This is our transcript of Episode 9: Make it Work, adapted from our script. We use a combination of hand and machine transcription, and should be about 80-90% correct. Please verify against the audio before quoting.
Building a creative career is like building a machine. There are a million moving parts, and the components you choose and the raw materials you put in will determine the machine’s output.
You’ve got to feed it, but you’ve also got to be on the outside, maintaining the machine. It needs oil, and sometimes there are parts that break, and you’ve got to swap them out. Maybe the old part is obsolete, and you’ve got the MacGyver up a new one.
It’s your machine. It’s on you to feed it and maintain it and control it. But you’re not alone: there are thousands, millions out there who have their own machines, large and small. So when you need help, you can find it. You might need experts, or maybe just the advice of other creative-machine enthusiasts like yourself. You might need an assistant to schelp the oil.
But if this is what you want to be doing, you’ve got to keep the machine functioning, day and night, your whole life. Let it break down, and it’s way harder to get it started again. This is the central activity of your creative life.
I’m Jessica Abel and this is Out on the Wire episode 9: Make it work.
If this is your first time listening, on this show we go through the whole process of creating a story from conception to final polish. You can of course listen in any order you please, but you might want to go back and start at episode one.
This is the last episode of season 1, and I wanted to end with something a little different: You’ve made stories. Maybe you’ve made lots of them. But that’s not all there is to leading a creative life. You know you can do the work. But how can you fit that work into a real life? How can the work that feeds your soul also put literal food on the table?
Over the course of the years, I’ve encountered creative professionals who have put their lives together around their work in so many different ways.
That’s one of the hardest things about making creative work your career: there is no one way to do it. And every year, some old ways die, and some new ways are born, The rules are constantly rewritten, and it happens so fast. It’s scary, even paralyzing.
But you can make it work. Today I’m talking to three professionals in very different kinds of careers
Jakob Lewis produces the podcast Neighbors and one of the founders of a podcast collective called the Heard. Dave Kellet is a web-cartoonist and filmmaker, best known for his strips Sheldon and Drive. Kelly Sue DeConnick is a comics writer, the author of Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly, among many other things, as you’ll hear.
We’ll talk about how they work, and how they make a living.
my name is Jacob Lewis. I am the creator and host of the show Neighbors. And the founder slash founding member of the audio collective the Heard.
Jakob contacted me soon after Out on the Wire came out about getting copies for his collective of podcasters, the Heard–which is spelled HEARD, by the way. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a collective, that there were six independent producers making their own individual shows, but that they pooled their resources. I’ve always been an independent producer…of comics…and the lack of any systematic way to get help has always been a major problem for me and others like me.
And it turns out, Jakob felt that isolation keenly. It’s a big part of his story.
I was working a job in a custom cabinetry and furniture shop. It turned into a factory job where I was spraying lacquer eight hours a day, five days a week. And it was incredibly isolating and hot, and sawdust everywhere and lacquer fumes, and I had ear protection, and a mask on, and eye protection, and I just felt like i was dying in this isolation bubble, and so I started to listen to all these podcasts just to like, not die.
And there was a This American Life episode about, the first little intro story was about Mine that Bird, the Kentucky Derby horse that like went from the very end of the pack to win like incredibly it was like, what an upset, and when I heard that, I just felt so much emotion, I felt like an underdog, I felt like I had this potential that I was just squandering away. and I thought, you know what? I could come from behind and make it. I believe in myself, I think. And, I think this might be it actually it, radio.
And unlike every other person who probably had a driveway…I mean respirator… moment with this episode, Jakob actually understood it as a sign, and took action. He applied to the Transom Story Workshop, the famous crash-course in radio production and reporting that we discussed with lead instructor Rob Rosenthal in episode 8, and he got in.
And then after I left Transom, There was this huge void. Because it was two months of intense. Collaboration community. Inspiration scrutiny and then nothing. I’m back in Nashville. I have a little bit of gear, A lot of heart and like No interaction.
I just started getting more and more frustrated and felt isolated and alone and dark, and….And then when I went to Third Coast.
The Third Coast International Audio Festival, a biannual gathering of narrative audio producers in Chicago.
And that’s when I was like meeting all of these people that were in the exact same boat as me, that I thought, man this person is really talented. This person is really creative, this person has like great chops, and like, is alone and doesn’t have the resources that they need. and, It’s just like you know. A radio mountaintop experience.
