Thursday, December 29, 2011

I resolve to (fill in the blank).

At this time of year, it’s hard to avoid at least thinking about new year’s resolutions. Friends will undoubtedly ask, or you’ll see articles in print or online about how to make resolutions that last, such as this article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune

Percentages vary, but according to many articles and sites, the vast majority of people who make resolutions don't keep them.  Why do so many of us give up or fail, when most of us know we could make changes to improve or enhance our lives? From changing jobs or careers, losing weight and/or exercising more stopping smoking, saving more/spending less or even frittering less time on Facebook and the Internet, there’s very likely at least one thing we think will make us happier and/or more productive.

If we say we want to change, why don’t we? Because the grooves of our habits are so engrained? Or perhaps because eating fattening desserts or trolling online are fun. Discipline and self-control, or maybe the learning curve and time needed to fulfill the resolution, not so much. On the other hand, the expectation of accomplishment after doing what we say we will, getting something off our plate that’s been hanging over our heads, not procrastinating or getting into our skinny jeans could motivate us to stay on the wagon. Of not letting ourselves down and self-sabotaging our success in not only keeping the resolution but the ripple effect in other areas of our lives.

For example, many actors I know rely on agents to get them work. They say they’ll do more self-marketing to get their name out there and find other opportunities, but either don’t or only make one attempt. They may do a few online auditions. But in my experience, most don’t keep at it, nor do they follow up. If no bookings result from that effort, they feel defeated and give up. A job hunter may be waylaid by a bad interview or a few rejections. A dieter may consider her entire diet blown if she eats one piece of cheesecake.

Who said achieving our goals would be easy?  That life was fair? That we wouldn’t work hard, stumble, need to dust ourselves off and keep moving forward?

Consider the alternatives.

It’s up to us to make the most of our lives, even if sometimes we have to make lemonade out of lemons or push ourselves. Giving in to our every whim, want or desire may be fun at the moment, but can lead to feelings of guilt, lower self-esteem and dissatisfaction, which may further the downward spiral that leaves some of us with extra pounds, credit card debt, missed deadlines, etc.

Make yours a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Freelancer's Bill of Rights

Freelancers, independent contractors and those who own their own businesses can work with many clients, each having a different approach to projects and payment.  We can establish procedures and rates.  We can ask colleagues or friends if we have concerns or aren't sure of the best way to proceed with a given client request.  But if something doesn't work out as planned or if clients ask for things that seem unreasonable, setting the matter to rights to the satisfaction of all parties can be a challenge.  The Gainfully Employed may be able to appeal to a boss, manager, or HR department for assistance.  The GU is on her own.

What would you do in this situation? A returning client recently sent a project. They wanted it turned around in approximately half of the usual time, which also meant I'd need to do most of the work over the weekend.  My options were: Say no, and displease and possibly lose the client.  Say yes, and rearrange my life and work harder than usual to get the job done instead of fitting in the work when convenient for me.  Say yes, but ask for additional compensation as a rush premium. 

On the one hand, I wanted to retain the client and show I could be accommodating.  On the other, I deserve to be treated and remunerated fairly.     

Awhile ago I proposed an Extras Bill of Rights for those who work as extras in films, commercials and TV shows.  In my experience, for $65 for 8 hours, plus time and half minus mealtime, extras can be expected to freeze in cold weather, fry in hot weather, stand for long periods of time or go up and down many stairs, wait in not so pleasant conditions including (inufficient light to read and/or cramped space), or watch as the cast/crew is fed snacks while they're not.  To some, especially in this economy, eight or 12 and change dollars an hour may be enough to endure some discomfort.  What would your price be?

The Freelancers Union has been working on a Freelancer Bill of Rights.  Here's another from the renegade WRITER.  I'll have some additional thoughts soon.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is it time for a raise?

Asking for a raise can be tricky whether you’re Gainfully Employed or Gainfully Unemployed. We all need to choose the right time and figure out what to say to achieve the desired outcome. The differences are that the GE usually receive a salary or work on commission, perhaps supplemented by a bonus, and usually only have one boss/manager. Freelancers often establish a variety of rates for different clients and projects. So if we want a raise, we may have to ask one client at a time, and may have more factors to consider.

How much of an increase is appropriate to request, after what period of employment? What evidence should you prepare to prove your value and contributions?

Some might wonder if anyone should ask for a raise in this economy. What do you lose if the employer says no? Perhaps you can have a backup plan. If he/she refuses to pay you more, can you ask for something else: more vacation time, flex time, etc.? At least you’ve gone on record that you want a raise, and documented the reasons why you should get one, laying groundwork for the next time you get up the nerve to ask.

Consider: & raises & raises

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


For many years I've performed in the Chicago Bar Association's annual Christmas Spirits musical revue, aka "the bar show," in which everyone on stage is a lawyer.

This year's show, LawLawPalooza, parodies a wide range of famous people, from Rod Blagojevich arriving at prison to Lady Gaga to Kate and Pippa Middleton, and issues such as the state of the economy, all sung and danced to tunes including "Footloose," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "I Believe," from the Tony Award winning Book of Mormon.

LawLawPalooza is at DePaul's Merle Reskin Theatre.  Some of us have some very quick costume changes and dressing rooms on the 4th or 5th floors (There's no elevator. I'm on the 5th floor, 56 stairs), so backstage is often a flurry of performers preparing for upcoming numbers. I have only a short song to return a microphone and change from a sequined skirt and top, jacket and boots into a policeman outfit. Another cast member helps with my shoes. recommended the production, here.  We offered a Groupon (I'm to the left of the guy in the hat).  Some tickets are still available December 8 through 10 at, which also offers video clips from past shows.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

I had a wonderful time from12 midnight to 8:00 am this morning participating in's 24-hour live streaming event that brought real Facebook posts to life.

My shift's amazing cast included an opera singer, a juggler (who among other things freed himself from a straight jacket while on a unicycle and walked barefoot on an elevated sword blade while juggling knives), a freestyle rapper, a balloon artist (who made, among other things, an incredible alligator head), a multi-piece band, several hosts and some improvisers who also improvised songs or were puppeteers. My contributions: speed talking and improv.  Other shifts featured graffiti and caricature artists and an auctioneer. 

For 50 minutes each hour (the other 10 minutes were intermission), we'd be assigned Facebook posts, whether status updates or pictures, to interpret or be inspired by according to our talents.  I made up some speed talking monologues on the spot, memorized or read actual posts, or did scenes based on the post. 

Topics included "my favorite athlete's name is Bruce," someone who was up late and wanted to chat with us, and someone who wanted to know if anyone had a tent she could use.  One poster requested that the speed talker list events that occurred his birthday, 9/17/1987.  One of my friend's posts made it into the mix and was acted out by a green puppet.

A wardrobe and a props person were on hand to add suitable or amusing items to each visit to the stage, from an assortment of hats and wigs to a bicycle to a cardboard box I used. 

The event was covered in the New York Times Media Decoder blog, here.

Will I make the "Best of Stuff Theatre" coming soon?  Stay tuned...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Time well spent

December approaches, tolling the end of another year spent on this mortal coil (as Hamlet would say). Some of us will age well, remaining healthy, spry and active well into our later years. Others will be waylaid by medical issues that even today’s technology is unable to resolve satisfactorily, which can drain their energy and limit mobility.

We can’t know how long we have. So the older I get, the more I value my time. The more wasting and frittering it bothers me, because there are so many things I want to do and see. I want to make more room for fun without sacrificing productivity.

I’m finding ways to enjoy things that can be frustrating. If I have to wait in line, I can read a book on my phone. If I get stuck in traffic (driving home from the suburbs the day before Thanksgiving, the traffic report said from O’Hare to downtown was an hour and forty-five minutes!), I can listen to good music or call a friend. I can work on controlling my attitude and find something to appreciate about an otherwise not so pleasant situation.

A goal is to increase efficiency, so I’m keeping track of how long some tasks take to accomplish. For example, I can spend a good while coming up with exactly what I want to say in a business email. I might overthink each word and phrase. Plan: spend half the amount of time on each email. Savings: probably a couple of hours a week.

And while some activities are fun, perhaps if we evaluate how much time we spend on them, we might make room for things we like even more. Most of us enjoy browsing online, whether we’re partaking of social media, shopping, or looking for recipes or other information. But do you even know how long you spend trolling the Internet each day... how many hours is too many coming up with tweets, quips for or uploading pictures to Facebook? Plan: eliminate at minimum an hour a week. Savings: 52 hours a year.

