So here’s how it breaks down: I have this blog you’re reading right now, and another one on WordPress, and an all-but dormant LiveJournal that I won’t link you to. I also have a folio website for my freelancing work, which is basically also a blog where the posts are my articles, and a Twitter feed. In the non-virtual world, I have a hardcover notebook for my innermost thoughts (read: whining), another one for ideas and drafts of ‘real writing’ (whatever the hell that means), the notebook I carry in my handbag, and if I dug around I could probably find the Hipster PDA I made at the start of the year when I was quite sure I did not want to carry a notebook around in my handbag anymore.

I have numerous sketch books in sizes ranging from A3 to A6 for those rare times when I feel the urge to make art and then actually follow through. Recently I bought another one to use a visual source book so that I can collage all the pretty pictures I collect from magazines, and I have notions of buying yet another to turn into a kind of multi-page vision board.

And that’s not even all of my notebooks. There are more. Many more. Needless to say, with so many options and so little time to actually fill any of them, none of these gets much of a workout. So it’s time for some consolidation.

For a long time now I’ve been making plans to move The Art of Work to its own domain, change the name to something more easily Googled, monetise the pants of it and then spend my days blogging and rolling around in all the (American!) dollars I would obviously make from AdSense and affiliate programs. I might still do that one day, but in the meantime I think it would be best to bring my personal and professional musings together in the one place. My favourite blogger thinks you should only have one blog, and I intend to take her advice. (Ironically, she made that statement on her ‘other’ blog – her main blog is here, in case you’re wondering why my favourite blogger ever only has two posts.)

So changes a afoot, and as a result The Art of Work will probably disappear into obscurity. For posterity I will probably move the old posts over to their new home, wherever that may be, and I will still mainly be talking about creativity and having a crack at a fulfilling career in this big, mean world. But I might also occasionally want to talk about wine, or cats, or weird things I’ve seen in the street. And gentle reader, you can only benefit – where else are you going to hear about dogs that pee upside down?

The moral of the story: stop obsessing over your tools and materials. Simplify and get on with the real work of producing things the world has never seen. Now, go get rid of some notebooks.


Just a public service announcement: someone has registered the WordPress blog, They appear to be Norwegian (I think) so I’m afraid I can’t tell you what it’s about. Anyway, if you’re typing this URL into your browser’s address bar just remember it’s theartofwork. Alrighty?

When you give up one thing, for example a day of paid work or bothering to keep your house clean, in favour of spending more time and energy on your creative work, apart from the logistical issues involved it’s quite common to find you have another problem to solve – guilt.

Some of it comes from within – feeling guilty about letting the dishes pile up, or because you’ve been painting watercolours instead of doing something that will top up your retirement fund, or more insidious, guilt that you get to do more of what you love than those around you who are still slaving away doing things they hate. Sometimes, though, it gets laid on by other people, and laid on thick – like when they ask when you’re going to get stop messing around and get a real job.

Aussie wordsmith Kate Holden talked about the former, in a tongue in cheek sort of way, in this article for The Age a while back.

The Germans, bless them, have a word for it. Kunstlerschuld means “artist’s guilt”; that is, the gritty niggling of remorse for getting to have fun whacking paint and words around when honest citizens are banging away at retail counters, sticking their arms down toilets and putting up with boring Nathan in accounts. It is a perfectly reasonable feeling. After all, getting to do what you like is a privilege in this world and the chap out there who heroically devotes his time to designing a product to gently heat Baby Wipes to perfect bum temperature is no doubt doing a fantastically useful duty, whereas some plonker like me, sitting pretty pondering adjectives while sipping a caffe latte, is the very picture of degeneracy.

Philip Larkin talks about the latter, the guilt-trips you get from others, in his poem ‘A Life With a Hole In It’. (If you click on that link, you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to the full text of the poem.) It seems the women in Larkin’s life were a bunch of banshees:

When I throw back my head and howl
People (women mostly) say
But you’ve always done what you want,
You always get your own way
— A perfectly vile and foul
Inversion of all that’s been.
What the old ratbags mean
Is I’ve never done what I don’t.

Those bitches! Granted, he may well be talking about women who worked their arses off to get his dinner on the table and his socks darned, so it’s possible that their complaints were legitimate to a degree.

