What do you use for creative fuel? Do you use elements similar to your work, or do you need something completely different from it to stimulate it?
So often, there’s a delineation made between freelance work for others and creative work one does with fiction or music or painting or whatever. In reality, these are all aspects of our career. We shouldn’t feel forced to monetize everything we do – hobbies are meant to give pleasure. But working in more than one sphere shouldn’t make us feel divided. The elements should feed each other.
When I feel depleted, I need to look at the why:
–Am I working too many hours without a break?
–Do I need to eat or drink something?
–Am I doing work that I dislike?
–Are these tasks/assignments pulling me away from my overall vision, or a path toward them?
Sometimes, we’re just tired. Sometimes, we just feel down about life, the universe, and everything. Sometimes, it’s our subconscious and/or our bodies telling us we’re on the wrong track.
Refilling the creative well with fuel will help us figure out the root cause of the depletion so that we can deal with it, instead of making a temporary fix to get us through the day or the pay period.
Eating foods that energize you in healthy ways, staying hydrated, and taking breaks help keep the day on a more even keel. If it turns out the root cause of your dis-ease is that you are taking on work you don’t like, or you feel that the work you are doing pulls you away from your vision and/or your core integrity, you can sit down and figure out how to make changes. It might be a series of small shifts that add up; it might be a break from what’s holding you back and a completely new direction. But refilling the creative well will help you make those choices from a stronger, more grounded place.
If you’re working too many hours without a break, schedule your breaks like appointments, so that you will actually do them, rather than skipping them. After lunch, I take 30-60 minutes to sit in my reading corner and read something that I’m not being paid to read. Often, it’s re-reading other writers or artists talking about their work: Twyla Tharp, Hilma Wolitzer, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Truitt, Elizabeth Berg, etc. I find it refreshing, and it reminds me to take joy in the work.
I’m attempting to add in a mid-afternoon break, of about 20 minutes, to lie on my acupressure mat, after doing a few backbends or similar stretches to counteract the time spent hunched over a computer.
When the weather gets nice again (today it doesn’t feel like that will EVER happen, but it will), I hope, at least a few times a week, to take a late morning/early afternoon break either out at The Spruces Community Park or up at Windsor Lake. I might bring a book or a notebook and write there. Or I might just sit and BE.
Walks don’t do it for me. Every time someone swears whatever ails me will be fixed by “taking a walk” I want so scream. Walking stresses me out (unless I’m walking a labyrinth). Going into nature and being still there works better for me.
Again, when the weather gets better and I can actually go out and about, I’m going to re-instate the weekly Artist Date. This is a technique Julia Cameron first talked about in THE ARTIST’S WAY. Once a week, you go and do something just for you. My “artist dates” tend to be going to look at art, going to listen to music, or visiting a bookstore or library. Cameron encourages one to do it alone, but as someone who spends so much time alone, I sometimes prefer to do it with someone. And sometimes an artist date will mean attending a meetup or an event by a small local business.
If I’m feeling stuck on a project, often the best way for me to shake the words loose is to go and look at paintings or sculpture.
The irony of refilling the creative well is that, for it to work for me, it can’t feel like it’s related to the work when I go and do it. However, as a writer, EVERYTHING relates to the work, somehow. Every experience is material. That’s why nothing we do or feel, as artists, is ever wasted. It’s part of the whole of our lives and makes our practices more holistic.
As freelancers, we need to keep growing our network of contacts, keeping in touch with those we already know, and keep an eye on working ahead, because we know things can change in a heartbeat. Our clients might go out of business or change direction in a way that doesn’t resonate with us, or just want a different approach using a different freelancer or agency.
We help so many of our clients grow their businesses to fit their vision that sometimes we forget about our own vision for our companies.
So often, in addition to the encouragement to “grow our network” we are also told to “grow our business.”
I’m all for meeting and getting to know as many people as possible (even though I’m an introvert), because most people are interesting if you give them a chance, and it’s always fun when a project comes up and I can put together a cohort of interesting, skilled people to bring the project to an even higher level than originally envisioned.
