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,
How do you get there?
Especially if your interests and work have a wide range?
That’s right. Remember the
kind of fun you had as a child, playing, without pressure to do or be anything
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
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.
The creativity you use in
your statement both supports and informs the creativity in your work.
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
And remember, that no one,
NO ONE will respect your work and your time unless YOU do, and unless you hold
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?
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.
There are too many
stresses in our daily lives right now: the fact that leaving the house can kill
us, bosses who don’t believe we are actually working unless they can stare at
us; job loss, which too often means the loss of health insurance, unemployment
benefits running out, a government who would rather see us die en masse for
their personal profit than give us tools to live with basic human dignity, and
We are exhausted.
And yet, this is the time,
as everything falls apart is when we have to carve out the time, in spite of
the stress, to reinvent and rebuild the society we want.
Part of that is to
Life in the Arts
I spent decades working
professionally in theatre, film, and television production. Yes, until I started working off Broadway full
time, and then on Broadway full time, I often took stopgap jobs in offices and
temp jobs along the way.
People who claim they want
a career in the arts but feel stuck in their day jobs constantly ask me how I
could earn enough to live on in the arts.
Because I was ruthless in
the knowledge and practice that any day job was just that – temporary. Its only
purpose was to make it possible for me to work in the arts. If and when it
interfered with a paying theatre job, it was the day job that was chucked. I
NEVER turned down a paid (emphasis on “paid”) job in the arts because it meant
quitting a day job.
Even knowing that theatre
and film jobs are temporary and transitory.
“But I have
responsibilities!” People whine.
You think I don’t? I have
been earning my way since I was a teenager. At a certain point, I became the
breadwinner and caretaker of other members of my family. Sometimes I have been
that for my family of choice as well. I have responsibilities.
But I was committed to my
career choice, and every work decision was made around building that career,
not conforming to other people’s definition of “real work.” Believe me, my
entire life, I’ve heard “when are you going to get a REAL job?” This is from
people who couldn’t last a single day if they had to work a full Broadway
production schedule or an 18-hour day on a film set.
I knew what I wanted from
my career, and I did it.
Too often, people claim
they want a career in the arts. But it’s easy to fall into a corporate job with
a regular salary. If you CHOOSE that route, it’s perfectly valid. But own the
choice. Don’t pretend the corporate job and your “responsibilities” prevent you
from doing the work you claim you want to do. The only thing standing in your
way is you.
The other important
element is to dump unsupportive partners. Because I am driven and organized,
too many men tried to get me to give up my dream and focus that energy and
drive on theirs. Not one of them were worth it, and getting every single one of
them out of my life was the right choice. I’ve had some great men in my life,
but I knew even the good ones couldn’t sustain the lifelong journey. The ones
who tried to sabotage me were kicked to the curb pretty damn fast.
If my career choice had
been in the stock market or in finance or medicine or law, no one would have
ever questioned the dedication or the long hours. But, because it’s in the
arts, everybody’s a critic.
I consider myself still
working in the arts, even with the business and marketing writing I do. I work
hard to balance the writing other people pay me to do with the novels, plays,
and radio plays I write.
That doesn’t mean I
consider business writing a “day job” and fiction/scripting my “real” writing. They
are both creative. I love working with businesses who are passionate about what
they do, and communicating that passion in a way that enchants, engages, and
expands their audience. It’s my real work as much as writing a novel or a play
is real work. It’s a facet of my career.
Since we’re still in the
middle of a worsening pandemic, thanks to the lack of leadership and inhumanity
at the Federal level, we don’t know the full extent of the aftershocks or how long
Artists are finding new
ways to create, engage, and entertain an audience. Production skills will also
evolve. The need for art is growing, not ceasing, and I believe that theatre,
film, music, dance, visual arts – all of these will grow and find new ways to
connect with audiences.
Businesses need good
writers more than ever. One of the analytics companies (I can’t find the link,
apologies) figures that businesses that didn’t communicate with their audience
during the pandemic lost up to 78% of that audience.
communicate poorly with their audiences are also taking a hit. Life is
different now. Tossing out over-used catchphrases that wore out their welcome
back in March, or pretending it’s all over and everything is back to the way it
was hurts your audience. I know, as a consumer, reading some of the ridiculous
marketing schemes cause me physical pain. I turn away.
