The Idea Fountain

image courtesy of Binja69 via pixabay.com

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?

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: 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?

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Real Costs of the One-Way Video Interview

image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay.com

One-way interviews have become more common during the virtual interview process of pandemic. “Send us a three-minute introductory video.” My response to that is, “Are you high, sweetie?”

First of all, any interview is a two-way street, or you are the WRONG place for me. I’m interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me.

A one-way interview is a waste of the interviewee’s time.

I am not an actor. I do not make audition tapes and perform for you.

I am a writer. I’ll write the scripts for the spokespeople in your video spots to rehearse and perform.

But I am not performing in order to “earn” an actual conversation with someone in the company.

As someone who worked in production, let me break down what it means, in terms of time, production, labor, and cost to do a three-minute video:

Script. You need to know what you’re saying, even for (especially for) an introductory video. When I started writing short corporate script videos, that paid per finished scripted minute, it was $85-110/hour. Now, it’s more likely to be $200-$300/hour. Right there, it’s a loss from $255-$600. Figure that includes 2 rounds of revisions, possibly more as you rehearse. How fast do you write? How many hours will it take you to come up with 3 minutes of material? If you’re used to corporate video shoots or short shoots, probably 3-4 hours. If not, it could take three or four times that.

Location. Where will you shoot it? Inside? Outside? We’re in a pandemic, so your options are limited. Hopefully, you won’t have to pay a location fee (if you don’t use your own premises, but there’s still the time and decision involved). On the low side, it’s another $100 .

Set. How will you decorate your surroundings? Even if the video is head-and-shoulders, what kind of chair will you sit in? How much does the camera take in? You’ll need to set decorate your workspace. Is part of the interview showing them your remote work set-up? On the low end, that’s $125/hour. Figure 2 hours to set up the space the way you want it. That’s $250.

-Props. Again, even if you’re doing a head-and-shoulders at the desk, or standing, shooting on your phone, you may need props. A pen? A notebook? You want them to see your tech? Figure at least one hour at $100.

Lighting. Good lighting is vital to a decent video. Figure $50/hour. Once you get the set, props, costume, make-up in place, you’ll need to light it, shoot tests, and relight. Remember that, unless you’re blocking out daylight, as the sun moves, it affects your video. Figure 4 hours or $200.

Wardrobe. What will you wear on camera? You need something that doesn’t wash you out, isn’t too busy or distracting, and makes you both look and feel good. If it feels uncomfortable, your body will react, and the camera will read it. A wardrobe/stylist is about $120/hour. Figure 2 hours of deciding what to wear and how to accessorize, and at least an hour of prepping the clothes – steaming, ironing. Alterations are an additional time at an additional fee. Do you have to buy something for the video? That’s another cost. But it’s at least 3 hours at $120/hour or $360.

Makeup/Hair. Again, you’ll need to play with it in the lighting, with the wardrobe and do tests.

Non-union can start as low as $25/hour. A good one will cost you a good deal more than that. You’re probably non-union. Figure an hour to play with makeup and hair to decide what you want, and then an hour to actually do it. Again, you’ll need to shoot tests, but we’ll get to that later. Figure $100.

Sound. Does your recording device have decent sound? Is it tinny or does it sound like you? Do you have to unplug anything that runs in the background, shut doors, muffle anything? Chances are you can’t/won’t need to edit the sound or add Foley. Sound techs start around $20/hour and go up from there, depending on skill level and specialty. Give yourself an hour to play with your options. $20.

Rehearsal. You’ll need time to rehearse, revise, memorize. Actor fees can start as low as $50/hour and sky’s the limit. Figure 4-6 hours rehearsal time, so $200-$300. You are your own actor/spokesperson for your brand.

Test shoots. You’ll need to shoot test footage for the look, the sound, and shoot some of the rehearsals. If you really have your act together, two hours at $50/hour, for $100. That’s lowballing A LOT, because you’re putting together all the elements you worked on.

The actual shoot.  When I production managed film, we broke it down by 1/8 of a page for the schedule. For feature film production, one hoped to get through 2 pages per day. When I worked one-hour drama television production, it’s much faster. It’s broken down the same way, but you usually need to get through 7-10 pages per day. You’ll need multiple takes, and you’ll need to look at the takes and make adjustments for other takes. Give yourself 3 hours. Since you’re wearing all the hats, and you did all the prep, and should be in good shape, figure $250/hour for 3 hours, or $750. You think three hours sounds crazy for a three-minute video, but it’s less time than you’ll probably need. You’ll note I haven’t listed a director’s fee in this set-up. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to act as your director, that’s another fee, but I’m assuming you’ll go director-less. Since this is more of an audition tape.

