Professional Development

people sitting around a wooden table with pens, appers, laptop, beverages, eyeglasses, and brainstorming
image courtesy of StartupStockPhotos via pixabay.com

What do you do to keep growing in your profession? How often, in job interviews, are we promised opportunities for professional development, and then the company is too understaffed and too busy to fulfill them? Or they expect the employees to give up their own time (and often money) for them?

Independent contractors have more flexibility in the what and when of professional development opportunities, but it’s still up to us to pay for them!

What do you consider “professional development”?

My definition of it means learning something I don’t know and acquiring new or stronger skills. I consider the whole “soft skills” definition a load of horse manure. Skills are SKILLS. There’s no “hard” or “soft.” It demeans the skills that make better humans, thereby making more positive workspaces.

Since I am a writer, everything I experience is material. Everyone I encounter is material. Which means just about anything can be professional development, because I can and will utilize it in my work at some point.

Some of what I consider professional development others might consider personal development, and I don’t see why they have to be separate. I believe that the best experiences grow as both as people and grow our skills.

I recently did an artist residency with a group of poets. Most of them use this time as something apart from their lives, because they have careers in other arenas, often careers they really love. So this was about growing in their craft, but it was also personal. I considered it very much both personal and professional. I do not have the grounding in the craft of poetry that they do, but I could learn from every poem that was brought into the space, even when it wasn’t mine. And my work was able to take a huge leap. The work was exciting, the sense of nurture and excitement about each other’s work was incredible, and I learned poetic techniques that will serve me well in ALL my writing.

The nine-week Nightwood Creatryx program with Nightwood Theatre in Toronto was definitely professional development, because it helped me grow in my work as a playwright, something that is very central to my work. It also provided personal development, because we all trusted and nurtured each other’s work, and we were all invested in each other’s work in very intimate ways.

What if I want to take a workshop working with clay again? I miss working with clay. But I am not a professional ceramics artist. I would take a workshop to play with clay, try new things, learn new techniques. Where would that fall?

Again, I see it falling into both. I take it for fun, to learn about shaping and forming and building and firing and glazing. Learning from my fellow artists, and learning what I can do with  my hands contributes to personal growth.

The physicality will give me sensory details. The steps will give me other details. So when I create a character who works with clay, the daily details will help make the character more relatable. Even though I take the workshop for fun, and personal growth, it will feed into my work.

I hope, overwinter, to find/take some sort of class that will make me more comfortable with web development. Something that will teach me not to fear CSS coding, and the rest. That will very much add a marketable skill to my toolbox. It will also encourage personal growth, because I will feel more confident and grounded in that work, and not tell myself I’m not smart enough to learn it. It will start as professional development, but also have a positive impact on personal growth.

How do you define “professional development”? Do you separate it from the personal, or consider them integrated?

Reinvention Time

Balloons, dirigibles, and cogs on parchment above a book flanked by a candle on each side.
image courtesy of Dorothe via pixabay.com

The break on this blog was certainly longer than just August. The aim is to post on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, moving forward. The first Wednesday did not work, since there was some kerflamma with WordPress. So, here we are.

The WGA Strike hit me hard, at least as far as income is concerned. It’s worth it, since the studios want to destroy this particular art form both as an art form that communicates to hearts and souls, and as a viable profession. The strikes that have happened across the country this year are necessary.

But that doesn’t make the day to day and month to month demands on bills any easier.

And it doesn’t make roll my eyes any less and forward to the Guild all the predatory scabbing attempts that try to workaround the strike that regularly land in my inboxes. And delete all those crap emails about “full-time freelance” (for a single employer) or “20 hours, but you must be available to work 37.5 hours” emails that also land in my inboxes. That’s called an unbenefited employee, and nope, not doing it.

In spite of that, the bulk of my work has not been in the typical nonfiction independent contractor field over the past few months, and that’s okay.

I was fortunate to be a part of the Dramatists Guild’s End of Play program in April, in which I wrote the first draft of FALL FOREVER, a full-length play that was born in June of 2022 in a playwrights’ workshop hosted by the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I was even more fortunate to have it chosen for a virtual reading in early May with some wonderful, dedicated actors. The play has gone through a few rounds of thorough revisions in the interim, and is now out on submission. Fingers crossed.

At the end of May, I attended a local small business expo. I had a wonderful time, exchanged a lot of cards, and have had a lot of fun following up, chatting, and planning future projects with fellow entrepreneurs.