Errands... from grocery shopping to dry cleaning.  Being Gainfully Uenmployed, I'm fortunate that I can often complete these tasks during the week or earlier in the day when stores aren't as crowded.  I almost always run more than one errand, and often complete them on my way somewhere else.  What can you do to get more done in fewer hours? 

We can’t control the passage of time. But often we can control what we do with it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is the check in the mail?

Most Gainfully Employed have the benefits of receiving a regular paycheck and seeing their year to date totals earned and deducted. They know who to contact if there are discrepancies. The Gainfully Unemployed freelancer can receive checks from numerous one time only and returning clients, which makes keeping track of received and accurate payments a challenge. We may accept various methods of payment: check, PayPal, etc. Usually we’re not paid on a regular basis, nor do we have automatic deposit. So we can’t know when income from certain jobs will arrive or keep track of what we've earned just by glancing at a single W-2.

I've created a many-column Excel chart listing all the jobs I've done, for who, what I'm supposed to get paid, when I do, etc.  I can tell at a glance how this year compares to last year, and who has or hasn't compensated me.

So far I’ve only had one client who hasn’t paid. If an independently acquired client doesn’t pay in a timely manner, we have to be our own collections department. I’m still trying to track the money down, but the voiceover for a TV commercial in another state, which I got from a trusted online site, was completed a few months ago. I know  it can take awhile for production companies to get paid by their clients, and they usually don't pay the talent until they are paid. This production company, however, didn't say they too were awaiting payment.

At one point, the client actually told me the check was in the mail. When days went by and I told him I still hadn't received it, he emailed that he'd check on the check.   

It's not easy to know how often to send reminders, or the appropriate tone to take as time passes.  Do I stick with something like, "Please remit at your earliest convenience," or get more demanding?

Will I get stiffed?  Time will tell.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A lesson in dressing & undressing

What you wear can be important. For example, many jobs require uniforms. And if you’re going to a wedding or an interview, you probably put some thought into your outfit and accessories and wouldn’t dream of wearing faded jeans and a t-shirt.

Often an actor is required to supply her own wardrobe, whether she’s a principal or an extra. This means choosing and bringing multiple options, including shoes and jewelry, either to a paid wardrobe fitting before the shoot or to the set. Many people use suitcases with wheels, but I try to fit what I need into a garment bag and a backpack.

Usually we’re told things such as: casual, nice casual, business casual, etc. And/or not to bring white, red, clothes with logos, items with large or bright patterns. A couple of times formal wear has been required. It’s interesting to see how people interpret these descriptors.

Occasionally auditioners provide additional wardrobe, such as a lab coat (which may or may not fit/be flattering). At a recent audition they provided a hat and mittens.

On set, clothes and hairstyle can make the man or woman. I was supposed to be a reporter on a TV series. But when the wardrobe people saw my nice business suit, they had me be a government official instead...a more featured role that resulted in several minutes of screen time. The woman originally cast had brought separates, no jackets with matching pants or skirts.

It probably didn’t hurt that I’d straightened my usually curly hair, which the hairstylist had taken more than half an hour to flatiron again (someone has decreed that no TV reporters should have curly hair. Flip through the channels and you’ll see. I’ve learned this rule also applies to movies/TV shows. To be a reporter in a major film, I’d slicked my hair into a low ponytail. That hair person also flatironed my hair...and put it back into a ponytail.) For period films, you have to be willing to cut or grow out your hair.

Sometimes there’s miscommunication about exactly what or how much to bring. Once I was told "upscale bar," and dressed accordingly. The hairstylist had painstakingly straightened my hair to a Vidal Sassoon commercial sheen. Someone on the crew came to take us to set and was fairly horrified. Because it was really a blue collar bar. The hair person smeared some greasy cream in my hair. We literally ran to the wardrobe truck, had clothes thrown at us and put them on as we ran to set.

Recently I did a print shoot where I changed clothes seven times in two hours. The challenge is to bring enough without having to schlep too much.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Frittering vs. Twittering?

These days it’s easier than ever to fritter away time and brain power on the Internet, from watching all sorts of videos, reading countless articles and keeping up with social media. We might think we’re busy, but what are we accomplishing? What are we learning?

Not that many years ago, we might have felt out of touch if we didn’t read the paper or watch the nightly news. Now we might feel out of the loop if we’re not up to speed on sites from Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter. New options pop up frequently. How many do we need?

Cultural literacy used to consist of, for example, being familiar with classic literature and films. Now it might mean knowing who the latest YouTube sensations are. Why is the media so obsessed with topics such as the Kardashians...if they’re given that many column inches/minutes on the air, who and what are they pushing off the page/screen? How many of us can name all the siblings or know how long Kim was married before filing for divorce, but don’t how much they need to save for retirement?

Though I constantly hear about the value and importance of Twitter, my dabblings have proved confusing, and haven’t yet shown me why I need to be more active on it. At the same time, I wonder what I’m missing. I keep reading that to increase followers and achieve any results, a consistent presence is needed. How many tweets is too many, and how do you stay on top of tweeting, reading, following, retweeting, accompanying apps/tools, etc., and still get work done?  What's the tipping point for gaining useful knowledge, growing buisiness and social relationships, and time suck? 

For more information:
How many tweets should you do a day?

Better time your tweets.

How often should you tweet?

How many tweets is too many?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The more the merrier?

Some Gainfully Employed may be able to work 9 to 5, then go home and relax. They may be able to free their minds, put their feet up and not worry about what’s still on their plate -- except for dinner. Some have two jobs and/or other obligations, and need to summon the energy and discipline to take those on after putting in many hours at the office.

The Gainfully Unemployed often juggle multiple projects and have little control over when or how many additional opportunities will arise or how much notice we’ll get. When jobs and auditions come in, my instinct is to say “yes” (unless the terms are egregious, i.e., $100 for a national TV commercial). Not only because I appreciate and enjoy the work and the income, but because I don’t want the client/agent/producer to choose someone else. Not this time or the next. And if an upcoming week happens to be slower, I might regret passing on a prospect.

Some days, fitting in last minute auditions and jobs can be a challenge. I’ve tried being in two places at once … getting permission to leave one gig during lunch to pop in for rehearsal at another. That can be costly (cabs or parking lots vs. walking, taking the bus or finding street parking) and nerve-wracking, if I'm constantly checking my watch to make sure I have enough time to get back.

Too much work and socializing in one day can also be hard on my voice. Recently I had a singing rehearsal and a VO job a couple of hours later. I wasn’t sure how long the recording session would last, nor did I get a script in advance so I could see how much copy I had. Then a client called that morning with a rush VO job, which I did from home. The afternoon job turned out to be two hours with only a short break. By the end, my throat was starting to get scratchy. Maybe additional warm up exercises and vocal care (hydration, throat spray, lozenges, etc.) will help in the future.

A long day on set is usually interesting and enjoyable, but can be exhausting. So if I have an upcoming deadline for, say, a writing project, or if I’ve made plans to go out, do I push myself to do it all or not … and fall behind or miss out on the fun?

Each of us can find the balance between pushing ourselves and taking an appropriate break.   

Create Margin in Your Overly Busy Life

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Where is your time spent? 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Work before play?

Some freelancers justify playing instead of working by saying they became a freelancer so they didn’t have to clock in at an office or report to a boss. They may sleep in, take long lunches, and/or spend hours on personal pursuits. Maybe some can wile away the hours but still earn a good living and save. Others may choose or defensively rationalize getting less done and earning less than their full potential.

I tend to believe that because I’m a freelancer, I should work more than 9 to 5. And to me work includes preparing for the future of my career and for retirement, not just finishing jobs on deadline. Particularly in this economy…when so many who want to be gainfully employed aren’t, I’m even more grateful for every paying gig.

While the “work first” approach helps keep money and projects coming in, it can also lead to working too many hours a day. Yet even as my eyes blur from staring at waveforms and words on my monitor, I think about putting more irons in the fire. I wonder if I should take a break from any enjoyable but “free” pursuits such as improv teams, committees or chorus. Instead of going out on a given night, should I conserve energy for a busy tomorrow?

Bookings can be last minute. I’ve gotten emails after 9PM the night before, one as late as 11:20PM. Of course I can say I’m not available, but I’d rather not turn down a client...even if I already had a lot on tap that day. Fortunately a lot of my work happens to be fun, but that isn’t quite the same as actual play or relaxing.

