Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Que Sera...

I had hoped to update this particular blog at least twice a week(my MySpace one gets some attention every Monday).

Alas, the past week or so has been 'one of those' - which I'm slowly learning to accept.

Age has finally started to mellow me somewhat.  When I was younger, I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to accomplish an impossible number of things in a rediculously short space of time.  Invariably, this wouldn't work, I would berate myself accordingly - and often give up on whatever projects I hadn't completed.

It's clear to me now, that I was setting myself up for failure; overwhelming myself to the point of not accomplishing anything at all.  And doing quite a bit of damage to my self-esteem in the process.

I pretty much did that to myself this week - I wanted to beta read two novels and a screenplay, work my day job, write some new things myself, do a couple of interviews...

What was I thinking?  My 'day job' while not regular, tends to require 16 hours or more out of that day.  Usually, I write during my breaks, but this week I caught up with a friend of mine that I hadn't seen in several years.  Wasted time?  Hardly.  

I did photograph two events, as well as taking a bit of video footage from each of them, after that 16 hour day.  On my day off (which I had somehow imagined myself doing another interview and reading quite a bit), I slept.  The body's way of telling you point blank that you're doing too much, and just shuts you off for a while.  Listen to it.

As little as a year ago, I would have been kicking myself over that 'recharge' time, and it would have spoiled the rest of the day.  As it was, I shrugged it off and edited some of the photos and video of the past week instead.  

How often do you beat yourself up over what you don't get done?

When reading the news or talking to our friends, it often feels like everyone else in the world is accomplishing more/farther along than we are.  Don't forget that those articles never mention the burnout, or the years of getting to that point; our friends often (at least in the USA) tend to exaggerate current accomplishments and how busy they are.

We are the only country that seems to put such a status on being 'busy' all the time.  How much of that business is reality, and how much of it is running around like mad, taking more time to do the same things through simple disorganization?  How many small tasks become large through that needing to feel rushed all the time?

Let it go.  No successful person I know runs around in a panic shouting to the world how busy they are.  They're relatively calm, collected, and focused on solving the real problems.  And they accomplish amazing things in time frames that seemed impossible to me.

The big difference between those people who did great things and me?

1. Don't sweat the small stuff - it really is true. You have to figure out for yourself what the 'small stuff' is, and stick to it - what's small to you, may be key to someone else, and vice versa, so I'm not going to tell you what's not important to me, though I will give one example.

I take the train. A LOT.  I used to rush like crazy to make the earliest train back, and go a little nuts when I missed it.  One day, I realized that missing the train is not a big deal (with the exception of the last train leaving the station for the night - that still sucks).  Now I make sure that I have a book, or a sketchbook, or some paperwork in my bag.  If I miss my train, I order a cup of coffee and sit in a cafe for an hour doing what I would have done at home anyway.

2. Stop beating yourself up.   All this does is make getting back up harder - and you're doing it to yourself.  Stop it.

3. Try a different route.  This was a big one for me.  I would keep bashing my head against the same brick wall in the same place, and try for different results through sheer force of will.  I broke through one place eventually, but the amount of time, effort, and frustration it caused was not worth the progress I made.  Don't give up, but if one method of moving forward isn't working, look for another - rather than bashing that same part of the wall over and over, hop the fence.  Or find a door.

4. RELAX.  This did more for me than anything else.  Putting unrealistic expectations on yourself leads to desperation - and desparation leaves a palpable stink on a person that others can sense.  When I started working in theater, I was broke, knew nobody, and didn't have access to enough venues to keep working.  I tried talking myself up to anyone, anywhere, and it didn't work.  
Because I was desperate, which made me annoying, even pushy.  When I was finally in a position that I could relax a bit and just do my job, people noticed that I was good at it.  I became, instead of that annoying person who kept talking up my skills, the quiet, pleasant person who could just get the job done.  People WANTED to work with me, and were willing to suggest places and people to talk to.   Employers came to me asking if I was interested in working for them - and good ones, not the shady ones that I'd half killed myself for years ago.
This is the position you want to be in.
No matter how good at something you may be, don't sell yourself like a used car.  'Sell' yourself through a winning personality and competence.

Getting where you want to go is a relatively simple process; just don't confuse simple with 'easy'. They're not the same thing at all.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Broken computer!

My ten year old Alienware has bitten it.  For the second time.  At this point, it makes more sense to buy a new machine than have the old one repaired - it will be less expensive for more machine.

Always consider investment/return when something breaks.  Sometimes, replacement is a better option, sometimes repair.

What I thought about:

This is a piece of equipment I use every day, so having a trouble free experience is important.

