On the road againAs I write this, I pause to quickly grab a pencil and jot down one more thing on my “Bring” list, so I don’t forget when I leave for a foreign country at 8am tomorrow morning. I have more anxiety than I typically do—normally I am happiest and most content moving through space (or preparing to), and love my collaborative-creative projects best of all.

So what, I asked myself, was I worried about this time? I had done quite a bit of social, cultural, and language preparation, spent time with friends and colleagues from this country to help prevent myself from various pitfalls, and although I knew I would have to be on my toes, I also knew I had done what I could, and that lots of listening, grace, good humor and respect, we would muddle through.

Yeeeaaahhh, still worried.

Why? Turns out I am worried about the collaboration process itself. I have met none of the other people (okay, I met my point person’s husband in 2000, but hadn’t seen/worked with him in maybe 8 years) and I really have no idea what the various stakeholders expectations are, nor how anyone else involved—especially those folks in the hosting nation—perceive collaborative work and relationships.

To quote “Collaboration, from the Wright Brothers to Robots” by Michael Schrage in the March 23 Harvard Business Review, Thinking it through

Successful collaborators don’t just work with each other; they work together through a shared space. Shared space — whether physical, virtual or digital — is where collaborators agree to jointly create, manipulate, iterate, capture and critique the representations of the reality they seek to discover or design. This holds true for collaboration around products, processes, services, songs, or the exploration of scientific principles. Shared space is the essential means, medium, and mechanism that makes collaboration possible. No shared space? No real collaboration. ….. What makes a scientific discipline or artistic community or academic institution or R&D group energized and excited about embracing shared spaces to make collaboration simpler, more accessible, more effective, and more satisfying? How does collaboration become as much a value and a behavioral norm as a core competence and pragmatic means to creative ends?

YES, yes, and yes!

So I reflected on how I could best prepare myself to forward these concepts, knowing virtually nothing and no-one in advance. Here is a fabulous idea that I returned to that I have not seen pop up in a while, along with a couple reflections. I will let you know when I return how it turned out!

Know Which Part of the Collaboration Circle You Fit Best

Working Together Many years ago (over a decade), I took an amazing workshop at a conference on collaboration, a found an invaluable model for a successful team, one in which everyone felt valued and enjoyed their role. (Side note: I have searched the internet extensively for this man’s name, but cannot locate it). In a nutshell, there is a circle of ‘ways of being’ (my words) on a project. Before I explain them, let me share with you what people often say. “Oh, I can do all of those!” That statement does more disservice to your project than anything else. Why? Because it implies (a) that you do them all equally well, and (b) that they all make you equally HAPPY. Neither is true. There will be one of those that you love the most, one role that gives you pleasure and that you know you do well in any aspect of your life. You might “leak” over to the other ones, but for now, discover which of them is the MOST you. Then build your team with people in the other positions who are the most themselves! It works incredibly well—things get done quickly and happily, and everyone feels needed.

Here are the roles:

If we imagine the circle as a compass, let’s start with Visionary in the North position. “What could be?” Visionaries,HP Pre Prod you are the people who have a gazillion amazing new ideas pouring out of you all the time, and sometimes that means you don’t finish what you start (unless you have an amazing support staff). You are the ones who said, “What if there was a thing that could hold a bunch of people, and it had wheels and had its own power-source?”

Enter those of us on the “East” part of the circle, the Becomers. “What are the ways that could work in real life, right now, and the steps to get there?” We are problem-solvers through and through, taking great joy in listening to a bunch of different but simultaneous dreams (even seemingly divergent ones), and figuring out how to connect them so they all come true with maximum inclusivity and efficiency. We are the ones who said, “Hmmmm, well there could be axles and a driveshaft, and instead of turning a crank for the gears by hand, it could be a contained explosion whose force moved pistons which move the crank…” You get the picture.

Welding  But to bring the dream that became a plan to reality, the group needs those in the “South” position, the Doers. The Doers are the awesome folk who remember all the things to make the plan happen smoothly. They know the person who has space to rent, and make sure the insurance is in place before the others even knew they needed insurance. They make sure the forms you didn’t even know you needed were filled out and properly filed yesterday. There are enough pencils for everyone, they remembered to have fans installed, checked the weather report, and got enough tools for all, including some left-handed ones, and oh yeah, everything is color-coded and sensibly named, so it is easier to find by category next time, and they show up with a contact list. I worship these people.

