Thursday, October 29, 2009

Darkest Before the Dawn?

When many things seem to go wrong at once, it can be even harder to maintain a positive attitude and believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s frustrating when you put dozens of irons in the fire but get little or no response. Sometimes even a rejection is better than the feeling that your audition/submission/application is floating in the ether of the Internet. The many things we can’t control, the waiting for others to offer auditions/work, etc. can be stressful. So evidence that the tide is turning brings relief and satisfaction. And creates synergy.

Acting: Quite the flurry of activity. One agent called with a direct VO booking (without an audition) that day. Another called to put me on ice for a job. And another called with another direct booking. However, I happened to be without my phone for 1 hour and 15 minutes, so she booked someone else. Sigh.

Though I missed out on that and even if I don’t get the other, it’s great to know more than one client at more than one agency is interested in hiring me. Plus the more you’re on your agents' radar, the better. And I got a callback (the call came after 10PM, another example of why I should always have my phone) for more than 5 weeks of paid improv.

I also learned that I know a couple of the auditors of an upcoming audition. This business, like many others, can be a lot about who you’ve worked with before and who you know. I hope being among friends will help me stay in the moment (not in my head) and audition well.

Writing: The recent request to revise one of my paranormals shows that my writing and ideas are good enough to interest an editor enough to take time out of her day to call, email and be willing to work with me. I needed that shot in the arm.

The sermon, opening and benediction for the Best Church of God (discussed last week) got some good laughs. Which encourages me to do more comedy writing.

I’ve been helping a multi-published friend fix her overdue book. She’s using many of my suggestions, which reinforces that I know what I’m doing.

Other: Will be spending more time with a valued friend. Many fun social events on the calendar. I’m also redoing The Artist's Way. Maybe that’s the catalyst for all of this forward motion?

I’m very grateful to be busy, get work and have things to look forward to. What developments are you grateful for?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing for Whom You Know, Not What You Know

When you decide to be a writer, you need to choose what to write, what market you’re aiming for and who the readers will be. Within each type of writing lies a myriad of elements to consider and balance. Then your work needs to captivate an industry professional. Is it easier when you know who that person is? Two recent experiences prove the answer is yes and no.

1) Writing for a particular director and performer. I’ve been doing the weekly Missalette (program) and short marketing pieces for The Best Church of God, a parody church service currently at Chicago’s Lakeshore Theater.

An idea for a sermon popped into my head. Having seen the show many times, I was very familiar with the style, format and subjects previously covered. I also knew that since BCOG believes in the literal word of the Bible as set down in the original English, I’d need a good sprinkling of Bible quotes to support my argument. I’d worked with the director for weeks on the program and a couple of other projects, so I had an idea of his likes/dislikes. And I’ve known the performer who’d be doing said sermon for years , and could hear his character in my head as I wrote.

This was both freeing and limiting at the same time. With each sentence I thought was funny, I’d get pulled out of “the zone” of writing by questions like, “Would the director even like the idea? Would he agree that this joke was funny? Would he take a submission from someone involved in the show but not in the ensemble?” “Would Pastor Dave convey the idea with different words?” These thoughts can halt the flow of creativity. Give you writer’s block so it takes longer than it should to complete the project.

On the other hand, if I strayed too far afield, I could reign myself back in, knowing the situation so well. I could refer to past sermons for inspiration.

Fingers crossed, I sent off a draft. The director liked it...and said he could hear Pastor Dave giving the sermon. Whew. He asked for some revisions, and said I also had to write the service opening and benediction. Interesting to see which jokes he kept, which he slashed (one in particular I thought was LOL, sigh), and which he punched up. We’ll soon see if the audience/parishioners appreciate it: why the Bible says moving corpses and desecrating graves (as in the recent Burr Oaks cemetery scandal and Mayor Daley’s wanting to move another cemetery for an O’Hare runway) is the Christian thing to do.

2) Meeting the needs of a particular editor I’d submitted my paranormal with time travel romance to.

After reading the synopsis and first 20 pages, she called to tell me she was very interested in the premise, some things she thought were clever, and the hero. But the heroine was boring as was the world building. And she wanted me to change from alternating 1st person POV to 3rd. If I’d do these things, she’d take another look.

Exciting yet troublesome at the same time. I’d heard her speak, and had had an eight minute appointment with her and now this conversation, and read books from her line, so I had some info to rely on.

I’d purposely written it so the reader would learn along about the paranormal hero as the heroine did, so most comes later. And after all, you have to introduce the characters, their attraction, and the plot, goal motivation and conflict and don’t want to have what’s known as an “information dump.” But the editor wants to be swept away by his world right away. Easier if the story starts in his paranormal environment, harder when it starts in her normal one. I’m trying a couple of approaches...we shall see.

The point is that many auteurs might just want to create and think about potential buyers and markets and where their work will fit in after their opus is finished. They might be offended by blunt criticism of their long labored over creative output, even if it comes from those who can publish them. But I believe the more you know beforehand, the better, despite the constrictions placed on creative freedom.

The time and energy invested in gaining knowledge will pay off.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Now that Bobby McFerrin song is playing in my mind...and I'll bet yours, too!