In July, once again, I was part of Word X Word Festival’s Very Large Poem, where 51 poets created a collaborative poem that flowed around the audience seated in the center. It was an amazing experience. In August, I was part of their Poets in Conversation series, creating a piece around the topic of book banning and gun violence. In October, I create another poem for that series on the topic of work.

In late July, I was able to begin a year-long project at the Clark Art Institute creating ekphrastic poetry, flash fiction, and plays inspired by various art pieces, both in traveling exhibitions (such as their PROMENDADES ON PAPER and  EDVARD MUNCH: THE TREMBLING EARTH) along with work from their permanent collection. I go about once a week and spend time with various pieces. Later this autumn, I will do some research in their library.

In August, I was finally able to go down to research in the Westchester Archives about my Playland Painters (the five women who painted the props at Playland Amusement Park from 1928-1940). I found names for the original painters, and I am in the process of tracking them through libraries, archives, and census records around the country, to see if I can prove if any of them are the women in my photo. I also learned some fascinating information that fed into a project mentioned later on.

From August through early October, I’ve been honored to be a part of Nightwood Theatre’s Creatryx 3.0 unit. Nightwood is a feminist theatre company in Toronto, and they put together an amazing group of theatre artists to create and support each other’s work. I’ve worked on a full-length stage drama with the working title of FROZEN AT THE PALACE THEATRE, again born in the 2022 Williamstown workshop. I also shared the opening of THE WOMEN ON THE BRIDGE, another full-length stage play, inspired by Munch’s 1904 painting of the same name (also sometimes referred to as THREE GIRLS ON A JETTY). The feedback on both has been enormously helpful. The plan is to finish the first drafts of each of them by the end of the year.

Through all of this, I’ve continued with the serials. Legerdemain, the fantasy/mystery, continues to drop episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s structured to be ongoing (not a book released in chapters) for as long as it’s viable. It even has its own website. Welcome to Legerdemain, a city of magic, misfits, and murder.

Angel Hunt, the urban fantasy about a witch, an angel, and an impossible task, releases new episodes on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is finite and completely written; I’m still uploading it and expect it will end in Spring 2024 after around 140 episodes. If it continues to be viable, I have several more seasons planned, and have started writing season 2, called The Lighthouse Lady.

Deadly Dramatics, the retro mystery about love, lust, theatre, rock and roll and murder, set in 1996 New York, launched this past July. It is completely written and uploaded, with new episodes going live on Wednesdays and Saturdays until October 5, 2024 (it runs 128 episodes). If it continues to be viable, there will be more seasons. I have some outlines, and I’ve started writing season 2, The Vicious Critic.

You can watch intro videos on all the serials on my serials page, and there are new episode videos on TikTok for each episode drop.

I’ve written some short stories, two of which will appear later this year. “Lavender” will be in New Zealand’s FLASH FRONTIER in October, and “The Forest Library” will be in DOES IT HAVE POCKETS? In December.

One of my ekphrastic poems was chosen to pair with a woodblock print out in Easthampton, and I was able to attend the show’s opening and read, with my fellow poets.

I’ve had conversations with several radio producers and have more radio plays out on submission.

I still release a new column of The Process Muse every Wednesday over on Substack.

I’ll be part of Llewellyn’s 2025 Spell-A-Day Almanac; since we write two years ahead, those 25 short pieces went out the door a few days ago.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend art openings and open studios and see some excellent theatre over the past few months. I enjoyed meeting fellow artists, got inspired by their work. One of them even taught me how to work with Gelli plates, and now I am obsessed. I’m also experimenting more with clay, textiles, and mixed media.

Where does that leave the freelance contractor work?

The demise of Twitter meant I took a hit in sales for the Topic Workbooks, the other books, and negatively affected the serials. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m experimenting with different social media channels. I posted in January and June about my experience, and will do another post in December of this year.

I need to spend more time in the Kindle Vella promotion groups on Facebook, but I can only do so when I can commit the time to read others’ work.

I’ve loved the work I’ve done these past months, and it makes me rethink the kind of work I want to do as a freelance contractor. Opportunities that I would have jumped at even a year ago no longer have an appeal. And that’s okay.

It’s about redefining how I want to work in partnership with other businesses and communities moving forward. Between weather and rising COVID numbers, it will be a pretty isolated winter of remote work again, and I need to seek out partnerships that will carry through the winter into spring and be fulfilling on both creative and financial levels.

