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: Moving Your Passion to the Center of Your Work Life

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

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

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

There are two reasons for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, absolutely, pursue it.

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t buy into it.

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

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

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

Hard work, time, money, patience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in a professional interview situation? Inappropriate.

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

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

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

There is a more direct approach.

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

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

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

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

They can decide if I mean their company or not.

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

Anything less wastes all our time.

Clean Slate

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

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

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

I like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to build something new and healthier.

What will you be resolute about this year?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Career Re-Shaping

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

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

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

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

A PAID opportunity.

NOT an “exposure” opportunity,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m also looking at different types of work.

I write.

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

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

But I don’t necessarily want to.

I want to write stuff.

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

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

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

Um, no.

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

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

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

People grow and change, and so do their careers.

It’s not a failure.

It’s a natural process.

Growing and changing is a positive, not a negative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small steps lead to big change.

That’s a good thing.

How have you re-shaped your career?

What Do You Want (and Need) From Work?

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Last week, we talked here about the need to re-invent work. Then, over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site earlier this week, I talked about the need to re-establish one’s sense of self.

Far too many businesses are trying to gain for themselves by making us feel terrible – all this “free time” we have now, and all the things we “should” be doing because we can’t be out and about the way we used to gambol.

They’re also counting on us being so desperate to earn a living that we’ll take even less than we earned before the pandemic. “You’ll get nothing and like it” is their refrain.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how poorly most companies treated their employees in the first place.

Remember, without people to actually do the work, the company cannot exist.

If they hire people that do the work badly (which, if they don’t pay properly, that’s all they will get in the long run), they will go under.

Instead of listening to statistics by businesses for businesses, let’s look at personal realities, and use those realities to reshape how we are going to navigate both our work world and our social world.

Not everyone likes to work remotely. Not every job CAN be done remotely.

As an introvert, I realized how often I was forced to behave like an extrovert in a typical work setting, and what a toll that took on my health and my productivity. It didn’t matter if I turned in three times the work ahead of schedule – if I wasn’t in the building so the managers could interrupt me, ruin my productivity, and repeatedly put me in situations that caused stress and discomfort, it wasn’t “real work” and I wasn’t being a “team player.”

During the pandemic, the stress wasn’t from working remotely. It was that every foray off the property held the literal prospect of death to me or someone in my family. And, as time went on, it was the external pressures from those who wanted, again, to lower my productivity and add discomfort to feel powerful and force me to be “part of the team.”

I am perfectly capable of being “part of the team” without setting foot in the office. There’s this thing called Zoom (which we’re all tired of at this point). There’s email. There are scheduled phone calls (I only do phone calls by appointment). As long as I collaborate and hit the deadlines with quality work, I shouldn’t have to be forced, repeatedly, into onsite situations that cause misery in order to make someone else feel powerful.

I realized how many unhealthy compromises I’d made since I moved here. Far more unhealthy compromises than I’d ever made in the decades I worked in theatre and film production.

In the weeks leading to the Stay-at-Home, I was even talking with potential clients who insisted that I work onsite – even though I knew it would make me miserable.

So the past few months have made me redefine both what I want and what I need from work, and I encourage you to do the same.

I went into the arts because of the passion I have for the work. I loved my time working backstage and on set. Now, I love my time writing. I don’t consider the fiction and plays the “real writing” and the marketing/business/consulting a “day job.”

As far as I’m concerned, they are all of a piece.

Make a list of what you NEED from you work.

Mine includes:

Enough money so I’m not scrambling from payment to payment and don’t have to worry about basics like rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, emergency vet bills, etc. It also must be reliably paid, not put off with excuses. Pay me per our contract.

A sense of purpose and passion from those with whom I work. This can be small business owners who love what they do; or larger companies with a bigger mission. But there needs to be more to it than bottom line profit.

Alignment with my values. I am not going to work for people/organizations/businesses I believe cause harm/fuel hatred, bigotry, racism, and misogyny. Even though those businesses usually pay more than those in alignment with my values as a person.

Creativity. My job needs to let me use the creative part of my psyche, maybe in ways I didn’t expect to use it.

Autonomy. Too often what is called “follow up” is actually “nagging.” If we’ve set a deadline, you will get what you need by that deadline. Suddenly asking for it a week early and bugging me about it doesn’t get it to you faster. If the deadline has changed for some reason, tell me it has changed and why it’s changed and we will deal with it. But don’t nag. Communicate clearly. And don’t micromanage every moment of my day.