I am not likely to turn
Businesses that allow
customers inside without a mask, or to slide the mask down once inside? I walk
out. I don’t spend money there. Nor will I come back once there’s a vaccine,
and we are safely able to resume a semblance of former activities.
They have lost my business
One of the significant truths
the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders revealed is that few office jobs need to
be done in corporate space.
The day is often
structured differently, especially if childcare and children’s online learning
are involved. But the work can be done remotely.
Those of us who’ve worked
remotely for a company and/or as freelancers already knew that. We’ve had to
fight to because corporations find it useful to promote the toxic myth that it’s
not “real work” unless it’s in THEIR space where they can monitor you.
It’s time not to return to
that model. Where constant interruptions, unnecessary meetings to give a
bombastic executive an audience, and a workday structured for least
productivity but maximum low morale are considered “normal.”
We were groomed – and I
use that triggering word deliberately – by corporations to believe that this
type of work day and work environment was the only “real work.”
We’ve learned differently.
Yes, certain jobs need to
be done on site. But plenty of office jobs can be done virtually. If some
workers prefer the community office environment, they should have that option,
once it’s safe. But for those who are more productive, as long as they hit
their deadlines and deliver, the option to work remotely should be permanent.
Tools for Positive
UBI. Universal Basic Income gives everyone a chance for basic human dignity. Especially during the pandemic, it allows people to pay the bills, keep a roof over their head, food on the table, and, most importantly, to stay home. It allows them to put money back into the economy for all of the above, and maybe even support some small businesses and artisans. That slows the spread of the infection, gives the medical community time to come up with vaccines and treatments, and save lives. If people aren’t putting their lives at risk daily, forced to go back into unsafe environments, but are allowed dignity, many of them will be able to create, invent, and come up with ideas that will positively transform their lives and our world that we can’t even yet imagine.
Health insurance not
connected to jobs. Too many people
are forced to stay in negative work situations because they are afraid of
losing their health insurance. Then we hit a depression, like the one we’re in
now, and they lost the job and the health insurance anyway. This needs to stop.
Health insurance needs to be connected to the individual, and travel with the
person from job to job. Part of that restructuring includes changing insurance from
profit to non-profit companies, and removing stock options.
Benefits not tied to
the job. EVERY job, even part-time
and 1099 jobs, should have to toss a few dollars ON TOP OF (not deducted from)
every paycheck into a pot tied to the individual for unemployment, paid time
off, and retirement. IN ADDITION to money tossed into the insurance pot.
everywhere. Remote workers contribute
to their local economies. They buy food, pay taxes, hopefully shop locally when
they can, participate in their communities. It’s vital to keep people connected
with affordable technology in the most rural areas. And people need options. No
single corporation can be allowed to monopolize any utility.
The next generation
doesn’t owe it to us to suffer. I am
so sick and tired of hearing “well, I had to work hard, and no one wants to
work anymore.” People do want to work hard, but they also want to work
differently. We should be making it
better for the next generation, and then they make it better for the following
generation and so forth and so on. The
previous generation broke barriers. Instead of regressing (like we’ve done the
past years), it’s time for us to break barriers.
Fair pay for a day’s
work. And benefits. UBI doesn’t negate the need for fair pay. If
you aren’t willing to pay a living wage, and throw benefits into a pot for the
individual, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself. And let’s
stop this only paying a 35-hour week or a 37.5-hour week. Or working 8-5
instead of 9-5 if someone wants to eat. You want me to work for you all damn
day? You can damn well pay me for a LUNCH HOUR.
Affordable housing. What developers present as “affordable” housing isn’t.
The formula for affordable housing needs
to be 30% of a month of 40-hour weeks at the minimum wage for that state. THAT
is affordable. No one should have to work multiple jobs in order to pay rent,
and rent should not be 80% of a person’s income (which it too often is).
How Do We Get There?
Millions of us are out of
work right now, and worried. Perhaps even desperate. Corporations are counting
on that. They got millions of dollars in SBA loans, have bought back stocks,
paid bonuses to top execs, and laid off the people who do the actual work. Now,
they want to hire people back at lower rates without benefits because “the economy.”
If you have to take
anything that comes along, then do what you need to do.
