Managing Communication

vintage brown rotary telephone on a wooden table with a bottle of perfume, a cut of tea, an open page book, and cutlery resting on a white napkin
image courtesy of  u_xbk28dh7pk via pixabay.com

One of the great things about modern technology is that it gives us communication options. We no longer have to put up with our workday being derailed because someone interrupts us with an unscheduled phone call for something that’s not relevant to the task at hand, because they want to hear themselves talk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of brainstorming and tossing around ideas to find the best approach. But if someone wants to talk their way through a task, I need to schedule it, so it works within my day, rather than destroying it. Being mutually respectful of each other’s worktime and work process results in better quality from all parties concerned.

What about communication tools like Slack, etc.? I do love ZOOM, although I’m a big believer that once you’ve said your hellos in a meeting, you can turn your camera off. We don’t need to watch each other nodding as though we’re hearing Deep Thoughts. We shouldn’t have to perform in a meeting.

Play readings, rehearsals, etc. via ZOOM have really upped the inclusivity and creativity of working across miles and time zones and I love it.

I’m careful about not overbooking ZOOM calls. I have a finite number of time slots available each week; when those slots are filled, the person requesting the meeting has to push it back to the following week or whenever there are slots open. One of the positive things we learned via the remote work during the pandemic is how few meetings we really need. Most work is done in spite of meetings, not because of them. There are exceptions, but if someone has constant “emergencies” it usually indicates poor planning, which needs to be addressed.

Since I am someone who works best in large swaths of uninterrupted time, I am often in “Do Not Disturb” mode on Slack or similar tools. I check messages at specific times in the workday and respond, the same way as I used to do in the old days, when I would unplug the phone as I worked and let the machine (in another room) take a message. Phone calls are scheduled, and they are billed separately from project time, in 15-mimute increments, the way a lawyer bills. We all know that when someone says, “let’s just jump on for a quick phone call” that we’re going to lose at least two hours of our workday. That time needs to be paid.

The quickest way to get a response is to email, because I check email whenever I switch tasks. It’s my palate cleanser, as is sometimes hopping on social media. It keeps the inbox and social media (both are vital tools of my work) under control, while still giving them the regular attention they need.

And, of course, I’m still a big fan of postal mail, but I use that more for personal communication than business communication at this point in the game. The exception is my quarterly direct mail campaign, which still usually gets a high response rate.

All of this is clearly set out in client contracts and in early work style conversations, so that it’s worked out before the project starts.

Another important point of communication: if it’s something that’s important to the process and the project, put it in the contract.

What are your favorite communication tools? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

When Tools Cost Time, Rather Than Saving It

red sand flowing through an hourglass set on a newspaper
image courtesy of Nile via pixabay.com

One of the positives of modern technology is that “they” keep coming up with cool new tools to play with, which are supposed to help us streamline our workday, increasing both productivity and efficiency. One of the negatives is that the people who create these tools rarely listen to the people who actually use them. I found that especially true working for a library, when the regional system changed software systems which created more work instead of streamlined it.

I love playing with new tools when they come on the market. I’m also far enough into my professional life that I know what I need and want in order to support the work, and few tools actually support it. Far too many get in the way of it.

Scheduling and project management tools are a good example. There are so many of them now: ToDoist, Asana, ClickUp, the list goes on and on. I tried a bunch of them, because I do love planning projects, I love calendars, and I have a system that works well for me about planning back from deadlines.

However, when I tracked the time these tools ate up, it turned out they cost me time (which means money), rather than saved it. First, I had to plan it all out and enter it into the schedule. Then, I had to go back into the tool and mark it when it was complete.

Compare that to my giant wall calendar that holds my deadlines in different colors. I add things in as they occur (5 seconds or less), plus spend maybe 20 minutes once a month adding in things like the serial episode release dates and the column deadlines. No need to wait for a computer to boot up, find the site, sign into the site, and then add it in the way the site deems it should be entered. No need to switch sites at the end of the day, sign in, and then update, which can take 20 minutes or more each day. I can pick up a pen and put a checkmark beside the task (1 second).

For me, it is a much more efficient use of time. When I tracked my time, I literally saved a few hours a week not using project management software. I work independently most of the time, rather than in a team situation, which is a whole different ballgame, and which we’ll discuss in a future column.