Humor. I love to laugh, and a sense of humor is important, especially on tight deadlines when there’s a lot at stake.

Clear Communication. Don’t come at me with passive aggressive behavior. You want or need something? Be clear about it. Don’t lie to me, especially not by omission.

Respect for my boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. I do not have to embellish. If an emergency comes up, I will take on additional work outside my regular scope or outside my regular workweek; but it needs to be requested with respect and not become expected. I have a life that is separate from my work and just as important.

Room for growth. I want to learn and grow both personally and professionally. I don’t want to be pushed into additional tasks because the company is too cheap to hire enough qualified personnel. I want to grow within my own scope of duties. I want encouragement to share ideas and have opportunities.

Fully Remote. At this point in the game, that is what I want in the foreseeable future. It was a “want” before; now it is a need.

If any of the above list is missing, I am miserable, and know I need to change my work situation.

What do I WANT?

That’s a little different. The wants are what make the job special and exciting.

Paid holidays and vacations. Which means, when I’m working freelance, the money and the ability to book that time without pushback.

Variety. I like to write across different topics and in different areas – blog posts or articles or social media posts or courses or press releases or strategic plans. Anything that is scripted, be it for a video, a speech, or radio/podcast, and I’m in heaven.

Positive Colleagues. An overall positive work atmosphere, even if it’s via Zoom or email, matters. We all have tough days, or even tough stretches. But if one particular person is ALWAYS unhappy, it starts to create a ripple effect of stress.

An environment where everyone is encouraged to use their strengths and improve their weaknesses, rather than being thrown into something that’s a weakness without support or training.

Encouragement to connect beyond the work, and get to know my colleagues as human beings. What do we all like to do when we’re not working? What are our other passions and causes? How can we work together to build a better world?

Recognize and value the work. Recognize and value the work of everyone in the organization. It’s not about a fancier title. It’s about daily treatment and being paid fairly.

Encouragement for learning opportunities and creative opportunities, even if they don’t immediately benefit the client.

No more “at will” work. Most of my clients and I are on specific contracts, which is great. I do have a couple of clients that have me on retainer, but it’s “at will” and I need to change those parameters.

I’m sure I could make a more comprehensive list – and I’m working on it. But as I restructure my work life during the ongoing pandemic and figure out how I want it to look post-pandemic, these are all elements that matter to me.

As this list evolves, I will take steps to bring anything out of alignment into alignment. Then, I will grow, change, and respond to the world, and will adjust more. Which is a good thing.

What are your needs in a work situation? And wants?

How have they changed over the past few months?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Reinvent Work

Image courtesy of Free-Photos via pixabay.com

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 so forth.

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 reinvent work.

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.

Pandemic Aftershocks

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 they take.

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.

Businesses that 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 back.

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 permanently.

Rebuilding Work

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.

They’re wrong.

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 Change

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.

Affordable internet 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 stay.

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 Steps.

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.

Then DO.

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 steps.

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 communicate.

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?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Prospecting

One of the fun parts of freelancing, for me, is prospecting for clients. Because I write about a wide variety of things,  I often refer to myself as either a Renaissance Writer or the Anti-Niche. But I’m interested in most things, except for math and anchovies, and even anchovies have a place in a Caesar salad. And there are plenty of people who are excited by math, so I don’t need to be. I honor their excitement.

Curiosity & Interest. I think the world is an interesting place. Most people are interesting, too, if you give them a chance.  People who are passionate about their work and their lives are always interesting.

Those are the people who often need help communicating to a wider audience.

Remember the phrase “prospecting for gold?” I enjoy prospecting for clients.

No cold calling. I do not cold call. I know, I know, so many of those books that tell you how to make a zillion dollars in six months as a freelancer talk about cold calls. As someone who finds the phone the biggest obstacle to actual creative work, who charges for phone time, and who is rude to telemarketers and cold callers, I do not cold call.

No showing up without an appointment. I also don’t just show up in person, barging into someone’s office or knocking on their home office door, demanding they drop everything they’re trying to keep going and talk to me because I want it.

This twist on door-to-door salesmanship is prevalent on the Cape. In fact, in the so-called “career building workshops” they force you to take when you’re on unemployment (I was on unemployment when my job at the library was eliminated several years back), they encourage you to do just that.

I know, with the small business with whom I work, that is a quick way to get on the list of “No Way in Hell.” Small businesses are working as hard as they can to stay afloat. They might need your services. But if you barge in when they’re in the middle of something else, you are not a savior; you are an obstacle.

