to re-think your strategic plan.

But whatever you do, engage rather than bully.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Moving Your Passion to the Center of Your Work Life

image courtesy of Gloria Williams via pixabay.com

Amongst the many pandemic lessons we’ve learned about work, many of us have learned what work resonates more with us, or which doesn’t. At times, we haven’t had much choice – we have to take what work we can land in order to keep a roof over our heads. That’s often exhausting, and it leaves little time or energy for pursuing the work that is fulfilling as well as keeping you alive in a monetary sense.

Being versatile is always positive. In spite of all the screaming about the importance of “niche” – the wider your range of skills and interests, the wider the range of potential jobs. You’ll notice that several of the self-styled job-coaching and marketing gurus have stopped screaming “niche” and talked about “side hustle.” They don’t admit they were wrong, or that life changes, or that people NEED to change. They simply change their tunes and collect the cash.

I find “side hustle” a revolting and insulting term. The minute someone uses “side hustle,” I look at them differently and with suspicion.

There are two reasons for that.

The first is that no one should HAVE to work more than one job in order to survive. The reality is that most of us do work multiple jobs. Let’s stop this toxic myth that the necessity for a “side hustle” is a good thing. Pay people a living wage, and make sure there’s enough housing and food for everyone. That is absolutely achievable in this country, with ethical leadership. Encouraging “side hustle” encourages yet more low-paying jobs without benefits.

If you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself.

The second reason I loathe “side hustle” is that, to me, the “hustle” part of it doesn’t mean “extra work and resourceful time management.” To me, the “hustle” means “fraud or swindle.” So when someone talks about their “side hustle” I immediately associate it with them feeling they must swindle because they aren’t being paid enough at their central job.

Negative connotations all around. People with different frames of reference will interpret the phrase differently. But to me, it reads as “it’s okay for me to find a way to screw you outside of my job to earn money, because my regular job doesn’t pay me enough to survive.”

Work has to serve workers better (and, by doing so, will serve both companies and society better).

But what if you are in a job that IS paying you enough to survive, but you hate it? But you have a passion for something else?

Then, absolutely, pursue it.

When I teach writing workshops, and people ask me how they can “find” the time to write and become a full-time writer, I tell them, “There will never BE time to write. You have to MAKE time to write. If you want it badly enough, you find a way to do it. If you want this to be your only job, you commit to it as though it is a second job, until you’re in a position to make it your only job.”

It means you’ll be tired. A lot. It means you’ll give up time on other things, and sometimes with other people. It means you have to negotiate with those in your life, and decide how important this second passion is in relation to those people. Some will compromise with you and support you. Some will not, and then you have to decide whether or not to keep them in your life.

It doesn’t have to be writing – it can be any passion. How much do you love it? How much do you want it to be your only job? Are you worried you will stop loving it if it becomes your source of income?

Remember, though, that loving your work does not mean you forfeit your right to get paid.

One of the most toxic myths presented to and about creative people is that they “do it for love, not money.” Those are not mutually exclusive, and it is a way for those who don’t have the guts to follow their dreams to punish those who do.

Don’t buy into it.

The pandemic made us more aware of our wants and needs. I hope, as we get vaccinated, and move into the next phases of our lives (because it will not go back to the way it was), we take some of those lessons and implement them, especially when it comes to work.

I already see companies reverting back to toxic models, and, especially, recruiters doing so. It’s up to the workers to refuse to be forced back into those negative patterns.

How do you move the passionate work you do outside your normal job to become your only job?

Hard work, time, money, patience.

Most of us, too many of us, live paycheck to paycheck. So all those “experts” talking about “paying yourself first” and “saving a year and a half’s worth of expenses” – they can shove it right up the you-know-what because that is simply not a reality for most of us.

You need to learn how to contain and direct your energy. You still need to deliver high quality at the place that pays you to survive, but you do not put all your energy there. You save energy for your passion-work.

Biorhythms were a big deal back when I entered the work force. It’s considered a “pseudo-science” and therefore unreliable. But there are elements of that system that ring true. I am at my most creative early in the morning. That is when I do my first 1K of the day, when I write most of my fiction, or work on whatever project needs the most creative attention. Once that is done, I can then direct my energy to other projects, depending on contract deadlines and payment. But that early morning creative time is MINE, and I use it as I choose.

Other people work better late at night. Or in the afternoon. Play with it. Find your strongest time to do what you love, and then, slowly, steadily, rework your schedule so you can use that time. If you’re working 9-5, you may have to do your passion-work early in the morning or late at night, when it’s not your best time. You may have to work when you’re tired. Until you can convert your work schedule to fit your creative rhythms.

Don’t kill yourself with it, but also, don’t give up. Do the work. Create a body of work. Increase your skills.

And remember, that no one, NO ONE will respect your work and your time unless YOU do, and unless you hold firm boundaries.

