All In A Day’s Work My day as a working artist
I got another one of those infuriating, “I wish I had your life,” messages from a friend who works 8am–6pm in a downtown office building.
Artists, you know where I’m going, right? There’s this idea floating around that because art is your work, and you set your own hours, that means you sit around all day daydreaming. Sitting, yes; daydreaming, not so much.
Very little or even no part of my day is spent on creating art.
Most days are consumed with the administrative, organizational, managerial side of being an artist. Pissed, I sat down and wrote a list of everything I did the prior day—a holiday, no less—as I prepared a development tour of my play Killer Quack. Most of the stuff on the list is related to the tour. I should put “-ish” after every measurement of time, but otherwise I’m presenting it to you with a minimum of editorializing.
I’m hoping it will illustrate three important points:
- The work you do as an artist is real work. It’s important to remind yourself and others that it is as much work as prosecuting criminals or installing cable or working in a bank.
- Recordkeeping matters. It’s important to keep records of your work because certain organizations like the IRS will often require proof other than paychecks that what you do is a full-time job, not a hobby.
- Reviewing your lists will help your improve your productivity. I use Google Calendar and throughout the day I type in whatever I just did as a new event. It takes a second and it’s there forever. You can go back and add details later. If you can make this a habit then down the line you will reap many benefits.
This was my day as a working artist:
Created a To-Do list for my upcoming shows at the Seattle Solo Performance Festival at the end of February. Composed a pitch to several local journalists and bloggers for some pre-show press.
Pulled from the press release to create quippy, self-promoting tweets. Tweeted.
Filled out application for 2014 Minneapolis Fringe Festival.
Facebook conversation with friend in Minneapolis resulting in offer of place to stay in Minneapolis if I get picked in the Fringe lottery.
Emailed a musician I worked with at one of the live NPR shows about writing some original interstitial music for Killer Quack. Wrote out explanation of what I needed and when.
Read letter from the subject of my play. He’s serving a 20-year prison sentence at Attica Correctional. Internal debate on whether to respond now or later. Chose later.
Posted stuff about upcoming shows, blog links, video links to LinkedIn.
Read article about promising one-person show I’d like to see in DC. Investigated ways to either perform or teach a class while in DC, if I make the trip. Sent out email and FB feelers to DC contacts. Hit up friend in Dupont apartment with an inflatable mattress for place to stay.
Put out some feelers for a place to stay in Orlando during the 2014 Orlando Fringe Festival.
Exchanged emails with local comedy venue producer in Orlando about booking extra gigs during festival or even pre-festival as promotion. Got shot down. Despite having sold-out the Orlando Fringe five times to the same audiences that go to his club, as well as much bigger, better venues with actual paychecks included, I was told I wasn’t interesting enough for his club.
Contemplated the shoebox of receipts that need to be organized and filed, and the file-box I bought but have not opened.
Received email from a director I worked with on a workshop production of my play. Seems he feels I owe him more money. It takes a half-dozen emails back and forth to reach an amicable settlement for his services.
Composed a script for a fundraising video, then reduced it to bullet points.
Received small check for writing job, got deposit slip ready and put it where I will remember to take it to the bank.
Phone call with a fellow Groundlings alum. Discussed sharing a summer job teaching improv classes. Concluded that it’s not likely to work out due to tour schedule conflicts.
Staged a corner of the apartment to film part of the fundraising video.
Filmed myself explaining why people should give me their money.
Transferred photos to be included in the video into an iPhoto folder so that I can find them faster when I’m editing in iMovie.
Wrote to the videographer who filmed workshop production of Killer Quack to find out what happened to all that great stuff he shot of audience members saying how much they liked the show.
Researched best way/day/time to get to London, Ontario for 2014 London Fringe via Toronto, Detroit or flying directly, and whether there was a way to spend or earn reward points doing it.
Emailed contact in Toronto about extra gigs in Toronto during days off at London Fringe. Researched whether there was an Ikea within driving distance, in case I need cheap set pieces.
Accepted an invitation via email to perform at a benefit in Chicago and then received another email telling me that I needed to audition for it. Declined.
Wrote emails to several friends bitching about it.
Conversed via phone with a storytelling show producer here in NY. Followed up with an email including video, podcast, press. Rewrote it several times so as not to seem either too eager or blasé.
Opened responses to Craigslist ad I placed for a kinetic typographer to create content for fundraising video. Watched some of their reels, tried to get a sense of their personalities, and responded to several of them.
Sent email to the guy who was supposed to create a website for Killer Quack. He has disappeared twice in the past month. Do I need to find someone else or what?
Bought tickets online to a friend’s solo show.
Continued email conversation with my accountant about my needing to file a corporate tax return for the LLC I created for all of my art-related work.
At request of accountant, researched options for obtaining a credit card to be used only for arts-related business, their costs and rewards programs.
Created new Craigslist ad for a photographer in Seattle to come shoot production stills during the tech run-through.
Got an email back from NY producer offering me a spot in her show in March. Decided to end the day on a high note.
Was it a good day?
I don’t know, but I’d say it was a typical day. Nowhere in it was the time I needed to do things like exercise and go to the grocery store to buy food or focus on my husband.
Was it artistically fulfilling? No. It didn’t include any work on my script, or, heaven forbid, rehearsal. Nothing in it made me feel like I’m becoming a better artist.
Was it a legitimate workday? Yes, though it feels deflating to look at my slow accumulation of progress.
Probably the day’s biggest accomplishment is this record of how it was spent. It’s proves to me that I am moving toward the place I want to be. It’ll work for you, too. Just open that online calendar and start typing.
Photo by James Judd.
this is all so painfully familiar. Except I compare myself to you and think “Oh fuck, I never tweet and don’t research bloggers and goddamn it I should have applied to the Minneapolis fringe.”
Like the idea of the online calendar. Thanks for that tip! Looking forward to seeing your show!
Thank you, Eleanor! Remember, there’s always another Fringe somewhere. San Diego is accepting applications.
You make me feel like a total slacker. AND exhausted. But well done, and I will expand my use of Google calendar to record not just appointments but also accomplishments during the day. Perhaps not so detailed, however. Yikes!
That’s because I know you, David W Barton and you are a slacker – NOT! Now get back to that book writing.
Ah! This is exactly what I hate about being an independent artist! I so wish that we could all be magically able to sit around and daydream rather than be tied to the laptop. (And I don’t even do half of what you do. Granted, I do have dayjobby/sidejobby stuff filling up a fair bit of my time.) This is something I’m coming to terms with – I’ve resisted this stuff long enough, and now I’m realizing that I’ve just gotta deal. At the same time, I’ve have to put the time in as a musician to actually practice, so I totally dread days like the one you’ve described. They create anxiety and existential crises in my soul. Am I a musician? Am I a secretary?Then I realize-oh, yeah. Guess I’m both. Thanks for the post – and for the tip about Google calendar. How do you use it to plan future tasks?
You just throw in on future dates and on that day a reminder will pop up. But there are many other options beside Google Calendar and any one you choose will be useful. Hopefully, over time patterns will emerge and you’ll be able to find time to carve out rehearsal. You can do it!
Cool! Thanks so much for the tips, James! I’ve been loving your posts.
[…] post is inspired by James Judd, writer/comedian/NPR storyteller, who wrote an article for Pyragraph in early spring entitled “My Day as a Working Artist.” It’s a funny piece, but […]