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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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One of my favorite parts of the business is working with creatives across disciplines honing their artist or vision statements. It gives me a chance to experience their passion for their work, and help them shape it into an active, engaging piece that can be used in grant applications, cover letters, on websites, in bios, in media kits, and more.

How do you get there? Especially if your interests and work have a wide range?

Play.

That’s right. Remember the kind of fun you had as a child, playing, without pressure to do or be anything specific.

Remember what excites you about your work. What makes you passionate about.

Write, or make a collage, or draw, or take a walk and mutter to yourself.

Remember the wonderful projects you worked on in the past, and what appealed to you about them.

Think ahead, to the kind of work you see in your future, what drives you there, what electrifies and astonishes you about it.

Is there a thread, a theme, that runs through it?

Much of my work is built around themes of loyalty to loved ones, breaking out of conformity/expectation boxes, and creating family, by choice as much as blood. The most exciting projects I worked on (even if I wasn’t a creator) have also contained those themes. It’s the type of work I’m drawn to when it’s created by others, and those are themes that keep coming up in my own work, in different ways.

Working on a theatre production is creating a family of choice, even for a limited time, and that’s where I spent the bulk of my professional career.

Once you recognize your themes, threads, and what stimulates you, look for active words to describe them.

The key here is “active.”

Avoid, or edit out passive. Phrases like “had been done” and “was hoping to achieve” derail you. You “did” and you “achieved.”

Keep your sentences short, active, and full of life.

Instead of using adverbs, use verbs, nouns, and adjectives.

The reader should experience your excitement with you as they’re reading. They should feel like you are in the room with them, in conversation. The words you choose vibrate with energy.

Keep the ego out, but the action in. Show, in active terms, what you’ve done and what you dream, while keeping out the narcissism.

Remember, too, that your artist/vision statement is a living part of you and your work. It grows and changes, as you do. It’s a roadmap, not a prison.

Revisit it often. Update, shape, hone. Reveal your love, show your soul.

Play.

The creativity you use in your statement both supports and informs the creativity in your work.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time Blocks for Practicality and Flow

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Last week’s #RemoteChat was built around what we do in 4- hour time blocks, and writer Paula Hendrickson had a great question that got me thinking about how my own process has evolved.

I mentioned how vital it is for me to do my first 1K of the day early in the morning. Most often, it’s fiction, either whatever novel I’m drafting, or a play. That is my prime creative time (the time itself is getting earlier and earlier, and sometimes it winds up being what is, for other people, the middle of the night).

If I get to the desk (I often draft in longhand rather than on the computer for the first draft) right after I’ve had my first cup of coffee and fed the cats, but before I do anything else in the day, my brain is in prime creative mode. I usually write 1000 words in about an hour to an hour and a half, which is not a pace I can maintain the rest of the day. (These are first draft words – revisions are a different process and take a different amount of time).

Hendrickson asked, “Don’t you find it hard to end the creative writing part of your day and switch to work mode?”

I used to, years ago, but while I worked in theatre, I trained myself to work in creative blocks so I could create up to and around the time I needed to spend in the theatre. That translates well to my current almost-all remote writing life.

Flow, Flexibility, Working at Peak Creativity

I try to keep my work frame as holistic as possible, because I try to approach everything as creative.  It’s all work, even though novel and playwrighting tap different facets than writing a marketing email blast to launch a product, or a press release for a non-profit, or a speech for a corporate event.

When I’m really in the flow of whatever that early morning project is, in the best of all possible worlds, I would keep going until I’m written out on it for the day.

But the reality is that I often have deadlines on other projects, meetings or interviews or keeping up with admin or specific research scheduled, and I can’t just keep writing all day on one project. I have to move back and forth between them.

Writing 1-1.5K first thing (on a strong flow morning, it’s closer to 2 or 2.5K) launches me creatively. No matter what else happens, I have that 1K written, and it’s 1K more than I had the day before. Also, 1 or 1.5K usually brings me to a good stopping point where I need to take a breath. Not only does it move that particular project forward, it puts me in a good creative mindset for the rest of my day. It’s a warm-up, like stretches for an athlete or scales for a singer. It warms up m brain and my creative engine.