-Editing. Are you going to edit the video? Do you have the editing software? Do you have editing skills/experience. Direct Images Interactive talks about how a 2-minute video takes about 34 editing hours, and can cost between $3400 and $4250. If you don’t have a bunch of cuts because the entire interview is done in single takes and you don’t edit sounds or effects, dubbing, or adding music, but just shaving a few seconds here and there or adding filtering, figure 10 hours or $1000.

In order to make your “quick, 3-minute intro” you’ve put in the equivalent of:

40 hours (a full work week) AT LEAST

$3435 – $3520 unpaid physical labor

We haven’t even gotten into the unpaid emotional labor involved.

All your work HAS value and needs to be valued. This attitude of “well, everyone has a YouTube Channel” and “everyone is slapping up videos” — no. Putting together a production is skilled work with many aspects, all of which have a price tag and deserve to be valued. In the age of COVID, there are many more one-person production teams. Again, ALL of the elements must be valued.

Even if the job pays $60K/year, you’ve put in the equivalent of nearly 2 weeks’ worth of salary to submit something that will never be reimbursed, and where you don’t get to have a conversation/ask questions/get a sense if this is a place you want to be.

“Make an introductory video” robs you of $3500 worth of billable hours with zero promise of return. For a job that is unlikely to have any video production involved in it.

Because if it WAS a video production job – they’d look at your reel, and not expect you to create something “introductory” for them without pay.

Because professionals should not demand unpaid labor, especially not as part of the interview process.

Basically, you’re being asked to audition like an actor, but without the benefits an actor gets from making an audition tape. And yes, plenty of actors spend this much time, money, and effort on audition tapes. Which is a form of unpaid labor inherent in the acting profession, and can lead to a labor conversation on a different post.

Beverlyboy.com, which deals in professional video services, suggests figuring $1500 to $10,000 PER FINISHED MINUTE for a video. A three-minute video would cost $4500-$30,000. Yes, it’s for something polished with a professional crew. They have a great breakdown, and show some terrific examples of their work.

“But it’s not professional, it’s just an introductory video.”

If it looks like crap, you won’t go any further in the process. Even if you’re doing it yourself, you’re wearing all the hats. Every job you undertake to put together the video needs to be costed out and deserves payment.

If you like the idea of an introductory interview/audition tape, now you know what you need to create one that’s unique to YOU, not a particular job. Put it on your website. You do it once, and then use the link to send potential clients/employers to it. But it is about YOU — not specific to any given company.

If you start your relationship with a new-to-you company by doing this kind of work for free, it does not bode well for your future relationship. You’ve already said you are willing to be overworked and underpaid (not paid) for maybe-someday getting rewarded. Which doesn’t happen.

Don’t do it. When you see the demand for a one-way video interview in the job description, click away. It’s not worth it. The real test they’re giving you is to see if you’re willing to let them take advantage of you.

Clean Slate

image courtesy of Devanath via pixabay.com

We talked last year about how every season, every month, every week, every day can be the chance to start with a clean slate.

Traditionally, though, we tend to collectively do so at the beginning of the calendar year and the beginning of the school year. It gives a chance to ride that energy of possibility.

I’m in an online meditation group with Be Well Be Here on Thursday mornings, and one of the things she suggested on New Year’s Eve was, instead of getting bogged down in “resolutions” deciding to be “resolute.”

I like that.

So much happened last year, both personally and on a larger scale. It helped clarify what I want and need in my work and my career going forward, and I intend to implement those shifts for the year.

I’m making a partial list of that about which I will be resolute. So far it includes:

–Passion for my profession does not mean I forfeit the right to earn a living at it;

–“No” is a complete sentence and does not require embellishment;

–Unpaid labor should not EVER be part of an interview process – that includes “making a video” for a one-way interview, pitching article or content ideas in interviews, writing unpaid “test” pieces, and unpaid “assessments.” I’ll take your tests or write your samples – at a designated time, and for a specific fee, with a contract in place for it and a deposit up front, like I do for any freelance piece. Anything else indicates a toxic work culture in which I have no interest in participating.