If I need the calendar on my computer because I’m moving between locations, I can take a photo and upload it. Or print it out and carry it with me. I often work in places without internet connection, so everything I need must be WITH me, not just in the cloud.

All much more efficient than all of these tools. I mean, ToDoist crossed a line when it told me to vacuum my house one day (something I did not enter into the schedule). I have a regular vacuuming schedule, thank you very much, and don’t need to be managed that way.

My rule of thumb with a tool is that if it takes longer to enter and update the information than to do the task, I ditch the tool.

When I draft my work, I draft in the format in which it will be submitted. In other words, I draft prose in standard manuscript format, which is evenly double-spaced all the way through, not the wonky spacing or single spacing most writing software uses. I draft scripts in script format. I draft poems in whatever way I want to spread out the words on the page (and I need flexibility for that).

Drafting in the format appropriate to that medium keeps me in the headspace for that medium, and allows me to use the craft of that particular medium and meet expectations better as I create it, rather than having to rework it later. It helps me create.

Being forced to draft in a software’s format that does not serve the work is just that, for me. It does not serve the work. It is, in fact, detrimental to the work.

I still love learning new tools and playing with them. Whenever a new tool comes out, I look forward to learning it. But I also know when to move on from them, when they start getting in the way of the work, rather than supporting the work.

What tools do you find useful? What have you ditched because it got in the way of the work? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Build That Life

image courtesy of Melk Hagelslag via pixabay.com

There’s a popular meme that’s made the rounds for the past couple of years that says: “Build a Life You Don’t Need a Vacation From.”

In theory, that’s a great idea. It means find work that pays so you don’t have to stress about keeping a roof over your head (although with the ridiculous cost of housing right now, that’s rarely possible) and food on the table, but that is also work that gives you pleasure and fulfillment.

That’s a good thing.

Most of us go through periods in our lives where we have to take whatever work we can get, because we need the money. Often, that work is exhausting and makes us feel bad about our lives, and it’s hard to gather the energy to move beyond it to something that suits us better.

But doing so is better for us physically, mentally, and that leads us to better opportunities financially.

How do you build that life?

Ignore those who tell you to stop buying yourself a coffee on the way to work and only buy generic brands. Yes, that saves some money in the short run. But at this point in the game, you’d be several hundred years old for it to add up to the deposit on a house.

Plus, denying ourselves small pleasures all the time is unhealthy. The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring has an article about small pleasures/small annoyances, and how they affect goals.

There’s a difference between enjoying a cup of coffee and blowing the entire family’s budget for the month at a casino in one night. Understanding the difference and learning how to create small, enjoyable daily rituals helps in energy management so that you have the clear mind and strength to build the rest of what you want and need in your life.

One of the things we have to let go of is the sense that pleasure is a sin, and the term “guilty pleasure.” I do not feel guilty about that which gives me pleasure. And it doesn’t make it more titillating and exciting if it is “forbidden.” I am an adult. Others don’t get to “forbid” my choices, unless it is a choice that actively harms them.

Defining pleasure as sin and something wrong is an oppressor’s tool. Embracing our pleasures is a radical act. Much like rest is a radical act in a society that demands you literally work yourself to death for someone else’s profit, pleasure is also a radical act. Pleasure takes many forms, and is a threat to bullies and oppressors, because it teaches people that there is sensation beyond feeling hopeless or like the only way to have control is to harm someone else.

Start building acts of pleasure into your daily life, and you will be on the way to building a life that energizes you, rather than depletes you.

Doing work you love, however, will not negate the need for vacations. We all need breaks and change, even from the good stuff. We need to replenish our creative and energetic wells. If you don’t follow the Nap Ministry on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/thenapministry/), I highly recommend them. And I am someone who does not nap; a nap at the wrong time will throw me off for days, thanks to my sleep issues.

But I’m learning how to court rest.

For someone whose career was built on 18 hour or more days, working in theatre and film production, this is a huge, terrifying shift. But it’s necessary.

I will always need and want vacations. But I am building a life that doesn’t make me want to run screaming away from it, or go home crying every night and then again every morning (the way I did a few years ago, when I landed what I thought was my dream job, and instead worked under the most toxic boss I’d ever experienced).

