Mon. Oct. 1, 2018: Persistence — How Badly Do You Want It? #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, October 1, 2018
Waning Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde

There are five Mondays in October, which means I have to sort my thoughts on persistence into FIVE posts. Yes, that will take persistence!

When I teach, one of the first questions I ask is, “How badly do you want this?”

The students who will gain the most out of my classes are not those who prefer “having written” to writing. I am strict, and demand a high level of productivity and commitment.

Because that is what you need if you plan to have a career in the arts.

High productivity.

Ever-increasing skills.

Commitment.

Persistence.

I spent most of my professional life earning my living in the theatre. I worked my way up to Broadway, production managed some indie films, and day-played on network television shows.

I made the decision that was what I wanted to do quite young, and started working professionally when I was 18, and still in college.

Did I ever do other things? Of course. I temped all over the country. I worked at nearly 200 different companies. I worked at many non-profits. Some of them were great experiences, like the Guggenheim Museum and the Neuberger Museum. I did a three-year stint for an art book publisher during the day while working off-off Broadway at night. I did five years working for the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation part-time, as I worked shows at night, moving from off-off Broadway to off-Broadway. Eventually, I worked enough off-Broadway to just work theatre, and write, and pick up some extra cash between gigs playing the horses at Aqueduct and Belmont and as a tarot reader.

Then, I worked at the Public Theatre for some people well-established in the field, who recommended me up the ladder to Broadway because they liked my work.

I made the leap.

At the same time I transitioned to Broadway, shows I wrote were produced in London, Edinburgh, and Australia, so I took time off from the transition in order to be with those shows in those locations.

When I worked on Broadway, I wrote. I had shows produced in small theatres. I collaborated with fellow artists.

I started getting back into writing not just plays, but short stories and novels again. I took workshops. I learned how to pitch. I learned more about effective pitching from working with film acquisitions people at conferences than anywhere else, and it is what I learned from those film people that honed my skills so that my novel pitches started to hit.

I made a tough decision that much as I loved writing scripts, I did not want to relocate to LA and start at the bottom of the ladder again. I didn’t want to do what was necessary to achieve a spot in a writer’s room. I respect writer’s rooms enormously, and the collaboration that goes on there. It is not an environment where I would thrive. Do I still write and pitch scripts? Yes. But I’m not going to earn a spot in a writer’s room of a television drama in LA. My career trajectory isn’t going to go there. I’m at peace with it. Most of the time. 😉

When it was time for me to leave Broadway, because the physical demands of the backstage work were too much, and mentally, I needed to stop splitting my focus between working on other people’s shows and my own, I left New York — and moved far enough away so that I wouldn’t be tempted back.

I dug in, and through a mix and match, and a lot of pain and frustration, made it work. I shifted and expanded what I write and how I handle my business in order to make a living. Unfortunately, I live in an area that talks big about celebrating artists, but doesn’t actually support working artists. Are you a visiting artist who likes the beauty and history of the area? They’ll fall all over you. Have a summer house? They grovel. But move here, live here year round and try to work? The attitude is that you must have failed elsewhere, so the expectation is for you to work three part-time jobs at minimum wage without benefits and do your art for “fun” because “we don’t pay for that.”

So I don’t work for them. I have some local clients I enjoy and value, who value me in return. I expanded my client base beyond the bridge, and reconnected with international contacts. I network here, sure, but have redrawn my boundaries, and when the demand is made to work for free, I say no. Because this is my business, not my hobby. I’m not living off a trust fund. I’m not writing for pin money. I am not supported by a corporate husband paying the bills.

This is my profession.

I talked in earlier posts about how if you don’t respect your own work, no one else will, either.

Saying “no” has done more to expand my business than saying “yes” to the wrong situations ever did.

Is my life perfect and without struggle? Of course not. I am still building the life I’ve always wanted. I will always be building the life I want, because life changes, breath to breath. You can either insulate yourself and pretend it doesn’t, or rage that the world refuses to change to suit you. or think on your feet and make the decisions that support your choices.