For local prospects, I find the most effective way to work with them is to meet them at Chamber events or other local networking events. I don’t march around going, “I’m a freelance writer. Hire me!”

Instead, I ask them about their business. What do they do? Why do they love it? What kind of direct mail campaigns do they use? What’s the website like? How’s their social media presence? If they admit they’re lacking in something, I might toss a general idea or two their way. I make sure that we exchange cards, but I don’t try to sell them in the moment. 

The business day following the event, I send them a quick email, reminding them of our conversation, and letting them know I’d be happy to talk to them in more detail about what we discussed, or if they have any other copywriting or marketing needs in the future.

Then, I put them on my postcard list. 2-4 times a year, I send post cards out via regular mail. Spring and fall always, on seasonally-appropriate card stock. It lists my most popular services, suggests I am happy to help create, consult, or handle overflow when their marketing team is overwhelmed. It has my email address and suggests contacting me for further discussion and/or a quote.

If I get an email requesting a phone consult, I let them know I charge for that. I do NOT put my phone number on the postcards. Phone calls, even preliminary ones, are only by appointment.

I write a lot of holiday cards. I write about this often. I believe they are important. I believe it is important to MAKE time for the cards. It lets people know that they matter enough so that you MADE the time to jot a few words and chose an image you thought they’d enjoy.

I use both postcards and regular cards. I send them out separately from the direct mail postcards. There is no pitch in the cards. It is ONLY a wish that they enjoy the holidays.

But what about prospects I want to reach that aren’t local? You’ve heard my anecdotes about the challenges of local businesses in the area where I live at the moment. I won’t re-hash them here.

I keep an eye on companies via social media and news reports. If a company is doing something interesting within the realm of what I call my “Areas of Specialized Knowledge” I dig a little deeper. I do some research on the programs and people involved in the company. If they are connected to something I disagree with, such as supporting candidates or legislation that restricts rights, healthcare, or supports concentration camps, I’m out. Not the place for me.

If they are genuinely trying to make the world a better place, with their product or service and beyond, I keep researching. I dig around on the website and the PR wires to find the person who heads the department I want to work with. I do a bit of research on the person.

Then, I craft an LOI about what I like about the company, what I do, how I think it would make the company’s life easier, and why my unique background makes me an unusual, but strong choice.

Off goes the letter (by email, whenever possible).

On they go to the postcard list, for the direct mail reminders. I’ll often do a follow-up two to four weeks later. Usually, I’ve heard back before then. The best companies always respond, even if it’s along the lines of they don’t need me at this time, or they handle it in-house. When a company doesn’t respond, it’s a red flag. They may not be all they’re trying to portray.

I do two versions of the postcard, as I believe I’ve mentioned before. One is for potential clients. One is for clients with whom I’ve worked.

I revisit the text before each mailing and tweak as needed.

The direct mail postcard usually gets a 25% response, which is high. People like getting mail. They also like it when it’s friendly and cheerful, instead of a negative hard sell.

Sometimes, it’s three or four years before a prospect becomes a client, but persistence, especially positive persistence, pays off.

What are some of your favorite ways to prospect clients?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Seize the Opportunity

I’m still working on the personal SWOT piece I promised you a few weeks ago. Because I have issues with how those are set up, I’m fighting/challenged to create something that works better.

In the meantime, I had a lovely, unexpected opportunity spring up.

In one of the busiest months I’ve had in the last few years.

However, it’s a GREAT opportunity. It came to me almost by accident, and I tossed my hat into the ring, because, why not?

I had a first conversation that went well, but I thought it could have gone better. I shrugged it off and moved on.

Then, I was offered further discussion. So I jumped at it.

There are no guarantees. It’s a risk. Especially when I’m under stresses and deadlines from other events this month.

However, if I don’t try, I definitely won’t succeed.

I’d give it a shot. If it doesn’t work — I will have gained a valuable experience.

If it works — yippee, and I’ll share details when I can.

But the important part is I didn’t make excuses or talk myself out of NOT trying, simply because it wasn’t already in the schedule.

I want this.

I will do what I can to make it work.

I will control what I can in the situation, affect what I can, and trust that if that is the right opportunity, because I put in the right effort, it will work out. If it’s not, it won’t.

But it won’t be for lack of trying.

There’s a saying for writers who constantly make excuses for not answering an opportunity: “Answer when the Muse knocks, because if you don’t, she’ll move on to the next creative door.”

I intend to open and invite the Muse in. Or maybe go out dancing with the Muse.