Then, start exploring how you can use that body of work and increased skill set to earn money. Build the income from it.

If it’s in a field that has the possibilities of grants of other award funding – look into it, and apply for anything and everything for which you think are appropriate. Remember, no matter how many people apply for a grant, it’s always 50-50. Either you get it, or you don’t. Grants and other award funding can buy you time to focus on your passion-work. That time allows you to create more that then positions you better for your transition to doing it full-time. It is worth the time it takes to write the grants.

Once you’re earning steadily in this second, passion-work, enough to feel a little more secure, talk to your regular job about adjusted hours, reduced hours, remote work, or anything else that is appropriate, works for both of you, and lets you spend more time on this second work. If you’re in a benefitted job, negotiate to keep benefits.

As your passion-work becomes more financially stable, you can cut back more on what was your “day job” until you can leave. Or maybe you can work out an arrangement to do freelance work a few times a month, so there’s still some money coming in, but now THAT is your second job (and you don’t need to devote the time or energy to it that you needed to give your passion-work in order to place that front and center).

Some of the work we must do with this new administration is make sure that our health care is not tied to our jobs. It keeps too many of us in toxic situations.

Again, in the faction of those not wanting to pay a living wage, there are the shouts of “it’s all going to be automated soon, you should be grateful” and “no one wants to do this work.”

So why aren’t the jobs “no one wants to do” the jobs being automated? They could be. A robot doesn’t care what the job is. The robot will do the job as programmed. So program them to “do the jobs no one wants” and keep people in the jobs that need to be human, and pay those humans a living wage.

There’s political work we need to do in order to break the toxic culture that too many grew up with couched as “solid work ethic” and there’s the work we need to do to move the work we love into the work that supports us on financial as well as emotional levels.

The great part of this is that there are so many different passions and interests and skills that there are plenty of passionate artists AND plenty of passionate accountants. We don’t all love and want the same work, and that’s part of what makes it both possible and positive to pursue the work we love.

What we have to change is the structure and strictures of work that only serve a small portion of those “in charge” – who are not the people doing the actual work. We do this on individual levels, by doing the actual work we love, and we do this at the ballot box. We do it by communicating with our elected officials.

It is the personification of “Be the change you want in the world.”

How are you following your passions? How do you plan to move them, so they support your life on both physical and emotional levels?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Words Matter, Especially in Scope and Job Descriptions

image courtesy of Steve Buissine via pixabay.com

When you’re a freelancer and generate project contracts, it’s important to put in the scope and parameters of a project to limit “scope creep” – where the client expands the project, but doesn’t pay you for additional work, time, and expertise.

In early meetings:

— Discuss the scope;

–Make sure you have ONE person with whom you’re dealing on the project (not working by committee);

— Make sure it’s clear how many revisions are included in the initial quote, and how much overruns will cost;

–Set a schedule, including when the client has to have material back to you with comments for revisions or the next stage of the project;

— Put in a clause about late fees;

–Put in a clause about change of direction or additional work being billed at X dollars per hour;

–Ask for a deposit up front, and the balance paid within a specified time after you turn in the project. If it’s a long project, have regular payments over the term of the project.

There’s negotiation, that’s part of it. The first draft of any contract is the STARTING point of negotiation. If you originate the contract, expect negotiation. That’s good business. Know how far back you’re willing to negotiate BEFORE you send over the contract. When you are offered a contract, read it over, and negotiate. If the other side demands you sign a boilerplate, and says, “We don’t negotiate contracts” – walk away. They are not an ethical company.

Once you’ve negotiated the contract, WHEN the client starts the scope creep, the additional fees are already in writing and signed.

However, more and more companies are putting up listings for short-term projects, and it’s necessary the analyze them the way one analyzes a real estate listing. All those jokes about how landlords get away with sub-par rentals by using pretty words? True for per-project or short-term calls.

For instance, let’s take a look at listings for “content strategist” or “marketing strategist.” The dictionary defines “strategist” as “a person skilled in planning action or policy, especially in war or politics.”

PLANNING.

If the employer/recruiter used words to their true meaning, the “strategist” would come up with the plan, which would then be implemented by the staff.

But that’s not what the job entails.

Most of these “strategist” listings say the most important element is strong writing skills. But then, BUT THEN, they also want the strategist to have design skills, such as Photoshop or InDesign.

Say what?

That’s right. They’re calling it a “strategist.” In actuality, instead of hiring a team comprised of a terrific copywriter and a terrific graphic designer, they want to save money and only hire one person.

Scroll down further. Look at the rate – when they even bother to list it. I think it should be a law that no description can be listed without the payment – none of this “based on experience” or not listed. State what you’re offering.

Find the rate yet? Rub your eyes, and look again. It’s not a dream. It really is that low.

