A Story About Reality

Fire She-Ra Avatar

Before I get to today’s post: I have a new Tumblr account. I’m having trouble adding folks from Facebook and GMail, so if you re-add me over there I’ll follow you back. Some content will be the same, but there will be a lot more ephemera and pictures over there.

And now, on to today’s blog post.

One of the most common questions I get is: “Monica, why do you do so many different things? Why not just focus on writing your own stories?”

Many years ago, I met the creator of a very popular children’s property. He gave this company everything he had and, twenty years later, he was laid off and his situation quickly took a turn for the worse. Why? Because even though he did these fantastic creations — he didn’t own a piece and that hurt him in the long run. Not to mention, time changes what people are into. When he left, he had nothing and was forced to start over.

There are MANY experiences like this. One does not have to stray far to find a tragic tale in any creative industry. And, whatever you think of these people’s decisions, hindsight is always 20/20. Remember that. It’s easy to criticize. It’s hard (and even a little uncomfortable) to empathize.

I am creative, yes. And, I have a lot to offer those who are willing to pay me for my talents. But, I am also a businesswoman. The bills come every month. They don’t stop. Shit happens. Emergencies come and go. Art supplies, travel, instruments, and jewelry components aren’t cheap. And I have a life that needs living. Experiences that need to be had. Story nuggets waiting to be discovered. My world. My rules.

Reconciling the two things (art and life) is never easy, but this — coupled with the harsh truth that everything we do is tracked online nowadays — is the reason why I’m an octopus like so many others. I consult and freelance because I enjoying having the freedom to work on the projects that I want to write or provide my other talents for. (That doesn’t mean I’m not working on my own stuff; it just means you may not “see” the results of that for some time.)

Now, more than ever, I feel I have to be vigilant to remain flexible to changes that affect monies coming in the door. Sometimes, it’s as easy as showing up to write. Other times, it’s as simple as saying: “No, I am worth more than that.” Often, it depends upon the day and what’s in the pipe.

But this is where the reality comes into play. This isn’t what writing is like. This is what running a business is all about. While I’d love to focus all my time on creating endless works of art that magically disappear off my desk? And the huge check appears? And the readers and listeners and buyers threaten to break down my door?

None of that happens without quality art. I lose myself in fantasy when I can safely ignore reality. The two dimensions are interconnected for me — it’s my ouroboros. Without a beginning or an end.

And that, dear Readers, is why I do so many things. Because even when the words don’t come or my technique sucks that day or my fingers stop working? There’s one thing I can count on. The bills do.

    Mood: Cold
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Drinking Maximillian from Alterra.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Chasing cats and cleaning my office.
    In My Ears: Nothing. Blissfully, nothing.
    Game Last Played: Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
    Movie Last Viewed: Painted Skin: The Resurrection
    Latest Artistic Project: SHINIES. Still need to take pics…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Wizard’s Guidance. A New Guest Post for Dice Castle!

This month I return to the Village of No-No’s in my continuing series at Geek’s Dream Girl.

“Well, it’s a good thing you know how to do that at least.” The wizard quips as he unrolls the parchment. “Now, here’s something you might be interested in. Why don’t you go ahead and read this version of events.”
Not wanting to piss off an all-powerful wizard, you take the document off his hands and begin to read a familiar, yet slightly different, version of events. As you engross yourself in the story, the room begins to spin.

You adjust your shoulder bag and stroll into a village nestled in a lush valley. The first thing you see is a man and a woman arguing at the top of their lungs. From what you can make out, they’re pissed off about coin. The woman turns to you and says: “Don’t work for that guy, he’ll never pay you.” The man, who happens to be wearing a jerkin with an embroidered logo on the back, rolls his eyes and drones: “Don’t hire that freelancer, she’ll never hand anything in on time and it’s full of typos, too.” — SOURCE: Wizard’s Guidance, Adventure to Dice Castle

I hope you’ll drop by the site and give Wizard’s Guidance, Adventure to Dice Castle a read!

Heads Up! Help FlamesRising.com Interview White Wolf for Strange, Dead Love!

Vampire: the RequiemRemember when I announced I was working on Strange, Dead Love? Today, FlamesRising.com posted an open call for fans to ask questions about the paranormal romance sourcebook. Both Eddy Webb and Russell Bailey will dive in and spill all their secrets.

What do you want to know about Strange, Dead Love? Ask your burning questions in the comments below. Then, on Monday, October 3rd, we’ll shoot your deepest desires over to Eddy and Russell.

The finished interview will debut on FlamesRising.com on Sweetest Day, October 15th and will include ten questions chosen by White Wolf. Not all questions may be answered.

Pop on over to FlamesRising.com and fire away! Here’s the link: www.flamesrising.com/help-us-interview-white-wolf-for-strange-dead-love

The Other Half of Perception is Managing Expectations

After my post earlier this week about managing perceptions as a freelancer, I saw a comment from Keith Anderson about how essential it was to manage expectations.

I absolutely agree.

