Monday, January 20, 2014

Five Ways to Survive Your Survival Job

(A sequel to Five Reasons You Need a Survival Job)

Say you already have a day job. And you feel like it's killing you softly - sucking the artistic life out of your soul like a succubus that feeds on hopes and dreams.

When you're an artist, spending time on anything but your art can feel insanely frustrating. But remember, you need that day job. Here are five tips for surviving your working life so your artistic life can flower.

1. Stick to a schedule

Be a clock watcher. Punch out when you're expected to punch out and go home when you're scheduled to go home.

If your schedule is flexible, make it inflexible. Designate your work hours and don't stray from them. Keeping a strict schedule will help you focus your non-working hours on your art.

2. Find pockets of creative time

At my last day job, I ate lunch at my desk so I could do a smidgen of writing at least twice a week. It wasn't always brilliant, but it was better than nothing!

Try squeezing in ten minutes of brainstorming here, fifteen minutes of Internet research there - it all adds up in favor of your artistic work. Even tiny tasks like reading two industry-related articles or one page of a book on your craft during each shift can help you feel creative amidst all the button-pushing.

3. Stay out of office drama

You're not there to make friends. Or enemies. You're there to make money to support your artistic life. Getting too involved in the goings on around the office takes up valuable energy you could be devoting to your art.

Unless gossip somehow inspires your work, stay out of it.

4. Don't take it home

The to-do list, the co-worker stress, the annoying politics of the break room - leave it all at the office. You should fall asleep every night with artistic thoughts in your head, not thoughts of how to conquer that spreadsheet.

Working hours are for working - the rest of your hours are for you!

5. Remember why you're there

For most people, getting offered a promotion or new responsibilities is the ultimate goal. But you're working a day job to make money to support your creative endeavors.

If you can advance in your job, fantastic - more money for your art! But if taking on a larger role means more stress and longer hours, feel free to pass. Your creative time and attention are much more valuable than a better title.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Diving Into That First Line

52 weeks of writing prompts in Barbara Abercrombie's A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragementand I'm tackling them all!

Week 1: What is your own metaphor for fear of writing that first line?

Writing is like skydiving.

(Or at least what I imagine the act of skydiving feels like. I haven't done it myself - perhaps out of indifference but more likely because of fear and an aversion to the high price tag - but let's not get into that now. This is about the metaphor.)

Writing is like skydiving. You have an idea - a concept that you think you'll enjoy writing. The desire to explore that idea is strong enough to get you onto the plane. Maybe you've even hopped on before, so you have a bit of bravado. In any case, before you can have a second thought, you're on board. Pen in hand, blank page open.

The plane takes off, and that is the moment it starts - the panic, the doubt, the fear. It doesn't creep in slowly as you lift off the ground. It hits you instantly and forcefully in the chest, like the boot of an MMA fighter on steroids. What the hell am I doing? Why did I ever in a million years think I could do this? How do I get off this God forsaken plane and back on the ground where it's calm and safe?!

A plane ride to the proper skydiving altitude probably takes at least thirty minutes, but for a writer, these feelings come in powerfully and at a terrifying decibel in the nanoseconds after grasping a pen or opening a laptop. It's instantaneous and debilitating.

And just like in skydiving, the brave ones dive. They breathe in the fear and jump anyway. It doesn't matter why they jump - everyone finds their own reason for bravery. Some have a passion that outshines their fear. Others turn off their brains and just go, go, go.

Me? I hold on to my faith. Faith in myself, faith in my ability, and faith that I learn every time I write. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. I've jumped before and survived. I can certainly dive off one more time. Why should this be the day that stops me?

I stuff down the fear and I write. I let go of needing it to be elegant and graceful and I just do it. My penmanship is atrocious and there are scribbles everywhere, but I don't care.

I dive.

I write.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Five Reasons You Need a Survival Job

Every aspiring actor needs solid goals, fierce determination, a positive spirit...

And a day job.

Sometimes called a survival job, this source of income is vital to achieving your artistic goals.

For those of you viscerally responding, "But no! I'm an artiiiiiist!", here are five valid reasons you should get a job, you artistic bum!

1. You need money to live.

No shame in that. It's impossible to focus on creativity when you can't pay the rent. (And as we all know, the rent is too damn high.)

Maybe you're one of those actors hoping to save X amount of money so you can chase your dreams full time. Please don't. You'll burn through that money quicker than you expect, and why give yourself such a limited window?

Developing a career as a working actor is a marathon, not a sprint. Giving yourself a shrinking bank account of a deadline is going to stress you out more than it will drive you.

Get a day job. Work hard, pay your bills, and make things happen!

2. There's more to you than a pretty face.

If you think you don't have any marketable job skills aside from vocal warmups and crying on cue, think again. You're personable, fearless, and professional - all desirable traits in a day job employee!

The most popular actor day jobs are in the food service industry. Walk into any restaurant, cafe, or coffee shop in LA, and you'll find smiling actors offering to take your drink order. These jobs are great because they're often flexible with hours and easy to walk away from.

If you have some other marketable skill, use it! I know actors who work as accountants, real estate agents, teachers, and computer programmers. These jobs take more work to find flexibility, but offer stability (and health insurance!) in the face of unpredictable artistic opportunities.

Consider the skills you already have and the perfect side job may follow.

3. It will take the stink of desperation off your art.

When money is scarce, you carry that feeling of scarcity everywhere. When the possibility of booking a job becomes linked with your life survival, the desperation can show in the audition room. Who can play and be creative in that kind of environment?