After that 1K is done, I do my morning yoga/meditation practice, shower, eat breakfast, etc. Then I go to my desk and start my “workday.”

At the end of the previous workday, I spent a few minutes running through, in my head, what needs to be done the next day. I used to write detailed To Do lists, but I started resenting them, so now I keep them in my head. I check my calendar (I keep a detailed calendar with project deadlines in different colors and meetings).

Time Zones, Interruptions, Creative Saboteurs

Sometimes my official workday starts very early. I’ve had instances where I needed to give a presentation to an audience in the EU when it was about 5 AM my time. That’s the exception, not the rule. In most cases, no matter what the time zone, there are enough overlapping work hours if we need to be in real-time contact. Most of what I do can be asynchronous.

One of the reasons I had already cut back on my on-site work pre-pandemic was because there are certain people who can’t stand to see others productively working. I’ve talked about how deconstructive “multi-tasking” is in earlier posts. One can handle a variety of projects on a variety of deadlines by focusing on what needs to be focused on and having uninterrupted worktime. The projects take less time to complete, and the quality of the work is higher.

No one needs to stare at me as I write. No one needs to “just pop in” while I’m working. Don’t interrupt me. Shoot me an email. I’ll respond. I only accept phone calls by appointment, and, if I’m on a Zoom call, I turn my phone off.

The pandemic changed the landscape of the workday for me, and made it even more important to have flexibility, and not have to be tied to the computer or the office for 8 consecutive hours. Essential businesses and healthcare have specific hours set aside for specific age groups. I need a certain level of flexibility in my day to deal with them.

When I approach my official workday, I know what needs to be done within the time frame of that specific day, whether it’s a completed project or a step in a project. After decades of doing this work, I have a good idea of how much time each step takes.

Appointments have specific times, but I don’t break down my blocks into 15-minute or 30-minute intervals. I give each block breathing room.

From Theatre and Writing Life to Writing Life

When I lived worked full time on Broadway, shows were at night, and on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees. Monday was dark day, my day off (although I often spent Mondays day playing on whatever television show shot in New York). But, as anyone who works in theatre knows, the work isn’t JUST the show. There are special events and prep work during the day. I usually did one or two daywork sessions on my own show, and one or two daywork sessions on a different show, because you want to stay fresh in people’s minds. That way, when your show ends, you have relationships and can move to other shows.

On a matinee day, my daywork started at 9 or 10 AM, I worked two shows, and was often home after 11 PM. Later, if we went out for a drink or to see another show or listen to music. On a “regular” show day, I might have daywork starting at 1, and then the show at night. Or I might not have to be at the theatre until an hour and a half before the evening show.

I still got up early in the morning to write.

I didn’t have word quotas at that time. It was all dictated by how much I could get done within the specific hours for that day. Early on, I felt frustrated and like I flailed.

As far as I was concerned, I worked two full-time jobs. Although, anyone who works professionally in theatre will tell you that theatre demands more than a full-time job.

I rarely wrote when I got home from the theatre, although if I had a deadline, I sucked it up and wrote until three or four in the morning. I found it harder to switch out of theatre headspace into writing headspace than the other way around. I was better off going to bed around 1 or 2 AM, getting up at 6, and hitting the desk.

On days where I didn’t have to be at the theatre until 1, I could let it flow all morning. On days when I had to be at the theatre for an evening show, I trained myself to turn off the writing spigot at 4:30, so I could transition from writing headspace to theatre headspace, eat dinner, shower, etc.

It was difficult at first (lots of setting timers or alarm clocks). Rather Pavlovian. But, doing it regularly, it became a habit.

It became a habit that serves me well now.

I found that I could stop writing on one project and let it simmer in my unconscious while I consciously worked on something else (be it a different piece of writing or the show). When I finished the project in focus, or the part of it I could do, it receded to percolate, and the other project moved to the forefront again — with progress made while it percolated. I could dive back into it because my unconscious was working on it while my conscious mind worked on the project in front of me. Neither project suffered. I could flow back and forth, and let the creative energy of each project feed the other, even when the details were different.

Once I started my transition out of full-time theatre work into part-time theatre (as a swing), it was harder to get things done writing-wise and structure my freelance day.