For me, this is a no-brainer that can be summed up in two words: good communication. When that communication breaks down? That’s when things go wrong. I’ve seen this time and time and time again in many businesses, both as an outsider or when I’m involved on a project. Miscommunication happens in cases when one hand is doing one thing and the other is possessed by another mindset. Management says one thing to one employee and something else to another. A lack of consistency is the other thing that can get very confusing, too, especially when you’re dealing with someone who has little to no experience managing professionals.

My technique is based on asking questions and setting goals. It is extremely rare for me to not fulfill the expectations that are required of me. I am always asking: Is this what you want? Sometimes, the company does not know the answer to that question. By exploring that answer up front you’d be shocked how much money, time and energy is saved.

Having said that, however, there are times when going that extra mile isn’t warranted. That’s where the contract, a style guide and submission guidelines all come into play. The project doesn’t require exploration, it demands production. How many bouts of revisions are required? What format does the work need to be submitted in? Expectations can be very technical, but they are also thematic, too. Research is an invisible cost. An artist needs reference material. A writer needs to find good sources for attribution, reference material on a subject, etc. Creativity is another “cost,” in the sense that bursts of inspiration don’t just happen on a nine-to-five job. They happen at any time, in any place, for any reason. Again, this goes back to why creatives don’t budget based off of hours.

This entire conversation circles back to something I’ve found to be extraordinarily true. There is a huge difference between being proactive and reactive, between providing a service or selling an asset, between building business relationships or focusing on the one-offs. There are so many different ways to manage a business it’s not even funny. The trick I’ve found is this: as an employee or a freelancer, you have to figure out what your core business principles are. Once you have that foundation in place, you can manage expectations with ease. Why? Because then you’re looking at those expectations as a two-way street. It’s not what you can do for someone else. It’s what you can do for each other.

Managing Perceptions as a Freelancer

The other day I took a pulse and asked if (in general) the following were true:

A very challenging thing to manage as a freelancer is other people’s perceptions. You’re either working too hard or not enough. Occasionally, you feel like extra demands are made of your time because you work from home or you’re always online.

The Godfreelancefather Matt Forbeck was quick to point out that sometimes those perceptions are true. E Foley mentioned that she wasn’t aware of many freelancers who struck a positive work/life balance, especially when paying for benefits. L.A. Gilman and Stephen Blackmoore both had some excellent points about how freelancing is more popular in a crappy economy and how high rates translate to not working hard enough. The conversation went on from there when Phil Brucato and Elissa Rich pointed out that ‎”But you do it because you LOVE it. That’s not WORK! You’d do it anyway, so why should you expect to get paid for it? Lots of people do it for free on the internet!”

Sometimes, I find managing perceptions is very difficult; even though I do my best I feel like I can never win. You post about what you’re working on (paid or not) and some people think you’re too busy to take on other projects. You don’t post about what you’re writing or playing and sometimes people think you’re not doing anything. Or, you have a bunch of releases all at once (even though you wrote them over the course of two years) and you need to slow down.

I have a white board (ominously taped to an Independence Day poster) with four buckets: paid, non-paid, spec and promo/PR. I also have a wishlist of projects/companies I’d kill to work for. Every week I have a list to help myself prioritize what I need to be doing. Then? I do it. Sometimes, assignments/meetings take me more time than expected. Other days they go down really quick and easy. Either way, I know what has to be done regardless of my mood, blood sugar levels, and obligations.

The thing is: my schedule isn’t based on hours, it’s based on what I need to earn so I fulfill my obligations professionally, financially and personally. (Which is why I’ve been freelancing as a consultant/marketer for a set number of hours per week to give me the flexibility to write.) I take a lot of pride in my reputation. Every freelancer has one. If I screw up on an assignment? It’s my responsibility to fix it. If there’s a scheduling change on that company’s end? Gotta plow right on through. When the assignment goes down easy, I reset my schedule. I’ve made mistakes in the past because I believed that promo/PR comes first. Boy, was I wrong.

One of the worst demands I’ve ever seen originates from the idea that “Hey, I know an artist/writer/etc. I can just ask them to…” Sure, one or two requests may not seem that big of a deal. Trail John Kovalic around for a while. The sheer volume of requests for free art/time from him is overwhelming and was what spurred this train of thought. I don’t make demands on his time for two reasons. One? I respect him as a professional. Two? I’ve seen how those requests greatly reduce his ability to fulfill his obligations for paid work and new publications. (Which is why last week’s Dork Tower on Speak Out was a total shock on my end.)

It’s hard to say “No” or explain the reality of a situation without sounding like an asshole. Even if it’s prefaced by an apology, it sounds like that person is overwhelmed because they can’t just do that one, little thing or they don’t appreciate their readers/listeners/fans. That’s why I’m working with E Sophia to get an Army of Dorkness fan club going. For John? He has enough fans where that makes sense.

Add to that personal lives/feelings, etc. to the whole perceptions business and you have a recipe for complexity. The other reason why perceptions are tricky, in my mind, is because the industry as a whole is always changing, too. There is no such thing as a stable job anymore. While I don’t feel/want to nitpick and micromanage every comment/blog post/approach I have, I do feel these perceptions are important in a general sense.

If you have tips or stories to share? Please feel free to add your thoughts below.

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Monica Valentinelli >

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