That’s when I started to reach out.
He first got in touch with JONATHAN HIRSCH OF the show ARRVLS, and then the two of them identified four more independent podcast producers they wanted to work with, scattered all over north America. VANESSA LOWE OF NOCTURNE, ROB MCGINLEY MYERS OF ANXIOUS MACHINE, MARLO MACK OF HOW TO BE A GIRL, and TALLY ABECASSIS OF FIRST DAY BACK.
And so just having a group of artists that see radio that way Like see it as art. and I don’t know I there is just that energy that I was wanting to have again.
I wanted to grow and be a successful entity. I felt like I had a better chance with others than I did on my own like just as a brand.
So did it live up to your expectations?
Oh it’s exceeded everything I’ve ever wanted. It’s such an amazing group of really talented people that I really trust. And that give honest feedback. And I’ve just learned so much.
I’ve learned basic things like time management from Jonathan. I’ve learned like just resilience From Vanessa. I’ve learned a lot about editing from Rob. Marlow is just like amazingly intimate and honest in her show and that’s really pushed me. Same with Tally actually. I don’t know it’s everything. It’s. It’s from like the human stuff to the business stuff to the craft. It’s like all there.
how does it work? What do you do?
you just ask for what you need. So if If I needed an edit, you know idea or you know whatever it is, I, it’s my responsibility to come to the group and ask for what I need. And everybody does the same. And When possible You know somebody steps up when they feel like, . And it just works.
I think it’s super smart. Like this is one of the things when I’m telling people go get an edit. It’s like Who are they going to go to. You know it’s tough.
Yeah, it’s tough.
How to get the feedback and advice you need has always been my biggest challenge. But it wasn’t my biggest question.
I was thinking about organizations like Radiotopia, also a collective of independent shows, but they’ve run several six-figure Kickstarter campaigns and have a deal with PRX the public radio exchange. There’s some kind of structure in place there behind the scenes to handle legal matters. and Money. So I wanted to know, how does the Heard deal with money?
we’re not we’re not a business. We’re a community made up of six independent businesses.
I handle my money they handle their money and It’s proving to work. Like as as we figure out different things in the business sphere of this, We share that knowledge And maybe certain relationships with one another.
everybody has different ideas about what success looks like for their show.
some of us just We have day jobs and are OK with that in want this to be an outlet, an artistic outlet. And so success is just getting the message out there. for some of us it’s just like sustainability, Like not looking to become super rich it’s just like to be able to do what we love and maintain that.
I think for some of us like really want to grow Kind of a very large brands and have our hands in a lot of different things, and like use our podcast the platform to, for bigger things.
But then it seems to me if you project forward, if you all meet your goals. Your own definitions of success. Will that mean that the Heard is torn apart?
This is something that comes up from time to time. Like anybody is free to leave it any time. Just be upfront about it. I work hard in that helps you. You work hard and that helps me. And we help one another that’s it.
But in terms of like my own show. I just want to be able to make a living. like I’d love to be able to pay a team of just people that were just about my show, Working for my show. Like that’s all I want. I want to be able to quit my part time job And you know sustain my family with this work. and Explore my city and create things.
A lot of us, artists, we have exactly this sort of dream. We simply want to make our work, and want that work to support us and our families. Some of us would love to be able to pay a small team to help make that work happen. It’s an extremely reasonable dream, yet far out of reach for most of us.
It takes preparation, planning, working towards a goal. It takes actually identifying what that goal is. It takes having a business model with the potential to produce the necessary revenue.
Jakob is near the beginning of his career, and so I wanted to know, what did he see as a path going forward?
Because place it very important to me. A sense of place in commitment and stability like those are things that I value, and I think our values of my show, I would love businesses and institutions that are committed to this place and fostering this region to align with me and support me financially with underwriting or sponsorship.
before I went the transom and I was doing my podcast, I was writing down a list of like four sponsors that I would love to have. like these are the dream for me if I got this, I have reached it. And two of those on my list one was Yazu this brewery that I just absolutely love and then This burrito place in my neighborhood that I absolutely love. And both of them are sponsors.
And the brewery which I thought, Like there’s no way that will ever happen. They actually contacted me.
So, sponsorship. Advertising, essentially. This is probably the most common business model for a podcast right now.
