A Freelance Writing Guide for the Coronavirus Shutdown

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Friends. I started this blog in 2010 when I was brand new to the city. Back then, I was mainly an actor, which meant I was actually paying my bills by temping, babysitting, and catering/working auctions at events. Any breakdown in social structure–such as our current state with the coronavirus–tossed my budget out the window in just days.

When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, my now-husband and I were both living freelance paycheck-to-paycheck, but our recent move to Jersey City meant that our income essentially halted. The Path trains to NYC shut down for a month, and though private busses started up eventually, you typically had to wait in line for hours to get a seat. Our income was non-existent for about two weeks, which was more than enough to make us scared about groceries and rent. After the whole debacle, we both took full-time jobs and focused away from theatre for nearly five years (and never truly turned back, honestly).

For everyone suddenly separated from their only source of income, I hear you. Times like these are not only scary for next month’s rent, but can scare you out of the field for good. If there’s one piece of advice I learned from our experience, it is to never make life-altering decisions or declare massive changes when you’re in a panic. However, the massive change after Sandy did eventually help me find my current full-time freelance career in marketing writing.

If you are interested in learning a new work-from-home strategy while we all have time, read on!

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My First Full Year of Freelancing

This is more of a practical post for a change. I’ve had a few people reach out to see how freelance writing was going, so I’ve written a a rundown of my experience in the first full year.

Also, if you’re one of the many people who found this blog over the holiday season by Googling “Barbie Dream House” because of my old post from 2017, welcome! I hope you found the gift you were looking for.

Whenever I head into the holiday party season, I try to think of a succinct way to sum up the past 12 months of my life. This way, I can quickly answer the “so, how you’ve been?” small-talk question that often makes me freeze up, forget my name, and make the other person wonder what they possibly said to deserve the look I’m giving them. I had a particularly hard time figuring out what to say this year. The past 12 months have been a strange blur. We moved apartments, we saved our sick cat, I broke my toe. I dealt with one of my longest and darkest dips of depression I’ve dealt with in a while–hence the lack of blog posts. Honestly, it was a really weird, hard year, and I’m incredibly relieved to head into a new calendar with new exciting projects ahead.

Despite all the garbage, one reason the year was such a hot mess is that I was finding my footing in a freelancing life. And you know? I think I may have temporarily found it. I’ve had a few people contact me about how to become a freelance writer, and up until now, I’ve really just wanted to yell, “RUN! DON’T DO IT! IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK!” But I can chat with a clear head now. So I’ve been meaning to put everything I’ve learned in a post, just in case it helps anyone move in the same direction.

Here are the common questions I get about being a freelance writer:

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Powerball Daydreaming: The Financial Litmus Test

Creative Commons by Andrew Pons

Creative Commons by Andrew Pons

Though the odds of winning are quite slim, I did have a good deal of fun during Powerball mania.  Coworkers stopped by my office to chat about their daydreams and stories bounced around about the wild ways people reacted when they mistakenly believed they won.  Groups have been formed, alliances made, contracts drawn up — all over the possibility of throwing your predicted life path out the window.

So even though we are all losers today, we can still take something away from the fun week in millionaire la-la land.  Besides, what have you got to lose to join in on the daydream?  $2? And throughout it all, I had a fun time analyzing the three stages of lottery mania and what each one says about your financial literacy and health, your relationship with your lifestyle, and your overall anxiety.  We may not be millionaires (and if you are, would like you to fund my writing/acting career?), but let’s at least try to learn a little something about ourselves.

Stage One: Bandwagon Justification Stage

I, like most people I know, only buy Powerball tickets when the jackpot reaches an absurd number like $90 million.  And yet, today, after three people won the prize, it has dropped to a still impressive $40 million.  No small peanuts.  And so sarcasm and judgement abound online today, pointing out that logical people would ideally play in every drawing, since even 1 million dollars would change your life. But at the end of the day, we have to ask: why we are actually buying them at all?  For me, jumping on the bandwagon means two things:

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The Financial Diet- Survival Job Publication

Hello all!  Though I took a mini blogging hiatus last week, I’m excited to announce that I had an original article published by The Financial Diet, a marvelous website that simplifies navigating a healthy financial lifestyle.  They also published my article several weeks ago, about backwards budgeting.

