Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finding Happiness

Many people believe happiness comes from within. Articles advise that if you're honest and accept yourself, if you make the best out of what you have and do in life, contentment and happiness will be yours.

While I agree that attitude and one's personal beliefs make a big difference in perceiving happiness, I'm not sure I believe that just putting out positive thoughts will lead the universe to provide amazing things (as, for example, THE SECRET maintains).

My dad believed in the security that money brings. For years and years, he worked long hours and rarely took vacations. When he did, he had a hard time sitting still. Often he was very stressed about running his business.

My grandfather believed in cooking great bar-b-que, making delicious pickled green tomatoes and a good game of canasta or bridge. He worked as a carpet layer, and for a while had a carpet store. Sometimes he'd accept a meal or some other form of barter for his services instead of money. He always seemed to be in a good mood. He was one of the happiest people I've known, in the moment and long term.

I wish I took more after him. But as a freelancer, my 'in the moment' happiness often comes in the form of auditions and gigs. I know I can't control how many I'll get; all I can do is put more irons in the fire. Even if I've had a busy week, if the next looks sparsely filled, it's hard for me to relax, believe more work will follow soon...and delve into other projects.

This week began without a single audition or booking. Instead of satisfaction lingering from a productive last week, which included a booking; an audition; giving a successful, well-attended workshop at a writing conference (attendees approached the day after to say how inspiring/helpful I'd been); a close friend I critique for--who thanks me in all of her books--making the NYT and USA Today best seller lists; getting editor/agent requests for various manuscripts; making progress on a non-fiction project and some fun social events, in my mind it was pretty much done and gone. My ITM happiness increased as each of 3 auditions showed up in my inbox (print, VO and short film). Whew.

I'm still working on increasing my cumulative, internal happiness and being less affected by external things I can't control. One day at a time.

What makes you happy?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time is Money

Lo these many years ago, I left my day job in favor of acting and writing (pursuing publication of and completing more manuscripts, and freelance writing/editing) full time.

When I worked nine to five, I faced pressure to increase revenue and meet goals in my several million dollar territory. And I enjoyed perks like 4 weeks of paid vacation, personal days/holidays and a supply of company logo clothing/mugs/pens.

Now I face the pressure of maintaining and growing my incoming revenue stream. I’m often torn between numerous projects, not sure which will result in the biggest payoff. I’d thought I’d write when I wasn’t acting, that freeing up weekdays from nine to five would yield plenty of time for both. But I’ve found that more effort, more hours than I’d like are needed to market both careers and complete incoming obligations.

Have I bitten off more than I can effectively chew? Some days, even when I’ve checked many items off my To Do list, I still think I should get more done. But I choose to go to chorus rehearsal or to social events.

The past few months, I’ve a) had some great acting gigs, in and out of town...most recently 3 days in Las Vegas for ComedySportz b) made progress on two non-fiction projects but have not written many new fiction pages c) not spent much time on proactive submissions d) had assorted life intrusions that took focus.

Lately I’ve been earning more from acting than writing. So I wonder if I should relegate writing to “whenever I can fit it in” status or give it up entirely? If I pursue only acting, will I get enough additional work to justify cutting back on or eliminating writing? Or should I do as I often did while in corporate America: reduce my social life and spend most nights and weekends writing? I love to write, to spend time with fellow writers and learn about the publishing industry. But I love money, too.

Time is money. Often, only time will tell where your time is best spent.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One Day at a Time

Often it's a challenge for the Gainfully Unemployed to plan ahead.  I'm reluctant to go out of town because experience has shown I'll miss out on direct bookings and/or great auditions (because I wouldn't be available for the audition itself or the day(s) of the shoot/recording).  I never know when the phone might ring with auditions or work, so sometimes I hesitate to take on commitments I may need to reschedule. 

I don't know when I'll get paid for jobs I've done.  This is because agents usually don't want to pay their talent until the client pays them...and often the client must first get paid by his client.  I'm still waiting for checks for 2 VO projects from 2009, though supposedly one will be available soon. 

So though I am by nature a planner who prefers things to go as originally scheduled, I'm learning to live one day at a time.  To accept that many decisions take place at the last minute (see last week's entry, Hurry up and Wait) and adjust accordingly.  To believe that for a day with no auditions or jobs on my calendar, I'll have some by the time the day arrives or have enough other projects to do....and that most of those will be income producing and not merely enjoyable or productive...such as critiquing for a friend under deadline or assigments I've agreed to do for the Chicago Bar Association (like the press release I finished this morning for the CBA Chorus & Symphony's next concert or the FAQs I'm working on for Romance Writers of America). 