I’m laying groundwork with a station right now. because one of my issues right now is space. I’m talking to you from a fairly echoey room right now. There and I have two dogs that can be loud. And so if the station offers me some studio space That would be huge.
there are a lot of different models. I’ve reached out to a lot of different producers who have different relationships with different stations It’s the Wild West. And everybody is figuring it out and so I just pitched them what I wanted.
I would love to some really awesome [live] events that really bring in people from the region.
Partnership with a station. Live events. Other members of the Heard are starting new audio businesses and working on securing funding from public media. They’ve considered crowdfunding.
It’s a scramble to figure all this out. But the great thing is, they’ve got each other. If they’ve got an idea, they have a group to run it by and test it out. If they need collaborators on a project, they’ve got that.
But the reason each of them was invited to the collective in the first place was that they all were already doing good work, on their own. None of it would do any good without that willingness to go out on the wire, over and over again.
And. I also think that it’s not going to happen overnight, Either. you just got to make the next thing. Make the next thing. Or make the thing you’re making now, I should say.
What he’s done differently, that has amplified his reach and accelerated his growth both creatively and as a business owner, is to reach out and ask for help, and to offer help in exchange. To open himself up to others in a way most of us never dare to. And he’s been lucky to find collaborators who are as generous and open as he is.
The biggest kind of comfort to me is to know like you’re not alone. There’s this is not new territory for the human experience at all. at least a certain type of creative type Thinks that they’re in the only person that’s gone through these like crazy ups and downs in emotions and thinking that Like they’re so good at what they do in the next minute thinking they’re just worthless in everything they make is worthless.
That’s not new. You are not special in that regard. That is a common to the human experience. And once you avail yourself to others in a meaningful and vulnerable way, that others that you trust, you will find that you will you will find strength and encouragement and community. In a way that will encourage you and and grow you. And shape you and mold you.
Jakob builds his creative machine with the help and advice of all his classmates and teachers at the Transom workshop, and now is Heard colleagues. If he has a breakdown or needs a part, he’s got a pit crew to get him rolling again, fast.
Uh, My name is Dave Kellet I’m a cartoonist out of Los Angeles. And I do two strips the science fiction comic strip Drive and kind of newspaper style comic strip Sheldon.
I met Dave at the Angouleme International Comics Festival last January, where he’d come to present his comics documentary, Stripped. We fell into conversation, and I was just fascinated to hear about his enormous inventiveness and creativity when it came to coming up with new ways to get paid for his creative work. I’d been dying to interview him ever since.
He started out in the late 90s. He was a grad student, dreaming of becoming a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. He sent off package after package of submissions of his strip Sheldon to the syndicates, but no bites.
And I thought well, you know what up with these online to to share with friends and What I noticed as I learned how to figure out analytics online is that over the first week there was thirty people OK that’s friends and family that I emailed. and then the next week it was oh fifty people. and then maybe a month or two later it was one hundred people and then a couple months after that was five hundred people and it’s like wow this is this is interesting. But you know at that point in 98-99, There was there was virtually no way to make a living online. So it was entirely just a hobby for me while I got started, As I thought Getting into the newspaper business.
In the early 2000s, though, things started to shift online. And bit by bit, Dave figured out a whole series of approaches to making money on Sheldon. Among other things, he ran ads on his site.
Sheldon was very easy to figure out how to make a living from. so Sheldon is more a traditional daily comic strip, a newspaper format. Although it varies a lot it’s most normally for you know four panels. Strip format color. Recognizable, loved characters that kind of thing.
…and traditionally newspaper strip comics are supported by the ads.
Right right. Absolutely and so that and tell them is that too. But Sheldon also had book collections. I would basically do two book collections every year, one around Christmas and one around Comic-Con and Those were huge income source for me.
And then I have a little bit of code a little bit a little algorithm underneath each comic strip that if you said, OK to strip one up at midnight. And if it’s 12:05 and you’d like the like to buy the original for the strip just click here. And then after that original sold that code would change so that anybody that wanted to buy a print of that strip could buy print of it. And that can only really be done if a strip has a sort of standalone value, you know like if it has a punchline or a joke that appeals to so and so Or such and such.
But then in 2009, Dave started working on his new strip, Drive, a science fiction story, told not in 4-panel strips, but full pages. And those pages didn’t sell as well.
But when you’re doing a science fiction strip that kind of disappears. Because it’s a long form story. It’s less of a kind of thing you would want to hang in your house or frame. So that income stream went away.
And then, because the strip is being still told in page installments week by week. The books came out slower, So the book income kind of fell away.