But take Liz Ryan’s advice over on The Human Workplace, and always be looking for another job. Consider it a temp job. Keep looking, pitching, sending out resumes and LOIs, talking to people, expanding your network.
As soon as you get a
better opportunity, take it. Companies stopped being loyal to their employees
decades ago. They blame the employees, saying they jump to a different job
after two years and “don’t want to work.” Hmm, maybe if companies paid decent
wages, benefits, funded pension plans (which are EARNED benefits as much as
Social Security is an EARNED benefit)
and treated their employees with decency and dignity, their employees would
Don’t believe corporate
spin. Take what you need to survive. Jump when something better comes along.
Misplaced loyalty will destroy you every time.
Take Stock. Then Take
In and amongst the worry
(and we’re all worried, on so many fronts right now), take stock of the career
you’ve had and the career you want. Where are they aligned? Where are they
apart? Where are they in conflict?
Start taking small actions
every day to move towards the career you want. Fifteen minutes a day working
towards both the kind of work you want to do and the environment in which you
want to do it.
Work with your elected
officials on town, state, and Federal
levels. Let them know what you want out of your society. HELP them get there.
It’s not just about donating money. It’s about regular communication so they
can represent you, and it’s about ideas. Write proposals, with detailed action
That helps them, and hones
skills you can use in a variety of jobs.
Read bills coming up for a vote, and let your elected officials
know how you feel about them. They can’t represent you if you don’t
You can read Federal bills coming up for a vote here..
Your state and town will have
information on their websites. It doesn’t take that much time to keep up on these
bills, and it pays off in every aspect of your life, because it affects every
aspect of your life.
Vote. In EVERY election.
Say No. Speak up at work. Speak up in interviews. Companies
are counting on us to be terrified and desperate. If enough of us say no, they
have to change the way they treat workers, or go out of business. Find people
with similar work and life sensibilities, and become entrepreneurs. Terrifying,
right? But also fulfilling. You can do better work on your own and be a better
boss than those who mistreated you.
Yes, it’s terrifying and
overwhelming at times. Start slowly. Rest when you need to. But remember that
you owe your best energy and creativity to making YOUR life a work of art, not
creating something for others to profit from in perpetuity.
How are you reinventing
work from what you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I am a bibliophile. Some would say a bibliomaniac. I buy books. I read books. I keep books. I use books to build the forts I need to deal with the world.
As a writer and freelancer, I love to read how others build their business, hone their craft, grow their creativity. Below are some of my favorite books, ones I read and re-read, by title and author:
THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY by Scott Dawson. Scott hosts the Remote Chat on Wednesdays at 1 PM EST on Twitter. It’s a highlight of my week, and one of my favorite groups of people. Scott’s book is a great guide on how to build a successful work life with remote work, and avoid the pitfalls and obstacles that employers throw in your path.
A BOOK OF ONE’S OWN: People and Their Diaries by Thomas Mallon. I re-read my 1986 paperback of this book so often that it’s falling apart. I love this book. It has musings on and excerpts from a wide range of diarists. I learn so much about seeing, feeling, and articulating each time I re-read it.
BOOKLIFE: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer By Jeff Vandermeer. This is helpful for delineating the public and private lives. I am an inherently private person, an introvert forced by the needs of business, into extrovertism far too often for my liking. This book has some good ideas on handling that frisson.
THE COMPANY OF WRITERS by Hilma Wolitzer. Another wonderful book on the writing process and navigating the times you want and need to emerge from solitude. I am a huge fan of Hilma’s novels and those by her daughter, Meg.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE by William Shakespeare. I learn more about art and craft and stagecraft and structure and style from Shakespeare than I do anywhere else. I read and re-read his work constantly.
THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp. Far too many books are about breaking blocks into finding one’s creativity. This book is for already creative people to take their creativity to the next level, in any discipline.
CUT TO THE CHASE: Writing Feature Films with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. From UCLA Extension Writers’ program. Excellent book on screenwriting art & business.
ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN by Elizabeth Berg. The writing advice is great, and her blueberry coffee cake recipe is THE BEST.
THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Editor, agent, writer, Betsy Lerner talks about creating a writing career and how to work with editors and understand marketplace.
HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen. Still the best book I’ve ever read to teach effective proposal writing. I’ve used this for fiction, nonfiction, and adapted it for grants and multi-media or multi-discipline projects.