But where does the money come from? Voilá! Coming in at the “West” are the Storytellers. They can’t help it. Their enthusiasm, love of detail, and natural warm extra-version mean that never actually ‘network’, they just share because that’s how they are, and before anyone realizes what is happening, other people have joined the dream, opening up both their hearts and their checkbooks. These people are incredible, and as an introvert (and on the polar opposite of the circle), I completely don’t understand how these magical beings give people joy by parting them with their resources….but I do know that what they are doing is including folks—in some small way– in the Visionary’s dream itself.

This lovely model also helps us to

Speak to the Most Wonderful and Skilled Parts that Live Inside Our Collaborators

and, as my mother would say, to

Put Down the Basket of ‘Shoulds’!

Wishing you the best for your next project !

photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

The economy in the USA and Canada is beginning to pull out of the big ole tank, but jobs are still both hard to come by and easy to lose. Which makes it … the BEST time to stop telling your kid to get a degree in accounting, and instead help her/him become an artist!!! I now pause for you to get your knickers out of that painful twist while I clarify. Being a full time artist is very doable. It is also very different from saying “I want to be a Broadway/MovieStar”. It’s similar to the difference between, “I want to go into innovative technology” and “I want to be Steve Jobs.” Those highly visible, highly specific goals are certainly within a realm of possibility, but they come as the result of hard work, initiative, discipline, and commitment to the practice/career itself. Wanting to be an artist as a vocation is not only fabulously feasible, it is also rewarding, practical, and in today’s world, surprisingly stable.

Here’s the story, morning glory:

  1. Training– multiple entry points, multiple outcomes
  2. Entry Points: one can become a full time artist via college/university training OR via workshops, diligent dedication to/with an artistic institution, mentorship, and project-based training.Outcomes: Training in the arts is also training in observation, expression, commitment, and a sense of excellence. Training in the performing arts adds improvisational problem-solving, the ability to work constructively and efficiently with others, presentational skills, ability to create ‘mile-markers’ for a project, the ability to work with a hard deadline, delayed gratification, the holding of the team’s project above all other things including petty intra-office differences, critical thinking kills, and the ability to give input to others in a positive way. Turns out most businesses LOVE employees with these skills. Tom Vander Well says it like this: 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me forSuccess
  1. Job Security  “What?!?!” Yes, people, yes.arts-in-edYou might have a full time job at a museum, theatre, school, university, or college, and that full time job is as secure (or more so) as any other organization/education job. The John Hopkins Business School released a study  in 2012 showing that while other businesses were laying folks off, non-profits actually ADDED jobs… for the past ten years, including 2007-2009. What about education jobs? Well, according the Guardian and Forbes, “The biggest source of employment for graduates was the education sector – where more than a quarter (25.5%) now work.” Read more here .

What if you are a free-range artist, ronin, piecing together a patchwork of employment and creativity? Here’s the best news: I am never completely out of work. There are leaner times and fuller times, certainly, but even when some things fall through, my other over-lapping projects hold.

  • 3. Other Benefits

This is my life, and I would not trade it for anything, despite the hard, endless work, the constant outreach, and the lack of what I call “getting paid for not working”– you might know it as “sick days, paid holidays, and vacations”.

Why would I not trade? What do I get?

italy 2

Photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

All jobs have pluses and minuses; here’s my pluses.

Freedom. I love my freedom. I love that if I look carefully and work hard enough, I can find a way to travel for work. I love that if I am happy with a group and their project, I can help it become an annual or regular event, but if I am unhappy with the people or project I am working with, our partnership will have an ending, and that I can still make the project wonderful and the ending graceful. Most of all, I love love love the variety of people, places and types of work. I love that any given day I may be deliriously happy working with fourth graders as they find their own artist-academic selves, recording an audiobook, rehearsing for a stage show, and doing my accounting (in one work day).