And then all the things that ideally comic strip had in terms of T-shirt sales or poster sales or sticker sales. All sort of bumper sticker kind of jokes that a comic strip can create, the sci-fi strip didn’t have…so I just I didn’t know even though I had figured out a system with Sheldon I didn’t know how to do it with Drive.
So it was only ever making me you know five or six thousand dollars a year which is lovely it was a wonderful side hobby. And I enjoyed doing it for me, But it was not the kind of the you could make a living off of.
But Drive was the work he really wanted to be concentrating on. So even though he’d had a working model for years, he suddenly had to go looking for a new approach.
[But] Any six month period That you’re working online. If you go six months out, You’ll find no now Twitter exists. Oh now Tumblr excess. Oh now Kickstarter exists, oh now Patreon exists. And it with each one your business model completely changes.
This is what intrigued me about Dave. Instead of seeing these new developments and getting scared that what he had was broken, he dove in. Dave’s machine is built on interchangeable power sources. He was on internal combustion, and then he switched to lithium ion batteries. Who knows what’s next?
So for me the icky-factor With advertising has just grown exponentially over the last four years as. Advertisers have seen their own incomes drop and have used more and more desperate measures in their own advertising.
I had seen a couple of web cartoonists, I think it was Zach Weinersmith and Jeff Jaques of S M B C Comics and Questionable Content. And they put their comics up on Patreon and were suddenly making 8-9-10,000 dollars a month from their backers. And I was like, oh my god this completely changes the way we can do things. And t
I thought well with Patreon, If this model can be made to work I would love to get rid of ads on my site and just have the sort of micro payment system that Scott McCloud always talked about finally work, You know where people could kick in a quarter or fifty cents or a dollar. And they could support the art they loved. and to Patreon’s great credit they figured out like hey the Kickstarter model works really well for a single individual project. Now let’s take that and make it for long-term projects like someone who’s a blogger of vlogger or a musician or a comics artist or a poet. And so you get paid for it either on a monthly installment or on a per creation installment so a new music video or a new comic And your and your work gets paid for.
So I tried it out. and Slowly but surely Drive has gone from being my side hobby that only made. You know a few hundred dollars a month or a few thousand dollars a year to maybe becoming my main income source and maybe becoming the main focus of my career in the next couple years going forward. so it’s been a complete game changer for me.
and not just a game-changer in terms of supporting the kind of work he wants to be doing. I mean, the dream of most artists is that their audience could somehow support them directly, not via this weird transaction of paying some totally unrelated third party via views or visits or clicks on ads, and then being paid some tiny percentage of what that other company makes on that traffic. I mean, it’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it.
Around the same time, filmmaker Fred Schroeder asked Dave to take part in a project he was putting together.
And then I took him out to lunch about a week later and I said you know I’ve been thinking about it and I’d like to have a counterproposal for you what if we sat down with a bunch of cartoonists right now because both Fred and I love comics we talk comics all the time. And I said we’re really interesting point in comics right now
I said, you know a lot of people of many decade careers are going out of work because their newspaper model is absolutely breaking down I said we have to capture this moment in time where some of these 60-70-80-year olds have no way of replicating their old income. And at the same time new careers aren’t starting at all in print. And yet there’s this whole generation of cartoonists that are making a go of it online.
Stripped was the documentary they created together. And it, too, came about in some ways because neither Dave nor Fred felt the need to sit around waiting for permission.
And we did a couple Kickstarters for it. I think between the two. We raised, like I might be wrong here but like 180,000 or 200,000 to finish the movie.
And then of course the big boon to both of us was getting the first ever recorded interview with Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes. And the movie just came together in a really lovely way I mean neither one of us had made a documentary before so we were sort of You know Has attempt to say oh this is going to be a surefire winner. We were learning as we were going. But there was a lot of joy making the film and a lot of laughter and It really ended up being a really nice love letter to comics especially to newspaper Comics and their and their heirs the Webcomics.
It does feel half like a love letter to the comic strips. But in the other half is more like a wake-up call. The older strip cartoonists are working in a moribund industry. It’s still working for them—barely—but this is no longer a path to a stable life as an artist. And the younger artists in the film are mostly webcartoonists, figuring out how to make a living all on their own.