INSIDE THE ROOM: Writing Television with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. Another excellent UCLA extension book on art, craft, and business.
LIFE, PAINT AND PASSION by Michele Cassou and Stuart Cubley. Although the focus of the book is painting, I find that painting (or sewing or dancing or singing) frees up the writing. Switching disciplines helps fuel your primary discipline.
MAKING A LITERARY LIFE by Carolyn See. She has terrific ideas for maintaining your creative, often solitary work life, while still meeting the needs of the business side.
MY STAGGERFORD JOURNAL by Jon Hassler. The journal of a year-long sabbatical to write a novel.
THE RIGHT TO WRITE by Julia Cameron. I’ve found this small book the most useful of all her creativity and artistic coaching works.
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING by Natalie Goldberg. My favorite of her books, this mixes practicality with exercises to open creativity and work past stuck.
THE WELL-FED WRITER by Peter Bowerman. This book helped give me the courage to make the freelance leap. There are many things I do differently than Peter does, but his energy and enthusiasm inspired me. I re-read this book often to remind myself of the basics.
WORD PAINTING by Rebecca McClanahan. I’d developed my Sensory Perceptions class before I read this book, and now it’s become part of the Recommended Reading list. The exercises focus on choosing the best words for descriptive writing.
WORD WORK: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers. Again, a professional writer offers ideas on how to keep creativity flowing while dealing with necessary business aspects.
WRITE AWAY! by Elizabeth George. Although my process has evolved very differently than hers, I find re-reading this book helps me look at the way I write in a fresh way. It’s a great book when I feel tired and stale.
WRITER’S MARKET. This comes out every year. I prefer the print edition, although I double-check online to see if any information has changed. I like to sit and go through the entire large book with pen and paper, reading each entry and making notes on the markets I want to approach. Then, of course, I have to go and DO it.
Looking at the list, many of these are about art and craft more than business. Several of them deal with balancing the two. I have many more books on writing. In fact, I have an entire six foot bookcase in my office filled to bursting with them, and more packed in boxes downstairs. But these are the books I go back to re-read regularly.
In my opinion, you can’t maintain a solid career without the art and the craft. You can live on your marketing until they find out your lack of art and craft. But without it, you can’t sustain, even in this age of the “influencer” and marketspeak.
Art and craft matter. When you build a solid foundation and keep growing, you can add in the marketing skills and continue to learn the technology as it changes.
Many of these books remind you how to go back to the basics of art and craft, how to grow creatively. When you get tired and discouraged, these are great books to help you refill your creative well.
Whether you’re pitching an article or submitting a novel query or pitching a script, the guidelines of any particular publisher are important.
Following them properly are vital to success at landing a contract.
I’ve taught entire workshops on interpreting guidelines and following them.
Having worked on both sides of the editorial table, I sympathize with both editors who are frustrated by writers who don’t follow guidelines, and writers who are frustrated by the guidelines.
It’s important to remember that the guidelines and how the writer follows them are the first test to see if the writer and the publisher are a good fit.
The editor wants to know: –can the writer demonstrate basic reading comprehension and follow instructions; –can the writer understand and fulfill the requirements of being part of this organization; –can the writer demonstrate fluency in grammar, spelling, sentence and paragraph structure, understand the purpose of a hook, and distill the necessary information into a single page; –can the writer demonstrate an intelligence and a flexibility that proves the individual is easy to work with and doesn’t need constant babysitting.
Guidelines are not there to make the writer’s life miserable. They exist to streamline the process for the editor/publication and weed out those who are more trouble than they’re worth.
I took a wonderful workshop, way back in film school, about pitching screenplays. A good portion of it was about developing a logline. A logline is a single sentence (not complex, compound, or run-on) that encapsulates the screenplay while enchanting the listener.
The workshop leader, who worked in acquisitions and development for a major studio, stated that if the writer could not distill the screenplay down into that one simple logline, the writer didn’t know the piece well enough, it needed another draft, and was not ready to pitch.
I remember that every time I prepare a pitch or a query. There are times when I decide not to pitch or query something because I obviously need more time with it, and I can’t distill it down to the basics while making it enticing.
The elevator pitch is more like a paragraph, but the logline is a good test of whether or not something is ready to go out.
