‘No Satisfaction Whatever’: Advice on Creative Frustration from Martha Graham

Miranda July posted this wonderful little excerpt: Martha Graham’s advice to her fellow dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille, perfect for all of us creative types (“No artist is pleased”). It’s great no matter what, but it really hit me hard as I’m getting ready to put a book out in July and trying to figure out what my next book will be. Maybe it will resonate with you, too:

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Win a Free Skillshare Class!

The nice people at 96 Problems — creators of the Rough Draft writing app — are offering a Skillshare scholarship for the best answer to my writing prompt:

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All the details are here; the deadline is April 4. This is your chance to take any of Skillshare’s great classes — including mine on pop culture writing and finding your writing voice — for free!

How to Fight Evil with ‘Pens, Books, and Advanced Acrobatics’

I just learned about Pakistan’s cartoon Burka Avenger, thanks to a piece I’m writing for BBC Culture about superheroines. Of course I loved her from the minute I heard her name, but what’s particularly striking about her is her emphasis on literacy: The intro tells us (according to the English subtitles) that her weapons are “pens, books, and advanced acrobatics.” In the first episode, she saves a girls’ school from closing down:

She reminds me of the women I’m lucky enough to mentor through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. These women often risk their safety just for the chance to write their own stories. We help them to share them with the world in English. Please check out some of their work on the site. They are truly fighting evil with pens and books. I can’t speak for the advanced acrobatics, but I hope they don’t need them.

Getting Real About Writing 30 Day Challenge

My experience with my own writing career, as well as with clients and students, all comes down to one conclusion: Most of us just need to buckle down and actually do the writing. We can talk about it, read about it, think about it for months, maybe even years. But to be a writer you must write.

That’s why I designed this new motivational program: particularly perfect for those New Year’s resolutions you’ll be making soon. Here’s all the info you need … sign up now!:

The Getting Real About Writing 30-Day Challenge

Do you have tons of ideas for writing, but “no time” to actually get them done? Maybe you’ve taken a zillion writing classes, read a billion books about writing, but still haven’t finished (or started!) that novel, essay, short story, or book proposal. Maybe you have a demanding job and/or family that seems to always need tending until your allotted writing time is all gone.

YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE. THIS CHALLENGE IS FOR YOU.

Getting Real About Writing is a 30-day program designed to help you to (read: force you to!) focus on your writing. I’ve designed it to meet the needs of most “aspiring” writers I’ve encountered as a teacher and writing coach: You have great ideas and you have the skills. You just need to actually put the words on the paper. This is what separates the aspirants from the writers: words on paper. In just one month, we will make you a writer.

Enough with the “if only …”s. If only you were independently wealthy and didn’t need to work. If only you lived in a silent house alone by the ocean with no responsibilities. If only the space-time continuum weren’t so restrictive …

The “if only …”s are never going to happen. The Getting Real About Writing Challenge will show you that your writing is possible anyway. My approach is simple, even if it isn’t easy: I’ll help you set concrete, achievable goals. Then we’ll get to work.

WHAT IS THE GETTING REAL ABOUT WRITING CHALLENGE?

It’s a self-guided, 30-day course that dispenses with all the (well, most of the) talking and writing about writing … to get to the writing itself. Course materials include:

  • Goal-setting exercises, which I will consult on if necessary.
  • Daily minimum-writing-time goals, with e-mail reminders.
  • Optional membership in a private Getting Real About Writing Facebook group to exchange tips, complaints, and support with fellow writers.
  • Weekly downloadable inspiration and practical exercises to keep you on track.

WHAT DOES IT COST?

One easy payment of $29.

WILL IT WORK FOR YOU?

If you’re ready to put in the work, it will. This is not a course about how to write — you have that covered. (Seriously, you do.) This is about making yourself into a writer, about doing the actual work. It’s about setting goals and achieving them, sticking with a writing routine, and finding the time to do it all despite your “if only …”s. Yes, we are going to make time. We are going to find it where you thought there wasn’t any. WE ARE GOING TO BEND THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM.

Are you ready to Get Real About Writing?

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Halloween Week Open Mic in NYC!

Pretty purple Daisy Rock guitar.

Pretty purple Daisy Rock guitar.

The open mic night I cohost in NYC’s East Village, Rock ‘n’ Roll Poetry, will be at Otto’s Shrunken Head for another installment at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Music and poetry, originals and covers, beginners and pros welcome. Come out and watch, or sign up now to perform. Costumes welcome (but optional)! I’ll be there doing some George Michael and/or Taylor Swift.

The Soundtracks to Our Writing

record_player_03There’s a lovely piece on The Millions exploring the benefits of listening to music while one writes. Writer Jacob Lambert basically concludes that listening to some nice music while you write might get you in the mood, psych you up, or make your time at the keyboard a little more pleasant, but it won’t actually, you know, do the writing for you or instantly turn you into a genius. Darn.