Perhaps at times I put more pressure on myself to be productive than I need to. But if I don’t, who will? 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Spirit of Christmas Anthology

I've published assorted freelance articles, but I'm pleased to announce my first contribution to a book.  It's "The Scrinch," a true, short story in the St. Martin's anthology, The Spirit of Christmas, foreword by Debbie Macomber, which releases October 25th.

Here's the press release:

Publication date:
October 25, 2011
Contact: Jessica Preeg(646) 307-5568

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS (St. Martin’s Press, October 25, 2011) is an inspiring collection of true stories from real-life people who have experienced such moments where the meaning of the season becomes undoubtedly clear. A man mailing gifts at the post office witnesses a moving scene that changes his life forever. An unhappy couple is drifting further apart…until a special Christmas gift allows them to renew their love and mend their fractured marriage. And a father tries to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for his son with a grand gesture--a gesture that will be remembered by his family and many others for years to come.

With a forward by bestselling author Debbie Macomber, who is widely considered the “Official Storyteller of Christmas,” THE SPIRIT OF CHISTMAS is filled with magic, wonder and deep meaning. It’s impossible for these stories not to touch your heart. I look forward to your coverage.

CECIL MURPHEY is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN. He has published 108 books and lectures widely. MARLEY GIBSON has written several young adult novels for both Penguin Group and Houghton Mifflin. They have collaborated on a previous Christmas book for St. Martin's Press, CHRISTMAS MIRACLES.


Jessica Preeg, Publicity

T: 646-307-5568/ E:

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Day by Day

Those who love showtunes (like I do) will immediately think of Godspell when they read the title of today's post.  But I don't have Stephen Schwartz's musical in mind. I'm thinking about how the random flow of work and schedule changes out of our control impact the Gainfully Unemployed.  How our plans for a given day can change at the drop of a hat.

For example, I found out that at around 11:15 that a print job I was supposed to do in Evanston had to be postponed because of problems with the camera.  Some freelancers may relish such cancellations, especially when the weather is as perfect as it is today, and view them as an opportunity to have fun.  Others, like me, usually prefer to be productive instead of playing hooky.  I now have several more hours to work on a VO job that arrived yesterday.  The sooner I finish it, the sooner I can start on the next project. 

Similarly, if we don't have impending deadlines, it's easy for the GU to schedule what seems like a full day...breakfast with one friend, lunch with another.  Add a doctor's appointment followed by that errand we've been meaning to run.  So we're busy, because our calendar is full and we're running from place to place.  But is that the best use of our time?

We don't report to a boss, and often have the freedom to choose whether to work or play.  I believe that relying on this freedom and giving into the temptation to take off (or fritter away hours on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter or other social media) too often can lead to less work coming in and thus to self-sabotage of our success.  Being a freelancer is a privilege, not a right, IMO.  If I don't have a project on my plate today, I can use that time to grow my business, to self-market and put more irons in the fire.

On occasion, however, I think freelancers should take advantage of the fact that our time cards are flexible.  One solution is to devote a portion of any found time from cancellations/rescheduling to additional work, and a portion to spontaneity and relaxation.  I've made progress on my VO project, so I'm going to enjoy part of the day...outside, not at my computer.  And run that errand while I'm out and about.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Importance of Customer Service

I’ve posted several times about customer service (CS)… for example, here and here.

I believe good CS and good products lead to happier customers, who then purchase more and/or return to shop another day, recommend the store/site to their friends who make purchases. This in turn helps the economy and can lead to more jobs. Not only can bad CS can put a huge damper on your day because of lost time and frustration, whether the issue gets resolved or not, if you tell your friends who tell their friends, that company may lose customers and revenue over time.

The explosion of social media makes it easier to share positive or negative experiences, and any impact could be felt right away. How many comments on Facebook these days are about how many people hate the changes?

This week’s CS experiences:

Walgreens: offers walk in flu shots via assorted modes of advertising. They don't mention that you might have to wait a long time. When I got there, they said it would be a few miunutes. After around 10 minutes, they gave me a form to fill out and I paid. They didn't update me or communicate how much longer it would be. Twenty minutes after arrival, I got my shot from a very pleasant and informative pharmacist. To me, that's not what the ads promised.

Banana Republic: Went to look for khaki pants. Pleasant salesperson didn’t know if they had my size or, apparently, care to look. Fortunately I found them myself (they didn’t fit, but that’s another story). People at the register didn’t seem welcoming, and in fact seemed distant until I broke the ice with conversation. Will I go back to the store? No. Will I shop online? Maybe, because their shirts/sweaters fit well.

Trader Joe’s: Employees will actually walk with you to show you exactly where a product is, not just wave in the direction of Aisle 4. They have quality products at reasonable prices, and continue to update their offerings, with tasty dishes like the new such as the new Brussels Sprouts Sauté. And the amazing Toscano Cinnamon Cheese is back!

Ann Taylor Loft: When they didn’t have khaki pants that fit, the similarly sized salesperson told me where she bought hers. While some may gasp at her promoting the competition, her doing so made me want to shop at ATL again, because the impression I left with is that they care about customers’ satisfaction.

Customer service/sales may not be the reps’ ultimate career goal. But if they took their jobs seriously and tried to offer the best service, I’d guess everyone would be happier and sales would increase. I wonder what would happen if companies implemented these policies for even a month:
--Make a connection with each customer.
--Know your products and where they are in your store. Then because you've made that connection and know what the customer needs/wants, you can recommend options.
--Be welcoming and friendly, not bored or distant. Or snooty, as in that Pretty Woman shopping scene where Julia Roberts's character gets snubbed until Richard Gere's hands over his credit card.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who am I today?

Whether we plan to or not, most of us play different roles in our daily lives. You probably don’t act the same in front of your boss as you do your mother or close friends. You probably don’t wear the same clothes if you’re going to the gym, a business meeting or a wedding.

One of the fun things about being an actor is that you never know who you’ll be portraying on any given day. I had four VO auditions this morning for roles including several historical figures in a museum documentary, a well-known movie character for a casino game, two types of customer service reps and a personable announcer. Having the scripts gives me time to think about my approach, review the lines and do any research, such as checking out YouTube to better approximate the movie character’s voice and tone. And of course with VO auditions, I can record several takes and then decide which one(s) to submit.

However, when roles are similar, such as the customer service reps, the challenge is giving each a distinct sound without being too charactery. To be conversational while also conveying "playful" or "determined" or whatever else is asked for. If the only descriptor is “30s woman” or “40s woman,” successful adjustments for age are often even more in the ear of the beholder than nailing a specific quality. Will the client think a slightly lower, more mature tone is suffiicient, or do they want to hear something more? With VO, you don't get the added benefit of wardrobe/hair, posture, expressions and gestures to help develop your character.

Auditions providing snippets of info are a little less fun because I like to prepare and plan. Adapting on the fly to the unknown can add a layer of stress, as can trying to find an unfamiliar and far away location. I have an audition for what the listing says is a network TV pilot. But it’s not through an agent, so a bit of skepticism seeps in. What I think is the production company’s website looks legitimate. I know the basic stats about the two roles I’m auditioning for, but was told the rest is confidential. The audition is improv, so there aren’t any sides to help me learn more about the project and plot. I have to embrace the possibilities and believe my years of improv training and experience will serve me well.

Upcoming projects include a reading of a piece written by a rape survivor and multiple as yet unspecified parts on camera and VO in a large e-Learning project. And more straight narration. Who knows who I'll get to be next?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hopes and Dreams

I love America’s Got Talent. Watching talented singers, dancers and other acts achieve their dreams is wonderful, whether they’re performing in front of a huge, live audience for the first time, to their appreciation of the magnitude of appearing on national TV, to gaining fans to working with one of their idols, such as Stevie Wonder or Patti LaBelle, to winning a million dollars and the opportunity to headline or be in a Las Vegas show. It’s the American Dream personified: if you work hard to achieve your goals, if you put your mind to something, dreams really can come true. A good number of acts rise from relative obscurity to fame. Some improve and gain more confidence over the weeks, so even if they don’t win or make the Top 10 they’ll probably perform better in the future. Season 6 winner Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. was working in a car wash. Now he’s won one of the biggest talent competitions in the world. But many don’t make it on the show. And the farther some acts go, the more time, energy and hope they invest, the bigger the fall when they don’t make it to the next round. When they fail to get the judges’ approval or enough of America’s votes. I recently encouraged a friend to audition and, since I’ve seen every episode, helped with preparation. Time will tell. I don’t have a talent suitable for AGT. But I do know what it’s like to achieve a dream , such as winning Romance Writers of America’s national Golden Heart® Award. I’ll never forget the excitement of getting the call that my manuscript was a finalist, how I’ve appreciated all the congratulations, or the thrill of hearing my name called in front of around 2,000 people, including many industry professionals and best-selling authors, and going up on the stage to give a brief speech. I also know what it’s like to get so close to a dream you can taste it and not achieve it…for example, when I receive a revision request for a manuscript I’ve already spent hundreds of hours crafting, then work diligently on the revisions, but the agent or editor doesn’t love it enough to take things to the next level. But like those who reach for the stars on shows American Idol or AGT, I continue to hope more dreams will come true.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Impressed vs. Jaded