National Novel Writing Month helped me with the structure and flow. The early morning writing sessions worked because then I didn’t worry about that day’s word count all day. NaNoWriMo got me into the rhythm of 1-2K/day as a regular flow, and I’ve found that serves me well now.

Practical Blocks:

The official start of my workday starts with emails. I try not to get bogged down in them, and I try to keep up with them. I look through them, delete what doesn’t need attention, answer what does, organize anything that has to do with a current project.

The next practical block consists of the morning social media rounds. I have personal and business social media accounts, and I run social media accounts for clients. I visit all of those, one at a time; see what needs to be answered; post a response or a piece of content (if it hasn’t been scheduled), etc. I try not to get bogged down, although sometimes I do. Running through my own SM accounts first means I feel the pressure of the client accounts, and stay aware of time.

I do have one client who has a particular block of hours dedicated to their work each week. In that case, during those blocks, I handle all of their work – direct response emails, creating ads and email blasts, positing new content, research, audience engagement expansion, etc., during those designated hours. That is a self-contained block of time. Although the actual hours might vary per day, when I’m in that client’s block for the day, that client’s variety of work has my full attention.

For the clients for whom I schedule social media posts, I set one or two blocks of finite hours once or twice a month per client for social media scheduling.  I plan the content/images for each post in one set of practical blocks, then upload/schedule on platforms such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Buffer, etc. in other practical blocks.

I do a practical block or two in the afternoon, usually right after lunch and at the end of the workday, mostly focused on email, in case something needs my immediate attention before I end my workday. I do another round of the social media accounts in the afternoon, in case anything needs response.

I used to schedule a big block of time on Fridays for admin work. That became overwhelming, so I now do admin amidst the Practical Blocks, and a late morning/early afternoon short admin session on Fridays, so Mondays aren’t so overwhelming.

Flow Blocks:

After the SM rounds in the morning, it’s time to get down to morning creative work. Maybe it’s an interview. Maybe it’s a Zoom call. Maybe I’m creating an email blast, Maybe I’m taking the information from different interviews and putting them into my article. Maybe I’m writing a press release, or working on an artist statement or client’s business brochure.

These are flow blocks. I have a basic idea of how much time each task takes, with flexibility for unexpected obstacles (computer updates, the need to get back to a source for clarification, etc.) I don’t have hard-and-fast hours set aside; I let the work ebb and flow as it needs. When I’m finished with a project, or a section of a project, I’ll stand up and stretch for a few minutes, check email/SM, clear my head for the next project.

Whatever I’m working on at the time is the most important item in my world at that moment, and everything else is blocked out of the conscious mind. Doing so allows me to give full attention and creativity, with a higher rate of productivity and a higher quality of work.

At the same time, various creative projects that are percolating are humming at the back of my brain, waiting for their turn, but not distracting me. As I stated above, they are progressing during that percolation time, even when they are not front and center in my attention.

There’s a big difference between juggling multiple projects, with complete focus as needed, and being constantly interrupted in the name of “multi-tasking” that doesn’t let you get anything done well.

Afternoons, after lunch, I prefer to do editing work or research. It uses different creative synapses than the writing. I draft stronger work in the morning; my editing eye is better in the afternoon. Whenever possible, that’s how I arrange my flow.  If I need to have another writing block later in the day, I do so. It boils down to contract deadlines and pay rate.

Reading is usually scheduled in the afternoon. Afternoons and evenings are when I usually work on the books I review, or the contest entries when I’m a judge, or research materials/background for various projects.

Some days, the flow is strong on a particular project, or that’s the only project that needs my full attention, and then I’ll flow with it all day.

Breaks, Hydration, Meals

I tend to push through for too many hours without a break and exhaust myself. Sitting for too long causes physical pain, eye strain, and emotional mush.

I’m in the process of training myself to take breaks.

Flowing with the blocks combined with listening to my body helps. When my back starts to hurt, or I get a headache, I stop. Often, I notice the physical discomfort as I’m finishing a block. When it dovetails nicely, I take a break to stretch or get something fresh to drink. I might do a few yoga asanas, to counteract a specific tension.

I usually hop on social media for a few minutes. I’ve spent much more time on social media during the pandemic, and I’m starting to scale back on it. It is an important part of my work – even the personal account has a lot to do with my writing work – but I don’t want it to overwhelm the work.