I’m going to enjoy the process, no matter what the result.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Core Values

 

Back on January 16, I talked about a Personal Strategic Plan. Then, on February 27, I talked about putting together a personal vision or mission statement, and how the one I use for myself differs slightly from the one I implement for my clients.

Now, we’re on to the next step in the plan: Core Values.

What does that mean for a writer or freelancer or artist?

For me, it means defining the integrity behind the work. What is the core of personal integrity I use in my own work and toward my own work?

Part of it is how I explore characters, situations, and beliefs in my writing. I write to understand the world (or built/fictional worlds) better, even through characters with whom I don’t agree. Sometimes, I write to bear witness. Other times, I write to find a way to do better, as an individual and a society.

For clients, I shape their message to reach their best and widest audience.

However, if I don’t respect what they stand for, I can’t do that. I don’t work for people who want me to shape a message that I believe is harmful or contrary to who I am as a human being.

Which means I’ve turned down quite a few high-paid gigs. And I’m okay with that.

Other people make other decisions, and that’s up to them.

I practice conscientious consumerism. I don’t shop at places who treat their employees badly or who implement religious or racist or gender-intolerant policies. So what if they’re cheaper? I’d rather spend a little more to buy a little less at a place with ethics that align more closely to my own. I choose to put my money elsewhere. I work hard for my money (to paraphrase Donna Summers’s famous song), and I’m not turning it over to businesses I find loathsome. There are restaurants where I won’t eat and stores where I won’t shop. I politely decline invitations to them; I drive to other stores to get similar items. I don’t have to stand on a soapbox and denounce them or attack other people who spend money there; I make my own decisions and act on them.

Do I get it right every time? Of course not. But I make an effort, and if I find out something about a company that runs counter to my core values, it changes my shopping habits.

So what are my core values?

For my own work, it is to shape worlds through words that explore and expand understanding of different points of view, with an intent toward building a better understanding, and therefore, a better society for all.

By the way, I do not believe that runs counter to being able to entertain. So, for all those people huffing and puffing about how they write to “entertain” and stay away from current events or anything else that has meaning in our daily lives, I look at them and think, “cop out.” However, it’s their choice. I’m glad to know that’s their position. As a conscientious consumer, I then chose to put my money elsewhere; I also do not expect them to put their money into anything of mine. We are each acting on our core values. And can have long and happy lives far away from each other.

The most entertaining, deepest work deals with difficulties people face and how they triumph (or don’t). Humor, at its best, speaks to deeper issues in the vein of ha-ha-ow! when it hits properly.

Work that is “entertaining” is not necessarily “irrelevant” or “fluffy.” We all want entertainment we deem as “brain candy” sometimes. We need it. But the best of it works on multiple levels. Yes, it relieves stress and takes us out of ourselves and our daily problems. But when it endures, we can then do back and enjoy it again on a deeper level. That doesn’t disqualify its ability to please us and charm us and offer respite. True entertainment never condescends to its audience OR its own characters. It pleasures and uplifts all of them.

For my clients, my core values mean to work with people I respect; people who are passionate about what they do and want to share it with a larger audience. It is to work WITH them to create the most positive, engaging message to reach the widest possible audience.

Figuring this out took years. I had to figure out not only what I believed and where my boundaries are, but those beliefs and boundaries shifted as I learned and grew as a person. Eighteen-year-old me made different compromises than twenty-five year-old me than the much-older-me today. I learned, I grew, I tried different things, I made A LOT of mistakes, I learned or didn’t from them, I made more mistakes, I listened to other people and learned from them, and I grew. I improved as a human being, thank goodness. I hope I do that my entire life, even while I still make mistakes.

There were too many years when I tried to please people or make money by working for people whose behavior and values made me cringe because we’re constantly being told that type of behavior is “professional.” As recently as last year, I disengaged from a client because, although the client’s parameters were absolutely legal, I felt some of the ethics were questionable, especially in alignment with my values. I was uncomfortable being part of the organization. I felt I was hypocritical to my own integrity, and therefore I did not give the client the best of my work. Which was a negative for both of us. It made sense for us to part ways, and both go on to better for each of us.

Who I am as a person is not compartmentalized from who I am as a professional. Once I stopped buying into the myth that a professional can and will do anything for the cash without caring about ethics, and started doing work that I not only loved but believed in for people I respected, it all shifted. It’s often not easy. It takes more hustle, more energy, more disappointment, a bigger fight to get fair pay. But for me, it’s worth it.

What do you consider your core values, and how did you figure them out?