These days it takes a lot to impress us. Manufacturers present thousands of new products every year to eat, make our lives easier/more productive, or just enjoy. We’re bombarded with a plethora of advertising messages telling us why this is better than that or why we need the other thing. Some products, such as the iPhone and iPad, wowed users, but how will Apple top them…and by enough margin and at a price enticing to customers beyond early adopters? The newest thing isn't always the best (Windows Vista, anyone?). Some products are targeted to a narrow market, while others are intended to appeal to the masses. Judges on the TV shows So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent say the competition is better than ever and make comments such as, “Last season, you would’ve gone through to the next round.” With the bar constantly being raised higher and higher, how do we continue to measure up? We often say so and so’s new book/movie wasn’t as good as the last. This or that restaurant is better than the other. It’s difficult to isolate each experience and not compare it to all we've seen and done before. And given the lackluster economy, motivating us to part with our hard-earned dollars is harder than ever, though instant gratification is often at our fingertips. For .99, we may download a book or iTune. But if the price is $4.99, will we be so quick to order? Will we shell out more than $20 for a hardcover novel? What makes something worth your time and money, makes it special enough and different enough that you need or want it? Reviews and what friends and family say may influence us. Perceived value, product features, utility, and what that product can do for us or how it can make us feel are some other factors. Soon I'll be self-publishing a non-fiction book. How will my co-author and I make readers want to buy? Make it stand out amidst the thousands of self-help books available from publishers large and small? Will we get good reviews and word of mouth to spur sales, or will we be hand selling each copy...putting in too many hours promoting vs. our return on investment?

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Freelancers can do a lot of waiting in general and for a given project in particular: while they’re being considered and/or bidding, for content to arrive, getting answers to questions, for revisions and final approval. I allocate time (leaving wiggle room in case it takes longer than I thought or other opportunities crop up) for expected assignments. While of course I don’t want to pass up more work, I’m reluctant to overbook. I sometimes get a bit unsettled when I look at my calendar and see a lot of pencil instead of ink (yes, I still use a Day-Timer. It takes too long IMO to use a calendar on a phone.). I do my best to take updates and changes in stride, but at times too much fluctuation can be frustrating. The script for a voiceover job was supposed to be ready mid-August. I penciled in two days. The date kept getting pushed back. I was offered another short project, so I accepted that. Then I learned the second project was 10 times longer than originally stated, and, though also delayed, was expected to arrive around the same time as the first. I said I couldn’t do it. The first project was now scheduled to arrive on Friday the 26th…could I do it over the weekend? I want to accommodate clients when possible, and said I could…so I didn’t make many other plans. But the script actually arrived Sunday night at 9:30PM. Monday was already booked from 9AM-8PM. I recorded late Sunday and early Monday. Then I was informed that there were problems with the script, and to wait for an updated one. Of course by then, I had other items on my agenda and had to fit in the re-recording. While I don’t, of course, literally stare at the phone or my inbox until I get information I need, it can be a challenge not to expend time and mental energy thinking about when I might hear or what the response will be… from auditions to book submissions to jobs in progress. I like to plan. Knowing when I’ll need to do something or be somewhere makes it easier to schedule other activities and not stress about having too much on my plate. Waiting can also involve looking forward to something. Two weeks ago, I was told I booked an ongoing job involving on camera, voiceover and print...a triple threat. But I still don’t know what I’ll be doing, when, or how long or how many days “ongoing” means. I’m eager to find out and get started. I can’t usually control when people will get back to me or when information I need or want will arrive. Solutions to letting waiting impact my day aremoving on, keeping busy and focusing on things I can control. Fortunately, I always have more projects to work on. What’s next on my to do list?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Requested Revisions

Requested revisions is a phrase that sends strong emotions through authors. Some may think a revision request is a rejection...I've heard stories that some simply set the email or letter aside, not realizing exactly what the agent or editor was asking. Others may be offended that anyone would want them to change a word of their precious creation. And others may sigh, knowing a lot more hours of work lie ahead. I see it as an opportunity to make my project stronger, and appreciate having an industry professional willing to take the time and effort to work with me. So when an agent asked me to revise the first 50 pages of one of my manuscripts, I was excited yet slightly unnerved.

She offered a few, very helpful suggestions and guidelines of what she was looking for. Before diving in, I sent the original pages to and discussed her comments with three friends: a two-time New York Times bestseller, a multi-published author, and one who’s as yet unpublished but in the process of writing a book.

Great writing, a great story and characters are in the eyes of the beholder, as is great decorating or fashion. If you tell me an event we’re going to is black tie and I show up in a silver gown, you may find it tacky or tasteful. How much jewelry is too much? Do the pieces go together? We’ve all heard stories of how many times now famous authors were rejected, including Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help …until their project landed on the right desk at the right time.

I pondered for a couple of days. While I understood what she was asking me to do, at first I couldn’t quite see how to apply it to my story while keeping as much as possible of what was already there, which we’d agreed was the goal. I didn’t want to stray down what she thought was the wrong path, so I emailed my plan and quickly got the go ahead. Whew. We were on the same page, so far.

As I reviewed my pages, I wanted to stay in the writing zone and in my character’s head. But it was a challenge not to keep getting pulled out by thinking, “Is this what she meant?” “Is this too much or not enough change?” “Can this scene stay, go, or should it be moved to a different chapter?”

After a final read through, I’ll send the revisions. I'm happy with what remained, what's new, and what had to go. Time will tell if she agrees....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Putting out fires or growing the forest

Some days I’m fortunate to be so busy I can barely get everything done. Today, for example, included three voiceover auditions, preparation for and a call with an agent that led me to ask two friends for suggestions, some revisions for 2 VO jobs, a call with a client and an improv show. I’m putting out fires and meeting short deadlines.

Other days I have more time to grow the forest…makde headway on longer term projects such as revisions, putting final touches on the non-fiction book, researching and deciding on next steps. But those days seem to be fewer and farther between. Sometimes I feel I get less done, because I'm creating my own agenda and prioritzing tasks that may lead to income, but progress and results may not be as obvious.

Not to mention staying on top of email and social media and keeping up with those in my network, which takes more and more time, especially if I want to follow through on frequent recommendations to build my platform and grow my online community.

I'm getting better at going with the flow...setting aside one thing I was focusing on to deal with another that pops up. I try not to spend too much time on fun distractions, like talking to friends, but there are times when it's easier to catch up and/or make social arrangements during business hours.

Years ago, when I had a 9 to 5 corporate job, though there was always more work to do, when I left for the day I felt done. Fires were out, some forest growing had been acheived. I was free.

Now, though I don't have a boss expecting me to show up on time, not only do I tend to work more hours (I'm often at my desk by 7AM), I spend more of my "free" time thinking about what to do next or analyzing a sticking point. Also, emails from clients or agents can come at any time...evenings and even weekends...and many request (and expect) a response ASAP. There are always new fires to tend and an almost unlimited amount and types of new trees to grow.

The key is to be sure to find enough time and energy to nourish the trees in your forest. If you spend all of your days putting out fires, are always catching up, when can you move forward? When can you grow and expand your business, and thus your income?

Thursday, August 11, 2011


More and more authors in general and those I know (such as Debra Holland,NYT and USA Today bestselling Courtney Milan, Trish Milburn) are doing it every day, whether their books are backlist or new releases.

Why? A variety of reasons. The stigma has decreased. More self-publishing venues are available and e-book sales are on the rise as print stores close. Some literary agents now offer self-publishing assistance.

Now some authors are making a lot of money and others are getting New York publisher or movie deals (like Amanda Hocking). I’ve heard that if you can sell 5,000 copies in a year, agents and publishers are more willing to take a look. Many others languish in the flood of content hitting the market, and struggle to find ways to get the word out.

Can the content of all of these books--many of which aren't vetted by agents or book editors (though many sources recommend hiring a freelance editor)--be high quality?

At the same time, it seems traditional publishers are buying fewer manuscripts, and fewer from new authors. So do I join the s-p band wagon, or keep trying for NY?