I have some irons in the fire for next spring going into next summer, and we’ll see what does and does not pan out, and make further decisions from there.

I’m maintaining my decision not to take on social media work for clients at this point. With the fractured social media landscape, I do not believe I am the right person for that job. And my refusal to use AI in any of my work informs a lot of my decisions with whom to work.

I’m not counting on the strike to be settled before the end of the year, and am therefore looking at other work. If the strike ends earlier, and the script analysis and/or scriptwriting work picks up again, I can make decisions on a project-by-project basis.

I hold the boundaries of no unpaid labor as part of the interview process. That includes project specific samples, tests, or introductory/interview videos. All of that should be paid labor, and any “business” who expects it for free is not someone with whom I’m interested in working.

I’ve noticed a lot of businesses are trying to revert to pre-COVID policies and marketing strategies and then they act surprised when no one (neither customer nor potential employee) is interested in buying what they’re selling. I’ve had several “why aren’t you interested in working with us?” and “why won’t you do this for free?” questions over the months, and I have been straightforward in my answers.

We don’t live in the same world as we did at the end of 2019, and the same old strategies are not going to work.

That is as true for me personally and professionally.

I have no idea, at the moment, where this will all lead. I’ve reworked my resume and my LOI template. I’m preparing to go into residence in The Studios at MASSMoCA next week with the Boiler House Poets Collective; soon after that, I have jury duty.

In the meantime, I’m compiling a list of potential clients to whom I plan to send either project proposals or LOIS.

What are your plans for fall and winter? How are you changing your focus in your work?

Landing Pages

image courtesy of Regina Basaran via pixabay.com

The last post talked about the importance of having a website. Today, we’ll talk about your landing page.

Your landing page is vitally important, because it’s the first impression new visitors have when they visit.

You know the term “curb appeal”? Think of your landing page as the internet version of curb appeal.

Landing pages are as varied and unique as those using them.

The template and overall design of the website influences the landing page, and the overall look of your site. Even as the different pages serve different needs, the overall design ties the site together, so every page doesn’t feel like a separate web site.

What does the landing page need to do?

–Welcome new visitors

–Give them a succinct overview of the purpose of your website

–Guide them to other pages or sites connected to your work

–Have pleasing visuals and a good balance of visuals and text

What should a landing page avoid?

–Too much unwieldly text that’s better served on other pages

–Too much information crowded so that there’s no flow or resting space for the eyes

What about pop-ups?

There’s a lot of debate about pop-ups. Many marketing “gurus” swear by them, and far too many landing pages have them.

As a visitor/potential customer, if a pop-up appears before I have time to read the page, demanding my email EVEN IF IT’S FOR A DISCOUNT COUPON, I’m outta there. Not only am I gone, I am unlikely to return.

I hate being slapped in the face by a pop-up as soon as I get onto the site.

I want to read the landing page and DECIDE where I want to go next.

Choosing to join a mailing list is my LAST step on a site, not my first.

All of this “immediate Call-to-Action” when I don’t know anything about your site just turns me off.

Invite, Rather than Attack

To me, a successful landing page is an invitation, not an attack or a demand.

I want the look to resonate with the site’s purpose.

I want succinct information.

I want options for my next steps, not demands.

As an exercise, check out the websites of your favorite authors, restaurants, and stores. What draws you in? What, if they weren’t already a favorite, pushes you away? How can you translate this into the environment you want to create?

I call my own landing pages the “Welcome” page, because that’s the purpose – to welcome visitors to my site and invite them in. I use more text than is usually advisable, and fewer images. But then, I am a writer. I also tend to choose simple templates.

The Pages on Stages landing page is probably the simplest of my sites. That particular template scrolls through several pages on the landing site for mobile users, but the actual landing/welcome is fairly short.

The landing page on this site again, has more text than is advised. The Fearless Ink logo is the graphic at the top of the page, and the Creative Ground logo is at the bottom.

The website for the serial Legerdemain starts with a slide show of the episode-specific graphics, and then has information about the serial.

The flagship Devon Ellington Work website also starts with a slide show of book covers, and, again, text about the work. The sites for the individual series are similar.

All of these sites have more text than is generally advisable, but it works for the purpose of these sites. I like the site menu on the top, and there is information on navigating the site on the landing page.

Ellen Byron has a fun, beautiful site that has her book covers and “Learn More” links that allow the visitor to navigate her site.

Matt Stebbins has a clean, easy to navigate site with an inviting graphic on his landing page, and an invitation to contact him to work together.