In stripped you have a section called Digital revolution, where you reflect on the fact that the new model for strip cartoonists You know maybe everyone. Maybe every kind of cartoonist is to split their time. Maybe every kind of narrative artist really is to split their time between there are and business
And a lot of cartoonists I think expressed the person lot of discomfort about that in some cases like they just didn’t want to in some cases they didn’t feel like they were good at it. And you seem to me somebody who is really found peace with that balance that that something that you’re like, basically OK with. is that true
yeah and I think a lot of it has to do with personality. But for me it comes down to control and and the energy behind wanting to make a career or a project happen. And by that I mean that you can absolutely work with a publisher and partner with them and you may luck out and you find that the editor at both the publisher or hundred percent behind you and they have incredible energy and passion for it. but my personal thought is that no publisher, no P.R. person, no marketing agent, no editor will ever care as much about your career or your project as you do.
It’s like a positive feedback loop when you’re in control of your own career. I think your art can be empowered When you take control of your own of your own life in your own career in a way that ends up making both your career longer and more joy-filled. I mean I know a lot of people that went with publishers in the early 2000s and you know two or three years later they had to get that Starbucks job again.
Or. Whereas if you. If you learn the ropes on business and you learn the ropes on how to incorporate how to do your taxes how to pay your sales taxes. How d o you all that, it’s annoying and it’s a pain in the ass but it. It makes you a better cartoonist in the long run because you can still be a cartoonist Five or ten years from now.
I love this. You’re going to be a better cartoonist, or filmmaker, or radio producer or writer in 5 or 10 years, if you’re still doing that thing. And if taking active control of creative business is what it takes to still be doing your thing, then that can be a source of joy.
So if I, if there was some magical way I could go back to my twenty two year old self I would just say. Take control of the reins earlier, and do what you want to do.
That self-actualizing mindset is not relevant only to the business side of things. It takes will and self-control and desire to make it work.
I think some common attributes of an artist that is going, That you know, By sheer will alone will will make their career work is the man or woman who when they come home from whatever day job they have or whatever when it’s the weekend And they have to create. ultimately you have to choose this over going out with friends sometimes and sitting down and playing Halo straight through, or watching you know all of the, The Star Wars marathon with your friends. Or else you won’t make it.
Because right now there’s no editors forcing a web cartoonist to create There’s no publisher saying hey here’s your deadlines. You have to create those and realize those for yourself. And so the the kind of people that succeed in webcomics or in digital distribution have to find it within themselves to to create on a regular basis Without anyone telling them to. So that’s a big part of it.
And then the other part of it is. And there are exceptions to this rule, is that you have to overcome a certain shyness about promoting you or your own work. And that’s hard to do especially when you’re young and your early 20s Just starting out. is that you kind of want to be the shrinking violet voice online that’s like, I mean I guess I do good work.
We are self-isolating people by and large. So I understand that it’s hard but I think that in the way that Comics are finding their way to the public now that’s a key part of it is overcoming that shyness and that insecurity that you have. And sometimes for different artists that takes a decade to figure out how to do that. it’s hard to do.
Below both of those is the ability to do the work. And I should have started with that. you have to you know you can, you can scream from the rooftops online but if you’re not producing good work you’re you’re basically just becoming annoying, You know spam.
So doing the work, over and over. Maintaining enough self-belief that you can continue putting your work out whether you’re getting the notice you hope for, or not.
None of that is overnight. It’s still a 5-6-7-year slog before people start to go you know what I would like to throw a little money your way for all this great work.
So I don’t need to fail in the sense of like trying five different things I just need to fail in terms of like, No one cared except for my mom the first four five years you know.
Everyone spends time in the Dark Forest.
Right I’m trying to think of a way to describe it I guess creative loneliness is the is the way you have to describe it and that’s true with any actor musician… or You know there’s just a lot of to you know if you think of a musician they have to play a lot of lonely bar gigs for a while. You know before one of them finally pays off. And so there’s a lot of years of kind of internally feeling shitty about yourself and whether or not this is a waste of time. Just got to fight through that.
My name is Kelly Sue Deconnick. My primary projects at the moment are Pretty Deadly from Image Comics, Bitch Planet from Image Comics.
… and television projects, as well as a new, still secret comics project. She recently ended her very long run writing Captain Marvel. She runs a busy studio with her husband, comics writer Matt Fraction.
She’s a huge presence for her fans. Her outspoken feminism in person and via her vivid female characters inspires tons of readers to get tattooed with captain Marvel logos and, especially, with the “non-conformist” symbol from the dystopian Bitch Planet.