Then we have the famous lines in the second stanza, where he talks about

…the shit in the shuttered chateau
Who does his five hundred words
Then parts out the rest of the day
Between bathing and booze and birds

I’m undecided on what’s happening here. On the one hand, this could be more on the way others perceive his life and his choices. If that’s the case, though, it’s not really fair. Larkin worked as a university librarian his whole life; he was an artist with a day job. He was also a prolific writer. What I reckon might be going on is that Larkin is dishing out a bit of the guilt-trip to someone else, maybe even someone in particular – a dilettante living off a nice little stipend and not doing much work is what I picture in my mind.

If you choose a creative career there will be many people who will ask you to justify it, politely or not. So why should you paint watercolours instead of work the extra day at your ‘normal’ job? Go and read Larkin’s third and final stanza for the answer. I tell you what, I fear the ‘havings-to’ and ‘the unbeatable slow machine/That brings what you’ll get’.

I don’t know enough about Larkin to know if my interpretations are correct, but I’ve become obsessed with this poem.

Suzanne Vega has an article in the New York Times about her life as a musician. She was recently included in an article called ‘Two-hit wonders’ and this is her response. There’s a lot of great stuff in the article about the creative process and how music is made both artistically and commercially, but I also really like this description of her career:

“[Two-hit wonders is] a list I have shown up on fairly often recently, so I had almost gotten used to it. Of course, [my husband’s] right, and it’s demeaning — it makes me look as though somehow I managed to squeak out those two songs and then shuffle back to being a receptionist, which isn’t true.

The way I prefer to see it is that I have had a 20-plus-year career, with a big back catalog of songs that a lot of people know, and want to hear, and yes, two of those songs were big Top 40 hits. What’s to complain about? They are like the cherries on top of the sundae. Why would I not want that? They have been my passport out of a life in an office, to a life on the road where I can go to Korea and the guy who stamps the passport says, “Are you Vega, Suzanne? Everybody knows you here.” And his eyes change with emotion when he reads my name.

I bet when she was still working as a receptionist, she had no idea she would be so successful. So whatever level of ‘success’ you might have had so far in your work, keep doing what you’re doing.

This week Marci Alboher (One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success) published an interesting article in the New York Times called ‘Why leisure matters in a busy world’. In the article Alboher interviews Alison Link, an expert on leisure patterns whose academic work focuses on the ways in which leisure decisions can impact on incarcerated and at-risk people. It’s interesting reading, and it made me think about the place of leisure in the lives of artists and creative entrepreneurs.

I’ve already talked a bit about work/work balance as a model for managing a creative career, and how it can get in the way of work/life balance. The work/work balance is usually pretty easy to define – maybe you wait tables a few days a week and while you develop your acting career, or work in publishing full-time while you write your novel, or teach throughout the year and spend school holidays building your painting folio for exhibition. Or maybe work/work balance isn’t an issue for you because you already do what you love full-time. That’s where it gets complicated – if you’re doing what you love, is it work or leisure? And how do you know when to switch on or off?

Wherever you are in your career, chances are that whatever creative endeavour you now define as your ‘work’ made its debut in your life as a hobby. Chances are also pretty good that you love what you do so much, you would do it for free. In fact, no matter how much you earn from your creativity, you probably already do it for free to some extent, whether it’s working on your own projects, working for friends or donating your skills to organisations. If there was no money in what you do, you would probably do it anyway.

At the same time, transitioning from a hobby to a career attaches many new stresses to what was once an enjoyable activity. Where once you could do what you liked and in your own time, now you must meet deadlines and the expectations of others. Before you could while away the hours following tangents and playing; now you need to keep one eye on the clock to ensure that the pay you receive reflects the time you have spent.

Meanwhile, I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been struggling to enjoy leisure activities I once loved. Books, movies, television are all narratives that bring me back to thinking about my own skills as a writer. And any other activity I do or experience I have is something I could potentially write about. Does anyone else have this problem?

Creative work exists on a sliding scale of work and leisure. Where each activity you pursue fits on the scale depends on your own definitions and goals. I know many creative workers who fill their leisure time with more work-related activities. Sometimes it’s because it’s the only time they have to complete the work, and sometimes it’s because they are genuinely wrapped up in the task and there’s nothing else they’d rather do with their time. The creative community considers this type of behaviour normal. It’s ‘passion’. It’s also a sign of workaholism. Check out this quiz from the American Workaholics Anonymous website. The twenty questions listed – Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures? Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing? – are designed to give you an indication of whether you might be addicted to work. If you answer ‘yes’ to three or more questions you might have a problem. I answered ‘yes’ to fifteen of the questions. Uh oh. But I reckon most creative workers out there would have a similar result.

Is it okay to be a workaholic? In this field it seems like it’s almost compulsory.