Dancer Emma Garrett’s landing page is a photo of her in motion, with an invitation to enter.

Product designer Olivia Truong has a fun, easy to navigate landing page with bright colors and eye-catching graphics.

Painter Sophia Hacquart lets her paintings speak for themselves on the landing page.

Actor and artist Lizzie Markson’s landing page communicates the joy and energy she brings to her work.

(All of these landing pages are much better than mine, by the way, and I celebrate them for it).

Landing pages are introductions and invitations. Take time with yours, and don’t be afraid to change it as you and your work evolve.

How do you create your landing pages? When you visit a site, what do you want to find? What irks you?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

A Way To Follow Your Dreams

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The question “how do you follow your dreams?” and “how did you become a full time writer?” and “how did you manage to work on Broadway?” have come up regularly, both at in-person events (pre-plague) and in virtual chats and events.

I answer honestly, and no one ever likes the answer. It makes them squirm. Then they come up with all the reasons why they “can’t” but still want the result without making the hard choices and putting in the work.

Prep yourself for the tough love answer you might claim is “impossible.”

The answer is both simple and difficult: Always put your own work first.

If you are an artist, be it a writer, a painter, an actor, a dancer, whatever, your own work must ALWAYS come first. ALWAYS.

Putting the work first doesn’t mean being a selfish bastard and expecting everyone else to martyr themselves to you because you are Such a Great Artist, although that’s how it’s often portrayed (and white men, in particular, have thrived on that model). It doesn’t mean ignoring your friends and family, not having a life, never having a vacation, and living in poverty. Which again, is a popular trope, meant to prevent people from following their dreams and keep them chained to soul-sucking jobs.

It means setting boundaries, and having honest discussions with the people with whom you share your life about physical and emotional space to create, no interruptions when you’re working, sharing household and emotional labor, etc. It means making choices looking at the big picture, which sometimes means giving up something for the moment in the smaller picture. Instead of sitting on the couch watching your boyfriend play video games because he “wants the company” you work on your novel. Maybe you can find a way to work companionably together in the same room.  Or maybe you hang out with him tonight, but tomorrow you have uninterrupted work time. But you don’t let anyone make you an appendage for their convenience when you need to be the central focus on your own work.  It means the creative passion is the overwhelming drive in your soul.

Any “day job” I’ve ever had only existed to serve the work. Any day job that got in the way of the work, or expected to be prioritized over the work, was replaced as quickly as possible by a different job that didn’t make those demands. Whenever I got a paying job in my field, I quit the day job. Because when the show or film ended, there’s always another day job. But there isn’t always another chance to create your art. Because if you consistently say no because of “the day job” and “responsibilities” people stop asking. They know you can’t/don’t want to, and don’t want to make you or themselves feel bad or frustrated by asking over and over again, and with a negative response. They also don’t have any reason to believe you will follow through on your commitment if you say yes. You have to earn that trust.

Theatre, film, dance, music, and the performing arts are especially demanding. The hours and the schedule are hard. You work so others can play. You work nights, weekends, and holidays. Unless you’re on a stable, long-running production, you don’t get to take time off to go to your kid’s recital or have a Friday night dinner out with your partner. You are WORKING. It is your JOB. It’s not a cute lil hobby you can pick up and put down when it’s convenient.

You show up and do the work.

EVERY workday.

You build the other parts of your life around the work.

Plenty of corporate jobs demand the same thing, and that’s seen as being dedicated, ambitious, and hardworking. Yet if an artist does the same thing, it’s demeaned. Because it’s inconvenient to the corporate machine and “not real work.”

Babe, try being on your feet for eighteen hours on location in the pouring rain and keeping continuity on soaking wet actor clothes. It’s WORK.

If you’re not willing to put your own work first, then you will have a different type of career. There’s nothing wrong with loving your day job and creating your art “on the side” if that’s what serves your life better. But you will have a different career trajectory.

If you want to move from it being “on the side” and into your art being your full-time career, you have to treat it as a second job and devote as much or more time and energy to it as you do to any day job. It’s another job until it’s your only job, and you will have to straddle two careers until you made a leap in one direction or another. You will need to use vacation time and weekends and other off-day-job times to do the work, to go to conferences, retreats, workshops, etc., rather than having a real vacation, until you’ve switched careers.