The best boundary I set is to take a real lunch break. So often, when I worked hybrid and was only onsite with a client for a few hours here or there, I skipped lunch or ate at my desk. Working remotely, I make sure I take a genuine lunch break, in a different room than my home office. I cook, I play with the cats, I might read something for pleasure.

When at all possible, after lunch, or after the next Practical Block, I take some time on the acupressure mat, about 20-40 minutes. That helps unravel knots from sitting at the computer, I can rest my eyes, I can clear my mind and re-focus for the afternoon. That break makes my afternoon far more productive and run more smoothly.

End of Day

A genuine end of day is important. I have a set time when I stop interacting with clients (unless it’s an emergency). I might stay at my desk a little past that time, to wind something up, but client contact stops until the following business day.

When I’m done, I shut everything down, and walk away from it.

We started having cocktail hour when we moved to Cape Cod, to a house with a lovely deck. It’s a nice transition time after the workday and before I start cooking dinner. There’s not always alcohol involved; it might be a Shirley Temple or white-cranberry peach juice in a festive glass. As the pandemic stretches on, I find myself drinking less alcohol.

But having a firm end of day means I have the chance to refuel, mentally and physically, for the following day. It is an investment in the next day’s work.

Technology-Free Days

I try to have one day a week where I’m not online at all. No social media, no internet muddling, no phone calls, no television. I might listen to music, but that’s it. I call it my “Day of Disconnect.” It’s vital to keeping the creative flow.

I let that fall by the wayside during the pandemic, because we were constantly living in crisis mode. I plan to start re-instating it in the coming months.

Evolving Process

Talking in terms of blocks and flow sounds contradictory, but in years of trying different techniques to point my best creative energy to specific projects, I find it works. If I make too many lists or break down my time into assigning every minute a task, it looks pretty on the page, but it sabotages my work energy.

It’s a constantly evolving process. What works well now might need adjustment in three months or six months or a year. That keeps creativity fresh. Try new tools and techniques, and see what makes sense in your particular situation.

I’ve talked about productivity too often in this post. But we have to remember that pandemic productivity is different than non-pandemic productivity. We are under enormous daily strains.  Businesses are opening too soon, and too many companies are pushing too hard for increased productivity (at higher rates for lower pay than pre-pandemic) while we’re still trying to survive a worldwide trauma. More than 500,000 people are dead in the US alone. We’re not being allowed to process, to grieve, or to find a path to healing. Healing itself will take years. Surviving is a victory. Re-defining productivity, work culture, and demands are all a process we need to participate in so that there is a sustainable future.

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

image courtesy of slightly different via pixabay.com

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

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

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

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

But in a professional interview situation? Inappropriate.

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

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

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

There is a more direct approach.

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

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

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

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

They can decide if I mean their company or not.

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

Anything less wastes all our time.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tidying Up

image courtesy of Steve Buissinne via pixabay.com

It’s often the end of the year that finds us tidying things up so that we are ready to start fresh. That includes email boxes, files, websites, portfolios, and the like.

Keeping our professional files up to date is a bit like housecleaning. It needs regular attention, the same way we need to dust, vacuum, do dishes, handle the laundry, and clean the bathrooms.

Part of the professional tidying-up is more than keeping track of what we’d done over the past few months; it’s about deciding where we want to go.

Look at your portfolio samples. Do you need to swap out older pieces for newer ones? Or do you have pieces that are older, but are more in line with the type of work you’re currently pitching, and it makes sense to put them back in?

Look at your bio information, your “about” page, profiles on various websites and social media handles. Does anything need to be updated? Do your blog sites or websites need freshening up, with a new template or a redesign?

Do you choose to use photos? If so, does it need an update?

I firmly believe that what I look like has nothing to do with the quality of my work. My work is public, my life is private. It’s not salacious or controversial, but it is MINE, and I get to choose which aspects I share, how I share them, and with whom. Also, because I publish under multiple names AND work as a ghostwriter, I use icons in place of photographs. The whole “oh, but it makes it more PERSONAL, so I know who I’m dealing with” is, in my mind, a crock. All you need to know is the quality of the WORK. If we decide to interact on a personal level, that’s apart from the work.