Human Relevance. I spend my time seeking connections…with people, histories, text, struggles, joys, sorrows, injustices, learning, discoveries… the list goes on, in every single working minute. I am also a part of fostering groups connection-seeking, in every project that I do. WOW. I make a living (and do a LOT of volunteer work) serving humanity, everyday. Making art. Striving for grace. As Henry Miller said, “Art teaches nothing… but the meaning of life.” Please do not tell your child who wants to be an artist that they need to have a real job or have ambition—if serving people, fostering human connection, and creating grace are not good enough for you, well, you might want to wonder why.

Yes, your child will need to think about what to do next. Yes your child will have to have initiative and work hard, and yes, this life is NOT for everyone who imagines that it is.

But neither is being a Business Major.

PS There are also College and University programs for Business Arts Majors!!

Doing it ALL      So, there you are, gearing up for another busy month, made busier by pending holidays. As usual, “work on website” and “go to networking event” and “get business cards” move to the bottom of the “to-do” list. They can, right? Face it–your schedule is full! PLUS your Great Aunt Hossenpfeffersushikins is coming for a week and has a restricted diet of things that are harder to find.

But then business trauma hits– a school loses its funding, a theatre has to cut back its budget, a community organization is cutting the department which contracted you, you were passed over for a gig you thought was in the bag.

How do you turn these moments into success?

First off, allot yourself no more than 10 minutes to spend on despair and the feeling of failure. I would say, “Skip this step”, but as artists and community leaders, we have a powerful sense of responsibility for everything we do, and our sense of success is very tied to outcome. So go ahead, do what you need to do (whine, kvetch, curse, throw things) then cross it off the list (even if you have to add it to cross it off), and move on.

Secondly, remember that there is not enough time in any given day to both make lots of product Reminder!(teaching, writing, performing) and do lots of smart business promotion. So set aside days that are only for promotion. Or schedule a few half days. The key is to schedule it, and stick to it. I find that for phone meetings or necessary but heinous cold-calls, I need to schedule an exact time of day, and schedule exactly two calls. I have learned that I am more effective, more easy-going, and MUCH happier when I only do two of these at a time, and when I know each call has a specific time slot—that way I don’t worry about forgetting to do any of them.

Next step: get two pieces of paper, label one “Dream Projects” and the other “Marketing Ideas and Opportunities”. The first half-dozen or so things on each list (bounce back and forth as the spirit moves to help your ideas flow) will be the easy obvious ones. For me, the Dream Projects page included finishing my play “About Face”, getting “About Face” performed, being in more films, and doing more book narration. Pretty vague. I pushed myself to write ideas to write two pages worth. This is a great writing strategy, because instead of stressing over what to write, you stress about covering the space, and your creative brain is set free (lots of studies support this kind of production strategy). Three years ago, this strategy birthed MysteryGrams and our At-Home Mystery Games. Distracted by holiday prep? Invent some project that is holiday related! Why not? It’s on your mind anyway, might as well put it to good use.


Yeah, you have to do it. And I hate to say it, but this time of year is not only the most socially active in cyberspace, but also the most full of opportunities to meet people. Throw a party and let folks know they are also the beta test for the latest chapter of your novel, or that each person is asked to bring an idea for your classroom study about weather science. Make it fun, include lots of food and Invitation made in Moldiv beverages, and you might get a gold concept nugget! Many businesses are holding a Year End Office or Organization Bash, which is all about chatting about work. It turns out that for most industries, more than 70% of landed job projects come from referrals. That makes person-to-person networking (or strong personalized cyber connecting) the most important part of your outreach campaign.

I want to close with a link to a seemingly non-relevant blog post. It’s about teaching children the skills they need to be happy and successful, but it really applies to all of us in our work. Here’s the original post: http://zenhabits.net/kid-skills/

Most important take-away? You have no time, and you need to do outreach or product development while simultaneously doing holiday activities. Finding creative ways that are FUN to combine those things (and mark off times to do the worst tasks while saving time for the most fun) will help decrease your stress, increase your time-efficiency, and help the new year begin with new ideas for your job.