If you want to create as a hobby, that’s great, too. You get to do it whenever you make the time for it. You will have a different trajectory for your work than those who’ve made the choices above.  There will be plenty of opportunities you have to refuse, because you are unwilling to rearrange your life in order to accept them. That’s okay, as long as you get out of the way of those who are committed to doing it as their profession as well as their passion, and don’t undermine them every chance you get.

Whatever choices you make about where your art fits into your life is your decision. But if you want it to be a full-time career, then you have to make the choices that support that decision. Those include:

–Putting the work first.

–Showing up every designated workday and doing the work.

–Supporting other artists by spreading the word on their work, showing up at events for them (when it’s safe and appropriate), and buying whatever you can afford when you can afford it.

–Always learning more about your art and your craft, and stretching, so you evolve as an artist.

–Learning the business side of your chosen discipline. Again, the “flaky artist” is a trope promoted to demean artists and make sure money is funneled elsewhere. Every successful artist I’ve ever met has been business-savvy. When they were in a position to hire someone else to deal with it, they CHOSE to do so. But they damn well were capable of doing the work themselves.

–Learn the tech. As an actor or dancer or musician, if you’re part of a production, understand what the crew does. As any kind of artist, learn how to work on a computer, build a website, handle social media. It’s become part of the job. “I’m not a tech person” is a bullshit excuse. I’m certainly not a tech person, plenty of my friends aren’t tech people, but we sat down and learned. You don’t have to be an IT genius to learn the basics. You DO have to be able to maintain an internet presence. People can’t support your work if they don’t know about it or can’t find it.

–Document your work. Keep notes, photos, and other documentation on your projects in various stages. Keep a clip file of articles, interviews, reviews. It will help you with grant proposals, pitches, speaking engagements, teaching, conferences, networking, and all kinds of other opportunities. This is something too many people drop the ball on, and it bites them in the butt.

–Advise, mentor, and share, but don’t allow wanna-bes and energy vampires to guilt you into prioritizing their work over yours. It’s one thing to advise and mentor; it’s another to do someone else’s work for them, instead of teaching them how to do it. The whole “you owe me” that aspiring artists often use to get a foot in the door (and then can’t maintain anything beyond that foot) hurts your own work. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

–Build in time to do nothing. Rest and down time matter.  Sometimes sitting and staring at the wall or a mountain is a vital part of creation. A change of scenery, time off, doing something completely different, are all vital to refilling the creative well. This is the most difficult when you’re trying to move from the day job into the fulltime artistic profession, but try to build that time in, and then, once you’ve made the transition, build that time in regularly.

Remember that anyone who tells you “can’t make a living” being an artist has their own agenda to prevent you from doing it. It may come out of their own choices, fears, and hurts, but they are saboteurs, and you need to distance yourself (especially if they claim they’re saying so “for your own good”).

Even in this treacherous climate, it’s possible to make a living as an artist. But you have to want it enough, and be willing to make the choices and take the chances to make it happen.

It’s not easy.

It is worth it, but it has to be your driving passion.

Expand Your Definition of “Freelance”

image courtesy of Larisa Koshkina via pixabay.com

I am coming out of a period of frustration with writerly “factions” who put blinders on and can’t see beyond the scope of their own jobs. Even other freelancers.

There’s the copy/content writing freelancer faction that looks at what they do as the only “professional” writing, and work pretty much along corporate lines, although with a looser structure to suit their goals and lives. They don’t take fiction/scriptwriting seriously and don’t believe anyone THEY KNOW could possibly making a living at it; ergo , it’s a “hobby” or a “side hustle.”

There’s the contingent of fiction writers who look at copy/content/business writing as sell-out hack work (forgetting that those hacks who work for the publishers are a good part of the reason their books sell at all). They consider their own writing and that of writers on the same tier as they are as the only “real writing” and are condescending to other writers. Yet even those traditionally published writers on large contracts too often forget that they, too, are freelancers. Their publishers aren’t offering them health insurance and 401k benefits and vacation time, and their publishers can fire them by not contracting more books.

There are plenty of writers in each category who don’t do this, and aren’t condescending to anyone, realizing that we’re all doing the best we can, no one knows what the hell we’re doing, and we all make it up as we go along. We do the best we can to support each other on creative, emotional, and financial levels. We build genuine community.

But, sadly, those faction writers are often the ones we cross paths with, especially on social media. Some are loud and bullying; others are more quietly subversive, finding cracks in one’s exhaustion or esteem to then exploit to make the person they are “advising” feel even worse, and to make themselves more powerful.