More posts are on the horizon this week.  Happy Monday everyone!

 

10 Things All Creatives Must Know About Having A “Survival” Job

financial diet

How I Turned My Mornings Around

mornings

Up until last December, my mornings were pretty predictable. My alarm went off 45 minutes before I left for work, I hit the snooze button twice, jolted awake, and then stared horrified at the clock before sprinting to the shower.  Next, I struggled for the remaining 15 minutes or so to find an outfit that wasn’t either in the laundry, wrinkled, or under a sleeping cat, and rushed out the door without breakfast.

Then last January, when my husband left for his bi-annual grad school retreat up in New Hampshire, I kept waking up early by accident.  It was a weird change for me, the house being so quiet.  So I woke in the still-dark morning (at this time during the polar vortex) feeling weird and scattered.  I’ve learned in the past that rituals and schedules help me escape any impending bad mood funks, so I did just that, thinking that it would only help me through the two weeks with him away.

My new morning

1. Wake up a half hour earlier

Since I couldn’t seem to sleep past 6am those mornings, I would find myself putzing around the house waiting for the sun to rise.  And though I would have originally thought the extra half hour of lost sleep would leave me sluggish all day, it really didn’t.  Without the worry of launching out of bed for the morning race, I allowed myself to slowly roll around and eventually get up on my own schedule. I also had time to eat breakfast and make coffee, something that seemed like a luxury in the past.

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The Financial Diet Publication

Publication saves the day!  Today started out with me throwing my tea mug across the room and ruining my work laptop.  So to say the least, finding out that The Financial Diet published my article about Backwards Budgeting significantly turned the day around.  I really enjoy these ladies, so I highly recommend wandering around their site!  Very honored to be included!

6 Rules For Being A Freelancer Who Isn’t Terrible With Money

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Celebrating Growth, Even When You’re Bad at Math

I’ve been thinking a lot about math lately.  I’m terrible at math, I always have been.  It was the only subject in school where I was happy if I even squeaked by.  But it took some growing up to understand that the concepts in math are much more relatable to life than I expected.

I’ve started to notice that each time I get into a rut about where I’m headed, it’s because I am looking at the “numbers” in my life instead of the rate of growth.  That’s a math thing, right?  Rate of Growth?  Growth Rate?  Charts?  Great, I took on another blog metaphor that I don’t understand, like that whole basil thing.  Well, here we go!

On those lousy mornings when I feel waves of despondency, it’s often because I am looking at the actual number in my bank account, or the number of shows I’ve done this year (or haven’t done), or the number of things I have fallen behind on.  I look to everyone else’s numbers and feel like a failure, or that I am starting to go in circles.  I think about when I first moved to NYC, confused and broke and start to think, “Aren’t I still confused and broke?”  And things get much worse when I suddenly think, “Will I always feel confused and broke?”

And then it hits me.  If I had the income I have now back in 2010, or wrote online as much as a I did, or had so many wonderful theatre people to collaborate with, I would have considered myself a success.  I would have felt like I suddenly hit the jackpot.  And yet in these low moments, I feel like I haven’t made progress at all.  So the bad self-talk takes over, which spirals me into a state that actually temporarily stops the amazing progress I was too blind to see I was making.

Sometimes it takes all getting in the same place to realize how far we've come. Go team go!

Sometimes it takes all getting in the same place to realize how far we’ve come. Go team go! Photo Credit: John Reardon

Recently I’ve been trying to measure growth over numbers, and here are some helpful things I came up with:

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Backwards Budgeting: For National Blog Posting Month!

In honor of NaBloPoMo (or National Blog Post Post Month) I took on Blogher’s challenge to write about something I feel I am an “expert” in.  To say I am an expert at budgeting is VERY far from the truth, but when it comes to somehow keeping our heads above water while freelancing, I have some experience.  So below I have included our tactics for “backwards budgeting!”  Woohoo!