The “grow your business” is something I’ve mulled over the past few months, trying to find the right definition of that for me.
As an “anti-niche” I don’t want to get too locked into one particular field. I enjoy working for a wide variety of businesses that do all kinds of unique things. If anything, my niche is “Damn Good Writer.” But not being tied to a niche meant, in the 2008 recession, I watched far too many talented colleagues suffer because they’d locked into a niche and couldn’t get hired elsewhere. I navigated that recession (which was during the time I was transitioning out of full-time theatre through part-time theatre to full-time writing) BECAUSE I wasn’t niched.
I have plenty of “areas of specialized knowledge” and I’m always working to expand those. I’m interested in different disciplines and skills. I use MY skills as a communicator to help businesses, artists, and individuals get their message across.
So in that case, I’m growing AND I’m evolving, because I’m learning new things from and about people who are passionate about what they do. That’s one of the reasons I love being a writer: I get to interact with people who are in love with their work.
As I keep working, my skills improve. Some writing needs succinct copy; others might need a play on puns; still others want something that’s more lyrical and flowing. My theatre training means I can easily mimic a company’s voice, and create fresh content in their voice to engage and grow their audience. The more I create, the stronger the work. I learn from every piece I write, and apply that knowledge to the next piece.
As far as “growing my business” I’ve focused differently over the past few months. Even before Twitter started its death throes, I’d stepped away from doing social media management for clients. I’ll still create copy; but I no longer choose to do the graphics, uploading, scheduling, and handle direct response/ interaction. That’s for the social media manager to handle, and not a role I want to take on anymore.
While I love having a variety of clients across a variety of fields, and the configuration of those clients changes over the months, I also don’t want to grow in the way a typical business grows. I want to manage the number and type of clients I enjoy working with; I don’t want to go through the overblown days of too many clients all needing time and attention at once, followed by long fallow periods. Even with consistent marketing, these highs and lows are fairly common. I also don’t outsource, because one of the reasons most of my clients want me to create content for them is for the unique voice that I bring to the table that supports the unique voice of their business and sharpens it even more. You hire me, it’s my work you get, not something outsourced to another writer than then comes “through” me for polishing.
In a similar vein, I’m doing much less ghostwriting, unless it’s for a lot of money. I have my starting number; depending on the work, at this point in the game, with my experience, I only negotiate upward.
At the same time, I limit how much work I take on retainer, and I prefer not to schedule specific hours for any one client, because I need a flexible schedule. I’m good at meeting deadlines, but the hours in which I work to meet those deadlines need to be flexible. I need to be able to take two weeks off to do archival research a new play or take a few days off when there’s a reading or production of my work somewhere. I don’t want to take on an ever-growing client load that would make that flexibility impossible.
Other people want and need the steadiness of a roster of retainers, so that they have a steady workflow. They keep fairly regular hours, and plan vacations and other times away much in the way they would if they were part of a traditional office environment, although they work from their home offices. Some of them are expanding their client base with an eye to either hiring other writers and being in more of a management position, or creating a partnership with other writers and graphic designers for a boutique agency-style business.
Those are their visions, and that’s great! They are fulfilling what they want.
Take the time to think about how you want your business to grow. How do you want to expand (or contract) your client load so it’s in alignment with the overall vision for your business and how it fits into your life? How do you want to evolve in your business, as far as learning new things, or stepping away from things you don’t enjoy in order to focus on the work you do?
Keep lines of communication open with your clients, and give them ample notice if and when you make dramatic changes in your business. But one of the joys of what we do is that we can build the business so it IS joyous, rather than a slog.
How has your business grown over the last few years? How have you evolved?
The question “how do you follow your dreams?” and “how did you become a full time writer?” and “how did you manage to work on Broadway?” have come up regularly, both at in-person events (pre-plague) and in virtual chats and events.
I answer honestly, and no one ever likes the answer. It makes them squirm. Then they come up with all the reasons why they “can’t” but still want the result without making the hard choices and putting in the work.