As someone who moves between all kinds of writing, I have little patience with those who don’t take any portion of my work seriously. If I write words for anything and get paid for them, I am making my living writing. Writing IS my day job. Writing is my vocation as well as my passion. ALL kinds of writing, not just what some self-important faction deems as “real” writing.

Broaden out your perspective. Broadway? Television shows? Everyone working on them, except for the top executives, is basically a freelancer. Even though, while we work on a stage or film/tv production, we are on a W-2, and paying into health care, benefits, and the rest. Because a Broadway show can close at any time. A television show can get cancelled in the blink of an eye. The film production will finish, and then you’re out there looking for work. This is true for actors and production crew and designers and directors and writers and all the other positions involved in getting you entertainment.

Entertainment work is transient and short term. Okay, except for Mariska Hargitay and those working for 24 seasons on LAW & ORDER SVU. But even that show will someday end.  And she’ll be in a position to choose what she wants to do next. I mean, look, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is closing on Broadway after 34 years.

There’s no such thing as job security in the entertainment industry.

Of course, there’s no such thing as job security in ANY industry anymore. It’s been obvious for a good many years now, and the pandemic really brought that home when employers were happy to cut lose employees, only to try and hire them back later at lower wages. At first, it looked like it wasn’t working, so corporations, in spite of record profits, are now trying to manufacture a recession in order to force people back into substandard wages. Hopefully, enough people won’t give in.

Artists are freelancers. They are commissioned by project, or by gallery show. Adjunct professors are basically freelancers, having to worry if their academic institution will hire them back. Any state that allows “at will” employment means their employees have no security. It’s not about how well the employee does the job; it’s about corporate whims.

We all need periods of time when we sink into our work routines, know there’s X amount of money coming in, and have at least a few months where we’re not worried from paycheck to paycheck, and try to build some decent savings.

But don’t forget that even the most seemingly secure job can be transient. Companies are sold, change management, go under. An illness or other life change can affect your ability to do your job the way you did before, and the company may choose to cut you loose rather than to make accommodations.

If you’re in a job where you feel secure, bask in it, at least for a little while.

But keep your resume up to date, stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous jobs, and keep expanding your network. Put what you can aside for the future (many can’t; with wages stagnant, many of us barely make expenses each month, no matter how many coffees we forgo – which is, by the way, a condescending and insulting metric). Be open to new opportunities. If you are happy where you are, you can always say no to switching jobs. But it’s also rewarding to be considered and invited into new opportunities.

This ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re too tired to make much effort. But putting aside an hour or two every month to connect or reconnect with people will enrich your life (because most people are interesting, if you just give them a chance), and position you for work opportunities.

At the end of the day, no matter how secure we think we are, we are really all freelancers. Especially in a society where a political faction is determined to destroy any safety nets.

Plan accordingly.

Lessons from the “Work Wins” Journal Experiment

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Lessons From the Work Wins Journal

At the beginning of September, one of my colleagues from the Freelance Chat, group, Matthew Denton of WinningSolo.com, presented us with a “Work Wins Journal Challenge” for September. He keeps a Work Wins Journal each day to track achievements, so the focus (as I understand it) is on what works and what is accomplished and what needs to be adjusted, rather than always worrying about what’s not getting done. He talks about it here.

Anything that involves a journal is like catnip for me, so of course I jumped in.

I kept the journal for work days, although I did list “accomplishments” if I got things done over the weekend.

Going back over his post, I had to laugh at myself. He talks about listing 3 things in ANY of his listed categories – meanwhile, I worked to make sure I had something in EVERY category EVERY day.

Oops.

Mercury Retrograde much?

But one of the things he talks about is how it helps spot patterns.

I had designated work days in the month. Labor Weekend fell in there, early one. And I had to take some additional days to recover from the COVID booster. So I lost a few days in there.

Looking back at the “Mindset” category, I’m dismayed by how often the entry was “burned out” or “exhausted.” Sometimes it would start optimistic, and fade as the day wore on. There were a few days marked “determined” or “tired but optimistic” and even fewer marked “optimistic.”

That means adjustments have to be made on the work front. I should be excited and feeling creative more days than not.

The Good Habits category held steady: early morning writing, yoga, meditation, work in various journals. I had wavered in my daily yoga/meditation practice in August, so it was good to get those back on track.

The Accomplishments tab was steady each day (and often on weekends, when I did additional or catch-up work. The “September Wrap Up” post over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site that went up this past Monday details those. So, in spite of feeling exhausted and burned out most of the time, I still got a lot done.