Do something TODAY just because it makes you happy.

Then do something tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Build. That. Life.

Drop your favorite pleasures in the comments!

Reinvention Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does that leave the freelance contractor work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is as true for me personally and professionally.

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

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: Creativity is A Business

image courtesy of Alexandr Ivanov via pixabay.com

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.

Artists are capable of critical thinking, or they wouldn’t be able to create. These critical thinking skills can be useful in figuring out how to apply business skills in the arts. For instance, I recently read Laura Eigel’s VALUES FIRST: HOW KNOWING YOUR CORE BELIEFS CAN GET YOU THE CAREER AND LIFE YOU WANT. It’s geared toward corporate leaders. Yet there were techniques and exercises and suggestions that are useful in arts-related situations.

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.

What Tools Work For You?

image courtesy of analogicus via pixabay.com

Organization is one of the most important aspects of a thriving freelance life. If you’re constantly dropping balls on projects, pretty soon there won’t be any balls left to drop, because clients will find others who are capable of follow-through.

Online tools always fail me. When a client wants to work using an online platform, I will adapt (unless it’s Trello, a platform I loathe). But I also have my own tools that aren’t dependent on an app or a third party.

I keep client folders on the computer (backed up) and I have hard copies of necessary information.

I have project boards when it makes sense for a project, combining visuals and catalyst phrases, so I can look up at it, drop back into the project and pick up where I left off.

For novels and series, etc., I have outlines and series bibles and tracking sheets (and I teach courses on how to set those up and put together a submission system, so it doesn’t take hours to put together the pieces of a project). I also keep “project bins” of all the research materials, so I have them in one spot. At publication, I return the books to the shelves, and the files to the cabinets.

I keep a notebook and pen in my glove compartment, and usually have one in either my purse or my tote bag. I do use note-taking apps on occasion, like Evernote or Keep, but the act of writing it down in longhand makes it stick in my brain better.

Zoom is a favorite tool, as long as it’s not overused (and yes, I limit the amount of meetings I book in any given week). One of my cats, Charlotte, adores Zoom and is convinced the entire purpose of this tool is for people all over the world to see her and tell her she is pretty.

I used to use Skype a good deal, especially when I was working with actors in the UK; they were in the rehearasal room, I was at my desk, and we collaborated. But then I started having issues with Skype not recongizing my log-in, and demanding access to all my contacts, so I’ve switched everything over to Zoom.

The To-Do List no longer works for me. Instead of helping me see what I’ve accomplished and making me feel good about the day, I start to resent it and feel restricted by it. I have my calendar, with different projects in different colors, so I know where I am on any given project on any given day at a glance. Hard copy calendars are also useful, because the box for each day is a finite space, and if that space is full, it means I’m taking on too much, and I need to adjust. It’s too easy to overfill an electronic calendar.

I have my pitch logs and submission logs, so I know what pieces are out where, with whom I’ve pitched ideas, where it needs follow-up, where something needs to be invoiced, where something was rejected and needs to go to a different market. Those are list logs, rather than spreadsheets. Again, if a client likes spreadsheets, I’m fine with that. For my own purposes, list logs work better.

One of the most important lists I keep is what I jokingly refer to as “The List.” It’s a list of companies who demand unpaid labor as part of the interview process, or as a condition of consideration for an interview. Whether it’s an assessment or an unpaid sample or the demand to “make an introductory video” (I talk about the actual cost of that here), unpaid labor as part of the interview process is no longer acceptable to me. Read my samples. Or pay me for my time, if your reading comprehension is so feeble you can’t figure out how my skills translate. As far as a one-way video introduction/interview goes, no, thank you. An interview is a two-way process, a conversation, not an audtion.

I’m not at the beginning of my career, paying dues, racking up credits to prove anything. It’s all there.

You want me to take tests? I have a contract for that, with payment terms. Otherwise, it’s a good indication we are not the right fit, and it’s best we both move on.

And if a company demands something like Myers-Briggs or DISC or anything along those lines? Absolutely not. I am a multi-faceted individual and I will not be stuffed into someone else’s box. For me, companies that demand such tests are a big red flag. If they feel the need to limit and sort their employees into “types” it is, for me, a toxic work environment. And if they feel they have to put their employees through that kind of psychological testing, it’s an indication that they are attracting the types of people with whom I would not work well.