I’ve talked about all of these in the past months, both on various blogs and in discussions. Now, they are part of my contract with myself, since I believe in walking my talk.

This works in tandem with what I’m doing on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site, which is less about making a list of things to check off this year, and more about tools and techniques for a more holistic work life that is in tandem with personal core integrity.

Life as we knew it pre-pandemic is gone. While there are things to miss, it also brought realizations about what didn’t work, and those elements can be changed and improved so that work environments are healthier on multiple levels. When the quality of our working lives improves, the quality of the work we do improves.

For decades, we were told to keep our heads down and just do whatever we were told, and if we were what was perceived as “good” and “dedicated” and “loyal” we would be rewarded. We learned through experience that this is not true.

It’s time to build something new and healthier.

What will you be resolute about this year?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Career Re-Shaping

image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay.com

I realized that last week’s post was more tied to the piece I’m working on about how employers are driving away the skilled workers they claim they want than actually about re-shaping my career.

I’ve re-shaped my career often. I’ve made my living in the arts since I was 18. Sure, I took temp jobs and office jobs in between, and even earned rent a few times betting the horses out at Aqueduct. But the bulk of it was in the arts, and the arts were always my focus.

Any job outside the arts ONLY served to get me through until I had another job inside the arts that paid me enough to live. Then I quit the other job.

If the job got in the way of the career, the job was eliminated when I got a good career opportunity.

A PAID opportunity.

NOT an “exposure” opportunity,

Remember, people die of exposure. Insist on the cash.

I started in lighting, for theatre and rock and roll. I wanted to work more closely with actors, so I moved into stage management.

From stage management, I moved into wardrobe (so I wasn’t on call 24/7 and could have a life and keep writing – through all of this, I always wrote).

I stayed, happily, in wardrobe, working my way up to Broadway, until I started aging out of the physical demands and decided I wanted to leave while I still loved it. I watched too many people age in the jobs, afraid to leave, in pain, unhappy, and bitter. I didn’t want to be one of them.

I moved away from New York to a place I’d always loved. Unfortunately, it’s a place that supports the arts in name only.  They love it when prominent artists come in to visit and do special programs and have second homes here; they don’t believe artists in their community deserve a living wage to do what they do.

I took a job that I thought would be a dream job, but turned out to be a two-year nightmare, with a boss that loved to sabotage anything I did and daily told me that “something” was wrong with me. Because anyone who disagreed with her must have “something” wrong with them.

Still, when I was fired from that job (technically, the position was “eliminated”), I was devastated. I’ve only recently realized how deep the psychological damage is. The boss tried to break me; she didn’t succeed, but it will take a long time before the wounds are just scars.

I went back to a local theatre for a quick summer gig – bad situation in a lot of respects, and woefully underpaid, but still worth it.

Then, I worked to rebuild what I wanted and needed from my career, focusing more on business and marketing writing, which I enjoy. I love to work with people in different fields who are smart and passionate about what they do, and I love to communicate that passion to engage a larger audience. I find it joyful.

All of this time, I was still meeting contract deadlines on books, writing new books, switching publishers, attending and/or teaching at conferences, writing plays, writing radio plays, and so forth and so on.

I found some local clients, and did a mix of onsite and remote work, although, writing-wise, I firmly believe the writer does not need to be in someone else’s office.  Many were one-and-done, some because that’s all they needed; others because they balked at paying, insisted I work onsite, but would not provide me with a professional working environment. A laptop on a board set over two overturned oil drums is not an acceptable desk.

I spent more and more time with clients farther afield. I put a lot of miles on my car, driving for in-person meetings all over New England as I pitched across the country and the world. Interestingly enough, it was easier to land international remote clients when I lived in NYC than where I live now. Part of that is the current political situation, because more and more international companies don’t want to work with Americans right now.  I worked with a mix of profit and non-profits. I worked with solopreneurs and artists. Still writing novels, plays, radio plays. I took the bus into Boston more often.

I was actually willing to set up a regular commuting situation into Boston, even though it meant being up by 4:30 in the morning to be on a 6:15 bus and not getting home until 10 or 11 at night. Boston is only 65 miles from here, but the commute can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours in each direction, depending on traffic.

On the bus, I could write my 1000 words a day, and read the books I was sent for review. I couldn’t do much more than that, but the clients who paid appropriately for my skills were in Boston, not where I am.

I was at that turning point earlier this spring – ready to commit to ridiculously long commuting hours for at least the next year or two.