Kelly Sue has a LOT going on, which is why I wanted to talk to her.
I’ve always I’ve always taken on a lot. And I think I’ve always been and certainly always been ambitious. I’ve always gotten a lot done.
Sometimes I’ve been busy, rather than productive. I’ve always been a list keeper I’ve always been someone who had many projects.
I change canvases is a lot. I try not to have to do creative work, like heavy duty creative work on more than one in the same day.
But all that work she puts out comes at the cost of having the opportunity to really focus deeply on one project.
I don’t think it’s the best way for me to work. I think it is the, It is the bed I’ve made. But I’m not resigned to it. I feel like I can work my way into a better system I think everything’s constantly evolving.
You know I got to spend a week working almost exclusively on a television show. And it was so amazing Just to have this one thing. You know, I was I was in L.A. I was in the writers room at 8 am, back at the hotel 5, I ate in the room. Did some work at night, and was back in the room this morning. and Just to cast of have the luxury of focusing on pretty much doing my make-up, deciding what I was going to order, and working on the show. That was about all I did for that week and It was it was extraordinary. It was, it felt, just luxurious, you know.
The trick for Kelly Sue to get creative work done despite feeling that resistance is to enforce a strict schedule, and fiercely guard her writing time.
I get every very early. I was up this morning at two. and I try to get straight to you whatever creative work has to be done whatever writing has to be known. I find if I do that very first thing, I feel like my in my interior editor is still asleep. And I can get things on the page. I can get the first draft down with less of a struggle than later in the day
That was the most productive time of the day for me. That is when I will get the the best Creative work done.
But it isn’t just Kelly Sue working alone, she’s responsible for a whole team, and that requires management. They get together every Monday to plan out their week, that’s Kelly Sue, her husband Matt Fraction, their admin Kit, Lauren, her in house editor, her interns, and even whoever else is helping around the house. The core creative work has to get done, and then there’s everything else.
You’ll note. There is no time in that day when I’m getting any exercise. Which is and I was deeply problematic, I need to figure out.
Yeah. I’m with you there, too. Planning in the stopping is the hard part.
Yeah. Self-care is a huge issue you know what I think counsel other people about it but it’s really hard to make myself do it.
Especially when you know I have this sense of, you know I don’t get my work done I’m, there other people whose incomes are dependent upon, on my starting this domino chain. because if I miss a deadline they miss a paycheck. And that is not acceptable.
This is different from what Jakob Lewis built with the Heard Collective. There, he’s working solo, with a group of five others he can rely on for support. Kelly Sue runs a massive, powerful machine, one that produces enormous amounts of creative work and supports many creative lives—artists, colorists, letterers— who depend on her production to do their work and to get paid. But the complexity and power of the machine can make it can feel like she could to lose control of it at any moment. The weight of this responsibility is heavy on her.
That makes it difficult for her to prioritize herself.
I think fallow time is incredibly important. And I will again, I’ll counsel people, hey fallow time is really important. you should take some time to go for a walk
I know, when I’m stuck. I know sitting at the computer is not where it’s going to be answers not going to come sitting there.
And yet I will, I will continue to stare down the screen as though magically, this time will be different.
I think with contemporary American women we have this thing where you know if you’re if you’re not doing all of it yourself, or it maybe I should always be for myself here but I have this thing where if I’m not doing it all myself I feel somehow is though I have like failed the…You know I’ve got somebody helping with with laundry, so I’m somehow a bad mom. You know.
Or I’ll get annoyed because things get put away in the kitchen. And they’re not where I want them like, well, You can have everything exactly where you want it or you can have a job you love.
I did have a post on tumblr about this is it one point or set you know somebody was like How do you manage to balance it all? I was like, not very well.
Well the question is “what’s all.”
Yeah I mean. All is the business all is the books, all is the family, all is the Christmas shopping and. You know making Thanksgiving dinner for sixteen people. And you know. To try to find 15 to 20 minutes a day to practice viola, Because I’m forty five years old and decided to take up viola for some reason.
From the outside, it’s clear that Kelly Sue is incredibly productive and successful. But that is just not what it feels like on the inside.
objectively I know I am successful.
I have a strong marriage. My children are safe and healthy and happy. And I have a level of security I didn’t have growing up. Which is incredibly important to me to be able to give them that.