Unless your a freelance psychic, this is for you

In a perfect world, freelancers would have consistent income like the full-timers out there.  For the majority of my time freelancing, I worked more hours than when I have a 9-5.  The hours in between actually creating my art are spent chasing after the next gig or organizing my finances so I can continue to maintain my career. Up until last Spring, my husband and I freelanced at the same time, making our hair stand on end every 1st of the month, because things never seemed to line up.  I recently took a full-time job outside my career to catch up for a bit, and it’s given me some insight into why so many non-freelancing friends of mine are able to do things like chip away at their debt- they have a predictable budget.

learnvest

After discovering the website Learnvest, an incredibly relatable financial site written for women, I started to grab hold of our finances and felt much less alone in our situation.  Apparently I am not the only one frustrated that most budgeting instructions begin with “Enter your income.”  But here’s the kicker – since freelance jobs often come in last minute, and the timing of paychecks vary from job to job, you often do not know your income on the 1st.  (This was one of the hardest things about figuring out the Affordable Care Act forms). But alas, this is a sacrifice that you happily make to do something you truly care about. Still, there had to be a way to catch up.  The constant wave between feast and famine was leaving us in a purgatory of credit card debt that slid up and down depending on the week.  After many failed months of trial and error, this is what we came up with:

1. What do you need vs. what do you have

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The first thing we did when we built our spreadsheet was create a section just for “Essentials.”  These were the “if we ignore these, someone will come knocking on our door” payments.  Rent, credit card minimums (not ideal, but again, bare minimums), and student loans.  I also added groceries to this list, but this was more a psychological trick for me, to remind myself that if all else fails, we will still eat.  I have managed, in a very tight month, to get our grocery bill down to $200 a month for the two of us.  This is thanks to Trader Joe’s and a lot of pasta nights.  The other items on this list are train tickets, gas money, electricity, and internet.  If you cannot do your work without them, you should pay for it.

2. Special Essentials: Or what to do when you drive a U-Haul into your neighbor’s gutter The next section is Special Essentials.  These are all the oh-so-special bills for that month in particular.  Things like union dues, medical payments, and random things like parking tickets or a bill from your neighbor for breaking his gutter.  The only reason they are not in the top category is that they can wait if absolutely necessary.  The world will not stop spinning if a bill has to be a little late.  But it isn’t ideal, and no, it doesn’t feel great.  But it is what it is.  I also try to put savings into this category when we can.  Paying yourself first, especially for an emergency fund is always a priority.

amelia

3. Lifestyle
And this is where all the “living your life” stuff comes into play.  These are the items people often bring up when they say, “Maybe you can just cut back a bit.”  I assure you, freelances are most likely not splurging the way you think they are.  For me, this category is often Restaurants/Bars, Coffee, Gifts, Shopping, Education/Gym, Misc., and any special events that month like a wedding.  Determining your priorities is very helpful here.

4. Making the numbers add up (to something over $0) And this is where the backwards part comes up.  Back at the top of the spreadsheet, have a place for your income.  You can break it down by source if that helps, or by person if you combine finances with someone else.  I like to use a line for expected income and actual income, so that when money is deposited, I enter the actual one and the formula changes the amount that is still expected that month.  Creating a center box for all this is really helpful.  If you are interested in seeing how we set up our sheet itself, I would be happy to write a follow up post:)

As your gigs line up for that month (and you know the check will arrive before the 31st) add this to your income.  This way you can see how far away you are from breaking even.  If at the start of the month, you are not breaking even from what you know, adjust all the lifestyle categories.  If that doesn’t fix it, take off the Special Essentials.  Most importantly though, add the amount you are putting off to next month so that it is not simply brushed aside.  This way, you have a timeline for paying it off.  Having a timeline and a plan is better than putting it in a sad growing pile of bills with the post-it “someday” on top. If your expected income suddenly spikes (hooray!) we try to add a small portion to section of lifestyle, a small section to our savings, and the remainder to our credit card and loan payments.  This way, the extra is going to getting rid of debt, paying into your future and emergency fund, and also giving you some physiological wiggle room to go out to lunch occasionally.  Without this wiggle room, I have found that I begin to resent my art form.  No we are not going out for a night of snazzy cocktails when this happens, but we may have a beer and wings night without worry.