Then, the pandemic hit, and we were on Stay-At-Home order. Let me make this clear – people are dancing around talking saying how we were in “quarantine” – we were NOT. Here in MA, it was a stay-at-home order. Yes, offices and stores and libraries and museums and performance venues and schools were closed. But we were not quarantined, and there was no enforcement. We were encouraged to only grocery shop once every 14 days, but we weren’t FORCED so to do. There was (and is) a mask mandate in the state, which too many people ignored, and more and more are failing to fulfil.

The positive part of the pandemic was that, for those of us who already worked remotely, at least a good portion of the time, and for those who prefer it, it proved that working remotely is viable for many “office” jobs.

Now that they’re forcing us back out, without a plan, to Die For Our Employers, those of us who can work well remotely and got a lot of push-back for it are re-shaping our careers so to do. We’re supported and encouraged by those who have worked remotely full-time for years.

It means I can re-shape my career yet again. I am more productive, more creative, and more focused in my home office. I have it set up for maximum benefit, in a way NO office in this area has ever served. (I admit, I’ve had some pretty sweet offices in both New York and San Francisco).

It also means I can live anywhere I choose, as long as there’s a good internet connection – and one I can afford.

When I worked on Broadway, I had to live in a commutable distance from Broadway in order to work there. When I moved, it was a conscious choice to move beyond a commutable distance, because I knew I wouldn’t really give it up unless I couldn’t physically get there.

I’m also looking at different types of work.

I write.

I’m not a graphic designer, although I can put together ads and social media posts. I work WITH graphic designers well. So when I see a listing that tries to give the position a fancy title, but really wants to save money by hiring one person to do two or more jobs at less than that one person should earn, I skip it.

I’ve managed plenty of teams – I’ve been a wardrobe supervisor, I’ve been a production manager in both theatre and film. I can manage a full production, so managing a content calendar and other writers is cake.

But I don’t necessarily want to.

I want to write stuff.

Given the right circumstances, environment, team, and, most importantly, PAY – yes, I’d be a manager. But a lot of different factors would be involved. There are theatres, arts organizations, and museums for which I’d be willing to work onsite, once it’s safe so to do. It won’t be safe for a good long while, especially with the way the numbers are going up.

I’m more cautious about working for non-profits. When I worked in NY and SF, I often temped or even long-term temped at non-profits. They were run like businesses and understood that you pay for the skills you need.

Here? The constant dirge is “you should be honored we demand you to work for free.”

Um, no.

Some positions that I would have thought were fun and interesting and exciting even a year ago no longer grab me. They contain elements on which I no longer want to spend time. That’s nothing against the companies – they need what they need. But it means companies to whom I would have sent an LOI or a proposal packet even a year ago are no longer on my list.

I grappled with this for a few months. I felt that I was failing, that I was “less than” or that I was being lazy.

Then, I realized most of that was the voice of the toxic ex-boss still running a subscript in my subconscious.

People grow and change, and so do their careers.

It’s not a failure.

It’s a natural process.

Growing and changing is a positive, not a negative.

It doesn’t mean you have to start in the mailroom and wind up as an executive. It means you add skills and credentials and experience, take that, and CHOOSE what and where you go next.

Yes, there’s an element of privilege in that choice, and our current government wants to make sure we have NO choices and are the peasants to their feudal lords. Which is another reason we need to get out the vote and overthrow these dictators-in-training.

But deciding to take one’s career in a different direction is not a failure.

It means you are integrating all of what you’ve done, learned, and experienced, and turning it into something wonderful. It doesn’t have to conform to someone else’s agenda or convenience. It means you’ve outgrown where you are and it’s time to move on.

It also means that when you find that next career situation, you are more productive and engaged, which is better for both you and your employer.

One would think/hope companies would be excited to find enthusiastic, engaged workers rather than someone who just shows up every day.

You look at your life and decide what you want and need. Work is such a large part of our lives that how and what and where we work factors in a great deal.

Maybe you can’t change your situation today. But you can start figuring out what you want and need, do some research, and take small steps regularly.

Small steps lead to big change.

That’s a good thing.

How have you re-shaped your career?

Controlling Scope Creep

image courtesy of GLady via pixabay.com

Freelancers talk a lot about “scope creep.” That’s when a project starts with one set of parameters, and they keep expanding.

