Thursday, December 25, 2008

What do you want for Xmas?

Every year, most of us get asked, "What do you want for Christmas (or Hanukkah)?" This is to insure that the gift is appreciated and not reviled, like a fruitcake would probably be by most recipients. It's also to save the giver time and energy trying to figure out what you'd like. That's why Amazon and other sites let people create wishlists.

But sometimes the annual question can be a challenge to answer. Especially this year, when we keep reading about layoffs, foreclosures and how many people can't even afford to put food on the table. Saying, "I'd like some fleece pajamas," when I already have several pair or, "How about a sweater," when I have a shelf full, seems greedy. I am fortunate not to need stuff, yet I still enjoy giving and receiving gifts. Who doesn't like the anticipation of holding a wrapped package someone chose for you? Tearing off the paper (or carefully pulling off tape so you can reuse and be green)?

However, most of the things I truly want can't be bought. The main thing I want right now is to stop worrying. To not wake up in the middle of the night ruminating about the economy and when and if it will improve. Wondering what impact the downturn will have on my condo, my voiceover business, whether or not I'll sell a book(s). I try to turn off those nagging thoughts and go back to sleep, but it seems that once I get started down the worry path, my concerns feed upon themselves.

I keep reading about living mindfully, which means focusing on what you are doing in this moment...noticing details about each action you take, the sounds you hear, and things you touch. Doing this is supposed to not only help reduce stress but make you healthier.

That is the gift I am going to give myself this year. I'm going to devote time and energy to this pursuit, and hope I can incorporate some strategies and revel in the benefits.

Here are just a few sites on the topic:

What are you giving yourself?

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fast Talking and Persistence

What can you do that others can't? My special skill is fast talking. Some people open their mouths and beautiful singing comes out. I open mine and words pour out at an amazing, yet understandable, speed.

How do you make the most of your special skill? Is it just for fun, or can you make some money with it?

More than 15 years ago, I was on America's Funniest People. They were at Planter's 'Americas Funniest Nut' auditions. I'd put together a high speed history of the peanut. While many auditionees couldn't take the peanuts out of their auditions (they were dressed as peanuts, etc), I could talk fast about anything. So they videotaped me. The head writer of an original musical revue I'd been in for several years happened to see the program, and started having me do a short fast talking skit in the show. Over the years I did a high speed traffic report, voice messaging system, summation of the millenium, in the Gore-Bush election a review of hanging chad developments (challenging, because my lines changed every day) and in 2007 asked presidential candidates how they could help the US (including a line about what they'd do if the country plunged into a depression. Hmmm.)

Many times during an audition, a casting person reads the special skills section of my resume and asks me to do a sample fast talk. It still surprises me that people are so entertained, but they always laugh out loud and ask how I learned to do it, saying, "You should do legal tags," or something similar. I even auditioned for Joe Sedelmaier, the director of that famous Federal Express spot with the fast-talking guy. He said I was great but he didn't need any more fast talkers.

I have had other non-paying fast talker roles. When I played one of Will's six single sisters in The Will Roger Follies, the director asked me to summarize the first act after intermission. I had a small speaking part in a short, sweet film featured on Chicago's public TV station's progam Image Union . I'm about 1 min 15 seconds in HERE, and also about 2 minutes and 10seconds in HERE. (Reality TV fans will note that the kissee after me is Ambre Lake, from Rock of Love.)

Despite getting a lot of mileage out of and having a lot of fun with this special skill, impressing many and making audiences of up to a thousand people to
applaud (often a laugh and two rounds of applause in 45 seconds!), I hadn't earned a penny with my fast talking. Until this week.

One of the voiceover directory sites I'm on had a audition for a speed talker. I read the sample script and included my fast talking voiceover demo. And they hired me! So you never know when continuing to do what you enjoy and are good at will pay off financially.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Freelancers often have to choose between many opportunities...some presented to them, others they'd like to pursue. It's exciting to have a variety of options, but when none of them are sure things in terms of producing income, what's the best way to prioritize?

I could work 12 hours a day and still not complete all of the projects on my current list. Examples include: a former co-worker has expressed interest in having me turn a screenplay into a novel. For weeks, I've been spending a lot of hours on a huge, paying VO project (yea!), so I haven't made time to market my voiceover services to production companies or finish final revisions on my latest complete so I can send it out. A friend who has been adding humor to the beginning of another manuscript at the request of an agent will soon return the pages, and I'll need to review those in a timely manner. (I'll save the discussion of "what is funny?" for another day.)

Now the flurry of holiday activities has begun. For example, I spent a lot of time last week rehearsing for and singing in at Navy Pier's Winter Wonderfest, but passed on rehearsing last night and singing again today.

As a person who thrives on productivity, I'm annoyed when I hear that nothing happens in the publishing and acting industries in December. If I submit or contact potential clients, will my efforts fall on uninterested eyes and ears, or will my stuff at least be higher in the pile on their desks when they get around to it in January? Should I push on with my projects or take off like so many other people do? Do I just write off the remaining days of 2008and focus on having fun, or press on and try to accomplish some things amidst the revelry?

I'd feel too guilty doing nothing but holiday activities. So for today, I'll press on.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wasting Time

Email, IMs, Facebook, email groups and text messaging have made communicating with friends so much easier and a lot more fun. Yet, if we aren't careful, all of these fabulous staying in touch tools can also be huge time sucks. One of my 2009 goals is to reduce the number of emails I receive and manage those I need more efficiently.

I am currently part of more than 40 Yahoo! groups...almost all are writing related. I'm on digest (which means I get bunches of individual emails combined into one), but I still get at least two dozen digests a day. On another email address, I get notification emails from magazines I subscribe to and stores I've shopped at. I will unsubscribe from most of those...but some I've tried to cancel keep coming back (like trying to get your name off a snail mail catalogue list--can it be done?).

How many times a day do you hop on Facebook or reply to comments/write on walls/tag pictures? How many chatty emails from friends do you answer/how much time do you spend IMing during the workday? Do you stop working on a project to IM? All these things take you out of "the zone" and reduce productivity.

I challenge you to add up all the time you spend on email on a given day. Then look at how much time you had to spend, for example on work emails or urgent matters, compared to how much time you chose to spend on casual blah blah blah, no matter how fun that might be.

The lure of emails is often difficult to resist. What can we do to take control?


--Instead of constantly monitoring your emails and responding haphazardly throughout the work day, set specific times to answer them, such as a half hour at lunch. Set a timer.
--Set up a separate email address for friends and another for Facebook/MySpace, so that you aren't distracted when you need to look at your business emails.
--Turn OFF IM while working.
--Turn OFF the incoming email sound on your PC. And your BlackBerry/phone.
--Decide to stop the chain and not reply to every reply with another cute joke or "Thanks" or "Talk to you soon."
--Ask friends NOT to send you links to videos etc. Or if you can't NOT look at every single thing a friend sends you, make sure to set a time limit.
--DO find an efficient way to organize your emails so you can easily revisit those you need.
--Do an end of the year cleanup and remove yourself from all lists, groups, store emails that you don't REALLY need.