On the flip side of guidelines, when I see demanding guidelines that take me so far out of standard manuscript format that I should be on staff for the publication and paid to reformat, it gives me pause. There’s a reason standard manuscript format uses the word “standard.”
I draft in standard manuscript format because it is far easier to format OUT of it than into it, should that be necessary (to create one-paragraph summaries, excerpts for media kits and interviews, etc). And, people, the default in Word is NOT standard manuscript format. It will mess you up. Set the document to standard manuscript format when you start the first words of your manuscript, and it will serve you well.
If you don’t know what “standard manuscript format” is — LOOK IT UP. Don’t expect others to do your research for you. The information is out there. Put in some effort to learn your craft.
Back from that little tangent.
When guidelines are overly complicated, or when there’s an edge of nastiness to them, I step back. I do more research. It’s a hint that perhaps we are not a good fit.
When I see something in the guidelines that I disagree with, with which I’m not willing to suck it up and do it, I take a deep breath and move on.
I don’t email them to ask for an exception or to argue with them. They have the right to set whatever guidelines that work for them.
I have the right not to submit.
That’s the beauty of the guidelines. They give BOTH sides of the equation necessary information.
As a writer, if the guidelines don’t work for you, DON’T SUBMIT. Keep doing your research, and find a publication/publisher that’s a better match.
Submitting anyway, because you think you’re such a brilliant writer that they’ll make an exception for you will only cause frustration for both of you. You’ll be upset because you’ll get a rejection. If you don’t follow guidelines, chances are it will be rejected unread. They will be frustrated because you wasted their time and proved you’re not a professional.
If you ARE that brilliant, a different publication, where you’re comfortable with and have followed the guidelines, will contract you. If you ARE that brilliant, word will get around, and publications will wind up coming to you.
When you’re simply Very Good, you work a little harder to find the right fit, and don’t bother with publications that are the wrong fit.
One of the reasons I like freelancing is that I like variety. I learned early on, when I had temp jobs back in high school, that I wouldn’t last long in Cubicle World. We weren’t suited to each other.
On the flips side of it, when a client changes the parameters of a project, laughing it off as, “You’ll never get bored here; everything is different” — that is often a red flag.
Which is why your contract and/or Letter of Agreement is so important.
So how do you balance that, and how do you keep enough variety in your life with short-term one-offs, while still having the stability of steady income, without falling a rut?
Damned if I know.
Bet you expected a different answer, didn’t you?
But I’m figuring it out. It’s probably different for me than for many others, but maybe something in my journey will resonate. If I can save someone else pain, frustration, and time, good for all of us.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed two important tools:
Listening I keep going back to that, don’t I? But listening is important. That’s how you create, that’s how you figure out what’s under the actual words, and which words you need to craft the message. Both your own message and the client’s.
Listen to the client.
Listen to yourself. Not just what you say to the client and how you say it, but how does it feel?
I recently withdrew from consideration from a project that attracted me because I liked the organization, and the money/security aspect was seductive. However, listening, really listening to them in the meeting, and then to my own instincts, let me know we were not the right fit. They needed someone with different skills than I have. They were willing to train me, but those weren’t skills and job elements that would have made me happy. What had attracted me to the job in the first place turned out to be a small portion of the job. We weren’t what the other partner needed.
Because it IS a partnership, when it works well.
I listened to them.
Even more importantly, I listened to my own instincts.
We parted on good terms.
Which is better than taking the job, proving I wasn’t happy, and leaving on bad terms.
“No” is not a dirty word As a freelancer, you are allowed to say “no.” You are allowed to refuse jobs that you don’t want or like, for whatever reason.
I don’t work for companies who support practices I believe are harmful to justice, equality, and climate change. That is my choice. Other people don’t really care, as long as they’re paid fairly and on time. I do. My politics is not separate from my life or my work. Not at this stage of the game.
Do we have to take jobs we don’t like, just for the cash? Most of us have, at one time or another. Many of us may have to in the future, especially when the economy crashes again. But it doesn’t mean we have to stay forever. You survive. I keep digging until I find a client that doesn’t go against everything I value.
Coping with change Change is often thrown at us when we least want to deal with it.