Upsides include: higher percentage of royalties, more control over things like the cover. Downsides include: spending money on the s-p packages and a lot of time to do all the things a traditional publisher would do. There’s quite a lot of prep work before you can upload a manuscript. Some authors might be able to lower costs by doing things like cover design themselves.

While traditional publishers expect authors to do more promotion these days, they offer the credibility of their name, distribution, and perhaps marketing assistance. Those who s-p have to do everything on their own, including deciding on the price point. Does 99 cents cheapen your product and all the work you've done, or make readers more willing to give you a try?

The decision is easier for my non-fiction project. Apparently in today’s competitive market, you already have to be famous before a publisher will want your non-fiction book. Almost every publisher our agent (at the time) submitted to heaped praises on the proposal and concept…but said we didn’t have a big enough platform.

We’re using Amazon’s CreateSpace. But the process is going more slowly than we'd hoped as we keep realizing there are more things to do. What fonts do we want? Do we want to pay extra for we really need all of them? Yes, we need to think about what goes on the back cover, too.

I’m still deciding what to do about my fiction projects. Stay tuned…

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Laptop, Netbook, or Tablet?

Like many freelancers, I sometimes work at a coffee shop or with a friend for a change of scene and/or to stay motivated. So I need a reliable, easy to use, portable laptop. The one I’ve had for years (Windows Vista, anyone?) is much heavier and has a much shorter battery life than those on the market today. It's too heavy for me to comfortably carry long distances, and a wheeled bag can be cumbersome on public transportation or if I need to go several places.

The time has come for a new laptop. Nowadays there are also more options than when I bought the last one…from regular laptops of all screen sizes to netbooks to tablets with keyboards. With the complicated model names, it’s hard to tell an ST3N01 from a VPCF22FGX/B. I like the lightness of the Macs and tried using one, but I’m a PC.

After some due diligence, I decided on the Toshiba Portege R835-P56X. The combination of features and fabulous reviews from sites such as CNET, plus its light weight convinced me. I was surprised to find the best price at the time was at OfficeMax (even after Chicago’s high sales tax), not, say, Amazon.

When I went to buy it, I was told not only was it backordered (which was disappointing, because when one decided to purchase something it’s nice to have the immediate gratification), but that I might not even get it. I could pay now, then get a full refund if after 21 business days. Lo and behold, I received it 3 business days later.

Now it sits on my desk, calling to me to check it out, but I need to finish a big voicover job first....

Thursday, July 28, 2011


When something works well, has great features, is comfortable and fits your lifestyle, you might not notice or appreciate how many elements go into making a product.

I bought my new PC online, so I didn’t get to assess whether I’d like the keyboard/mouse it came with. I have small hands, so I need to be able to easily reach keys I use often. Sometimes I get forearm pain after many hours of typing, recording and editing days in a row, even if I take breaks.

I didn’t like my new peripherals that much. The keys seemed hard to press, made a lot of noise, and the mouse was harder to click and slide than my old one.

Buying another k/m online didn't seem like a good idea, despite many choices, because I couldn’t test them and repackaging and shipping returns can be a pain and/or costly. I went to Office Depot, which allows a two week in store credit exchange. They had a good selection of wireless keyboards, which I tried in the store. But standing and typing for a couple of minutes isn’t the same as really working.

I bought a Logitech (the brand I had before, and liked but I don't think they make that model anymore) ergonomic wave style keyboard and mouse, which was easy to install with a USB. Loved the way the deep curves on the mouse fit my hand. But looking the curving keys made me seasick, and the keys were spaced too far apart, so sometimes my fingers landed on cracks.

I went to a Best Buy, but they didn’t have as big a selection, and I'd already seen a couple of the options they offered.

Back the new keyboard went. I bought a Microsoft. This one had a “new” mouse design, but it was much too large for my hand, and it was heavier than other mice. The bottom of the keyboard curved down, so the CTRL keys were hard to reach. The F keys were high up and really tiny. My arms hurt after hours of use. Back that one went.

So after all the time and effort spent shopping, buying and retuning, I’m finding that the original keyboard is better than I’d first thought, except for the loud noise of the keys.

No product (or person) is perfect...compromise is the key. Pun intended.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Going Beyond the Call

A rule of thumb is that talent should be seen and not heard. We’re usually hired to read whatever copy we’re given, whether we think it’s good or not, and usually don’t voice our opinions. That’s because many clients have worked long and hard to come up with the exact verbiage and because most talent probably don’t have extensive advertising or corporate writing/editing experience.

Sometimes keeping quiet is easier to do than others. I’ve bitten my tongue a couple of times. Occasionally I come across copy that is convoluted, confusing, poorly written or rife with enough errors I can’t in good conscience record it. As gently as possible, I’ll tell the client that while of course I will record as written, here’s a suggestion about how I’d change this paragraph.

I can’t think of a situation when such clients haven’t agreed, and then hired me to edit, and/or rewrite or write their scripts. At times I just make the writing a little easier to understand and/or snazzier. But there are times when I also need to do research to verify content and, to create a new term of art, de-engineerize copy. Now I’m helping a client write a multi-hundred PowerPoint slide e-learning course full of technical jargon and equipment models.

Why aren’t scripts 100% ready to record? My theories include:

-too many chefs in some corporate kitchens…perhaps a lot of hands adding content contributions to the pot so it doesn't blend well.

-work overload and time crunches. Some chefs have too many dishes to prepare at once. Or maybe a sous chef didn’t thoroughly complete his/her portion of the recipe.

The point of the story: in today’s marketplace, offering a variety of skill sets can make Gainfully Unemployed freelancers more marketable and enable us to a) do more for our clients so they view us as resources and b) grow our businesses.

In addition to your primary service, what experience do you have that can benefit your clients? How do you make them aware of additional offerings?

Show them how you can go above and beyond the call.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Working Actor

I keep meeting people who say they’ve been meaning to get into voiceover. But when they realize it’s not all glamour and is actual work, much more than just reading into a mic, many change their minds.

Building any acting career—especially one that pays (there’s quite a lot of free or very low paying work in Chicago)--takes time and effort. Some actors may think that as soon as they have an agent (or agents), they can sit back and wait for auditions to roll in. Not every client wants to go through a talent agency, probably to avoid fees.

In addition to learning as much as you can about craft and industry, believe self-marketing is essential. (This includes keeping your agent(s) and casting directors up to date on work you’ve been doing. I do need to do more of that.) I’ve booked some great gigs through agents this year, but so far my steadiest, biggest jobs are from clients I found myself. Right now they’re keeping me very busy. But if I have a dry spell, I'll seek additional clients.

Having a client return and offer you more work without auditioning is rewarding and time saving. If you do a great job, and if you’re reliable and professional (this is big—several clients have told me they’ve worked with unreliable or difficult talent), word can spread within that company, leading to still more work. Various project managers from one client keep hiring me; I just completed an e-learning course and have two more on the horizon. A project manager called yesterday to say I’m so brilliant he won’t let others “poach” me, though apparently they want to.

And if you can offer an additional skill they need, even better. Because I’m also an aspiring author and critique for a couple of published authors (NYT bestseller Simone Elkeles and author Terri Reed, and write freelance articles, I’m a good and very picky editor. One client has me edit all of his fairly technical scripts. Also, you can be a good writer for the eye, but not understand how to write for the ear.

A good thing about recording from home is that, as long as I meet deadlines, I can do the work at any time of day or night. So if I have a big audition or need to report to a studio by day, I can continue with independent projects at night.

Becoming a consistently working actor takes time, patience, persistence and belief mixed with talent, professionalism and opportunity (if you’re not in it, you can’t win it). If you’re interested in being a working actor, keep learn. Take classes. Network. Listen to talent on agency websites. Can you do what they (we) do? Are you willing to put in the effort to build your business?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Winning the Golden Heart®!