Prep yourself for the tough love answer you might claim is “impossible.”
The answer is both simple and difficult: Always put your own work first.
If you are an artist, be it a writer, a painter, an actor, a dancer, whatever, your own work must ALWAYS come first. ALWAYS.
Putting the work first doesn’t mean being a selfish bastard and expecting everyone else to martyr themselves to you because you are Such a Great Artist, although that’s how it’s often portrayed (and white men, in particular, have thrived on that model). It doesn’t mean ignoring your friends and family, not having a life, never having a vacation, and living in poverty. Which again, is a popular trope, meant to prevent people from following their dreams and keep them chained to soul-sucking jobs.
It means setting boundaries, and having honest discussions with the people with whom you share your life about physical and emotional space to create, no interruptions when you’re working, sharing household and emotional labor, etc. It means making choices looking at the big picture, which sometimes means giving up something for the moment in the smaller picture. Instead of sitting on the couch watching your boyfriend play video games because he “wants the company” you work on your novel. Maybe you can find a way to work companionably together in the same room. Or maybe you hang out with him tonight, but tomorrow you have uninterrupted work time. But you don’t let anyone make you an appendage for their convenience when you need to be the central focus on your own work. It means the creative passion is the overwhelming drive in your soul.
Any “day job” I’ve ever had only existed to serve the work. Any day job that got in the way of the work, or expected to be prioritized over the work, was replaced as quickly as possible by a different job that didn’t make those demands. Whenever I got a paying job in my field, I quit the day job. Because when the show or film ended, there’s always another day job. But there isn’t always another chance to create your art. Because if you consistently say no because of “the day job” and “responsibilities” people stop asking. They know you can’t/don’t want to, and don’t want to make you or themselves feel bad or frustrated by asking over and over again, and with a negative response. They also don’t have any reason to believe you will follow through on your commitment if you say yes. You have to earn that trust.
Theatre, film, dance, music, and the performing arts are especially demanding. The hours and the schedule are hard. You work so others can play. You work nights, weekends, and holidays. Unless you’re on a stable, long-running production, you don’t get to take time off to go to your kid’s recital or have a Friday night dinner out with your partner. You are WORKING. It is your JOB. It’s not a cute lil hobby you can pick up and put down when it’s convenient.
You show up and do the work.
You build the other parts of your life around the work.
Plenty of corporate jobs demand the same thing, and that’s seen as being dedicated, ambitious, and hardworking. Yet if an artist does the same thing, it’s demeaned. Because it’s inconvenient to the corporate machine and “not real work.”
Babe, try being on your feet for eighteen hours on location in the pouring rain and keeping continuity on soaking wet actor clothes. It’s WORK.
If you’re not willing to put your own work first, then you will have a different type of career. There’s nothing wrong with loving your day job and creating your art “on the side” if that’s what serves your life better. But you will have a different career trajectory.
If you want to move from it being “on the side” and into your art being your full-time career, you have to treat it as a second job and devote as much or more time and energy to it as you do to any day job. It’s another job until it’s your only job, and you will have to straddle two careers until you made a leap in one direction or another. You will need to use vacation time and weekends and other off-day-job times to do the work, to go to conferences, retreats, workshops, etc., rather than having a real vacation, until you’ve switched careers.
If you want to create as a hobby, that’s great, too. You get to do it whenever you make the time for it. You will have a different trajectory for your work than those who’ve made the choices above. There will be plenty of opportunities you have to refuse, because you are unwilling to rearrange your life in order to accept them. That’s okay, as long as you get out of the way of those who are committed to doing it as their profession as well as their passion, and don’t undermine them every chance you get.
Whatever choices you make about where your art fits into your life is your decision. But if you want it to be a full-time career, then you have to make the choices that support that decision. Those include:
–Putting the work first.
–Showing up every designated workday and doing the work.
–Supporting other artists by spreading the word on their work, showing up at events for them (when it’s safe and appropriate), and buying whatever you can afford when you can afford it.
–Always learning more about your art and your craft, and stretching, so you evolve as an artist.