Coping mechanisms that I find useful (outside of sticking to my daily yoga/meditation practice no matter how crazy the day gets) include:
–when you start to feel the change, or see the red flags, pay attention. This goes back to listening. Trust your instincts, then find facts to back them up (or prove otherwise). Usually, however, your instincts are correct.
–keep your resume updated. Even when you’re comfortable. I keep a Master CV that has Everything I’ve Ever Done and is massive. From that, I pull to create relevant resumes for the LOIs.
–keep your clip files current. As soon as it’s published/produced, I add it to my clip file, as both a printable hard copy and a link. Links go away. Hard copies can be scanned or copied or used in a variety of ways.
–keep talking to people. Send out LOIs, even during big projects. Go to Chamber events and other networking sessions. Go to conferences. Talk to other professionals across disciplines on social media.
–keep learning. Take courses in skills and interests. Read about what’s changing in your field, and add to your skill set. I’m a big fan of Coursera, but there are plenty of other places, too.
–acknowledge feelings of sadness, anger, fear. You feel what you feel. It’s not about what other people decide is relevant or useful. Your emotions are valid. Face them, accept them, find ways to work with them, not ignore them. Repression will come back to bite you in the butt.
–embrace transience. Everything changes. Enjoy the perfect moments of happiness, and then make a commitment to enjoy the journey and build something better.
How do you prepare for and work with upcoming change?
Last week’s post promised further discussion about the tools and resources you need to get the job done.
Tasks, Job Descriptions, Contracts Far too many job listings should be flagged for false advertising. The listing that claims to want a “Marketing Coordinator” actually wants a receptionist who writes press releases in between phone calls (not happening). The “Social Media Manager” spends more time fixing computer problems than creating content for social media platforms. The “Marketing Director” doesn’t direct marketing at all, but is actually supposed to do the job of a sales assistant.
I currently live in a work-for-hire state. The first thing the employer states in the offer is that the job is “at will” and you can be fired without notice or reason (which also means you then have to fight to get paid, and, if you’ve worked on payroll rather than 1099, it’s a fight to get unemployment benefits if you were fired).
By law, it also means that the employee can leave “at will” at any time without notice. The employer, who just fired Betty last week in a fit of pique is now shocked, shocked I tell you, when Jane walks out at lunchtime in frustration, because now Jane’s doing her work and Betty’s work (which is nowhere near the tasks she was hired for), and the employer is delighted not to pay two employees, even though both jobs were part time and without benefits, sick days, or paid holidays.
It also makes it harder to give two weeks’ notice and have any transition/training time. The new position won’t hold it while you try not to screw over your previous employer and wrap everything up; the person you’re replacing is long gone and no one knows what that individual did or any of the passwords, or can even find the job description; and you don’t have a chance to train the person coming in to do your former job. And all the notes you so carefully left for that person have disappeared.
This means, even for freelance/remote work, most local clients don’t want to sign a contract. But the contract is vital in order to keep the job parameters clear.
Basically, if you’re coming in to write freelance marketing materials for a client, the contract will spell out that writing the materials in that specific contract are ALL you’re going to do, and that any work that is outside of what is listed in the contract must go under a separate contract for a separate price.
Resources Around here, they fight remote work, too. Although they are often loathe to give you desk space, a decent chair, a drawer in a file cabinet, or anything else you might need.
About a year and a half ago, I went in to talk to one potential client who wouldn’t even consider having me work remotely, but my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums during the hours I came in to work there. Oh, and, by the way, although the job was for a marketing position, I’d also be doing some light bookkeeping, responsible for payroll, and answer the phone for two hours a day. And I should be comfortable with the men in the office making inappropriate comments, because, you know, that’s how men are. Oh, and the ad had the “wrong” financial information. It’s actually minimum wage, with no benefits.
Then there are the employers who tell you that you have to supply your own laptop (and what brand) and iPhone (and how much memory it has to have).
The response to that is “My kit fee for providing my own equipment is X dollars/week on top of the project fee.”
That always gets a shocked response, too.
No, sweetie, I am not carrying the cost of your electronics. You want me to use a particular piece of equipment? YOU supply it. Or you pay me a kit fee if I’m using my own. Not to mention the insurance I have to carry, in case anything happens to it while I’m using it for YOU.
Sales/Marketing/Promotion/Advertising Far too many businesses lump them all together. Marketing and Sales often work closely together, but they are not the same thing and require different skills.