I have to believe that because I've chosen to be a freelancer, I can also choose to have the discipline to work a full day each day, and not play hooky because the weather is nice or a friend wants to have a leisurely lunch.  I have to focus on what I'm doing today, and not dwell on negative "what ifs..."  What if the phone doesn't ring this week?  What if I don't book any more jobs this month? 

And if there's a day when the phone doesn't ring, I can't let it get to me...but instead work more on marketing myself.  Realizing that there's often an ebb and flow in this business can be a challenge.  Because as soon as you finish one great gig (like the 3 days I just spent in Las Vegas doing part scripted, part improv corporate shows that were so funny I had a hard time staying in character), it's difficult to just bask in the glow of the attendees' many compliments (and a "very, very happy" client) and not wonder when I'll get the next. 

I've often been told life is about the journey and not the here's to enjoying the journey.  One day at a time.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

Both the Gainfully Unemployed and Gainfully Employed are often at the behest of others when it comes to getting work done. We set time aside for a particular project, audition or gig, only to have to wait to prepare or do the job until a boss, co-worker, agent or producer provides the information we need to move forward. By the time the materials arrive, we may have to scramble to get the job done right, especially if others are involved and we have to coordinate schedules.

An extreme example: working as an extra for an HBO movie. We’d been told to dress very upscale. The hair and makeup people spent a couple of hours transforming very curly hair had been flatironed smooth (no easy task) and was as glossy and flowy as a Sassoon commercial. Someone came to bring us to set, which was about a block away. He took one look at us, and said, in fact, we were supposed to be very downscale.

Everyone burst into action, opening garment bags and suitcases to see if we’d brought anything appropriate for that look. Most of us hadn’t. The hair person slathered some cream into my freshly done, perfectly beautiful hair to make it look greasy. We literally ran to the wardrobe truck. The wardrobe people glanced at us for size, then grabbed garments and threw to us that. We put them on while we ran to set. Whew.

Recently I did two short videos for a major brand and large ad agency. I received a couple of emails about when I’d get the scripts, but they never arrived. I got them the next morning when I arrived on set. Partly thanks to all of my improv training and partly because I’ve always been a quick study, this wasn’t a problem for me. But I heard the woman who was shooting after me saying she couldn’t learn all the copy in time.

The hurry up and wait process can lead to a lot of stress, especially for those of us who thrive on planning ahead. We get impatient and frustrated when we don’t have what we need to do our jobs, and then pressured to perform without as much preparation as we would have liked.

I’m learning to let this stress go, to calmly accept what I’m given when I get it so I can do my best. To make the most of a schedule that sometimes changes so fast I could get whiplash. But every so often, it would be nice if a project proceeded according to my time frame.

Other takes on this topic:
GenReality  publishing
Steve Raybine music industry

Monday, April 05, 2010

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Importance of Inspiration

Because the Gainfully Unemployed must often be proactive to get work, we need frequent inspiration to keep us going. We need new approaches, new projects to create, new sources of motivation.

You can inspire inspiration via quotes/affirmations, books/articles, journaling and following programs such as The Artist’s Way.  Some tie inspiration in with religion, faith, and/or the universe.  Insights can be generated by brainstorming or just talking your thoughts through with a friend who gets you and what you want to accomplish.

Sometimes inspiration comes when you least expect it...whether it’s a line of dialogue, that missing scene, or the seed that sprouts an entirely new project. How many people say they do their best thinking in the shower? I keep a pen and pad of paper in every room; I’ve learned the hard way if I don’t write these flashes of brilliance down, they quite frustratingly disappear into the mist no matter how sure I am I’ll remember.

I woke up at 4:30AM this morning. Worries about when I might get the last form I need to file my income taxes kept me from going back to sleep. Suddenly an idea for a YA popped into my head.  For weeks I’ve been waffling over what genre to write next, unsure if any of the premises I’ve come up with are high concept and/or fresh enough. Stung by recent close but no cigar rejections like "didn't feel there wasn't a strong enough hook to market this was a tough call to make because we really do like your writing." And even when I've honed in on a genre, I go back and forth over tone/style. What I know of the market and recent sales sways me, though I know you're not supposed to write to trends. This morning’s concept just might be it.

What you do with inspiration is you act upon it or talk yourself out of it? Overthink it to death or let it flow organically?

What inspires you?

For more thoughts:

Wikipedia: Artistic Inspiration

eHow: How to Give Yourself Inspiration

LearnThis: 8 Methods to Find Inspiration