I asked some of my clients and friends yesterday whether they listen to music while writing. Some of their favorite tunes of the moment include ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage!”, and music by Explosions in the Sky and Pinback. I don’t listen to music that much when I write, but I do use it for inspiration: I like to create playlists for projects that I listen to as I go about my daily business. It helps me keep the project on my mind at a nice low level, perfect for creative mulling. Anything can make it on the soundtrack if it speaks to some aspect of the project for me. Lots of the selections come from the era I’m writing about, in the case of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted in the ’70s and Seinfeldia in the ’90s, but other selections are more thematic. I’ve gotten more good ideas than I can count this way.

Here are some selections from my Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted “soundtrack”:

Joan Jett’s rock version of the theme song, “Love Is All Around”

Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”

Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”

Carly Simon and James Taylor’s “Mockingbird”

Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move”

Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”

The Guess Who’s “American Woman”

James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”

Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”

Joni Mitchell’s “River” (I am convinced that Mary Richards listened to James Taylor and Joni Mitchell in her “off screen” time)

Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire”

Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song”

The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”

The Rubinoos’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Tom Waits’ “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

Building Your Brand: Writing and Speaking Workshop with Me and Melissa Collom in October!

Are you sick of hearing about how you “need a platform”? We’re here to help! In just one (fun) day, speaking coach (and opera singer!) Melissa Collom and I will give you all the info and steps you need to write and speak your way to a higher profile, no matter what business you’re in. We’ll cover blogging, article-writing, pitching, speaking, and presenting and send you home with a clear plan to build your unique brand.

Our first workshop is Oct. 3 in NYC. Sign up now or click here for more details!

Please Pay Freelancers With Money. Thanks.

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This is what money looks like. Freelancers need it to buy things to live, just like everyone else.

As a freelance writer, I get my share of sneaky requests for me to do stuff for free. Some of these make sense: appear on a podcast I admire to promote a recent piece I wrote and my upcoming book, help a talented friend with a promising book proposal. Now, I’m not saying everything I do must include some clear payoff for me and only me. I’m not even saying that you can’t ask me to do something out of the goodness of my heart. But more than anyone else, freelancers in the arts must set boundaries. You cannot imagine how much the world wants us to give for free. I teach writing, I edit, I help people launch their writing careers, and I write … for my job. This seems fair to me. I am good at what I do, and I believe that I provide valuable services to the world. If it weren’t for people like me, all of this stuff would probably still get done, but it would be done a lot crappier. If only hobbyists write your books and articles from now on, please expect a noticeable downtick in quality. And if you’re willing to hire a non-professional to teach you writing or consult on your writing career, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, and neither do you.

Tweet: If only hobbyists write your books and articles from now on, please expect a noticeable downtick in quality.

I can see this difference most clearly with my chosen hobby: singing and playing guitar. Because I’m an overachiever, I practice pretty regularly and am determined to perform in public as a way of furthering my skill and making “use” of it. But the thought of someone paying me for what I do does not enter my mind because I’m not that good. I actually don’t plan to be that good. I mean, maybe someday someone will pay me in free drinks to do a regular set of covers in the corner of their bar or something. And I’m planning to start hosting an open mic soon. But I am not a professional. I do not dedicate the majority of my time and educational resources to being a skilled musician. I believe very strongly in paying people who do this, who put in the work and will bring you a professional performance. These are the people who will have all of their own sound equipment, will know exactly what they need to make things great, will be able to take requests or improvise on the spot or perform their own material. I know several of these people, and they are great at what they do.

To be clear: There’s also definitely an in-between area, in writing and music and many other fields, where people are highly skilled and do get paid for this even if it’s not their main profession. My partner, Jesse, gets paid for some of his serious photography work even though he’s a full-time programmer. He should. He’s put in the work and it’s great. Lots of people write articles on the side about their area of expertise, like psychologists who write self-help pieces or books. I know more than a few people who have jobs to pay the bills and put on excellent musical productions or rock shows for money as well. It’s the sad reality of being an artist that you often need a day job.

That’s exactly why we need to pay our skilled people in money. If you want art in the world, you need to pay someone for it. (Taylor Swift agrees.) Here are some things that are not money that friends have been offered in exchange for their services, as they noted in comments after I posted a Facebook rant about this recently: nothing at all (singer-songwriter Sean Skyler, who is excellent), “an excellent opportunity for exposure” (photographer), T-shirts (stagehand), internships (stagehand).

My photographer sister also noted that people often post online looking for a “photographer/volunteer.” Nope, that’s not a thing, not if you want real services. Please pay for services. In money.

And one more thing: I’ve realized while writing this post that the people I’ve ended up giving services (editing, consulting, etc.) for free all offered to pay me first. They let me be the one to offer it for free. Just a tip.