Holly love the Texas LonghornsSo honored to be interviewing writer Joan Reeves (we talk about writing tips, inspirations, and the whys of things)! Before I share her words with you, please take a moment to cruise around on the rabble.ca website, and support them if you can. It’s an amazing grassroots organization with real news and in-depth cultural content, and it’s not just for Canadians 🙂

June is Audiobook Month, and I personally love ‘reading by listening’. Whether I am cleaning or driving or doing paperwork, audiobooks delight me, inform me, comfort me, keep me awake…. and so much more. Also, I am honored to be an audiobook narrator, and that is how I met author Joan Reeves. Since my blogs are mostly for artists, educators, and community leaders who use arts-in-ed, we talk mostly about how, why, and the importance of writing and of her work.

Hi, Joan! I am so happy to have you with us today. Warning: I am a big fan, I have a bunch of questions!

Joan  Reeves1) Did you always want to be a writer? What was your path to become one? (Perhaps one of my readers will become inspired!)

   My mother was a reader, but she never read to me or my brothers. I remember the first book I ever read because reading made such an impact on me. I became a storyteller for my brothers and would entertain them in the evenings with stories I made up. I guess our family would best be described as lower income. I know my parents did the best they could with their financial and emotional resources. I’ve always tried to adhere to the philosophy that people deserve to be remembered by their best moments so that’s all I’ll say on that subject. In the sixth grade, I had a teacher who required much writing as class work–stories, themes, research papers. I did it all and received little blue ribbons she taped onto my papers. There was the carrot as if I needed one. For me, the reward was as much about expressing a thought so clearly that the reader would easily understand what I was saying as it was about teacher recognition. Everything probably grew from those early experiences.

2) What compelled you to write romances? Do you write other things as well?

   I write what I like to read. By the time I was in my teens, I’d had enough drama, tragedy, and emotional dysfunction to last me for 10 lifetimes. I didn’t want to read about all that or see it in movies. I’d lived it. I didn’t feel the need to see a character grow from embittered to accepting. I felt there had to be people in the world who were happy more often than they were sad, who went after what they wanted with a cheerful optimism, and who were strong, resilient, and able to endure and persist without becoming bitter, angry, and full of hate. I wanted to write about those people — their journeys from not having what they want but not being resigned to that fate. I write about hope. People need hope. Hope they can pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, find a good job, fall in love, have babies, and live in a committed relationship with their chosen one.

   Yes, I write other things as well. I’ve written a lot of nonfiction, usually along the lines of inspiration and motivation as well as articles about the art, craft, and business of writing to help those who want to write. On the fiction side, I’ve played around with mystery and suspense while keeping a romance in the story too.

3) Part of what I enjoy about narrating your work is the strong sense of PLACE you evoke. I feel like I am actually in the tea shop with the characters, and of course I am hoping beyond hope that the vintage bar/restaurant Crimson (in Scents & Sensuality) exists so I can go there! Could you share some words of wisdom for would-be writers on how you experience a real environment, and a couple tips on making a fictitious place come to life for the reader?

   Oh, I wish Crimson (from Scents and Sensuality) did exist. It’s exactly the kind of place I’d frequent. I tend to associate music with places so when I’m constructing a setting like Crimson, I’m hearing the music they would play. Like in Romeo and Judy Anne, Roman, the hero, listens to his iPod constantly and the music he’s listening to reflects the setting in which he finds himself whether it’s the classroom in the rundown school or the no-frills house he’s renting across the street from Judy Anne, the woman he finds isn’t easy to forget.

   I draw upon my imagination and my travels too. I traveled quite a bit, especially before I had children, and lived in Japan for many years. I’ve witnessed everything from the seedy to the elegant in many places in the world. With Crimson, I envisioned it as the kind of place Fred Astaire, clad in a tailcoat and top hat, would have tap danced around or maybe Holly Golightly would be there with the in-crowd for drinks before she went to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I always have a visual and a music background when I start.  

4) As you know, I LOVE your work. Part of what I love is that the characters are struggling with the idea that they are not good enough, not lovable, often because of social messages or negative relationships. You deal with their struggles in a realistic and sympathetic way. What draws you to write about these issues?