     Romance Writers of America®, The Voice of Romance Fiction, has over 10,000 members worldwide. It offers two contests, the RITA® for published authors, and the Golden Heart® (GH) for the as yet unpublished. The awards ceremony is held at the end of the National Conference, which was in New York last week and emceed by Meg Cabot. Approximately 2,000 writers and industry professionals attended.
     Each year the GH receives a maximum of 1,200 entries in 10 categories. I’d entered the Inspirational category with my manuscript AT HIS COMMAND, set in medieval England. Five first round judges score each entry. The top 10% up to eight making the final round, which is judged by editors. Entries consist of 6 copies of 55 pages of the beginning of a manuscript and a synopsis.
     I was thrilled to get the call from an RWA board member that AHC had finaled. It’s like a shot in the arm...of joy, hope and validation. Other benefits include a golden heart pin and ribbon for our name badges (which leads to many congratulations), a certificate handed out at a reception, having our pictures and manuscript titles in the conference program, membership in a special chapter called the Golden Network (which offers networking and programs), befriending and sharing knowledge with other GH finalists, and opening agent and editor doors.
     Competition in my category included an author who’d already sold her manuscript and another who had won the GH twice (in other categories) and finaled multiple times (fairly rare).
     I sat at my assigned table, holding the hands of friend and NYT bestseller Simone Elkeles  and my escort. When the presenter called my name, I was so surprised I didn’t even look at the huge screen to see my picture and manuscript title. Thanks to my extensive background in improv and public speaking, I came up with a speech that many said was not only humorous but one of the best of the evening.
     The outpouring of congratulations in person and via phone, email and Facebook has been amazing.  I'm honored and grateful to have so many people who support my writing.
     Many GH winners quickly find an agent (if they didn’t already have one) and sell.  Some take longer.  But not all get an agent and/or sell their manuscripts.  Only time will tell what will happen to mine.... 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Putting out fires vs. Growing your forest

When I was Gainfully Employed in sales/marketing/training, on any given day I could have made more calls, come up with another way to promote my products, etc. But as long as I was on track to meet my goals, I could almost always leave at 5:00 to pursue other activities. I didn’t work weekends.

Freelancers rarely control their work flow. Even when you’re already swamped with assignments, most GU don’t want to say no when another opportunity comes up at the last minute.

--don’t want to disappoint a client.
--aren’t on salary and probably want the $.
--don’t know when the next job will come in and so don’t want to miss out on this one.

Example: I already had a full day of work planned plus somewhere I’d agreed to be at 2:00. But at 3:00 the day before, an agent called to ask if I was available to do a VO job in the suburbs for a client I’d worked with before. Of course I want to book work with my agent and keep returning clients. I said yes; she confirmed around a half hour later. I rearranged my schedule.

It’s wonderful to have so much work; I feel very fortunate. But when GU are so occupied with what’s on their plates and meeting deadlines (putting out fires), finding creative energy and making time to move forward on our own projects such as books in progress and submitting or self-publishing completed ones (growing your forest) can be a challenge. Marketing and client relationship building often takes a back seat. Though we want to do these things and they need to be done, we may put them off because there's no income guarantee.

One approach that's been useful is having a writing buddy or group. Find someone who's in a similar situation, then make appointments to get together and work on projects you've been wanting to finish. By helping each other, you don't end up saying, "I really want to do X. Someday."

Not only does this carve out time for individual writing, we focus more intensely than we might on our own....and keep each other in line to avoid distractions like surfing the Internet or spending too much time on Facebook. We feel great about what we accomplish.

Sometimes you make more progress with a friend's help. Sometimes even the motivated need motivation and support.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Repair or Retail

If your printer, PC, phone or other electronic device seems to be on its last legs, is it worth repairing or should you buy a new one? If you buy new, what do you do with the old?

My Canon i900D color printer lasted almost 7 years to the day, before the PRINTER JAM error message kept showing up, though after thorough explorations via flashlight by me and a friend, not paper was found. A search of the Canon site recommended repair.

I called the Geek Squad, who said unless I really wanted this particular printer for some special function, I should pay for repairs. But given the prices and current features, he suggested buying new.

My Canon worked great for years with great quality. After searching reviews online and checking with friends, I’m also considering HP….the number of brands, types of printers, features, and places to buy boggles the mind.

The next question is what to do with the old device. Freecycle is great for things that work. Fortunately the nearby BestBuy will recycle my defunct printer.

We have more electronics than ever, and it seems that they have shorter lifespans than they used we'll be making these decisions more often.

It's too late for my i900D, but here are links to suggestions for extending the lifespan of your printer(s).

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Customer Service: 3 good experiences (& 1 not)

I've talked several times about poor customer service...and how it's not only frustrating on that day because: 1) resolution, if you get it, takes too long and b) negative feelings linger and make you not want to patronize that company again if there's another option. I think if more companies beefed up the quality and ease of use of their customer service, sales would increase.

So today I'd like to mention 3 companies that recently provided great customer service.

1) Clog Kingdom
I'd tried on a pair of shoes in a store, but they didn't have my small size, plus Chicago's sales tax is one of the highest in the country. So I went online and found the same shoes here for less money and in more colors, plus no sales tax and free shipping.

I quickly placed my order. Too quickly...because when the confirmation email came, I realized I'd clicked the wrong size (European sizes can be a bit confusing--a 37 is a 6 and a 36 is a 5)...I'd chosen 35 (which is a 4) when I needed 36. The site offered free returns, but I didn't want to wait for the shoes, have to return them and reorder.

I couldn't find customer service info on how to change orders. But there was an email address for a guy named Jeff. I wrote and explained the situation.

Lo and behold, he called the next morning to make sure I knew what size I wanted because of how that designer runs.

2) American Airlines: I used miles for a trip. I needed to change my arrival date but was leery of the cost, red tape, or lack of available seats for miles. I called the number on the e-ticket and was transferred to the frequent flyer line (why they couldn't also list that number on the ticket, I don't know). Within 5 minutes, a very pleasant person had changed my flight. For free. A few weeks later, closer to the travel date, I needed to change my departure. Again I called, and within minutes got the flight I wanted. For free.

Impressive, easy, and makes me want to fly American the next time.

3) I wanted a fancy summer dress. I happened to be near the main Macy's. Unfortunately their dress department was unpleasant in both decor and merchandise display. The dresses were crammed together, and the quality made me miss Marshall Field's. Their petite selection also left a lot to be desired. I did by a cute sequined t-shirt for $14.85 reduced from $49. doubt I'll go there again for anything but casual clothes.

BCBG: Upon entering the Bucktown store, a friendly salesperson approached, asked what I was looking for, and helped me gather items in my size. Perhaps she was a bit overzealous in bringing extra things to try on, but she knew which items ran a little larger/smaller and helped me put outfits together. Almost everything I liked was available in my size, which is rare. I bought a dress.

Good customer service can reinforce or change your attitude toward a company and its products. Maybe some executives are too far removed from what happens in the field and should go on Undercover Boss and see how their customers are treated. Maybe they should implement best practices from companies where they recieve good service.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Getting Around To It

I used to have a circular magnet that said “TUIT” in red letters, which meant “get around to it.” These days most of us have “To Do” lists that are so long, many items fall into the “when I get around to it” or WIGATI category. Some of us may have items that we don’t really want to do but are necessary (such as doing our taxes) or would make our lives easier but seem daunting (like cleaning out the closets).

My DayTimer® yes, I still prefer print calendars to those online. I think it’s easier and faster to flip open my DayTimer and see what’s going on than to click around on my PC, sync with my phone and then when out and about have to poke around the calendar app) has a page near the front called “TO BE DONE IN” whatever month. Lately I’ve found that I’ve been transferring most of these items to the next month instead of getting them done.

Things like downloading and figuring out Dropbox. Learning more about using LinkedIn. Reviewing my AT&T plan and investigating cheaper options/providers. Freecycling items I no longer need or want. Important, beneficial tasks, yet they take a backseat to things on my “TO BE DONE TODAY” list.

I keep thinking I’ll have a free day when I can tackle some WAGATI tasks. Then each week I’m fortunate to see my schedule fill with auditions, jobs, rehearsals, performances, submission requests, and, yes, a social life. None of us can work 24/7.

Years ago I went to a life coach, who didn’t want to get started until I completed assorted tasks I’d been meaning to do. She said these outstanding tasks weigh us down.

I’m going to set a goal to whittle down my nagging task list by at least 3 items a month…what about you?

A couple of articles on the topic:

Life Makeover

Live Bold and Bloom

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Successful Interpersonal Communication?

Whether you’re deciding if you should accept or what to charge for a freelance assignment, finding out parameters of a new project at work, what’s expected of your kids at school (and what you as parents are expected to contribute) or dealing with your significant other or family members, successful communication is the key to a positive, rewarding outcome.

The problem is that people communicate in different ways. We’re required to take trigonometry or calculus and other subjects the vast majority of us rarely or never need. Yet we communicate with a variety of people every day. We may have to take public speaking, but why isn’t there a mandatory Interpersonal Communications course, in both high school (to facilitate relationships with parents and peers) and college (so students learn how to present themselves in work situations...many young’uns I see apparently haven’t learned how to be professional)? The prevalence of relatively new forms of corresponding, such as texting and social media, make knowledge of quality communication even more crucial.