When I worked in wardrobe, on Broadway, our union contract specified what each element contains.
The biggest misinformation that’s taken hold over the last few years is that the Marketing Director performs the same tasks as a Sales Rep.
As a member of the marketing team, my job is to engage and enchant the audience and expand the potential audience. I get them interested in the product or onto the site. It’s up to the Sales team to close the deal, provide necessary customer service, and get the money transferred.
Promotion uses elements from both sales and marketing teams, and often involves swag. A tangible object, usually with a logo and a website address, that a random person can have and hold, and think of the product/organization every time they see or use the object. Seeing it regularly, if and when it evokes a positive response, will result in another sale/another visit/further engagement. Sales and marketing often brainstorm the ideas and products, marketing finesses the content/logos/pithy quotes and gets them into production, and sales distributes them and follows up with potential clients.
Advertising is the visual and/or audio engagement where the company pays for placement, such as on a radio station, or web advertising, or newspaper advertising or program advertising. More and more often, it’s called “sponsorship” — but it’s still advertising. The sales and marketing team create a slick product that the company pays to place, in the hope that where it’s placed reaches the right audience that are then interested in the company’s product, which results in sales numbers that are higher than what was paid to create and place the ad.
Marketing and sales work often work together, but the actual tasks are different. It’s vital they work well together as a team, but it’s marketing’s job to create and engage, and sales’s job to close the deal. Marketing is more of an introvert’s task (because it’s about content creation and placement), where sales is more of an extrovert’s task.
The reason so many businesses are struggling, especially small businesses, is that they try to bunch it into a single position. The person they hire is generally better at one side of it or the other. A great marketing person is not necessarily a good sales person. Great content and a beautifully planned campaign need time and space — uninterrupted work time and QUIET. A great sales person may be able to laugh and joke and glad-hand, but not necessarily create the content or plan a fully-rounded, multi-platformed campaign.
That doesn’t mean the marketing person never goes out and represents the company — they often do. Many do it very, very well. But the delineations are important.
In the long run, it doesn’t save the company money to hire one person to do both not-so-well, rather than two people who are excellent at their separate pieces of the puzzle.
Same with the demand that the writer also be able to do the graphic design. Those are separate skills. Great writers paired with great graphic designers create great product.
I’ve worked with potential clients who decide I’m too expensive, and have their graphic designers write the content. Yeah, it looks great, but the content often makes no sense and is full of errors. Or the client demands that I do the design, but wants me responsible to also research permissions, pay permissions fees for visuals, use any Adobe or Dreamweaver skills — all at the quote I gave for content.
These are distinct skills that deserve fair pay. If you’re offering yourself on a job site to do all of this for $20, you’re screwing yourself and all the rest of the freelancers out here working hard to retain respect and earn a living.
Time One of the things most employers don’t understand is how much time it takes to create materials. UNINTERRPUTED TIME.
When a listing talks about a “busy environment” or “must have ability to juggle projects” or “multi-task” — it means they will dump anything they don’t feel like doing on you, and interrupt you every fifteen seconds, never allowing you to get anything done. And then wonder why the marketing materials aren’t done on time or have errors on the first few passes. The expectation is that if you need quiet time, you do it after hours. Without pay.
This, of course, could be avoided if they’d give you uninterrupted work time, or, better yet, if they respected their freelancers enough for remote work.
I am much more productive and efficient in my own space. It actually saves the business money when I work remotely. They get a higher quality of work with a shorter turnaround time.
Also, when they are sitting there staring at you while you work, they assume any time you are on social media, you are screwing around on company time.
No, honey, you hired me to handle your social media. That means, in addition to creating the content, I have to be on the various platforms both to post and to INTERACT. Just tossing content on a platform DOES NOTHING.
This requires time. Every day that is scheduled to work. Not just charging X dollars per tweet, but factoring in the time you need to respond, follow, interact, and grow the audience.
Ask Questions Before You Take the Job Ask questions about all these elements in your early client meetings. Find a way to work that is productive for both of you and then PUT IT IN WRITING.
Liking the client doesn’t negate the need for a contract.
What are some of the frustrating demands you’ve encountered? How did you deal with them?
“Voice” is a term that is used in writing to denote that special way an author puts together words in order to resonate with a reader.