Also, that reasoning is usually thrown around by people who’ve never had to deal with stalkers. Forcing someone to use a photo on a public site could be a death sentence. If a person chooses not to be a public figure, they have the right not to have their photos splashed all over unless they are actively trying to harm someone else.

As you do your tidying up, consider:

–What kind of work do I want to do in the coming months?

–What new skills do I want to learn?

–Where can I stretch and find new, interesting developments?

–How do I want to integrate what I’ve learned in the past few months?

–What do I want to remove from the roster, whether it’s temporary or permanent, to make room?

Remember that these decisions can and will change as your career grows and changes. That’s positive. Make the decision that serves you best for this next cycle, and then reassess, and make new decisions for the one after that.

You’ll know when it’s time for change.

Listen to your intuition. Intuition, at its best, combines facts, potential, and the inner knowing of what is best for you. It combines the integrated information between your head, your heart, and your gut.

What kind of tidying up are you doing in the next few weeks?

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Real Costs of the One-Way Video Interview

image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay.com

One-way interviews have become more common during the virtual interview process of pandemic. “Send us a three-minute introductory video.” My response to that is, “Are you high, sweetie?”

First of all, any interview is a two-way street, or you are the WRONG place for me. I’m interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me.

A one-way interview is a waste of the interviewee’s time.

I am not an actor. I do not make audition tapes and perform for you.

I am a writer. I’ll write the scripts for the spokespeople in your video spots to rehearse and perform.

But I am not performing in order to “earn” an actual conversation with someone in the company.

As someone who worked in production, let me break down what it means, in terms of time, production, labor, and cost to do a three-minute video:

Script. You need to know what you’re saying, even for (especially for) an introductory video. When I started writing short corporate script videos, that paid per finished scripted minute, it was $85-110/hour. Now, it’s more likely to be $200-$300/hour. Right there, it’s a loss from $255-$600. Figure that includes 2 rounds of revisions, possibly more as you rehearse. How fast do you write? How many hours will it take you to come up with 3 minutes of material? If you’re used to corporate video shoots or short shoots, probably 3-4 hours. If not, it could take three or four times that.

Location. Where will you shoot it? Inside? Outside? We’re in a pandemic, so your options are limited. Hopefully, you won’t have to pay a location fee (if you don’t use your own premises, but there’s still the time and decision involved). On the low side, it’s another $100 .

Set. How will you decorate your surroundings? Even if the video is head-and-shoulders, what kind of chair will you sit in? How much does the camera take in? You’ll need to set decorate your workspace. Is part of the interview showing them your remote work set-up? On the low end, that’s $125/hour. Figure 2 hours to set up the space the way you want it. That’s $250.

-Props. Again, even if you’re doing a head-and-shoulders at the desk, or standing, shooting on your phone, you may need props. A pen? A notebook? You want them to see your tech? Figure at least one hour at $100.

Lighting. Good lighting is vital to a decent video. Figure $50/hour. Once you get the set, props, costume, make-up in place, you’ll need to light it, shoot tests, and relight. Remember that, unless you’re blocking out daylight, as the sun moves, it affects your video. Figure 4 hours or $200.

Wardrobe. What will you wear on camera? You need something that doesn’t wash you out, isn’t too busy or distracting, and makes you both look and feel good. If it feels uncomfortable, your body will react, and the camera will read it. A wardrobe/stylist is about $120/hour. Figure 2 hours of deciding what to wear and how to accessorize, and at least an hour of prepping the clothes – steaming, ironing. Alterations are an additional time at an additional fee. Do you have to buy something for the video? That’s another cost. But it’s at least 3 hours at $120/hour or $360.

Makeup/Hair. Again, you’ll need to play with it in the lighting, with the wardrobe and do tests.

Non-union can start as low as $25/hour. A good one will cost you a good deal more than that. You’re probably non-union. Figure an hour to play with makeup and hair to decide what you want, and then an hour to actually do it. Again, you’ll need to shoot tests, but we’ll get to that later. Figure $100.

Sound. Does your recording device have decent sound? Is it tinny or does it sound like you? Do you have to unplug anything that runs in the background, shut doors, muffle anything? Chances are you can’t/won’t need to edit the sound or add Foley. Sound techs start around $20/hour and go up from there, depending on skill level and specialty. Give yourself an hour to play with your options. $20.