The list grows regularly, although it’s not as long as it would have been, had I started it pre-pandemic. Some companies have learned that there’s no need for this type of “testing” and if they want experienced, qualified personnel, those individuals find plenty of work without that demeaning unpaid “testing” process.

Companies who actually have a positive “work culture” will pay for tests and samples. Or have hiring managers with strong reading comprehension to read samples and see how the skills apply to the company’s needs. They understand that professionals deserve to be compensated for their time, and the company is not doing the individual a favor by demanding a test as part of the interview process.

I admit I do like to try new tools when they come on the market.  Because there’s always room to integrate something cool and useful. But too many of these tools are built to limit, when I believe creativity is and needs to be limitless.

What tools do you find useful? Useless? Do you keep track of companies who make demands that don’t fit into your work ethic?

Spring Refreshers

image courtesy of Kerstin Riemer via pixabay.com

It’s spring.

Well, sort of. Here in the Berkshires, we have 60 degrees one day and snow the next. But there’s a potential for spring.

Spring motivates a desire to clean house and freshen things up. As you do this to your physical space, don’t forget to do that to your virtual space, too. What should you do and how?

Websites

Visit your websites as though you were a stranger. Read through every page and take notes. Does the content make you want to hire this individual?

If the answer is no on any of the pages, rewrite the content on the site so that, if you were a stranger looking for someone in your field to hire, you would hire. . .you.

Take out passive language, and make it active and engaging.

Update clips, samples, portfolio pieces, rates, and the scope of your services. As our careers grow and change, we want to focus on different services at different times. Update your website to reflect that.

Are there visuals you want to add? Is there information that’s no longer relevant and you can take off? Anything you remove should be saved in a file on your computer or a flash drive, in case you need to refer to it, or put it back on.

Is your contact info updated? If you have a sign-up for any goods, services, or a newsletter, does the link work? It’s time to fix all of those.

Is it time for a website redesign? Is that something you can do yourself, or something you want to hire out? Take time to think about what you want and how you want to communicate it. But spring is a good time to refresh.

Clip File/Portfolio/Samples

Hopefully, as you’ve created new work these past months, you’ve kept samples as hard copies in your clip file, and also saved or created digital copies that you can use on your website, your online portfolio, or Google Drive.

If you haven’t, now is the time to catch up. I keep several hard copies in a file folder in my filing cabinet. I also keep digital files (PDF and .doc, where appropriate) on my hard drive, my flash drive, and my backup drive, so I can use them as needed.

I check my online portfolio to see if I need to add, remove, or rearrange my samples.

Resume(s)

At this point in the game, I have a Master CV that is about 30 pages long. It is for me, not something sent out.

From that, I’ve crafted my Freelance Resume, my Theatre Resume, and my Writing Resume, which are relevant to my work. There is some overlap between these resumes, but each is geared toward the type of work in its name.

When I moved last summer, I updated all my resumes. It’s time to take another look and do it again, especially since I’m entering a grant cycle.

What do I need to add? What’s old enough it can fall off? What’s old, be relevant and stays on?

I have a version in .doc format and one in PDF. The PDF is the one I send out.

Social Media

This is a good time to clean up social media accounts. I’m not a muter; I’m either all in with people’s facets of personality, or all out. I either follow for everything, or unfollow and/or block.

I cleaned up my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, and it was wonderful. I could have actual conversations again, and I promised myself to do this more often.

Clean up feeds/followers/posts. Decide what you want the accounts to achieve. I have a personal Twitter where you take me as I am, or bye. I have a business Twitter that’s more focused on business writing, but not to the exclusion of my integrity. 

In spite of knowing better, I have several Facebook pages for the different series I write. I have a LinkedIn account for business only.

My Instagram account is for fun. Not much book promotion; no business. It focuses on cooking, gardens, cats, travel. There have been a lot of creepy accounts showing up lately on that feed, which I’ve steadily blocked, but it’s giving me pause as to whether or not I want to remain on the platform.

Cleaning up my Pinterest pages will be a long process, probably pushed off until summer, because it’s got too many tangents right now, and I’m not using it to its full potential.