–Learning the business side of your chosen discipline. Again, the “flaky artist” is a trope promoted to demean artists and make sure money is funneled elsewhere. Every successful artist I’ve ever met has been business-savvy. When they were in a position to hire someone else to deal with it, they CHOSE to do so. But they damn well were capable of doing the work themselves.
–Learn the tech. As an actor or dancer or musician, if you’re part of a production, understand what the crew does. As any kind of artist, learn how to work on a computer, build a website, handle social media. It’s become part of the job. “I’m not a tech person” is a bullshit excuse. I’m certainly not a tech person, plenty of my friends aren’t tech people, but we sat down and learned. You don’t have to be an IT genius to learn the basics. You DO have to be able to maintain an internet presence. People can’t support your work if they don’t know about it or can’t find it.
–Document your work. Keep notes, photos, and other documentation on your projects in various stages. Keep a clip file of articles, interviews, reviews. It will help you with grant proposals, pitches, speaking engagements, teaching, conferences, networking, and all kinds of other opportunities. This is something too many people drop the ball on, and it bites them in the butt.
–Advise, mentor, and share, but don’t allow wanna-bes and energy vampires to guilt you into prioritizing their work over yours. It’s one thing to advise and mentor; it’s another to do someone else’s work for them, instead of teaching them how to do it. The whole “you owe me” that aspiring artists often use to get a foot in the door (and then can’t maintain anything beyond that foot) hurts your own work. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
–Build in time to do nothing. Rest and down time matter. Sometimes sitting and staring at the wall or a mountain is a vital part of creation. A change of scenery, time off, doing something completely different, are all vital to refilling the creative well. This is the most difficult when you’re trying to move from the day job into the fulltime artistic profession, but try to build that time in, and then, once you’ve made the transition, build that time in regularly.
Remember that anyone who tells you “can’t make a living” being an artist has their own agenda to prevent you from doing it. It may come out of their own choices, fears, and hurts, but they are saboteurs, and you need to distance yourself (especially if they claim they’re saying so “for your own good”).
Even in this treacherous climate, it’s possible to make a living as an artist. But you have to want it enough, and be willing to make the choices and take the chances to make it happen.
It’s not easy.
It is worth it, but it has to be your driving passion.
That’s an important question. Whether it’s a job, a career, a passion, or a mix, you need to know why you do what you do.
Maybe it’s just for the paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Maybe you love your job (and it’s a surprise) and it’s turned into a career.
Good for you!
Too many people hate their jobs, and then try to punish those around them who love their jobs.
But take responsibility for the “why” of what you do. That gives you a great deal of freedom.
Now, then, what do you WANT to do?
Maybe you’re doing what you want, and that’s wonderful.
Maybe your current job is a steppingstone to what you want.
If they are different, don’t lose sight of what you want because you’re either too comfortable in what you’re doing, or too afraid of change. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was how much misplaced loyalty most workers gave their companies, who thought nothing of throwing them away at the first sign of trouble. Which is why workers went off and started doing their own thing instead of going back to being treated like crap for subpar wages.
If you are not doing what you want to be doing, try this:
Take a piece of paper. Landscape orientation works better than portrait orientation for this exercise, and I suggest doing it by hand, not on screen.
On the far left, write what you do.
On the far right, write what you want to do.
On the page, they are relatively far apart.
How far apart are they in reality?
In the middle, jot a bunch of steps to take you from one to the other. Don’t do them linearly. Just jot them all over the middle of the page, squiggly, sideways, upside down, whatever. Write them down as you think of them, in no particular order. Take your time.
Go back and take a look at what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to be right away. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to put something aside for a bit, and then take another look.
Now number the steps, so there’s a sense of order (even though the steps are all over the page).
Take a different colored pen and draw a line from where you are to each step, in turn, to where you want to be. There will (and should) be criss-crossing lines, because creativity is not linear. The best journeys have tangents, while still driving to their destination.
How can you take that first step?
More importantly, WHEN will you take that first step?
Put the first step into your calendar.