One of the joyful parts of creative collaboration is how a project grows and changes. When you’re writing a musical, it’s one thing – you have a development process, you’re being paid for the changes along the way, and your goal at the end is to have a viable musical where people walk out of the theatre humming the tunes, buy the CD, and sing it in the shower for the foreseeable future.

To get there, you need the project to grow and change.

But the “scope” and the vision are there from the beginning, and is covered by your contract.

There – the contract. That’s how you control scope creep.

I’m seeing more and more job descriptions stating “tasks will be added as needed” or “this description in no way encompasses all the tasks the job entails.”

Why not?

Why aren’t companies being upfront about what they want in the position?

Two answers:

The first is that the person who wrote the description has no idea what the job actually entails, which is common.

The second is that the company wants the option of dumping whatever they want into the position whenever they want, without additional compensation. Which is not acceptable.

As a freelancer, you have the protection of your contract. Because, as freelancers, who set our own hours and meet deadlines, we work on contract (or letter of agreement), which gives us protections that a salaried employee often does not have.

Contract Provisions

Your contract can protect you from scope creep.

Your contract will grow and change as your business does.

After your initial conversation with a new client, when you are setting terms, take some time and think about the parameters of the project as discussed, potential direction for “scope creep” and how much each direction will cost. Then, put those possibilities into the contract.

For example, I have a clause in the contract that states I include two rounds of revisions in the scope of the project; additional revisions are at an hourly rate.

When I receive the second round of revisions, I send a reminder that this is the second round of revisions, and anything beyond that will be at the hourly fee.

Often, far too often, I get this response: “Oh, this isn’t really a ‘revision.’ It’s just a few tweaks.”

No, it’s a revision. Changes are revisions. I have had clients where I actually put the definitions of “revision” and “tweak” in the contract.

Dates and Turnaround Times

I put in turnaround times for revisions, too. If I hit my deadline to turn in material (and I do), the party on the other end needs to get back to me in X amount of time with any revisions. Projects can’t drag on interminably, so a series of dates within the contract is vital:

–Deposit is due on X date

–When deposit clears, I start the project

–I get my first portion done on Y date

–Notes/revision requests are back to me by Z date

–My next revision is due on L date

–Response is due on M date

–Final work is due on N date

–Acceptance or additional requests for changes is due on O date

–final payment is due on P date

–late payments are changed with R fee, cumulative every 30 days (I start late payments at 20% of original fee)

Longer projects may have payments broken up over three, four, or even five dates. If payment doesn’t arrive on the date, work stops on the project until payment arrives.

“This is business, not personal” works both ways. Far too many companies expect you to take their business personally as far as emotional investment at higher stakes than they do, but if they default on payment or otherwise treat you poorly, it’s “just business.”

Works both ways.

Change of Direction

I also have a clause in my contract about “change of direction.” If a project changes direction from our initial agreement (and the parameters are listed in the contract), I have a clause that lists the fee. Sometimes it is necessary to come up with a new agreement, if the change of direction is going to change turnaround dates and deadlines.

Late Fees/Rush Fees

I have a clause for late fees. Late fees (more than 30 days after original due date) are at 20% of the project fee, cumulative. Which means if it’s 60 days late, it’s the original fee + 20% + the total of that.

Rush fees are for work turned around in less than three business days start at $35, depending on the project’s complexity, and whether I can move other work around or just have to stay up extra hours and push through.

I do make an exception on rush fees for script coverage, because industry protocol is often one or two-day turnaround.

When the Client Provides the Contract

In some cases, the client provides the contract, read it over. Negotiate changes. Remember that the first contract either side offers is the start of the negotiation. So yes, when I provide a client, often I will hear back on points the client wants to negotiate. I can decide if I want to change the contract to meet their request, meet them halfway, or walk away.

A client who offers a contract needs to expect negotiation on changes. If they won’t budge, decide if what they demand is worth it to you or walk away. Many magazines won’t negotiate their contracts for freelance writers, so again, you have to make the decision if having the byline in that particular publication is worth any aggravation caused by the contract.

What About Job Descriptions?

As we’ve discussed over the past weeks and months, the pandemic is changing the way we work, which can be an improvement. We, as the people actually doing the work, have to make sure that we help shape new work styles.

I’ve seen an array of articles in publications such as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BLOOMBERG, and FORBES pushing the negative aspects of remote work. Remember, these businesses are trying to protect their standard way of working, and how they see their bottom line affected. Far too many companies have useless middle managers who try to micro-manage and terrorize their “teams”.