Will it do what I need it to? When it's working, yes.  The problem being that it would cost more to repair than to buy a new, better system by quite a bit.  The last time I had a problem with the machine, it was nearly a thousand dollars to fix.  At the time, it was worth it.  Now, I can get a far better machine for at least four hundred dollars less than the cost of repairing it.

The question of needing something fancier is almost moot in this particular case - more power was a nice idea the first time, but far pricier than the repair for the sorts of things I do.  Now it is not.

Were it a newer machine, the choice would not be so clear cut.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

101 Tax deductions for freelancers

The very first time I filed taxes as a freelancer, it was a NASTY shock.  Somehow, I'd figured that Uncle Sam would take his one third(I live in NY) and be done with it.

Doesn't work that way.

I'm not a tax expert by any means, so thoughts on this from elsewhere would be great.

I filed an earned income of about ten thousand dollars.  Turbo Tax then informed me that I owed the government eight.  EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS. Out of the ten I'd made freelancing out of the year.

Uh huh, I learned about deductions the hard and painful way.

As a freelancer, there were tons of things that I didn't realize I was expected to claim as a business expense, that I didn't.  Some of them(like my tools) were just me being a lunkhead.  Others - books on my fields, business lunches, seminars, classes - had never even occurred to me.

I was very naive, and it cost me.  Hopefully, this list will give you some thoughts so you don't end up in the same hole as I did.

Disclaimer: not all of these deductions are applicable for all types of freelancers, as far as I know. Don't be me - find yourself a good accountant and get a consultation.

As always, click on the title of the post for the link(at least until I can figure out how internal links work).

Debt Calculator

An addendum to today's post - I'm also in debt, about six thousand dollars.  Not huge, but it grates sometimes.

To add insult to injury, my credit card company keeps upping my credit limit, as well as my percentage - seemingly whenever it feels like it!

One of my goals this year is to be completely out of debt.

Last year, I was close - then I bought a laptop, and some rather expensive post production programs(oy, the alliteration!).  For a couple of gigs that never came through.  It would have probably been smarter to get a small bank loan for these items, which I will remember to do in the future.

The sneak of it is - I know I've paid more than the basic cost of the items at this point.  Now this pisses me off, but I've no one to blame but myself.  So no more credit card, barring extreme emergencies.

I found this online calculator to help figure out exactly what I need to be paying per month to dent the debt, which is a little depressing.  At my current rate, I spend about 200 a month to pay off 30 dollars - which is a complete crock!  I've got to fix this. (click on the title of this blog to get to the calculator.)


Ok, I know I promised the writing thing, we'll get to that soon.

Right now, I'd like to talk about a bluntly honest assessment of your current life, as it applies to your goals.  Debt, assets, experience, all that fun stuff.

What I'd like to do, is get some income from my photography and personal video work.

Assets: I own a digital point n' shoot, Photoshop Elements, and an HV20(small digital video camera).  Cool, I own all of those free n' clear.

Debt: Need more practice, as I've been in a different position for a while - most of my early attempts are most likely not going to earn me enough money for the time spent learning(this applies to all new/rusty skills).

Experience: As my gear is pretty entry level, this is really where the shine is going to come in.  I'm not starting from square one.  I worked as a photographer's assistant for a brilliant man who worked for British Vogue - just being around him is like swimming in the pool of knowledge.
(For some of his mind blowing portrait work, go here -

I've been working as a Gaffer(basically lighting design for film) for a couple of years now, studying light and shadow and all that fun.  I also have some experience as an artist, so line, color theory, and composition are not alien concepts.

Conclusion:  I need to put the work and time in, but this is not an unachievable goal.  However, 'make some money' is completely vague.  Let's fix this.

How am I going to 'make some money' doing this?

Weddings are out.  I did this for a while.  Hated it with a passion - and had to compete with people who LOVED shooting weddings.  No matter what you want to do, you have to find the angle that works for you, rather than the obvious one.

I love video, editing, and photography.  But while I was freelancing for a series of wedding companies, it wasn't fun anymore.  It was the equivalent of my 'make a living' job, and sucked all the fun out of what I was doing.  At that point, find something that pays better.

When I was doing things like this, stock photography was something that studios did with a small stable of regular photographers.  Not anymore!

There are several sites, with millions of available photographs, by hundreds of thousands of photographers. Chances are, that my first photos won't do that well - but that's what practice is for.

What else can I do?

Well, I have some friends who are moving forward into entertaining.  I've been going out on free evenings to take pictures of them in action.  And later, posting these pictures on social networking sites.
The good: practice, exposure for myself and my friends.
The bad: realizing my current camera is not up to the task of shooting at a rather high speed in a low light situation.

So, I need a better camera for this, which is not in the cards right now.  Soon, though.