Client Feedback was trickier. Because so much of what I do is not in the traditional “client” mode, and, if anything, I’m moving further and further away from what many freelancers consider “client” relationships, that category is getting less and less relevant to my work. In the traditional client relationships, I got positive feedback per project, so it wasn’t at any set point. As far as script coverage, I received a steady stream of writer satisfaction bonuses and tips. On the writing front, the Topic Workbooks sold steadily, the serial is gaining traction (albeit slowly), the radio plays are well received. Editors and publishers and producers and  readers and creative collaborators aren’t clients, though. They are creative partners by my definition, even with financial exchange as part of the relationshp. I look at a client as someone for whom I do copy/content/business script writing. It’s very much a transaction of we contract, I create, you pay, we move on to other projects or other client partnerships. There’s definitely creativity involved on both sides, but it’s a different kind of creative partnership than with an editor or a producer or a publisher or a reader or someone with whom I’m creating an artform. Those creative partnerships also tend to talk longer to create, and therefore take longer to show financial gain.

Those partnerships are part of my work, and therefore my business – not a hobby, a side hustle, or something cute and unprofitable. But the relationship and definition are a little different. And becuase much of my work runs on royalties and residuals, that’s an entirely different payment system.

So, for what I do, “client feedback” is less relevant than simply “feedback.”

As far as supportive words from others, there was that, from trusted friends and colleagues. There, unfortunately, were also the usual condescending/patronizing/attempts to dimmish creative work as not “real” work in terms of business that irked me, but also showed me where I need to step back from certain engagements. I respect my work, and I expect others to respect it, too, even if they don’t understand it. If they try to diminish it, that gives me a lot of necessary information about the bigger picture.

The “things initiated” slot had quite a few listings, but most of those are long-term plans rather than immediate payouts. I admit, I was sadly behind on where I wanted/needed to be on LOIs. Part of that was frustration with attempts to design my autumn direct mail postcard, with my new Fearless Ink logo. Since my direct mail postcard campaign usually gets a 25% response rate and sets me up in those traditional client relationships well for the quarter, I need to get back on that.

I think, for coming months, I need to add a category after “things initiated” for “projects in progress” to track follow-through. Because, as stated above, much of what I do is long-term, and the path from “initiated” to “accomplished” has small victories along the way, and I want to acknowledge those.

On my GDR site, for the Monthly Wrap-Up, the categories I find useful are:

–Done

–In Process

–Moved/Dropped

–Unexpected Additions

–Disappointments

–Successes

That is more in alignment with my work, but only makes sense to list monthly, not daily (although I open the document at the beginning of the month and add things as they happen).

The “people helped” category was sometimes a challenge, and sometimes not. I don’t always know when I’ve helped someone, unless I see a request for information or answer a direct question/request. But there were a few people I know I helped over the month. Again, so much of what I do is solitary, I don’t know about the response/reaction/impact until months or years after completion.

It was a good experiment, and I’m glad I participated. Now I can see what needs to be adjusted, and how to do it in a way that works for what I do and need.

How do you track what’s working in your work life?

Your Roadmap Plan

image courtesy of cocoparisienne via pixabay.com

Why do you do what you do?

That’s an important question. Whether it’s a job, a career, a passion, or a mix, you need to know why you do what you do.

Maybe it’s just for the paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Maybe you love your job (and it’s a surprise) and it’s turned into a career.

Good for you!

Too many people hate their jobs, and then try to punish those around them who love their jobs.

But take responsibility for the “why” of what you do. That gives you a great deal of freedom.

Now, then, what do you WANT to do?

Maybe you’re doing what you want, and that’s wonderful.

Maybe your current job is a steppingstone to what you want.

If they are different, don’t lose sight of what you want because you’re either too comfortable in what you’re doing, or too afraid of change. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was how much misplaced loyalty most workers gave their companies, who thought nothing of throwing them away at the first sign of trouble. Which is why workers went off and started doing their own thing instead of going back to being treated like crap for subpar wages.

If you are not doing what you want to be doing, try this:

Take a piece of paper. Landscape orientation works better than portrait orientation for this exercise, and I suggest doing it by hand, not on screen.

On the far left, write what you do.

On the far right, write what you want to do.

On the page, they are relatively far apart.

How far apart are they in reality?