There’s plenty of work that does not need to be done in someone else’s office with the countless interruptions and managers “checking up” on you every five minutes. I know I am far more productive in my home office. I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to be my most creative. I have set up my office to support the peak of my creativity.

There’s not a cubicle on the planet that could provide conditions even close.

Negotiation

If you are looking for a job as a salaried employee, you still have the right to negotiate. For decades, companies have pushed the toxic narrative that they get to decide everything and employees have no say in it.

Remember: companies need employees to do the work. Otherwise, their useless middle managers, or maybe even some executives, would have to do the work their damn selves.

Oh, horrors.

They push the “if you don’t take this, we’ll hire someone else.”

Go ahead.

Don’t be afraid of AI, either. That’s another narrative they push – that soon, jobs will be replaced by AI.

There are plenty of jobs that could and should be replaced by AI, especially repetitive ones. That frees creative human beings to learn new skills, to find their passions, and to do and create work that no robot could ever come up with.

With all the wonderful resources such as Coursera and FutureLearn and other online learning opportunities, people can try out different arenas and find their passions.

Yes, you might have to accept a drudge job in the interim to pay the rent and bills. But make sure it’s temporary.

When I made the commitment to a life in the theatre, I took temp office jobs as a way to keep a roof over my head between shows. But I stuck to my commitment that, if a corporate job got in the way of a paid theatre job, I ALWAYS quit the corporate job. Even knowing the theatre job was transient. That made it possible for me to work my way up to a career on Broadway.

If I’d stayed in a corporate job out of fear, I would have always been a “wanna be.”

Instead, I DID.

So, when you are in negotiations for a job, make a complete job description part of it.

You can choose not to answer ads that include language indicated scope creep. Or, early in the interview process, you can ask for more definition.

The other thing you can do is ask for a contract, rather than being an at-will employee.

There was an article on line (I’m not sure if it was BLOOMBERG, I think it was, or FORBES) touting hiring freelancers as the wave of the future, because then companies don’t have to pay for office space, health insurance, or benefits and can save money.

What they neglect to explore in the article is that savvy freelancers, with the level of skill many of these companies are looking for, will charge enough to cover those expenses.

And savvy freelancers work on contract, which means they’re not “at will” and can’t be just let go any old time the company feels like it. There’s usually a clause in the contract about how to end the work relationship if it doesn’t work out.

If there’s room for scope creep in the job description – negotiate it.

If the job description says you have to have certain computer hardware or software or phone or any other equipment – either the company pays for it/provides it and it is exclusive to the work you do for that company, or the company provides you a kit fee that covers the wear and tear on your own equipment.

If the job description demands that you have “reliable transportation” or a driver’s license – sweetly ask what kind of car they provide.

Negotiate.

Negotiations aren’t just about money.

We will talk about that in a future post.

How do you control scope creep? What points do your contracts over?

The Difference Between the Mythical “Full-time Freelance Job” and the Full-time Freelancer

image courtesy of GDJ via pixabay.com

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, because so many people are out of work and worried, the predators are out: expecting unpaid labor/samples/”assessments” as part of the hiring process, content mills re-branding themselves as “agencies” pretending to offer good work opportunities when they’ll just grind you to a pulp and destroy talent; writing jobs on “commission.”

But another disturbing trend I see in a lot of listings is this:

“Full-time Freelance”

There is no such thing as a “full-time freelance” job for a single company. If you’re working full-time for a single company, you are an employee for that company. Especially if they dictate the hours worked. Perhaps you choose to be an independent contractor on a 1099. But you SHOULD be on a W-2 at that point, and getting full benefits.

The only reason a company “offers” a “full-time freelance” position is to get out of paying benefits, sick days, holidays, etc. They are taking advantage of the non-employee to save money, yet expect the same behavior and hours and deference they would from a salaried employee.

There’s nothing wrong in working for a single company. But if you’re going to be working employee hours, you need to have benefits. Again, especially if they dictate which hours in the day they expect you to be working and available.

Or, if, for some reason, it suits you to remain on 1099, make sure YOU set the rate and it is what it would be to be on staff with the cost of benefits plus 20%. If they’re not going to give you benefits, make sure they pay enough to cover putting aside benefits and a little extra. You can find out what employees make through sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com. Or come in as a consultant, which bills at a higher-than-staff-person rate.