Treat yo' self.

Treat yo’ self.

5. Diagnosing the sneaky problems The first few months for us were very eye-opening.  Every several days, I check in on our account and add the purchases to the appropriate category.  At first I realized that we were spending a comical amount on coffee.  We used to have a Dunkin Donuts next to our train station and so we stopped almost every time.  I think at one point we spent $200 on breakfast sandwiches.  So yeah, that stopped.  But we didn’t even realize it until it was adding up in front of us.  So now instead of wondering where all the money is going, we can see the reality of $3 sandwiches adding up over time.

6. More income over less spending Sometimes there is only so much you can cut.  When you have to pay a bill, you have to pay a bill.  You need to eat and live somewhere, and getting to work is not always cheap.  So this year, I also stopped beating myself up for spending  money on essentials and remembered that increasing income is often way more effective.  Unfortunately, it’s much more out of your control.  I’ve come across similar posts where comments go off track and accuse the writer of “not getting a real job.”  If you are confused by artists and why they break away from the typical structure of 9-5s that aren’t related to your interests, message me, I’m happy to chat. But nonetheless, sometimes your budget can alert you that it is time for a change.  An extra gig, an attack of a particular credit card to cut down your monthly payments, or perhaps an overhaul of how your approach your career in the long-term.  All of this is very helpful to consider.  It’s also important to remember that these things take time.

6. Taking a deep breath Though obviously budgeting will not literally create money, I felt a huge weight life off my chest after we set this up. Learnvest also has a fantastic budgeting program that goes into way more detail, but having an excel spreadsheet worked better for us as far as sharing.  Seeing your end of the month total pop above $0 always feels like an accomplishment, even if in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to think about this.  But at least this gives you a game plan instead of holding your breath the last week of the month, hoping that it all adds up.

Three cheers for budgeting!

Three cheers for budgeting!

As stressful as it can be, I don’t think we will ever give up the freedom of pursuing our art.  And though we may bring in less money than many, I believe we as artists need to be more diligent and organized because of our income’s inconsistencies.  The best thing I always remind myself is that we are still plugging away, doing the thing that we love and somehow squeaking by.  Perhaps in a few years the phrase “squeaking by” will be a thing of the past, but at least for now we can sleep more soundly because of a meticulous excel spreadsheet.

Adorable Little Lions

First of all: I’m excited to say I finally have another blog post in the works.  Often when I get an idea like this, it’s important to let it brew for a while.  But I want to wait until it develops into a post that I myself would want to read, otherwise, why ask you to read it??  So please stay tuned!  Another post is in the works!

New blog post soon?!  Hooray!

New blog post soon?! Hooray!

In the meantime…

I was inspired by an incredible Humans of New York post this week that raised, or as I’m writing this HAS raised over $530k for a struggling school in Brownsville, New York.  If you don’t know about Humans of New York or this incredible fundraiser, check it out, and feel all the wonderful feelings about society: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/let-s-send-kids-to-harvard.

Little Lions Need Our Love!

Over the past several years, I have had the joy of working in fundraising, and I am always reminded of the power of a community to support one another: with their time, their money, their enthusiasm.  This HONY post was a reminder that a community of “strangers” is just as powerful.  As cheesy as it sounds, we crazy group of internet strangers ARE one another’s community.  We read each other’s posts, like each other’s cat pictures, and sometimes, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars so kids can have a summer program and a trip to Harvard.  Go us!!

In the spirit of this belief in our incredible internet world, I am sharing the story of a group of Boston Public Middle Schoolers who are currently rehearsing, and completely self-funding, a production of The Lion King.  A dear friend of mind is their teacher.  She was once my director as well, and I know she’s something special to these children.  They have held community fundraisers as well, but as all of you theatre people out there know, theatre is EXPENSIVE and they are doing all they can on a dime.  I would love to tell them that we are their community too!

lion king

Let’s Support The Lion King!

http://www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/the-lion-king-and-beyond-/286629#.VKoZMpA8QNs.facebook

And what does that really do?  It sends the message to students (or whoever the fundraiser is for) that human beings are out there are thinking of you.   It is a reminder that we notice what you are doing, and you matter.  Donating or sharing a link may not seem like anything against the world’s many problems.  But a teacher can go back to group of adorable children learning “The Circle of Life” in a Boston Public School and announce that the world sees what they are working towards and they applaud you.