Dozens of methods for improving communication exist, from books such as Men Are From Mars... to tests such as Myers-Briggs® (I’m an ENTJ, by the way) to marriage counselors to assorted kinds of presentation consultants to advice on the Internet. But many may not avail themselves of any of these options, either because of cost, time involved, or not realizing they could benefit from them.

Also, we don’t always know all the right questions to ask. Nor do others always offer up all the information we might need. The more people involved in a given situation, the more ripples lack of or unclear information can have. Some people fear speaking their mind or are shy, some become defensive and so aren’t willing to listen to or accept others’ opinions.

What kind of communicator are you? Here are a few articles/sites:

Chris Witt

Associated Content

Live Strong

Thursday, May 19, 2011


There are things we mean to do, keep saying we’ll do, but put off doing. Whether it’s not tackling that project due next month, exercising, eating better, cleaning/organizing, looking for more work, scheduling a doctor’s appointment or finishing that book/play we started, often we find reasons or make excuses we convince ourselves are reasons why we can’t or won’t do them.

Certainly there are more fun things to do than vacuuming, scrubbing the toilet, or self-marketing. There are countless media options from TV shows to Youtube videos to distract us. Scheduling social plans every night means “I don’t have time” to write. If you don’t fit in a trip to the grocery and your cupboards are bare, grabbing a hot dog and fries or ordering in is easier to justify.

Why do we procrastinate, and in the process make ourselves worry about not finishing what we’ve set out to or need to do? Why scramble to meet deadlines? Why berate ourselves for not working out or being late?

I think the key is finding the right mix of discipline and reward, work and play. We can learn to control some of our impulses to have fun so we can complete projects we’ve been putting off. If the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment you'll feel after getting something off your plate isn’t enough incentive, many sites promote rewarding yourself when you achieve a goal.

Wouldn’t you rather be checking items off your to do list and reaping the rewards than fretting because you’re behind schedule or disappointing yourself?

Writing Rewards

Reward Yourself

Goal Setting

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Technology Troubles & Tradeoffs

When our cell phones and/or PCs malfunction, most freelancers can’t work or get work. Getting them back up to speed is a priority. That’s how dependent we’ve become on modern technology. Last week, I was preparing to upgrade my phone’s software and receive a new PC.

Phone: Loading the latest version of Android on my cell phone went smoothly, as did re-personalizing. But then I saw that somehow my FB contacts had been added to my phone contacts. I like my FB peeps, but don’t need all of their info in my phone because that many contacts makes it more difficult to find info. Despite backing up as instructed by customer service, I had to call again. They said I’d clicked “sync to FB” or something, but I didn’t. (I found it later as a default in setup that had to be unchecked . Hmm.) One by one we went through the contacts I wanted to save. Yet some still didn’t make it to my phone. I asked for some compensation for my time and frustration. They offered a $20 credit.

PC: I ended up having to pick it up @ FedEx. Not happy about that. Setup went smoothly until I turned it on. The first thing I saw on my brand new, state of the art Dell PC was “CPU fan error. Press F1 to continue or F2” blah blah. Who wants their PC to overheat? I pressed F2, but couldn’t see what to do. I pressed F1...everything seemed to work fine. Monday morning I called customer service. A half hour after the guy took control of my PC to investigate, he told me I needed a new part and a technician would call. He’d check back on Wednesday.

No call came. I called back Tuesday afternoon to learn the part was on back order, and if it didn’t arrive, they’d send a new system. Why hadn’t anyone bothered tell me that? No good answer. Then he asked if I’d opened the PC case. I hadn’t. So he walked me through the process. Lo and behold, the instant I got the cover off I saw cables blocking the fan. Probably happened while the thing spent several days rumbling around in FedEx’s truck. All I had to do was tuck the cable out of the way, and voila. No more error message.

If the first guy had told me to check inside, I’d have saved a lot of time and frustration. If they’d clipped the cables in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. So I asked to speak to a supervisor, who offered up to $100 in Dell products. A credit would’ve been more useful, but…

The moral of the stories:

Vendors, please ensure consistent procedures and provide easy access to information so callers don't have to laboriously repeat themselves. Train your representatives to be good communicators, believably friendly and sympathetic to the value of each caller's time.

Customers, if you’re having technology troubles, consider asking if the vendor will provide some compensation.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The importance of customer service vs. technology

I've written before about customer service issues, here and here.

These days we have more gadgets than ever that we rely on to do more things. When computers, printers, etc. perform as expected, we may take them for granted. But when they act up or are on the fritz, most of us get frustrated trying to trouble shoot. Our lives can be put on hold if that document/resume we need for a meeting/audition today won't print. Or if your cell phone keeps telling you "your device is extremely low on space" and won't let you send a text even after you've deleted all kinds of apps, cleared caches and more.

Manuals rarely seem to yield the solution. With online help, it's often challenging and time consuming to find the FAQ that resolves your issue or wade through help forums. Reaching a live customer service person is a feat in itself, and finding a helpful one can be like running a marathon.

This week, so far:
Waiting for 3 boxes from Federal Express. My building has a locked package room, but they just left the first one sitting in the lobby. A box clearly marked Dell Multimedia Speaker System.

Fed Ex's door tags don't list delivery hours. I clicked all over their website but couldn't find them. The guy I finally got on the phone (who said to press 00 to get to a person right away; I'd tried that but it didn't work) was very pleasant but couldn't do anything except tell me that I could pick up the boxes at a delivery center near me.

I'm sure FedEx employees are very busy. But you can't even request a window of opportunity, you have to be available the entire time...which I think is 9A to 8P. I wasn't, so I signed the first tag for the other boxes. Well, they didn't leave them....

U.S. Cellular: I've found USC customer service to be friendly and helpful. However, I'm not thrilled by their advice. To get rid of the "low on space" error message on my HTC Desire, they say to install two pieces of software on my PC and back up stuff on my phone. Then I have to install froyo 2.2, which basically wipes clean all settings and apps but should improve performance and battery usage. Finally, I'll have to reinstall and set up everything as if the phone was new. This is expected to take at least 45 mins (during which time, of course, my phone won't work...and of course that'll be when FedEx arrives...).

When they work and arrive when expected, electronic devices and software can make our lives so much easier and more fun. When they don't, waiting for or fixing them can take over our lives.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


The word “anticipation” makes me think of Carly Simon’s song, and then the famous Heinz Ketchup commercial.

Merriam-Webster Online’s definition, in pertinent part: "1a : a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action b : the act of looking forward; especially : pleasurable expectation 3a : visualization of a future event or state."

I think there’s positive anticipation (PA), as in definition 3a, but also negative anticipation (NA). When you have PA, you’re looking forward to something you think will be good, fun: a romantic date, a vacation or spa visit. PA could also be the payoff of a goal you've worked toward: the release of your book, opening night of a play you're in.

With NA, the approaching event is likely to be unpleasant or something you wish you could avoid: a medical procedure or an unwelcome or unfamiliar project at work. For some, NA might even include giving a speech (often first on lists of top fears). A big portion of NA is fear. Maybe we believe that by worrying about what’s to come, we can prepare ourselves for the worst.

The problem with even good anticipation is that you’re not living in the’re living in the unknowable, unpredictable future. While PA may make you smile and inspire pleasurable feelings, on some level it’s an avoidance of whatever is happening right now. Too much PA might raise expectations that reality doesn’t meet. Instead of enjoying the event, you could end up disappointed. "What if..." may help many writers with plots, but in real life too much of it may not be a good thing.

Of course some preparation is important. Most of us wouldn’t want to go on that big date without figuring out where we're going. In Chicago, not making a dinner reservation or buying theatre tickets ahead of time could put quite a damper on things. Nor would most of us agree to undergo many medical procedures without researching providers and options.

The key, I think, is to control anticipation and not let it control you. Consider: 1) Not letting NA, often fear of the unknown, paralyze you from moving forward or keep you from trying new things. 2) Don't allow PA to build up so much that an approaching event takes on a meaning or importance out of proportion, or that's unlikely to be reached by what actually happens.

Be the kid who can enjoy whatever birthday gift she receives, not the kid who's worried she won't get what she wants or only wanted a pony and refuses to be happy with anything else.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My first dust bunny

When I initially joined the Gainfully Unemployed, I had time to do almost everything I wanted...with fewer auditions and fewer bookings, I self-marketed more and worked more on my manuscripts and submissions. I kept up on TV/renting movies and fit in many social events. Errands were completed efficiently and before I ran out of supplies. I cleaned my condo every week or so because I like everything in its place, not dust or disarray.