The media is rife with success stories, but I find it much more interesting when the media is bold enough to reveal exactly what that success costs. The Age newspaper’s Sunday Life magazine recently ran a story called ‘Work addicts’ about self-described workaholics from the media, law, hospitality, graphic design and building industries.

First cab off the rank was Kyle Sandilands, breakfast radio DJ for Austereo, Australian Idol judge and co-host for the upcoming 2008 series of Big Brother. Love him or hate him, he’s currently enjoying a highly successful career in two areas of the media that are typically very hard to break into. He also manages his fiancee’s singing career and has written and co-produced a movie. So how does he make it through the day with so much on his plate?

Here’s the damage according to reporter Alex May: Sandilands sleeps four hours a night and consumes ‘up to 30 lattes a day’ along with lots of Coca Cola and chocolate. That sounds terrifyingly unhealthy already, but get this: he also ‘suffers crippling migraines’ (I wonder why!) and has a doctor on call ‘to give him anti-nausea injections and painkillers the moment a migraine strikes’. Except in the US, that is, where one doctor refused to enable his work addiction and offered a suppository the size of a house in lieu of the injection. (Sandilands declined.)

I know highly successful people often have some pretty bizarre tactics for staying at the top of their game, but Sandilands’ story is a revelation to me because – well, I didn’t really think he was that big a deal. What kind of person gets regular migraines and takes an injection every time rather than, say, cutting back from 30 coffees a day to a still completely insane 10 or 15? Or considers reassessing their commitments? And what kind of doctor goes along with it all and enables that lifestyle?

So to all the aspiring TV and radio personalities out there – stock up on caffeine and get a private doctor. With Sandilands’ heart ready to explode there might be some interesting prospects on the horizon.  Or maybe you should consider how much of your lifespan you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of your career.

Welcome to The Art of Work. This post marks the official launch of the blog. And I am not ready.

My plan was to have ten really great posts up before I started showing it to people. To have a more focused ‘About’ page. To have started a comprehensive list of resources for creative workers of all kinds. To have a more appropriate picture at the top of the site. The list goes on, and would probably have gone on forever, with ‘ready’ seemingly just around the corner but never quite arriving.

But then something came up – I was invited to chair a panel in the Vibewire e-Festival of Ideas. In fact, I was invited partially on the back of this blog. The panel is all about managing creative careers, so in my emails with the festival coordinator I told her about The Art of Work. So since I was using it as my platform for the panel chairing position, it just didn’t make sense to leave the blog unlaunched.

Life does that does that sometimes. You get on what you know to be the right track, you have a nice, sensible plan set up and then suddenly something comes up that is too good to refuse but that requires you to push yourself harder and put yourself out there and you get scarily close to having what you want much sooner that you thought.

Launching the blog in tandem with the e-Festival was a better opportunity than launching the blog when I was ‘ready’. So I got over myself, wrote a few more bits and pieces, and now here I am. This is it. This is the blog. It’s not exactly what I wanted to give you at this point, but it will do and it will grow.

So even though I’m not ready – not ready to post regularly, not ready to handle comments, not ready to deal with all the little details that go into making a successful blog – I’m going to jump in and do it anyway. And so can you. Whatever your own creative project is, the one you’re working on in secret, the one you’re not making public until it’s yea big or (x)% completed or (y) time of year – you may be readier than you think. Or you might need to pretend that you’re ready if an irresistible opportunity comes up. So be prepared.

This post is dedicated to my test-readers, AK and KB, you sweet things.

This week is going to be really exciting because I am chairing a panel as part of Vibewire’s e-Festival of Ideas. For those of you not familiar with Vibewire, it’s an Australian youth media and arts organisation. Its flagship project is, an online media portal for people under 30 featuring articles, blogs and forums. Other projects have included ElectionTracker, which sent young journalists around Australia on the campaign buses during the 2004 Federal Election; Interface, an anthology of critical thinking and ideas; sQuareOne, a Sydney community project incubator; and the Reelife Short Film Festival.

This week, though, it’s all about the e-Festival. The panel I’m chairing is called ‘The Creative Entrepreneur’s Toolkit: A How-To Guide for Young Artists’. Here’s the blurb:

Picasso once said “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” For many young artists the problem is not simply how to nurture one’s talent or to find inspiration, but also how to fund the process. Vibewire is collaborating with talented people in the know to bring you The Creative Entrepreneur’s Toolkit, providing advice for young creatives on how to support one’s self in their industry of choice without burning out creatively or going bust financially. We’ll be looking at how to secure grants, how to reconcile your creative vision with a commercial reality, and what to do in those tough moments where inspiration is lacking and the bills are piling up. It will be an opportunity for you to learn from the mistakes and successes of people who have been there and done that.