So if donating money isn’t an option (I get it, I am very often counting my pennies), and sharing the link is also not really your jam, please send them good thoughts and happy warm-fuzzy wishes for a good show.

Thank you for reading, and happy Saturday!

Now let’s feel super happy about our morning by watching a bunch of Australian actors sing The Lion King on an airplane because it is FABULOUS.

 

Survival Job Sanity: A Call for Advice

In October, I will turn 28, thus marking my 20th year in theatre.  Other than sending me into a bit of a crisis about how I thought I’d be a Rockette by now, I feel it will also give me the right to have loud, dramatic diva tantrums involving long scarves and phrases like, “I’ve been in this business for TWENTY YEEEAARS.”

Tiny me in Barn Theatre’s production of Kindertransport way back when.

What I found interesting about this realization is that I do not have a feeling of, “Where did the time go?”  I know where it went.  A lot of shit has gone down since I was eight.  Good and bad.

And I believe that theatre had a lot to do with me not feeling that life has just skipped on by.  Theatre fills your life with unique experiences and challenges you to be constantly looking at who you are and where you’re going.  Go theatre.  Ten points.

My issue?  I’m scared I’m losing that feeling.  Acting has been more of a struggle for me in the past four years that it ever was as a kid or even in college.  Part of that is a lack of consistent practice, part is keeping up with the bills and adult life, and a big part is good ol’ fashioned laziness.  Of course, another large part is that I’m not one of 10 young girls in Central Jersey pursuing acting anymore.  The odds have tipped a bit.

But things do need to change.  And recently, I have been making a great attempt to figure out where to start.

So I am raging against this loss of artistic presence by doing what I love most: over-analyzing my situation from a sociological standpoint and writing a blog post about it.  Hooray!!!

My Two Lives

Way back in high school, I had my first food service job.  I quickly realized I was the worst waitress on the face of the earth, so needed to find another game plan for my impending impoverished life as an actor.  Someone suggested secretarial work, and that was that.

For four years in the city, I have befriended several temp agencies, two of which have been very encouraging about my theatrical endeavors.  They know I am looking to bounce around between projects, that I am not looking for advancement in a company, and I am willing to do horribly mundane projects if they let me leave for auditions.  For all this, I am very grateful, and everyone wins.

Yet the culture of most corporate offices, and the culture of let’s say, the Equity waiting room, might as well be on different planets.  And most mornings, I bounce between the two. This is starting to mess with me.

Scenario A: Moseying into the office: non-audition days.

(Not a particular example from one company, just a mish-mash of experiences from where in I’ve temped.)

I come in at 8:45 and usually my office is still empty.  I’m a morning person and since theatre has taught me that being late is a mortal sin, here I am (My mom once told me that unless I was on my death-bed, I get to rehearsal on time.  Childhood!).

I go to the cafeteria and chat with the staff up there, who will be more chatty and friendly with me than pretty much anyone I interact with all day.  Except for the mail room guys.  For whatever reason, the mail room is always where the party is going on.  And for the most part, my immediate supervisor is also always a doll since they are also the go-to administrator.

I settle down with my breakfast at my desk and check my work email.  I don’t have any mail, because essentially, no one is really sure about what I do.

I start my ongoing data entry or filing project, feeling a bit like Sisyphus pushing a pile of file folders up a hill, but still being very grateful that I don’t have to wait tables and drop plates all day.  I drop things a lot, it would be a disaster.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

Around 10:30, someone notices I’m there, very nicely thanks me for doing something boring and then I spend the day either talking to no one or chatting with the janitor, who often also has a real personality.

I leave at 5, and without a doubt, someone will make a comment about how it’s almost Friday, or how they wish it wasn’t only Tuesday, etc.