Take the need to make money out of the artistic equation and you'll be much more free to take risks and learn from your failures.

4. It may even make you more productive.

Discipline is how things get done. Less free time means you have less time to waste on reality TV marathons. Keeping a tighter schedule can help you focus your artistic efforts.

I discovered interval writing while I was at my last day job, and I found that I got more writing done than when my days were all free. It may sound like a paradox, but it's true.

Having a day job forces you to stay on top of your goals. And anything that gets you closer to your artistic goal is worth doing!

5. You're not the only actor with a day job.

Helen Mirren worked at an amusement park, Kristen Bell served frozen yogurt at a TCBY, and we all know Channing Tatum was a stripper. But rather than be embarrassed by that, he turned it into Magic Mike, which grossed over $167 Million worldwide. Not too shabby.

I know it's your dream to live your art 24/7, but these experiences you have along the way will only make your acting work more layered and authentic. If nothing else, they'll make good stories to tell on Jimmy Fallon someday.

Your day job adds to the texture of your life, which can help make your art more textured.

What days jobs have you had as an artist?
Please add in the comments below!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fiction Friday: Clean Steps, Part 2

Click here to read Clean Steps, Part 1

“Is that your daddy’s church?” he asked.

“Yeah.” I walked away again. This time, he followed me.

“What’s it like in there?”

“It’s great. What’s it like inside your church?”

“Lotta yellin’. The minister gets so angry sometimes, he starts turnin’ red and spittin’ on the front row when he talks.”

“Why’s he so angry?”

“You know, ‘cause God’s always mad about stuff.”

“That’s not true. My daddy says God loves everyone and so should we. All men are created the same. It’s called...e-colity.”

Joey giggled. “You mean equality?”

“Shut up,” I said. “I’m on summer vacation.”

When we reached the soapy stairs of the church, he sat on the grass as I resumed my cleaning, splashing water onto the white stones. I talked about how my mama was going to have a new baby in a few months and he talked about how much his older brother hated him.

“Maybe if you buy him a present, he won’t be so mean to you,” I offered.

“I don’t have any money.”

“Do somethin’ nice for him then. Tell him a secret. Then you guys would be a team.”

He seemed to like this idea. “But I don’t have any secrets either.”

That’s when my daddy walked around the side of the church with two white men and a black fellow wearing a striped shirt. They smiled and shook hands, taking a long time to say goodbye.

“Who are they?” Joey asked.

“They’re gonna talk at the church tonight ‘bout gettin’ black folks to vote.”

“Blacks can’t vote,” Joey said, confused.

“Yes they can.”

“No they can’t.”

“Yes they can!” I shouted.

My daddy turned at the sound of my voice as the three men got into their blue station wagon. His brow furrowed at the sight of a white boy sitting on the grass next to me. He walked over and asked, “Mabel, who’s your friend?”

“This is Joey,” I replied. “He’s not my friend.”

Joey crinkled his nose. Daddy just smiled warmly and said, “Hi there, Joey. It’s nice to meet you.” Then he turned to me. “Mabel, finish up and get ready for supper.”

“Okay. I just gotta take the bucket back to the pump.”

Joey stood up with me. “I should probably get goin’ anyway.”

My daddy stepped between us. “It’s okay, Mabel. I’ll take the bucket back.” I handed him the empty bucket and turned to Joey.

“Bye. Good luck with your brother.”

“Thanks,” he said, then walked away, hands in his pockets.

Looking back at that moment, I could tell when the idea popped into his head. He was staring at the blue station wagon as it disappeared down the road, when suddenly he stopped, thinking, then started to run.

Later that night, when the church began to burn, my daddy screamed for me to fetch water from the well. I ran to the pump, but my bucket was gone. Joey must have told his brother about that too. They were a team now.

I never saw Joey again. And I didn’t have to do any more chores that summer.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Resolving to Be Published

In addition to the goals you'd expect to see on my 2014 list - get staffed, write and exercise more, eat less white cheddar popcorn - I'm adding one exciting goal that I'll be tracking step by step on this blog.

In 2014, I'm going to self-publish a collection of my short stories.

I have a handful of completed short fiction pieces that I've been submitting to a target list of literary journals for the last two years. Not surprisingly, every single journal has rejected me.

It's not a surprise because I'm a relatively new writer without a creative writing degree under my belt. I have much to learn and many more stories to write before my work is good enough to be professionally published. (10,000 hours, anyone?)

So I'm taking a step toward being a better writer by putting my work out there for critique. And since my primary goal is learning, I've already decided to give this book away for free.

That's right - FREE! (As the Junk Food Guy would say, "That's a deal, son!")

First step in this journey - learn how to self-publish a book!

A quick search returned an enormous wealth of information online and in print about the profitable world of self-publishing. After perusing the informative books, webinars, consulting services, Kindle templates, etc. that I can purchase, I've concluded that self-publishing is the most profitable for the people teaching us how to do it. Sheesh.

Hence my second decision - spend as little money as possible on this endeavor. I'm in this for the learning, not to turn a profit, so I'm going to focus on all the free resources I can find and do as much as I can by myself.

I've made a long list of ideas for creating and marketing this book that can all be executed for free, and I've reserved a few books at the library to get myself going.

And I created an email newsletter mailing list. Won't you please sign up? No spam, of course. In fact, no messages at all until I figure out how to use MailChimp. I'll deal with that later, but for now, you can sign up here.

And keep checking back on this blog for more updates of my self-publishing adventure. It will be interesting, to say the least!