The company wants ONE person to do TWO skilled jobs, but is paying less than EITHER job should be paid, and calling it a “strategist.”

Someone who is good at planning and policy would laugh in their face and walk away.

Words matter. Read ALL the words in your contract or your job description, understand them, and negotiate.

It will save you a lot of pain down the road.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Interview Questions We Hate: “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

image courtesy of slightly different via pixabay.com

Hello, February! January seemed like it was about 27 months long. February is supposed to be a short month. We’ll see.

There are plenty tired old chestnuts in interview situations that need to be retired. Some are illegal, some are toxic, some are racist or misogynist or ageist, some are ableist, and many have nothing to do with the job and nothing to do with “getting to know you.”

One of these questions is “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

That’s a question your high school guidance counselor asks when they’re helping you prepare your college applications. It’s the kind of question that might come up, in a different format, with co-workers at the bar (in the years where we could actually go to a bar with co-workers without worrying it would, quite literally, kill us). It’s the kind of question you ask yourself on retreat, when you are trying to avoid or recover from burnout.

But in a professional interview situation? Inappropriate.

That question was dumb in 1985. After 2020, it’s even worse. It shows that the company asking has learned nothing from the pandemic. It sends up a big red flag.

You can type the question into an internet search engine and get a bunch of advice from corporate-leaning “experts” on how to answer it with vague softballs that don’t “threaten” the person interviewing you.

I tried those placating responses a few times, and the experience made me want to vomit. I was not being true to myself, to my core integrity. That’s no way to start a new working relationship.

There is a more direct approach.

Generally, as soon as I hear the question, I mentally cross that company off as an organization for a potential working relationship, and try to end the conversation as smoothly and pleasantly as possible.

I start flippantly. “That depends on whether or not you hire me.”

This is met with shocked silence, and then nervous laughter. Usually, some stuttering and backpedaling occurs. I let the interviewer twist in the wind for a few beats – after all, this was a “gotcha” question, with malicious intent (every “gotcha” question is designed with malicious intent), and my subtext makes that clear.

After a few beats of the interviewer flailing, I add, “Seriously, wherever I land, five years from now, I will be working with smart people who are passionate about what they do.”

They can decide if I mean their company or not.

It is a 100% genuine answer.  I seek out opportunities to work with smart people who are passionate about what they do. Some of those work relationships are long-term, some are short-term, and some are on-and-off. When I’m seeking new opportunities, everything else builds on that foundation.

Anything less wastes all our time.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tidying Up

image courtesy of Steve Buissinne via pixabay.com

It’s often the end of the year that finds us tidying things up so that we are ready to start fresh. That includes email boxes, files, websites, portfolios, and the like.

Keeping our professional files up to date is a bit like housecleaning. It needs regular attention, the same way we need to dust, vacuum, do dishes, handle the laundry, and clean the bathrooms.

Part of the professional tidying-up is more than keeping track of what we’d done over the past few months; it’s about deciding where we want to go.

Look at your portfolio samples. Do you need to swap out older pieces for newer ones? Or do you have pieces that are older, but are more in line with the type of work you’re currently pitching, and it makes sense to put them back in?

Look at your bio information, your “about” page, profiles on various websites and social media handles. Does anything need to be updated? Do your blog sites or websites need freshening up, with a new template or a redesign?

Do you choose to use photos? If so, does it need an update?

I firmly believe that what I look like has nothing to do with the quality of my work. My work is public, my life is private. It’s not salacious or controversial, but it is MINE, and I get to choose which aspects I share, how I share them, and with whom. Also, because I publish under multiple names AND work as a ghostwriter, I use icons in place of photographs. The whole “oh, but it makes it more PERSONAL, so I know who I’m dealing with” is, in my mind, a crock. All you need to know is the quality of the WORK. If we decide to interact on a personal level, that’s apart from the work.

Also, that reasoning is usually thrown around by people who’ve never had to deal with stalkers. Forcing someone to use a photo on a public site could be a death sentence. If a person chooses not to be a public figure, they have the right not to have their photos splashed all over unless they are actively trying to harm someone else.

As you do your tidying up, consider:

–What kind of work do I want to do in the coming months?

–What new skills do I want to learn?

–Where can I stretch and find new, interesting developments?

–How do I want to integrate what I’ve learned in the past few months?

–What do I want to remove from the roster, whether it’s temporary or permanent, to make room?

Remember that these decisions can and will change as your career grows and changes. That’s positive. Make the decision that serves you best for this next cycle, and then reassess, and make new decisions for the one after that.

You’ll know when it’s time for change.

Listen to your intuition. Intuition, at its best, combines facts, potential, and the inner knowing of what is best for you. It combines the integrated information between your head, your heart, and your gut.

What kind of tidying up are you doing in the next few weeks?