I’m working on books that I care about deeply with people who I care about deeply. I own my work which is also incredibly important to me. I am continuing to evolve I think as a human, as an activist. I have had the opportunity to you act as a mentor. I’ve been, you know, sober for 15 years, which is a hell of an accomplishment. You know all of these things objectively, I can put down on paper and go Oh yeah, You know good job, you are killing it girl!
But yeah still on some level I feel like you know, no, drowning! Not waving.
This is exactly why we wanted to talk to her: Kelly Sue walks this line between intense creativity and running a creative business. We won’t all build the large operation she has, but if we want to make our living at creative work, we’ll all have to walk that same line.
And perhaps because her machine is so very powerful and always so close to spinning out of control, Kelly Sue has a lot of insight and wisdom to share with her audience about how to be more productive, and how not let the self-doubt demons take control. She’s got these text blasts she sends out called “Bitches Get Shit Done.”
usually what I’m sending out is whatever I need to hear that day.
Well but is it good to send that out into the world and then get response from because it is the thing you need to hear is it like does it get reflected back to you.
Yeah I mean I think. It is helpful to me in two ways one. You know actually typing out that thing I need to hear is is a is a step further than just thinking it. And that’s a moment of meditation, really, on that idea.
And then, and then to see. Community. I guess. To see that you’re sort of not alone in this is always a comfort to me. And I’m such a, I’m such a collaborator in my heart.
Jakob said the same. Dave too. We’re not alone, we’re not unique. These are the things that everyone goes through to make art and make a life around making that art. It’s not easy, but if we move in the right direction, maybe it’s enough.
There’s a saying in AA. progress not perfection.
That is pretty much my every day. And every day I make my list of everything I want to get on that day and and I’m never ever get anywhere close. But I made progress.
You know now I have. I have them color coded. The things that are on fire are red and like I’ve used to be this huge chunk of red at the top. And the problem is that like as I’m hacking away of the things that aren’t in red the things that are in yellow are starting to turn red.
But I will say that the section, So there’s always a section of red every day. Was the section it read is getting smaller over time. And that to me is progress not perfection.
Now for this week’s challenge. No, wait. This is the last episode of Out on the Wire!
Now for your ongoing life challenge: Make your work. Keep making it. Find support. Take control of how you’ll make money from your work. Make more work. Get shit done.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of heading out to make your creative work without a plan, you’re in luck. I will be offering a creative project planning challenge several times this year. To find out more, go to jessicaabel.com/projectplanning, one word, and get yourself unstuck.
The Out on the Wire Working Group is not closing down. If you want to find a wonderful group of colleagues who can offer timely feedback on your work, and teach you by example, join us.
You join the Working Group by going to my website at jessicaabel.com/podcast, and signing up to receive my newsletter.
I’ll have show notes on this episode, including
- links to the Heard, Sheldon, Drive, Stripped, and Kelly Sue’s various books and channels
- and information on how you can get her Bitches Get Shit Done text blasts on your phone
on my site, at jessicaabel.com/podcast. You can also get show notes emailed to you, if you’re on the newsletter.
We’ve put together all our original interviews, including the complete Jakob Lewis, Dave Kellett, and Kelly Sue Deconnick interviews from this episode, along with music by Matt Madden, into a bonus package. If you’ve gotten value from this show and you want to support us going forward, you can buy this complete package for $10, or more if you like. There’s a link to buy the Bonus pack on my website, at Jessicaabel.com/podcast
You can find me on twitter at @jccabel. Benjamin is @BenjaminFrisch.
Out on the Wire is produced by Benjamin Frisch, with music contributed by Matt Madden.
Made with the support of La Maison des Auteurs, Angouleme.
And one last thing, It’s been a pleasure and an honor to make this show for you and with you! Thank you!
Help us out by sharing this show with your friends!
Get Bonus Content & Support Out on a Wire
Check out the Out on the Wire Bonus Pack. Featuring all of the new interviews we conducted for the show, plus our soundtrack music by Matt Madden. It’s ten bucks (or more, if you’re feeling generous.) It’s a great way to spend more time with our fabulous guests and support the show.
Includes full length interviews with:
- Stephanie Foo (This American Life)
- Jonathan Mitchell (The Truth podcast)
- Larissa MacFarquahar (The New Yorker)
- Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet)
- Our edit with Robert Smith and Jess Jiang (Planet Money)
- Rob Rosenthal (the Transom Workshop, How Sound)