Many of us have a lot to worry about these days. Things like supporting our families in this economy while managing to save for the future, how the kids are doing in school and whether to get an H1N1 flu shot. Things like whether family member X will get on your nerves today or you'll get stuck in traffic. And if you'll get everything done on that 'to do' list.

In the face of decreasing home values, fears of more layoffs/not finding another job if you've been laid off (or for the GU, always waiting for that phone to ring and keep ringing so we know our irons in the fire are paying off), health concerns, etc., how do we go about enjoying and making the most of each day? How do we maintain a positive attitude and keep smiling in the face of the disappointments, frustrations and worries large and small that pepper our lives? Just for today, can we reduce the power our concerns can have over us and allow some happiness in?

Approaches for dealing with worry include:

--Be grateful for what you do have. Sometimes when things are looking pretty grim, or when a bunch of things go wrong in a row, it’s hard to remember that there are good or great things to appreciate.
Consider listing things you are grateful for each day and keeping a gratitude journal, as described here . I’ll start: today I’m grateful for supportive and caring friends, that I have a great place to live and for the tasty leftovers in my fridge so I don't have to think about what to have for dinner.
Other takes on the importance of gratitude can be found here and here.

--Believe everything happens for a reason. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't. It's hard to accept there's some lesson you're supposed to learn when something doesn't go the way you wanted. Or believe that a disappointment/rejection/failure/mistake can and will lead to something better. Here and here (a for and against debate) is info on this approach.

--Never give up hope. Often easier said than done...

--Let go of things you can’t control and move on. I'm working on this. Info here and here.

Which works best for you?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Drawing the Line

The volunteer who gets asked to do just one more thing. The mom whose kid wants another story before going to bed. The person in any relationship (significant other, sibling, co-worker) who for whatever reason has the burden of putting forth more effort and ends up doing more than her share.

Most of us have a basic desire and need to be helpful. To be appreciated and liked. This can lead us to say 'yes' more often than perhaps is to our benefit. And then we end up spending too much time and/or money on projects that need to be done or would be nice to do, may be interesting and even fun, but leave us wondering why we said 'yes' in the first place. Or we give more of our energy or money to someone or to an organization than we're comfortable with, but often we don't speak up and right the balance.

Some people fail to follow through on assignments they've accepted, don't complete them in a timely manner or with the anticipated quality. So those who can and do deliver are usually asked to do more. Often people presume on others' willingness, efficiency and reliability. There's that saying, "If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know."

Sometimes the pushing of boundaries in any relationship is so subtle you don't notice it at first. You think, "I've already done/paid for X, so it's not that big of a deal to also do/buy Y." When does wanting to help and generosity turn into being taken advantage of or becoming a martyr? When does your well run dry...and who refills it? How do you gracefully say "no," or "I've done enough for now?"

For example, I agreed to help a group with some publicity. Next they asked me to write something another volunteer had agreed to do but didn't. Then to coordinate a small task. Then several other small things...which finally added up to more than I was willing to do. I had to say no. I felt bad, knowing they needed the help.

The Mayo Clinic says that saying no can reduce stress, here. The Washington Post's take on why it's often hard to say no is here. Check out more advice here.

Is there something you want to say no to? Will you?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I don’t mean the Christmas carol or how some rejected American Idol contestants think they can sing when we agree with Simon Cowell that they can’t. I’m talking about audio file quality.

This week I lost a VO job I’d already booked because the client wasn’t happy with the quality of the test audio file I sent. Ouch. He and his client liked my voice and my interpretation of the copy, but the sound of my MP3 didn’t match up to that of the male talent.

Fortunately the sting of that news was alleviated the same day by another client. They said they were so pleased with a PowerPoint narration I’d done that they want me to be the voice for their entire product line! So they didn't hear problems in any of the 35 files I sent. And I have other clients who accept files without even asking for revisions. Maybe different clients have different technical standards. Maybe the test file was an anomaly (I offered to send another)? Or is my ear not good enough to hear issues if they occur?

The client suggested I get better monitors and recording the tune of around $199/pair for the speakers and several hundred more depending on the software (not to mention the learning curve). Or I might benefit from a new preamp and/or a microphone. Because if there is a problem, it could be any one of these things. Or it could even be how the equipment interacts with my PC. Meaning maybe I'll need a Mac.

Because I’m not sure there is a global problem, or if there is, which component of my setup is at fault, I don’t know if one change would resolve any issue, and if so, which change I should make.

I do not have patience with the trial and error method of figuring things like this out. I haven't found an "audio engineering for VO talent" class. I have asked a couple of VO talents I know to create one, so far to no avail. I may have take a general class, though from what I can tell they focus on music/band recording, not voice, and cover equipment and technical topics I don't need to know about. There are all kinds of tutorials and Wikis/discussion forums on the Web, but most tutorials move too slowly or don’t cover what I want to know, and with Wikis/forums it can be hard to find the answers to the specific questions I have.

So my first step is asking a VO/audio engineer I know to test my system, then have him help decide if I need to buy anything, and if so, help install and make sure I know how to use it.

Who said you have to spend money to make money?