Meanwhile, I'll be snapping pictures of whatever's available, and offering my portrait services. The plan is (currently) to dump whatever I make in stock photos into a separate savings account, to be used to buy the better camera.

One other aspect of doing the stock thing - I have to find more interesting locations, which is travel time and gas.  This money has to come out of my regular job.  I see it as an investment.

Which comes to that old 'spend money to make money' trope.  How true is it, and how much?

It is true - with parameters.  There's absolutely no point in me spending 14 thousand dollars on a Hassleblad.  Not only do my current gigs not require it, I don't have any justification in charging the kind of money that would make this investment reasonable.

However, a digital SLR body that can accept the lenses I already have?  Absolutely.

But not right now, I just can't afford it.  An 'investment' at the cost of debt at this level is just foolish.  It may not be for you, but look realistically at your 'person' assets.

A 'person' asset would be a business/individual/community that will use your services.  For instance, an established assistant wedding photographer, who's friendly with a bunch of wedding planners, has gone to years of trade shows, and is active in the local business bureau, has a good arguement for investing a decent chunk of change into equipment, and striking out a new business.  There is a reputation and connections already in place.

Not so much for a college kid hoping to make a few bucks and sinking to the bottom of credit debt to buy a lot of fancy toys.  

It appears that half of building a business is building a reputation.  Granted, a bit of that comes with presentation.  I would imagine that someone hiring me for a commercial shoot would be a bit put off if I showed up with just a point n' shoot camera.

So I'm not going after that sort of job right now.  Landscapes don't care what your camera looks like.  And if the picture is quality, the designer buying a stock photo doesn't care what it was shot on.  The final product is all important, and that's what I'm looking at.

Next blog: So you wanna be a writer?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day 1.5 - 'When I Grow Up'

Ask any adult what they do for a living - go ahead, I'll wait.


Got your answer? Cool.

Most people will give you the company name and position of what they do. Nothing wrong with that.

Once in a while, you'll get a weird answer - especially if you ask them at work.  I met a fella who was working for an alarm installation company who told me he was an actor.  Was he researching a role or something?

Nope - he liked performing at a community theater.  Neat and all, but what he really does is install alarms - acting is his hobby.  I asked him what he was doing toward making acting his career(classes, auditions, etc.). He got pretty pissed off when I asked, claiming there was no time for that sort of thing, too many obligations(he was single, no kids), and told me acting was his passion.  Someday the right critic would see him, and his dream career would be launched.

Uh-huh.  Because big time theater critics regularly scout obscure community theaters.  And he's looking for casting directors, not critics - but he didn't want to hear that either.  Dreamers don't like nasty facts getting in the way of a good fantasy.

The thing is, this guy isn't particularly unusual.  He hated his job, has a dream - and is doing absolutely nothing toward making that dream a reality.

I'm not going to lie to anyone - unless your dream career involves temping or retail, it's going to be difficult.  There will be real work involved.

That's the bit that seems to trip people up - acting, writing, photography - the creation is work, hard work, but it's really just the beginning.

What else is needed to get from point A to point B?  

The very first thing is a clearly defined goal.  'I wanna direct movies/be an actor/be a photographer/etc., is an ok start - but not clear enough to focus on.

'I wanna be a world famous x with the fancy cars, houses, etc.' - maybe clear, but not very realistic.  What we're shooting for here, is making enough money to live on, while doing something that makes us happy.

Personally, I want to be a number of things - and you get to watch me fumbling towards those goals, and hopefully learn from my mistakes.

My first goal-in-progress is writing fiction, and we'll talk about what I'm doing in the next post.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Day One - Introduction


For those of you who don't know me - there are a few reasons I'm creating this blog.

1. Like many other people, I've found myself in a creative/career rut.  I know what I want to do, more or less, but have absolutely no idea how to get there.  One of the ways people figure out what they want, and how to get there, is to write a mission statement and keep daily logs.

So why not just keep a diary?

Two reasons: one, it's easier to stay focused and follow through on goals when you believe someone is watching(hi, reader!).
Second, I've recently run into some of my friends who are going through the same process that I am - and trying to figure out how to get where they want from where they are.  It made me wonder how many other people are in the same place, and might
benifit from being able to find the same information (or not making the same dumbass mistakes that I'm about to).

2. I do a lot of research online; I'm good at it.  Some of the things I find are useful, some just funny, some probably valuable to someone else.  There should be a place for the best of these links.

3. I like to help people acheive their goals.  In fact, I wish I could physically be there to help more people than I'm able to.  With this blog, some of that information could reach people I've never even met!

In my next blog, I'm going to make a list of my goals for the next year, and try to figure out how to achieve them.