Repeat.

After about four months, I have a life crisis, take my favorite pen, and switch to a new office.

The qualities that I adore in theatre people (friendliness, near-obsessive passion for their work, motivation, discipline, and enthusiasm for Mondays) are rarely present in the officers where I spend 75% of my waking day.

What do I learn?  You can get by in this type of office by giving about 50% and you’re still patted on the back.  Complaining about being at work helps you fit in with the culture. Would this attitude fly in theatre?  Nope.

Scenario B:Audition Days

I wake up early and spend my shower and prep time warming up my voice and stretching.  I usually sprint around looking for the stapler to put my headshot and resume together and make it out the door by 7.  If I make it to the Equity building by 8, I usually get an appointment early enough that it doesn’t interfere with “office land” at all.

The waiting room is full of focused, energized, and anxious people.  Nothing like a healthy dose of fear to make you feel present and awake.  Yes there are always a few chatters who love to talk about the twelve productions of Midsummer they’re currently starring in, but I’m working on zoning them out.

There is a delightfully strict decorum, which as a former ballet dancer, I think is just dandy.  You have all your shit in order and if you don’t, you don’t audition.  You stay close by and respect each others space while sending out happy energy to those around you who know are in the same bizarre boat you are.  This is as close as I can get to making audition waiting rooms sound magical.

Overall, as stressful as auditioning is, you are awake, excited, and surrounded by grateful interesting people.

Where things get wacky

Here’s where everything goes a bit awry.  I get into the audition room and feel like a million bucks when I introduce myself.  Here I am!  Ready show you my one-woman one-minute play!

And then I open my mouth.  Apparently there is a room in my brain that holds my monologues, songs, and acting skills.  Also in this room lives every anxiety about theatre, my career path, my hatred of data entry, my self-consciousness about that spot on my dress, the idea that I gained weight after the wedding, and this Spiderman-like sense of every noise, smell, image in the room. It’s just a delight.  I then become the psychic of the year and believe I can read into every note taken by the audition panel, every body shift in their chair, every clearing of the throat.

From a Buddhist perspective, this is fricken awesome to analyze.  There are tons of things to learn from what your mind does when you are this present.  And though I know I can learn from it, it’s not super helpful for getting cast.

Suddenly, my monologue is over, and I leave confused, frustrated, and unable to remember how to do basic things like use the elevator.  Right, buttons.  We press those.  I return to office-land, where no one seems to really give a hoot about if I was ever gone, and I fall deeper into this frustration.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let's take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let’s take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

My call for advice…

I wrote a similar post several years ago, and have made great strides as far as my discipline in my training.  Great, so I’m no longer feeling uncomfortable getting in the audition door.  I am now Equity, and am super grateful that I can audition for so much more.  And yet, my phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook.

If I do not maintain a healthy and happy life outside of the audition room,  it clearly shows in my acting.  I am not fully present on stage, and therefore, no one is going to give a crap about the story I’m telling.

So where is the balance?  Bills are important, and a life in theatre is hella expensive.

Here is my question for you actors and artists out there (or anyone else who can relate, I’m sure it doesn’t only happen in theatre):  how do you “leave everything at the door”?  When did you reach the point where your frustrations with the business and the life you build around maintaining the business stopped interfering with the art itself?

I am not totally without ideas.  I recently took an incredible workshop with Blanka Zizka down at the Wilma which focused on a new form of actor training.  It was all about the your physical capability as an actor to be in the moment at all times on stage.  Her magical word that stuck with me was “Insist.”  Insist on your breath, insist on being seen, and insist on telling your story.  What a wonderful lady and teacher.

So this is part of my insistence to not let this complacent office culture, a part of my life necessary to supporting my art, take away from the art itself.

All comments and advice welcome!  Thank you ahead of time for your love and happy auditioning/rehearsing/data entering this week.

 

In case you missed my recent crazy life updates, my name is now Ginny Bartolone and I have a new acting website in the works at GinnyBartolone.com 🙂  Yahoo!

I will close this with me making a ridiculous face while trying to cut our wedding cake. Wedding posts soon to come.