Memberships

Are there any memberships, professional organizations, or other groups in which you participate? Do you need to renew any of them? Drop out of any of them? Recalibrate your relationship with any of them? Put aside a few hours to go through all the paperwork and make those decisions.

Artist Statements/Bios

If you work in the arts and apply for jobs and/or grants, you need an artist statement. It’s a good idea to revise it at least once a year (or twice a year). As your work evolves, your need to communicate how your vision evolves.

No matter what your profession, a good bio is a must. You submit it with guest blog posts, speaking engagements, conference presentations, etc.

I try to keep three versions up to date: one at 50 words, one at 100 words, and one at 250 words. I often have to tweak the versions to align with a specific usage.

Time Now Saves Time Later

Making the time to do this cleanup now will save you time and aggravation later, as opportunities arise and you have everything you need at your fingertips.

Go forth and clean!

Work Placement Flow

image courtesy of Jaesung An via pixabay.com

One of the things many of us realized, when forced to work remotely, is that our energy levels don’t always fit into the hours we are told to work. We also realized how much time is wasted in a commute, and how much time is frittered away at the office.

If someone prefers to work in the office, by all means, they should be able so to do.

But for those of us who are more productive, efficient, and focused working from home, we should also be able so to do.

Between the pandemic, the move, trying to get back on my feet after the multiple surgeries, and the fact that I am now older than I ever expected to be, my energy flows differently.

In order to do the best work for my clients within the deadline parameters, I found I need to adjust how and when I work, so that when I work, it’s high quality. Being a freelancer helps with that, because as a freelancer, I decide which hours I work on which projects.

(As an aside, let me emphasize again that being a “full-time freelancer” means you are putting in full-time hours for a variety of clients, and those hours are when YOU chose. If you are “full-time freelancing” for a single company, it means you allow them to take advantage of you, by making you work fulltime hours without benefits).

Back to the topic: I do my best creative work early in the day. I do my best critical work later in the day.

That means that I do my first 1K of the day on fiction or scripts as early as I can hit the desk. It means if I’m writing an article or a blog post or creating copy, most of the time, I will write it in the morning, and revise it later in the day.

If I’m stuck in morning meetings with clients, that means I don’t create until the following day. If I’m pushed to create same day, it’s going to have to be massively reworked the next day. If the material from the meeting is left to percolate while I do other tasks, I can create the next morning, and it needs much less revision.

I try to limit meetings anyway, to a small number per week (and if the slots are filled by the time you want a meeting, you get pushed to next week). Work isn’t done in meetings; it gets done in spite of meetings.

Afternoons are best for revisions. It’s creative, but it’s a different kind of creativity. Can I write in the afternoons? Yes, especially if it’s been a creative morning on other writing, or on research that fuels the creation. But, in general, the critical portion of my mind steps forward in the afternoon. I am more likely to catch the overused phrase, the typo, the incorrect name. Shaping, honing, sharpening works better for me in the afternoons.  If critical reading with comments need to happen, it’s better for me to do them in the afternoon. Or I’ll read and take notes, and then write it up and fact-check the next day.

Different days have different demands, so I don’t force myself into a strict schedule. But I’ve noticed, over the past months, what types of work happen more easily and more creatively in which time periods. I adjust my schedule as much as possible to accommodate that.

Because when I’m working, I want it to be high quality. I don’t want to be resisting because it’s something that my brain veers away from at that point. I want to place the work when the energy is best suited to it, and still get it done on time and on budget.

By allowing myself to flow more, I get more done, and at a higher quality.

For me, that also means not having a detailed “To Do” list. I know loosely where I need to be on what each day, each week, each month. Instead of deciding that from 9-9:15 I will work on X, and from 9:15-9:30, I will work on Y, I decide I’ll start with X. X is going well, and hits the stopping point, so I stand up, make another cup of tea, and flow to Y. Y sputtered a bit, but I got what I needed to for this point in the process, so I can put it aside to percolate, and then work on Z, which I didn’t even plan to get done.

On the other hand, if I’d boxed myself in starting X at 9 and finishing at 9:15, I would have stared at it resentfully until 9:12, and then, by 10, I’d have had something done, but wouldn’t be happy with it.