Guests include musicians Laura Imbruglia and Gotye; Sonja Basic, General Manager of Propelarts, Western Australia’s peak body for youth arts; Leigh Mangin, manager of Carclew Youth Arts Centre‘s Arts and Education Program; fashion designer Natalie Wood; video installation artist Sam Smith; Alice Angus, artist and Co-Director of UK artist studio Proboscis; Alvin Tan, Artistic Director of Singaporean theatre company, The Necessary Stage; Melinda Bufton, careers consultant specialising in creative conundrums; and fashion blogger Gala Darling.

I will be talking to the panellists about how they stay motivated and avoid burnout, how they manage the business side of their work, sources of funding for artists and other Art of Work-type topics.

There will also be five other panels:

  • e-Participation: Fad or future?
  • 2018: New frontiers in digital arts
  • Reworking Feminism: What does gender equality mean in the 21st century?
  • Reaching Off the Screen: Film, audiences and social change
  • Are You Being Heard? Youth voices in local government

If you’ve got a burning question for one of the panellists, all you have to do to join the conversation is sign up for membership here and hit the forums. Because it’s an online festival you can participate wherever you are in the world. I’d love to hear what you have to say, so sign up now!

The Vibewire e-Festival of Ideas will run from Tuesday 8 April to Saturday 12 April, Eastern Australian time.

Prospect360, the brainchild of Melbourne public relations consultant Greta Donaldson, is running a series of four seminars for people who want to break into the media industry. They’ve just wrapped up seminars on sports journalism and news media, but if you’re quick you can still get tickets to their upcoming sessions on fashion journalism (April 13) and production (April 27).

I went to Prospect360’s debut event, the Prospect360 Coffee Catch-Up: Mixing it with the Big Wigs, in November last year. I’m a sucker for a panel discussion, and this one had a great line-up with people from public relations, radio, television, magazines, communications and event management there to talk about their own careers and what goes on in the hiring process in their industries. The audience was made up largely of students looking for work experience opportunities, though, and I found much of the advice was pitched very much at a beginner’s level. (Which is ideal if that’s where you’re at in your career, but I was looking for some more specific advice.)

It looks like they might have ramped up proceedings in this new batch of events (along with ramping up the price). The fashion seminar, for example, goes for three hours and includes a tour of a photography studio, a panel discussion with four prominent fashion journalists and editors, Q&A session, a separate session about job application tips, and an insider’s view of a fashion shoot. At $99 a pop that’s a pretty good deal if your passion is fashion and you want a leg-up in the industry.

For more information visit the Prospect360 website.

Read any career resource and there’s bound to be something in there about work/life balance, reminding us that no matter how busy and important we become in our jobs, we still need to make time for ourselves, our families, our health, relaxation, exercise, hobbies, holidays, etc.

Ambitious people sometimes need to be reminded that these things are important. As I said in my last post, it’s easy to forget to have downtime when you’ve got goals to reach and dreams to make real. But for many people trying to form careers in the creative sector, the ideal of work/life balance is overshadowed by a bigger hurdle – finding some work/work balance.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. Until recently I was working in your typical, full-time, 9-5 job at the boring end of a creative industry (publishing). At the end of each day I would come home and switch on my laptop, aiming to produce some writing but ultimately playing games because I was too tired to think. The weekends would fill up with life stuff – shopping, laundry, family, friends – and come Monday it would be back to the grind, no close to ‘being a writer’ and disheartened by how little I had achieved outside of work over the past week.

Work/work balance is about one thing – finding a balance between earning a living and having time and energy for your ‘real’ work. Personally, I find full-time work too draining to allow me to make any serious progress on my writing. So, a couple of months ago I approached my boss about changing the terms of my employment to a four days a week instead of five. Naturally this came with a pay cut, but I now have a full day each week to devote to my writing goals – and I no longer have any excuses.

In that example, I had to trade in some money in order to gain time to work on my own projects. But I’ve also experienced the opposite problem – too much time and not enough money. For a few months in 2006 I was unemployed with no savings, trying desperately to stay afloat with temping jobs. But at least I had time to write – right? Wrong. Without a stable income I found I was too stressed to create anything. I needed a job in order to achieve that balance.

Maybe you are lucky enough to earn a living doing exactly what you want to do, but for most of us our creative careers are a process of juggling paying and non-paying roles. Stay tuned for more discussion of work/work balance and different approaches to the traditional ‘day job’.