Look at the page and do one step at a time. Regularly reassess to see if your needs, interests, and goals have shifted. This is a roadmap, not a prison. You can take other exits as you wish.
Summer always encourages daydreams, so we are going to take some time to dream today.
(Okay, I daydream all year round; it’s an important part of my creative process. But for the purposes of this post, we are using the humid, warm summer days as a reason to slow down and dream).
Pretend that you have no commitments, and have a blank workday. It is a workday, not a day off. So dream in relation to the work you love to do.
With what kind of projects would you fill it?
Write a few pages on what your ideal workday would look like. Get as specific in the details, the projects, even the companies, as you wish. It can be in any format that suits you – journal entry, essay, paragraphs, lists, a calendar with hourly slots which you fill.
Add in the view from your ideal workspace, the local of the space, how you spend break time, lunch time, and whether or not there are any meetings or brainstorming sessions. Detail your ideal colleagues (be they actual colleagues, or the ones you wish you had). Add in sensory details.
Read it over. It should hold enough detail so that reading it feels like living it.
How much of this is a dream? How much overlaps with any of your life at this point? You might be pleased at the overlap; you might be dismayed at the lack of overlap. There’s no “wrong” response. There is simply your genuine response.
Put the piece of paper away, in a safe place. We will return to it in the autumn. But keep dreaming and planning and constructing your perfect workday. If you want to add notes to this document in the next few weeks, do so. But keep it safe.
Every few weeks, there’s a flare-up about how getting paid for one’s work in the arts is “selling out” and that “real” artists in whatever the discipline should “do it for love, not money.”
Love doesn’t pay the rent or keep food on the table.
Then there are those who “invite” artists to participate in their project, for “exposure.”
As a good friend of mine once said, “People die of exposure. Give me the cash.”
This type of “artists don’t deserve to be paid” or “get a real job” or “art should be free and accessible to everyone, so artists shouldn’t want payment” bullies tend to fall into two camps. One camp is made up of the faction who has no problem profiting off art, but doesn’t want to pay the artist. The other camp is those who “would” make art “if they had time” or “if there was any money in it” or if they weren’t “such a perfectionist” or don’t have the courage to face the necessary rejection involved in being a working artist and therefore don’t believe anyone else should get paid for it.
Art should be accessible to everyone. Our souls require it. But that doesn’t mean artists should starve while corporations profit.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Loving my job does not mean I forfeit the right to get paid. Money and art are not mutually exclusive.
The fact that I consider it my profession doesn’t lessen my commitment. If anything, it strengthens it.
Creativity is a thriving business. Yes. A business. People make money at it. Broadway’s profit in the 2021 season was $845, 414, 945. Broadway is still recovering from Covid. Revenue in the 2018-19 season hit the record $1.829 BILLION. (Figures from thewrap.com, who get it from the Broadway League). According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film industry pulled in $21.3 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to statista.com, the global art market transactions added up to $65.1 BILLION dollars in 2021. The traditional publishing industry, according to AAP StatShot/pubishingperspectives.com, made $1.1 BILLION. The museum industry, which offers programs and artists across disciplines, made $15.4 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to the BBC, the music industry took in $25.9 BILLION dollars. According to the Arts Action Fund, here in my home state of Massachusetts, the arts and cultural sector portion of the state’s overall economy in 2019, pre-pandemic, was $25.5 BILLION dollars. That’s how much the arts brought in, as far as revenue, to the state.
Most of these figures are lower than pre-pandemic. There are also regional theatres, who are at various tiers, and have to re-think sustainable business practices as they re-open post-pandemic, small and independent publishers, the dance industry, and all the other art forms not listed.
SOMEONE is making money. And too many make money off the myth that in order to be an artist, the creator must starve. That is a myth sustained to exploit creators.
It SHOULD be the creators who profit, and, in disciplines that need tech and editors and other support people, everyone involved should be paid a living wage.
The attitude that artists sell out when they are paid for their work while those who underpay and overwork artists make sums of money that could solve world poverty is destructive.
Creativity IS a business.