A full-time FREELANCER is an individual who works a full week (be it 40 hours or whatever that individual chooses to make the amount of money necessary) for a variety of different companies. There may be some overlap, especially across time zones, to communicate during mutually-acceptable hours. But the full-time freelancer arranges the hours and schedules in a way that best serves both the work and the life.

A full-time Freelancer chooses the clients with whom they do business, sets rates, works the hours that are best suited to the individual task and the energy needs.

In the best situations, the full-time Freelancer charges enough not to just cover rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, home office equipment and supplies, etc., but also for retirement, vacation fund, and a little extra.

The full-time Freelancer is constantly in marketing mode, sending out LOIs, broadening networks, and keeping an eye out for new clients who might be a good fit – or recommending fellow freelancers to jobs that might be a better fit. That time needs to be built into the work week, without a loss of income.

Since most work in the US is “at will” and can end at any time, both types of work run the risk of loss of income at a moment’s notice. But the unsalaried freelancer working full-time hours will have to scramble, while the full-time freelancer has other clients paying in while replacing the recently lost client. Freelancing work tends to run on short-term contracts, which gives at least a little stability, but those contracts end, and not all are renewed. Other work can be one-off work, and the full-time freelancer has to ride the feast-or-famine cycle.

Even if working for a single company as a freelancer, that freelancer needs to always be aware of what’s out there, and ready to leap to a better situation.

Working full-time for a single company without benefits is good for the company, but rarely good for the freelancer, unless the freelancer gets a high enough to cover independently funding benefits.

Working as a full-time freelancer can be stressful – the constant client hunt – but it also gives more variety, flexibility in case of management turnovers and sourings, and expansive opportunities.

But if someone offers you a “full-time freelance” position – look at the details very carefully. Negotiate up to make sure you are getting as much as any staff member receiving a salary and benefits, set your own hours, and are free to take on other work as you wish.

Remember: every job offer is the starting point of negotiations. If they offer you their endpoint, they are not worth your time.

Happy negotiations.

Ink-Dipped Advice: We’re All Muddling Along As Best We Can. So Don’t Nag

image courtesy of stockphotos via pixabay.com

Truly, most of us are doing our best to respect others (which means wearing a mask), be courteous, and give each other room for the emotional ups and downs through which we’re all going.

That needs to extend to the marketing. It’s surprising how many businesses are either ignoring that everything has changed, or are pounding potential customers.

As several doctors have pointed out, the only thing “re-opening” means is that there’s now room for you in the hospital.

Too many businesses and customers are pretending nothing ever happened. They speak guidelines, they might even post them. But they are not following them or enforcing them.

When I enter a store and customers are unmasked, in violation of state directives, I turn and walk out. I cross that business off my list until sometime in the future, when I feel safe going into a place unmasked. Like when I’m vaccinated.

The business might not exist by then.

That’s the risk we both take.

I live in a place that depends on tourists far too much. I’ve said, for years, this area has the resources to be fully self-sufficient, using tourism for additional prosperity, but lacks the will so to do.

It’s telling, right now, that most places around here would rather put people in danger to grab $200 bucks or so, and then have to shut down again when large numbers of people sicken and die again, possibly never to reopen, instead of being smart upfront.

Life has changed. It will continue to change, as treatments and vaccines are created, and as new illnesses and events brought on by climate change and other factors continue to be a threat.

Life has changed.

Permanently.

Marketing has to change with it. Not twenty steps behind, but ahead of the curve.

I talked about it last week: As a consumer, I like to see some gentle humor, kindness, and clear information.

There were two companies (not local) with whom I was interested in doing business over the past few weeks. Both turned me off, possibly permanently.

Both claim to champion independent artisans in their field. The businesses are not the artisans directly; they curate artisans and then sell to consumers.

One of them had an ad for a specific set of items at a specific price. I thought it would be a good way to try the company, to see if I liked the quality of the products, the way the company worked, and if I could afford to do business with them on a regular basis.

I clicked on the ad, credit card in hand, ready for my first experience with them.

Which was negative.

First, I was taken to their website, where I had to read a looooooooooong introduction, and then take a quiz.

Then, I was told I would receive a voucher to apply – I’m not sure to what. The formula was so complicated I couldn’t figure it out.

There was no place to order the item that had drawn me to the website in the first place.

To me, that’s bait and switch. No, thanks. Bye.