But today I found my first dust bunny. Ever. A sizeable, lumpy thing lurking in my entryway. Because in the past month or so, either the Universe opened up to furnish opportunities or all the groundwork I'd been laying finally came to fruition all at once.

This week I've had 5 auditions (3 VO, 1 TV commercial and 1 on camera industrial) and a callback for a TV commercial. The VO auditions I recorded from home, but the others required travel to the city and some prep work to familiarize myself with the copy. I also had 3 VO sessions: one in the burbs, one at a friend's studio, and one at a recording studio.

I have an article due May 1. The manuscript that finaled in the national writing contest needs a teeny bit of tweaking ASAP before I can submit to agents/editors, my non-fiction project just needs a little more revising to be complete. Add hours of chorus and play rehearsals, lines to learn, a few social events...let's just say my TiVo is filling up fast.

Despite prioritizing and working at a fairly frenetic pace, there don't seem to be enough hours in the day these days, even if I'm at my desk by 7 AM. Maybe I need to try Red Bull or those 5 hour energy drinks. Maybe I need to resign myself to the fact that sometimes something's gotta give. Like frequent housecleaning. Though I toss in a load of laundry every now and again and squeezed in a quick trip to the grocery, the vaccuum forlornly awaits as I scurry past on my way to the next event. My cleaning supplies may dessicate from lack of use. Does Windex expire?

I did throw out the dust bunny. Hmm. Maybe they're actually good things, because by accumulating all the dust and stuff into clumps, they save you the trouble of Swiffering. I'm glad to be so busy I don't make time to sweep.

I'll take amazing and fun acting, writing and social opportunities over a spotless household any day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Grasshopper and The Ant

One of my favorite Aesop’s fables is about the grasshopper and the ant. The ant works all summer to have enough food in the winter. The grasshopper plays instead. Starving, he asks the ant for food...but is scoffed at for being lazy.

Working hard now to prepare for the future is even in the Bible, Proverbs 6-8: Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
Many people prefer to be grasshoppers. Out of laziness, hedonism, or lack of knowledge? They work as little as possible while having as much fun as possible, blindly trusting that somehow they’ll have enough money to support themselves when they're old. They may buy things they want but can’t afford and dig themselves deeper into credit card debt. Some do work hard, but spend whatever they earn, perhaps thinking they’ll start saving “someday.”

Given today’s economy, others who are willing to work hard enough to be ants may still find themselves seeming like grasshoppers because they lost their jobs, can’t find a good paying job, the value of their property dropped, etc.

On the other hand, those who are ant-like may work so hard they rarely relax or have much fun...maybe because they don’t know how to, or fear that without their jobs they either wouldn’t know what to do with themselves or would lack personal worth. Or maybe they truly enjoy work more than play.

The question becomes: how much is enough? How do we save for retirement while enjoying life now? Many of us don’t even know the minimum we’ll need. Are we afraid the amount will be too large, seem unattainable? If you search “baby boomers not have enough to retire,” thousands of articles come up...and many say that a significant number don’t even have a retirement plan.

I think knowledge, even if it’s not what you want to hear, is power. If we set goals, we can do our best to prepare.
Yahoo! Finance

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Advice: take it or leave it?

Most of us want or need advice from time to time to help us make decisions, to evaluate pros and cons of various options at our disposal. Whether it’s what to wear to a formal event, which career path to follow, who to date/whether to break up or not, where to live or what to do with any savings, we turn to family, friends, colleagues, significant others and experts. Writers, for example, often turn to critique partners to find plot or character holes and to suggest changes and additions.

Sometimes just having a good brainstorming partner is enough... thanks to a good sounding board we can work out for ourselves what we want or need to do without receiving specific suggestions. Writers frequently gather to talk through plots and premises, goals and conflicts.

But when given conflicting advice, whose should we accept, take with a grain of salt, or ignore? Factors can include history of reliability and trustworthiness, level of respect, expertise on the current topic, the advisor’s stake in the issue at hand (so we can gauge who might intentionally or not endeavor to influence decisions in his or her favor), who has your best interests at heart, and our own gut instincts.

One example is asking for feedback on a manuscript. I try to get more than one opinion because different people see different things. If both mention a problem, I’m more likely to change it. After finishing the synopsis for my latest opus, I sent it to two published authors in the genre (who are also supportive friends), and incorporated their comments. I wouldn’t have written that manuscript in the first place if I hadn’t taken the suggestion of one of those authors. Thanks to their help and encouragement, it finaled in a national writing contest.

My Romance Writers of America® chapter, Chicago-North RWA, offers verbal critiques for members. If 20+ people put a smiley face or a question mark in the same place, you’re going to be more likely to feel satisfied that part is funny or realize it’s confusing. Our process has proven effective enough that many now-published members credit critiquing with helping them sell.

Sometimes an agent or editor offers suggestions for change (and may ask to see the project again if the changes are made). Some authors get offended by this, thinking their “baby” is perfect as is. The majority see a professional’s ideas as an opportunity to improve their work and/or build a relationship with that agent/editor.

It can be a challenge to accept advice, especially if doing so means more work for you. Others want to take the easy way out, and/or ignore good advice or follow bad advice. Others will be misled or lied to, but not want or don't recognize that and believe. How many scams do we hear about in the news?

Only time will tell if our decisions to follow advice or not worked out the way we hoped.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Turning on a dime

Last Thursday, I wrote about dealing with disappointment to encourage myself and others to keep going in the face of setbacks. My roller coaster of freelancing had stalled, then seemed to be going downhill in fits and starts.    

Friday didn’t start out too well. Finalists in two national writing contests (the RITA® for published authors, the Golden Heart® for as yet unpublished) were being announced. The list posted online of those who’d gotten the call kept growing as the morning progressed, and some categories were approaching the maximum number of finalists. People, including several friends, were sharing their excitement all over the Internet.

In the as yet unpublished contest, approximately 1,200 manuscripts are entered in 10 categories. Acquiring editors judge the final round; over the years numerous finalists have sold. To final, five judges had to score your manuscript high enough to put it in the top 10%. My chances of finaling were better than winning the lottery, but….  

My phone remained silent. Until 11:47 am, when I got the call!!!   

I’m honored and grateful for my friends' support…I received so many congratulations via email, phone and Facebook, I could barely keep up with them all.

As they say, my life had turned on a dime.  Good news on many levels keeps rolling in.  And this week has been one of my busiest ever as an actress…six auditions and two availability checks--one job was cancelled, I booked the other, also this week. Last night a client informed me about a VO job I’ll be getting today (with another one or two to follow)…

It may be difficult when the going gets rough, but find a way to keep the faith and believe in yourself.  Because you never know when your hard work and persistence will pay off in a big way. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dealing with Disappointment

Is there anyone who doesn’t face disappointments? Job seekers don’t get hired, homebuyers are denied loans, kids don’t get into their top pick schools, the guy/girl doesn’t call or do as promised. People fail to follow through, let you down or get caught in a lie or omission, so you don’t know what to believe.  Developments like these can test your trust and faith.  It’s not surprising that when I searched “handling disappointment,” many entries had religious leanings.

As a freelancer constantly putting my talents out there, some days I feel like I’m in the arcade game Whac-a-Mole…I optimistically pop up out of holes again and again only to get bashed on the head with a mallet every time. You didn’t get this or that acting gig.  I don’t want to buy/represent your book. Sorry, that big audition was canceled.

Other days, disappointments are more subtle…the phone doesn’t ring. No emails for jobs or auditions appear in my in box. It can be challenging to find the motivation and discipline to poke my head out again. Or as Fred and Ginger sang in Swing Time, to “Pick yourself up, Dust yourself off, Start all over again.”

Being an actress/writer/editor is similar to working in sales: even if you have great, useful and appropriately priced products, not every potential client will want them. The main difference is that the products are more personal.  There are no employer supplied marketing materials.  (Or base salary, paid vacation, health insurance.)

How do I take disappointments in stride and let them go? Having things to look forward to, like upcoming auditions or bookings, helps. I believe that each ‘no’ gets me closer to the next ‘yes,’ which encourages me to keep submitting. I focus on the many benefits of freelancing. I remind myself that I’m pursuing my dreams, which not everyone has the wherewithal or perspicacity to do.

How do you deal with disappointment?

3 Steps for Handling Disappointment

Handling Disappointment