Artists should not starve, do not deserve to starve, deserve to be paid a living wage for their work, and royalties/residuals on work that continues to bring in revenue, and should not have to work jobs outside of their profession to survive. The same way the plumber, the doctor, the lawyer does not have to work in jobs outside of their profession to survive.
Artists also need to stop allowing non-artists to condescend and patronize that they are “flakey artists” and don’t have the capacity for business. Artists are capable of creating, solving problems, fixing things, stretching budgets, and repurposing the most mundane objects to transform them into creations of beauty. Artists are able to stimulate, provoke, engage, enchant, and connect on an intimate level, challenging their audiences to a greater understanding of humanity and complexity.
Which is why artists are a threat to small-minded, authoritarian-leaning, exploitative control freaks.
The first step artists need to take is to believe in their own value. Each artist’s voice is unique in the world, and each voice has something of use and purpose.
Once artists know their own value, then they can learn how to position it in the marketplace.
Another thing artists need to do is to set the boundary, and dig into the fact that “No” is a complete sentence.
Every potential project needs to fit criteria unique to each artist:
–Does it encourage growth in the artist?
–Does it encourage engagement with its audience?
–How does it fit into the overall body of the artist’s work?
–What bridge does this build, in terms of new audiences and opportunities?
–What sacrifice does it require on behalf of the artist’s investment of time, creativity, relationships? In other words, will the project be worth it? While not everything can be calculated in financial terms, those need to be part of the equation. Should an artist choose to do something without financial compensation, there must be other compensations beyond “exposure” and “you should be grateful I’m asking you to work for free.” There’s no rule about never working for free, unless an individual chooses to live by that rule. But make sure that working without financial compensation has benefits beyond being told it should make you feel good.
–What support systems does this project require? How will they be put in place? How much of the emotional labor is the artist’s, and where are there systems, organizations, and other personnel who can help?
–What other opportunities must be missed in order to accept this one?
Individuals will have different lists of needs, but creating that list for oneself, and then making sure that a new project/opportunity weighs in more positively than negatively against the individual list will allow better working situations, more creativity, and stronger building blocks.
There are times relationships will be lost. Jealousy, envy, pettiness, sabotage, disrespect, and rejection are all part of an artist’s life. How the individual chooses to handle each instance have a lot of to do with how an artist builds a career.
As far as business-related skills, arts advocacy organizations are likely to offer workshops on the business skills needed to support one’s life in the arts. Assets for Artists, in the area where I now live, offers free professional development workshops for artists covering business and finance. Creative Capital offers workshops for managing the business side of one’s career. Spend some time researching, and find out what’s available in your area.
Break that mythological barrier that artists “can’t” understand business because they’re too flighty, and that those skilled in business lack creativity. I’m grateful for the art of the accountant – those accountants have a passion for what they do, so I don’t have to. I can learn the basics of keeping my financials in good shape, and then turn it over to a professional who loves their job (AND IS PAID FOR IT, and no one ever questions that an accountant should be paid). I know when to bring in someone with more skills than mine, and that’s part of the business of art, too. Bring in the right people to do the work.
People are human. They make mistakes. Hopefully they learn, and they try to do better going forward, and demonstrate that effort through positive action and words. The arts teach us about facets of human experience we might not have, and might not yet understand. That is part of makes it both wonderful and dangerous.
Remember: individuals within corporate entities that have clout in the industry are making huge sums of money. Many of those individuals make huge sums of money while trying to pay the creators and craftspeople less for each project, while they continue to make higher profits.
The Trickle-Down Economy has always been a myth to keep people overworked and underpaid, in order to keep them under control, desperate, and helpless. Art is a way to navigate through and learn how to create a better world through beauty, empathy, understanding, bearing witness to injustice, and daring to dream a better world. It makes sense that those making the most money want to sell the anti-artist myths as broadly as possible, to keep control.
Don’t let them.
The first step to creating that better world is knowing your own value in it, and not letting anyone undervalue you, on emotional or financial levels.
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.
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?
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
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
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
There is a more direct
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.
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.