I got a series of emails from the company with apologies and additional voucher somethings – none of which made any sense. I couldn’t figure out how or where to enter the voucher so I could order what I was interested in receiving from the company. I could see ads for what I wanted – but nothing ever led me to buy the product as advertised that I wanted.

I finally wrote back and said I was confused, and why was it so complicated.

In return, I got a lengthy email saying this is the way they did business. It didn’t answer any of my questions or tell me how to use the voucher or get the product I actually wanted to order.

Not doing business with them.  I’m too tired, it’s too much math, and all I should have to do is click on the product in the ad and pay for it.

The quizzes, vouchers, and all the rest? That can come later.

To bait and switch, then overcommunicate in a sea of word salad that makes no sense and still doesn’t allow me to buy what attracted me to your site in the first place means I am not doing business with you.

I don’t trust you.

Second company: again, representing artisans. They had an offer of 50% off. I wanted to know what the entire price was, so I could figure out if the 50% off was something I wanted.

Only I couldn’t see any prices until I’d entered my email. Which annoyed me.

I entered my email, received a code, but when I saw the prices, I decided that it was out of my range for the moment. Plus, I had to commit to more than one purchase up front – 50% off the first purchase, two more purchases at full price.

My work could dry up at any moment. I’m not making that kind of commitment for non-essentials right now. I liked the product, and decided when I felt more financially secure in a few months, I’d like to try it. But right now, I couldn’t.

So I clicked off the site and that was that.

The barrage of emails began. Two within a few hours. “Where are you?” “Why haven’t you placed your order yet?” “You’ll miss out.”

No. I won’t miss out. I’ve decided not to buy the product.

Now that you’re nagging me, I’m knocking you off my list of companies with whom to do business in the future.

Both of these examples are marketing that failed me as a consumer. I am exhausted. I am working a lot of hours. Survival takes a lot of energy. There’s no such thing as running out to the store for something I forgot. Grocery shopping is a half day event, between standing in line, social distancing in the store, and disinfectant protocols when I come home. Things take longer, and they take more energy.

If you’re trying to convince me to part with dollars I’m already worried about, you need to make it easy. Keep the buying process as simple as possible. Let me buy what drew me to your site in the first place.

Don’t nag.

Because right now? As a consumer, I don’t have the time or patience to spend dollars on companies that harangue me.

As a marketing writer, I take what I feel as a consumer, what I hear on social media and in conversations with people, and I try to apply it.

How can I make the potential customer feel that this product is necessary? And that we value the time and money this customer put in researching and then buying the product?

With kindness, clear and simple communication, good products, and easy fulfilment.

Everyone is working as hard as they can, so the order might not go through in an instant, or arrive in two days. That’s fine. I don’t mind that.

But I mind twelve steps to get to a product instead of three, constant emails with a dissonant tone, and nagging.

What marketing techniques are turning you off right now? What’s working for you?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Intent

image courtesy of geralt via pixabay.com

At first glance, this seems like a strange post for Ink-Dipped Advice, especially since my Monday posts over on Ink in My Coffee during this cycle are about setting an intent for the week.

But in my writing and freelance business, intent, to me, matters.

What is my intent in my freelance business?

To earn a living is, of course, part of it. But how I earn it and working with which clients on which projects matters to me.

I like to work with clients who are passionate about what they do, and whose products and services make the world a more interesting, more compassionate, and better place.

My intent in working with those clients is to express their passion, joy, and unique product or service to an ever-increasing audience in a positive, engaging manner.

My skills as a storyteller and in theatre/film production translate to the “mission-specific entertainment” I talk about elsewhere on this site help me wrap the client message into an intriguing story with enchanting characters that gets the audience interested.

Because I believe social media is a conversation and not a bulletin board, when I create social media campaigns for clients and provide the response/follow-through, I build on the actual campaign posts with engagement and conversation. Interaction is, in my opinion, THE most important component of a successful social media campaign. If you’re not going to post engaging content and then actually ENGAGE, there’s no point in being on the platform.

So, my intent is getting to know the company, help create characters and stories that best communicate their message, and increase engagement. This can translate into sales/support/business growth.

Underneath this intent is my intent to earn a living from my skills. If you’re not going to pay me and value my work, I don’t work for you. I am not creating content for you without pay as part of the interview process. Read my portfolio. As for additional portfolio samples. Don’t ask me to write for you without pay. Because that indicates you don’t value what I do, or the skills I bring to the table.

My intent is to work only with companies who treat their people well, value skills, and compensate accordingly.

What is your intent?