   Holly, you are so kind. Thank you for such lovely compliments. I write about these issues because they’re what Scents_and_Sensuality_by JoanReeves_Audiowomen struggle with most of the time. Men don’t have nearly as much insecurity about EVERYTHING in life the way we women do. It’s like the old joke about the guy who gains 10 pounds, looks in the mirror, grins, and says, “Looking good, stud.” A woman gains 10 pounds and thinks she should be stoned in the town square–and she’ll be the one to hit herself with a stone! We have all internalized the messages blasted across television, movies, music, and, sadly, from our families, until we’ve lost the ability to judge ourselves impartially whether that’s in the area of our looks, our brains, our career achievements, our gender roles, or anything else. We pay too much attention to the opinions of other people and too little to what we ourselves think and feel.

   The people in my books are damaged in some way. Even in romantic comedy, there’s a shadow over the heart–something a character may dredge up every time something goes wrong. Through the course of the book, they learn that what they thought was true, may not be. They usually have to accept that times have changed, they’ve grown, the past really is the past, what they thought was right may be wrong, and what they thought they wanted may no longer be what they want. They also learn to think for themselves and learn that to get love, they have to trust, risk everything, and be willing to open themselves to possible embarrassment, humiliation, or hurt. 

5) I also appreciate that sometimes the characters have something they have done/said/been that they need to put right, but without melodrama and without ‘miracle-grow’. The characters must learn to reach out, be responsible, and both give and accept love.

    Exactly. Epiphanies don’t happen often in life. You know, that moment of clarity when you see the decisions that led you to a certain point and the knowledge that you can, right now, change it or continue on the path and reap the consequences. Communication as well as granting the other person understanding is important to characters and to real people. I don’t write characters who hammer at each other about why they did something that the other misunderstood that caused a rift and blah blah blah. All that has been played out in scenes for the reader. In most of my books, I give the reader credit for being able to “see the big picture.” For instance, the hero may have an epiphany and return to the heroine who at the same time has resolved to reach out for the happiness she wants. When they see each other, all they want is to hold each other–not have long detailed conversations about why he came back and why she accepted him. The reader knows because the scene where the hero made the decision was played out. The heroine may say, “We’ll talk later, but for now I just want to kiss you.” This is because she’s now secure enough in her own identity to accept him back and to do it on her terms. Some readers don’t like to make those connections. They want it spelled out so I sometimes get negative remarks because of that.

6) Okay, I’m gonna bring it up. SEX. There’s sex in your books! Lovely, sweet, passionate, intense, self-discovering sex!

I recently had a conversation with a friend who has a teenage daughter. She asked me to recommend an audiobook I narrated, and I named a few, including Scents & Sensuality. “It has sex in it,” I warned, “but I think it’s actually an important book for a young woman. It deals with having strong and unexpected sexual feelings, and not being sure what to do about that. The young woman who is the main character thinks she has to look a certain way and pretend not to be smart to be liked by guys, and she’s coming out of a relationship with a boyfriend who made her feel bad about herself. She doesn’t know that sex should be on her OWN terms and be wonderful–she doesn’t even know that it’s “allowed” for her to want it to be wonderful.”

“Wow,” said my friend. “Sounds perfect for us to listen to togetherYES. Yes, yes, yes!!

Now that I’ve ranted, what are your thoughts?

   Sex is a vital part of life and of love. A real man wants to satisfy his woman, and a real woman wants to satisfy her man. By book’s end, they should be equals in bed. In my books, the woman usually ends up realizing that she controls the gates to paradise. *g*

   Some writers are uncomfortable writing about sex. Others, like me, write about the love making because it’s as much a part of the developing relationship between the heroine and hero as anything else in the plot. When characters have sex, it changes them and their relationship. There’s no going back after having sex. There have been entire reams written about the physiological implications of human touch by far more educated scholars than I, and the sex act is always the pinnacle of that human touch. It touches us physically and emotionally–whether we want that or not.