In the middle, jot a bunch of steps to take you from one to the other. Don’t do them linearly. Just jot them all over the middle of the page, squiggly, sideways, upside down, whatever. Write them down as you think of them, in no particular order. Take your time.

Go back and take a look at what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to be right away. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to put something aside for a bit, and then take another look.

Now number the steps, so there’s a sense of order (even though the steps are all over the page).

Take a different colored pen and draw a line from where you are to each step, in turn, to where you want to be. There will (and should) be criss-crossing lines, because creativity is not linear. The best journeys have tangents, while still driving to their destination.

How can you take that first step?

More importantly, WHEN will you take that first step?

Put the first step into your calendar.

Do it.

Look at the page and do one step at a time. Regularly reassess to see if your needs, interests, and goals have shifted. This is a roadmap, not a prison. You can take other exits as you wish.

But you need to start.

LOIs and Pitches

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Hello from sunny/windy/stormy Berkshires! We’re finally getting winter weather, and I’m grateful to be a remote worker.

If you read my daily personal blog, Ink in My Coffee, which talks about the intersection of work and life, you will see that I talk about pitches and LOIs frequently (although I never have as many out as I wish I had).

Several people have asked me the difference. Isn’t an LOI a kind of a pitch?

They are different tools with different uses. Below, I share my definitions, and how I create and use each.

LOI: Letter of Introduction

My LOIs are similar to cover letters sent with resumes because they are a way to introduce me to a company with whom I haven’t yet worked. Sometimes, I see a company that interests me on a job listing site. I might not want the job described, but if I do more research, like the company, and think we might work well together, I will create an LOI, and send it to the appropriate person in the company, along with the most relevant of my resumes and appropriate portfolio materials.

If I’m only sending portfolio links, the links are in the letter, not as an attachment.

I use similar principles for an LOI as I do to send a query letter to an agent or editor. I start with the hook to engage them and keep them reading the letter.

I have a paragraph stating what I have to offer, why it’s unique, how it fits their vision/needs, and why I am the best person to create it. I’m letting them know I see the need they’ve voiced, or something about the company excites me, and I believe I bring something worthwhile to the table.

I add in links to portfolio and/or other samples.

I have a paragraph stating that I do not provide free labor as part of an interview process. Any tests/samples, etc. that are project or company specific have a separate contract and payment.

Many marketing people will be horrified that I have this in the initial letter. They will advise that it’s a turnoff to the company.

That’s the point.

A company that demands or expects unpaid labor as part of the interview process is not a company with whom I want to work. It’s not about charming them or talking them around: either they act with integrity from the beginning, or we both move on. I’d rather save us the time and mutual frustration up front.

I re-iterate in the final paragraph that I work remotely and work asynchronously. While I’m open to overlapping hours and a small percentage of meetings, a company who demands availability for all of their business hours is not a true remote-positive company. Again, we are unlikely to be a good match.

I thank them for their time and consideration, and sign off, with the appropriate website under my signature line.

I follow up two to three weeks later by email. If it’s a company with whom I want to pursue a relationship, I add them to my quarterly marketing post card list that goes out by snail mail.

Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way is fine. At least I made the effort and I learned about the company. Depending on the tone of the response, I keep in touch sporadically, by email and/or postcard. Sometimes it takes months, or even a year or more to land an assignment. It’s often worth it.

Company needs change. A lot about the LOI is reminding them you exist at a time they need your skills.

An LOI says, “This is who I am, these are my skills, this is how I can make things better/easier for your company.”

Pitches

For me, a pitch is much more specific, and geared to a particular project. I’ll pitch an editor at a publication for whom I want to work, with two or three article ideas, rather than send an LOI.

I’ll pitch conferences with workshop or panel ideas.

I’ll pitch corporations with workshop or seminar ideas. Pre-pandemic, I offered a series of onsite workshops for companies to train their in-house staffs on writing and marketing techniques, especially in how to use techniques that aren’t usually used in business to communicate the message more clearly and with more integrity. They were either half day or full day sessions.

I’m adapting them so they can be offered online or in-person or as a hybrid, and learning how I can make them more inclusively accessible. The more accessibility there is to the workshops, the better it serves the employees, which means they can use what they learn, and integrate it into their own work.

And, of course, I am The Queen of Handouts. Take a workshop or seminar with me, and you walk away with a stack of material to which you can refer to whenever you want.

Pitches are more project-focused, where LOIs are more long-term focused.

How do you craft LOIs and pitches? What elements do you find work best?

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.

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.