Authorial voice is something some writers struggle to find and then hone for years. It is something that makes a reader recognize it’s you and not one of your ten thousand colleagues within the first paragraph.
However, when you stretch yourself to marketing writing for others, it’s not about YOUR voice. It’s about your client voice. That brings with it special challenges.
First, whose voice is the client voice? Is it the person who hired you? Or the person who owns the company? Or the person who runs the company? Or has this particular company created a character that’s the face of the company that needs a voice? Or is it a combination?
When you come in to work on marketing materials, one of the most important questions to ask early on is “Who is the voice of the company?” Not “what” but “who.”
Far too often, marketing materials miss because there is no cohesive voice. Even if it’s a collaborative or a co-operative, and different voices are featured, there needs to be a single, unified voice that represents the company.
Part of your job as a writer for that company is finding that voice and then developing it.
This is where my theatre training comes in. Because I know how to create characters, both on the page and with actors, I can work with the decision-makers in the company to create a voice and then use it consistently across the different types of channels — press releases, social media posts, websites, etc.
It can be a challenge when there are too many voices (often with egos attached), and you have to both combine them and distill them to create a distinctive voice. It can be a challenge when you’re working with a small business owner who is still trying to find the voice and wants their own personality to be the voice.
Handling their egos in this is a delicate matter. We all deserve basic human dignity and respect. But many people aren’t as interesting to a vast audience as they think they are. So they need help developing a business voice that is individually “them” but also better. It’s the Best Self, the most polished and professional and witty and funny and incisive self that also engages an expanding audience and interests that audience in whatever the business needs to promote/sell/serve to stay in business.
The first step in this is to genuinely LISTEN. Out of the first ten thousand words of what the client thinks they want, you might find 20 that are useful.
For me, it is use-LESS to have these conversations on the phone. In general, I find the phone a waste of time, money, and creative energy. I’ve never had a business phone conversation of more than 90 seconds that had value.
The conversations that develop voice need to happen in person or via video conferencing. The person’s tone, the facial expressions, the body language, the light in the eyes, the places they smile, what they find amusing — all of this is vital for the writer to craft the character and voice that will represent the brand. You enhance what works, you recede what doesn’t.
You create a character and a style that effectively communicates the message and expands the audience.
That has NOTHING to do with slathering photographs of the business owner and workers all over the place. In my opinion, selfies do more harm than good in business. It doesn’t “personalize” the business or product; it dilutes it.
Having a spokesperson is different — those photos are done in designated shoots with a specific purpose in mind. The spokesperson is chosen for the ability to promote a specific look and voice that the decision-makers believe best represents them.
If the business wants headshots of specific individuals or a page on the website of workers happily going about their day — great. But there’s a time and place for those types of photos, and it’s not a daily social media post.
The exception to that could be a service organization — but then you need to get signed releases from everyone you photograph. Someone coming into your space is not automatic permission to be photographed and shared publicly. People get to decide where and how their likenesses are used.
If you try to force them, you will lose them.
You want to capture the speaker’s natural rhythm and cadence; at the same time, you enhance it, strengthening sentence structure and word choice, cutting out the boring bits, the qualifiers, the passive. You do this while retaining the speaker’s cadence.
When I write a speech for someone else, when I do it well, the speaker sounds as though speaking off the cuff – even though we spent hours honing it and rehearsing it. Once we researched it.
Yes, as the writer, when I write something that will be spoken live and/or taped, I’m the one who rehearses the speaker. Part of that is my theatre training. Part of that is that I can rewrite and make necessary changes in the rehearsal process so that it sounds even better and more natural.
Because I LISTEN. I listen as the writer, but I also listen as the audience. I work on multiple levels simultaneously, because the material I create must work on the audience on multiple levels.
So talk, listen, create a voice, and work with those who are the face of the company (speaking engagements, chamber events, trade shows, etc.) so they speak in a similar cadence to the marketing materials. Yes, they are themselves. But when they represent their company, they have to align themselves with the company voice.
Even with a small company, it’s a lot of moving parts. It takes thought, planning, creativity. But most important, you need to listen. You need to understand subtext. You need to be able to shear away the words, gestures, and quirks that dilute the message and focus it in a way that’s easy to speak and easy to hear.