   Regardless of the dispassionate approach to sex in today’s world, I think most women long for a fulfilling sex life with the man they love. I think they would choose sex with a man they love and who loves them over sex with any guy–regardless of how sexy and gorgeous he may be–just to get off. A lot of women are in lackluster relationships and sex is not thrilling. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it does require the courage to change. Women need the courage to admit they aren’t happy in that area, and men need the courage to ask, “What can I do to satisfy you?” (I’ve always said if a man wanted to know how to make love to a woman, he should just read a well-written sexy romance novel.)  

7) Anything else you’d like to share before we say good-bye?

   Yes, I’d like to apologize for being so darn wordy! I’d also like to say that I’ve enjoyed having you as narrator on 3 of my audio books: The Trouble With Love, Old Enough to Know Better, and, most recently, Scents and Sensuality. We seem to be simpatico on so many levels, and that makes working with you such a pleasure.

Thank you so much, Joan! Readers, if you want more, you can read Joan’s article on “What is a Romance Novel?” here.

, Writing Tags: ,

Shearwater Productions at a glanceI have had a rash of opportunities lately, both ones for which I applied and those for which others applied to me. This may seem obvious, but as artists, educators, community leaders –typically always looking for opportunities (jobs, partnerships, projects, and more)–we too often forget that what begets success, even in the face of what looks like failure, is less WHO we are than HOW we are.

Duh, right?

Yet, I know that at least two of my current projects came to me, not because I was the “best” (most stellar, most talented, etc), nor even because I am “very good”–I am, but so are hundreds of others. I was selected because of how I work. By the same token, I have selected others based on their interactions and their working reputations, and it is surprising to me how little attention folks give to that sort of thing.

So here’s three tips for Landing the Next One!

1) Lose Graciously, and Mean It

Hi Holly

Thanks for letting me know. If I can ever be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me.

Many Thanks and Continued Success”.

I received the above note after passing along the information that this person was not selected by my client. Guess What?! Sacked?what? I am personally going to seek out opportunities for this person, and hope that we get a chance to work together. Being able to find sincere gratitude for being considered will separate you from all those people who are annoyed that their superiority wasn’t recognized. Who wants to work with people like tat? Most of us would rather work with people who are okay with not being right all the time. Cultivating that ability in yourself will have positive ripples in everything you do—it is one of the key ingredients of being a real team player.

2) Be a Great Worker 

     Be hard working. Again, a no-brainer, right? You’d be surprised how many people think they have a reputation as a hard worker, when actually their reputation is for being a bit of a partier or for having a long turn-around time or for saying they will do “x” and then not doing it. Part of being a hard worker is setting benchmarks, and making sure they are realistic. This is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page every step of the way, and meeting deadlines will help establish your reliability. I have been hired by folks who do not like me as a human, because they know I will do a really good job.

Thinking it through Be a good communicator. This means a few things.

  • * One, please do NOT use long form narrative as your email style. Outlines, bullet points, and clear formatting makes the information easy to pull out, so different folks can easily see different bits. Email also allows you to use colors and highlights—using purple or blue with bold makes a name pop out without it looking like shouting. If you are responding to an “You didn’t get the job” email with your thanks, go ahead and use subtle but innovative and clear formatting (like bold with blue for something). It will intrigue and hint at your awesome skills.


  • Two, please make sure your cell phone/office phone message box is both set-up and not too full for more messages, and then please return calls. Nothing is more maddening than trying to hire someone and not being able to reach them. A quick way to go from hire to fire!
  • Three, if something is unclear, ask, in a nicely formatted question with a short recap. I recently was on a team and a volunteer (whom I did not even know) did a “checking in” email that was so well thought through, so short and so clear that I decided to actively recruit her for future projects of my own.

 3) Be Outcome Oriented

 What does a successful outcome look like, in precise terms? How will we know? I am working on one project where creating a rubric“success” means that all the participants become active stakeholders in the creation of a play, take positive risks, and have fun. Another requires a highly detailed, visually stunning mask. People tend to be more clear about desired outcomes when discussing a concrete object, less so when the final product is an experience had by the consumer (a bridal party, an audiobook, a workshop), and even less so when the success of an endeavor is in the process itself. Become good at asking those questions, even in the application stage. Your clarifying questions will mark you as a team-mate worth having, and you will be remembered.