Rehearsal. You’ll need time to rehearse, revise, memorize. Actor fees can start as low as $50/hour and sky’s the limit. Figure 4-6 hours rehearsal time, so $200-$300. You are your own actor/spokesperson for your brand.

Test shoots. You’ll need to shoot test footage for the look, the sound, and shoot some of the rehearsals. If you really have your act together, two hours at $50/hour, for $100. That’s lowballing A LOT, because you’re putting together all the elements you worked on.

The actual shoot.  When I production managed film, we broke it down by 1/8 of a page for the schedule. For feature film production, one hoped to get through 2 pages per day. When I worked one-hour drama television production, it’s much faster. It’s broken down the same way, but you usually need to get through 7-10 pages per day. You’ll need multiple takes, and you’ll need to look at the takes and make adjustments for other takes. Give yourself 3 hours. Since you’re wearing all the hats, and you did all the prep, and should be in good shape, figure $250/hour for 3 hours, or $750. You think three hours sounds crazy for a three-minute video, but it’s less time than you’ll probably need. You’ll note I haven’t listed a director’s fee in this set-up. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to act as your director, that’s another fee, but I’m assuming you’ll go director-less. Since this is more of an audition tape.

-Editing. Are you going to edit the video? Do you have the editing software? Do you have editing skills/experience. Direct Images Interactive talks about how a 2-minute video takes about 34 editing hours, and can cost between $3400 and $4250. If you don’t have a bunch of cuts because the entire interview is done in single takes and you don’t edit sounds or effects, dubbing, or adding music, but just shaving a few seconds here and there or adding filtering, figure 10 hours or $1000.

In order to make your “quick, 3-minute intro” you’ve put in the equivalent of:

40 hours (a full work week) AT LEAST

$3435 – $3520 unpaid physical labor

We haven’t even gotten into the unpaid emotional labor involved.

All your work HAS value and needs to be valued. This attitude of “well, everyone has a YouTube Channel” and “everyone is slapping up videos” — no. Putting together a production is skilled work with many aspects, all of which have a price tag and deserve to be valued. In the age of COVID, there are many more one-person production teams. Again, ALL of the elements must be valued.

Even if the job pays $60K/year, you’ve put in the equivalent of nearly 2 weeks’ worth of salary to submit something that will never be reimbursed, and where you don’t get to have a conversation/ask questions/get a sense if this is a place you want to be.

“Make an introductory video” robs you of $3500 worth of billable hours with zero promise of return. For a job that is unlikely to have any video production involved in it.

Because if it WAS a video production job – they’d look at your reel, and not expect you to create something “introductory” for them without pay.

Because professionals should not demand unpaid labor, especially not as part of the interview process.

Basically, you’re being asked to audition like an actor, but without the benefits an actor gets from making an audition tape. And yes, plenty of actors spend this much time, money, and effort on audition tapes. Which is a form of unpaid labor inherent in the acting profession, and can lead to a labor conversation on a different post.

Beverlyboy.com, which deals in professional video services, suggests figuring $1500 to $10,000 PER FINISHED MINUTE for a video. A three-minute video would cost $4500-$30,000. Yes, it’s for something polished with a professional crew. They have a great breakdown, and show some terrific examples of their work.

“But it’s not professional, it’s just an introductory video.”

If it looks like crap, you won’t go any further in the process. Even if you’re doing it yourself, you’re wearing all the hats. Every job you undertake to put together the video needs to be costed out and deserves payment.

If you like the idea of an introductory interview/audition tape, now you know what you need to create one that’s unique to YOU, not a particular job. Put it on your website. You do it once, and then use the link to send potential clients/employers to it. But it is about YOU — not specific to any given company.

If you start your relationship with a new-to-you company by doing this kind of work for free, it does not bode well for your future relationship. You’ve already said you are willing to be overworked and underpaid (not paid) for maybe-someday getting rewarded. Which doesn’t happen.

Don’t do it. When you see the demand for a one-way video interview in the job description, click away. It’s not worth it. The real test they’re giving you is to see if you’re willing to let them take advantage of you.