I knew, when I was six years old, that I wanted to be a writer. Once I fell in love with theatre, I wanted to do that, too. I had a dual career as long as it worked. While I have a multi-pronged writing career, it is also what I want. I like doing different things, having different facets and challenges.

Years ago, I thought I wanted an ivory tower existence. I imagined something quite different from what it is.

But what “is” is better, in many ways, than the roads not taken.

And the road I hope to build in the coming years will continue to improve. Not without obstacles, pain, and tangents — but if I persist, I can build something good.

I got here because when I asked myself, “How badly do you want this?” — my answer was, “Badly enough to do what it takes.”

 

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Published in: on October 1, 2018 at 3:55 am  Comments Off on Mon. Oct. 1, 2018: Persistence — How Badly Do You Want It? #UpbeatAuthors  
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Mon. July 9, 2018: Say “Yes” — #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, July 9, 2018
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Mars Retrograde

 

There’s a saying I’ve heard about both opportunity and the Muse: that when it knocks, you better answer or it will move on to someone else.

I believe that.

Of course, there are those who will insist they are “offering” you an “opportunity” to try to get them to work for free while they do nothing. Laugh and walk away. That is not something you to which you want to say “yes.”

But say “yes” to new experiences that are out of your comfort zone, but that you might enjoy. I did that with Argentine Tango – I said “yes” to taking classes for a few months. Not only did I have the chance to do something I hadn’t done in years – dance – I met new people, learned about a world-wide community, and gathered material for at least three new books. I even put a tango scene into my radio play “Light Behind the Eyes” which was produced this past March.

I said “yes” to attending my very first Bouchercon way back in the mid-1990s, and that was the catalyst to writing novels again. I said “yes” to my very first Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which led me to an invitation to participate in the Adelaide Festival Fringe, which meant I got to go to Australia, something I’d always wanted to do. And I got to go there as a working artist.

In Australia, I said “yes” to a local networking meeting someone I’d met in passing invited me to, which led me to saying “yes” to a curator for the library, who invited me to see an illuminated manuscript, one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen in my life. I said “yes” to doing a promo on a local radio show – which got such a positive response that I wound up co-hosting the show while we were at festival. I said “yes” to an invitation to an art gallery opening, where I was exposed to stunning work by Aboriginal artists depicting the sections in Australia where the ozone layers are burned all the way through. I said “yes” to an invitation to join a group of Aborginal women artists for their morning coffee – a rare honor, since they didn’t mingle with the other festival participants often – and learned a whole new way of communicating and relating.

I said “yes” the first time I was invited, in my first theatre lighting class in college, to working on the crew of a show – and that, eventually, led me to my career on Broadway.

I said “yes” in high school, when I was starting to learn cello, but they needed more viola players and asked me to switch. And I learned the viola (not that I remember it after all these years, but still . . .)

I said “yes” when I was just getting back into thoroughbred racing to work on a benefit to help racetrack workers have access to childcare and ended up with lifelong friends among trainers, jockeys, backstretch workers, which led me to pitch (and accept) a job covering the Triple Crown for thirteen years, and go to races in England and Scotland.

I said “yes” when given the opportunity to write about ice hockey and spent months with a minor league time; I said “yes” when given the opportunity to cover America’s Cup and learned about sailing and those beautiful old Newport yachts (even though I can’t swim). I said “yes” to covering Highland Games and local sports and lighthouses and restaurants and anything else that sounded interesting.

I can’t even count the times I’ve said “yes” – because I say “yes” more than I say “no” – especially if it means a new experience. I trust my gut – if something seems off about the offer, or I figure it’s dangerous in the wrong way, I decline.

But I trust my gut, and saying “yes” means I had opportunities and experiences many others around me haven’t. I ask questions. I’m interested in the world. So when someone offers me a chance to do something unique, especially by someone who is passionate about their interests, I try to say “yes” and then enjoy it!