It wasn’t always that way; in earlier days, I could drop down into whatever project was next on the list, pound it out within the time frame, and move on to the next until I fell off the chair from exhaustion. But I’m older, hopefully wiser, and not willing to work myself into the ground like that anymore. It doesn’t create better work. It’s more likely to create burnout.

Everyone has a different process, and processes evolve as we do. If strict schedules work for you, by all means, create one and stick to it. But, if you’ve been struggling and feeling chained lately, try placement flow, and see if that helps you focus and keeps you engaged and energized.

Once More, For Those in the Back: No Unpaid Labor As Part of the Interview Process

image courtesy of Tina Miroschnichenko via pexels.com

I’ve talked about this before, and it needs to be said again: If a company expects unpaid work as part of the interview process, they do not have a positive work culture, no matter how much they’ve paid for whatever award they claim.

This includes assessments, tests, and project-specific samples.

An ethical company will pay you for your time and skills.

You fill out an application and send it through Indeed and they immediately send you a series of tests?

Ignore them.

In my cover letter, I clearly state that I do not do unpaid tests or project-specific samples, and I will provide my rates upon request. I also have a contract specifically to such tests and samples, which requires that they are scheduled in advance, and half of the fee paid up front.

Or the test doesn’t happen.

If the company sends me a form rejection because I did not take their unpaid assessments, it merely affirms they were not the right fit in the first place.

If a recruiter or HR person tries to convince me to create unpaid work samples because, “everyone who works here has to do that. I had to do that” they get a copy of the contract and the terms to schedule the tests and samples. There are also instances where I have said to the HR person, “I’m sorry you have such low self-esteem you felt you had to work for free.”

That shuts them up.

Or, if the response is, “but you have decades of experience, it will only take you a few minutes to do the test” my response is, “Yes, I have decades of experience. I have no need to take the test.”

I repeat: ethical companies will pay you for your time.

Early, early on in my freelance career, there was a company that asked potential freelancers for unpaid samples, which they assigned. I declined, but I heard from several other freelancers who did it, against all our better judgements. Turned out, the company assigned pieces of a big project as the different “samples” and thereby go the entire project done for free. They told all the potential freelancers that they were hiring other people, then changed the name of the company and used the work on their website, without paying anyone. How do I know this? Several of us who pitched to the company had crossed paths on computer bulletin boards (yes, that long ago) and found out we’d pitched. Those who created free samples shared their experience, and one particularly industrious freelancer found out what the company did after telling those writers who did free samples that they were not hired. The writers whose work was used wanted to sue, but had no grounds, because there had never been any contract or agreement not to use said samples without payment.

A company who says they need to see if I can “write in their voice”? Honey, I was in theatre for decades. I can mimic any voice any time anywhere. Read my portfolio. A lack of reading comprehension on your part is not a lack of skill on my part.

Pay for assessments. Pay for tests and samples. The most talented, skilled prospects have enough self-respect not to fall for this crap.

I was irritated beyond belief when, this week, a high-profile company approached me about applying for an open position. They sent a short job description and several pages about why they were such a great place in which to work. Then, the kicker: along with my application I was to send a “sample email” telling a potential customer about why their product was so great and why that customer should buy it.

Um, that would be unpaid labor as part of an interview process, and negates all the positive work culture details the company sent.

Nope.

Even more irritating, LinkedIn sent me an email this week, telling me I should take their special assessments (unpaid, of course) and “earn” skill badges that will attract recruiters. The subject line of that email was “Your skills are in demand.”

Hell, yeah, and that’s why I’m paid for them.

You know where LinkedIn can shove those badges.

Have I ever done unpaid tests or samples? Yes. There was only one instance in which I did not completely regret it. And in that case, I had a slightly different agreement in place, stating they could not use that sample unless they paid me for it, whether or not I was hired for anything else.

I’ve started keeping a list of companies who expect unpaid labor before they even schedule an interview, or as part of an interview process. Referring to that list when something hits my inbox is saving me a lot of frustration and time.

The request/demand for unpaid labor as part of an interview process, or as a condition of interview, denotes an unethical company. Don’t fall for it.

Creating Your Artist/Vision Statement

image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay.com

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.