How to build a creative life that makes you happy and ALSO produces results - Jessica Abel
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How to build a creative life that makes you happy and ALSO produces results

sustainable work process

Jennifer Shiman had the dream career for so many creatives.

She created a popular series of animations (30-Second Bunnies Theatre: where animated bunnies reenact famous films in 30 seconds).

Corporate clients came calling.

She made a good living from her work.

She was, for 10 years, the rarest of unicorns: a successful one-woman animation shop.

Then she burned out.

sustainable work process

“My system…was outdated for my reality.”

After she had her daughter, Jennifer took a few years’ hiatus. But returning to the grind she’d escaped…?

When I started to do the Bunnies again, I felt panicky.

Because working on the bunnies for so long—and it was really was one title after another, with a six to seven week turnaround—it was all I had time to do.

I could be at the desk 20 hours a day if I wanted to. I could finish. The flexibility was maximum.

It was a pretty relentless work schedule, and I got really burned out. That was a big impetus behind taking the hiatus.

I was exhausted and just didn’t want to continue down that path.

Now, in addition to the childcare component and having an additional human in the family, physically, it’s just too taxing, and literally, there’s just no more time.

I’m always thinking about productivity. Having to crank out an animated short a month for 10 years—and doing it myself—you have to have a good system.

And my system…was outdated for my reality.

Building in margin leads to a sustainable work process

Jennifer’s work habits while she was a full-time pro made her leery of going back to being a full-time pro. Yet, that’s the work she most wanted to do.

What was the missing ingredient?

Margin. Free time and space to dive deep and discover how she wanted to design a sustainable creative life.

Jennifer needed to allow herself to examine her work process and design something that would support her creativity AND her humanity…long term.

That takes time, and it’s hard work. So she came to the Creative Focus Workshop to get the support she needed.

This is an opportunity to really create not only a sustainable way to earn a living, but a sustainable work process, which is necessary for my health.

I really appreciated a lot of the techniques in the Creative Focus Workshop to systematize, and have routine checks and balances. I could say okay, here’s what really happened. I have documentation of what happened, ha ha ha.

In fact, thanks to the workshop I’ve got a lot of production logs now, like post logs for Patreon, where I can just routinely check certain lists, and have a plan.

I mean, I love plans. That really speaks to me.

I like this organization: finding a balance of not spending too much of the time doing the admin, but having it as a nice structure that I can fall back on. It’s reliable and it tells me what I need to know.

And it really helps me complete things.

Trying on a new project for size

As her One Goal (the one project Jennifer devoted her attention to during and after the Creative Focus Workshop), Jennifer chose, not the Bunnies, but to develop a long-running webcomic side project into a full 2.5 minute animation that she could pitch to producers.

Jennifer’s platypus-homunculus Baldwin P. Leninforth, Ombudsman, who mediates disputes among demons in the pits of hell, is the star of this project.

Committing to this project and seeing it through gave her distance from the Bunnies project, and vital information…

She’d rather be doing the Bunnies.

Having completed Ombudsman and allowing for more margin has helped me get clarity on the next step. It allowed me to understand that what I wanted to do for income as my next move would be returning to the Bunnies, versus simply looking for new content development.


I’m doing a new, 2018 Bunny season on Patreon, and I just released When Harry Met Sally Bunnies for Valentines Day.

This is the project now, and it feels really good. I know that it feels right.

And I may not have known that without having had the tools and the road map from the Creative Focus Workshop.

Sustainable work process >>> sustainable way to make a living

Another piece of Jennifer’s new relationship to her work is that she’s building a model based on direct support of her viewers via Patreon.

I’m trying to use Patreon to build an audience of patrons as well as the usual viewers to ultimately fund this season using member subscriptions, instead of corporate commissions, which was what I’d been doing for the last few seasons of bunny shorts.

I didn’t like the way that the Bunnies were being distributed when I was working with the corporate clients. I had no control over the ads that would show prior to these shorts. They were trying to monetize them that way. And the ads were longer than the actual content.

I didn’t know how many of the original viewers even got to see those videos, nor did I know if the titles were that interesting to everybody.

It was a lot more working in a vacuum, versus now, which feels a lot more connected. Sort of like the very first ones that came out.

It’s kind of back to the grass roots, where the videos are being delivered right to the people who liked them in the first place.

And the cool thing is they’re still fresh. So it’s very viable. And there’s still a lot of people out there who are interested in more of them. I just have to find those people again and make them aware.

I’m really enjoying some elements of being in complete control of the marketing and the social media.

I tweeted the When Harry Met Sally file to the Twitter accounts of Billy Crystal and and Rob Reiner, because there’s a very good chance…I mean, they’re not sitting there all day like, Let me check my tweets, but they might.

It’s way more possible than it used to be, when it would just have to happen that someone might send a director a link to my stuff.

What it looks like to implement a new, sustainable work process

But even as Jennifer’s creative direction came into focus, many issues hung on from the past. Even if she’d wanted to work in the same crunch-time style as before—and she knew she didn’t—She had a new life now, more complicated, and with less free time.

And she was not happy with those restrictions.

A key insight from the Creative Focus Workshop is accepting the amount of time you really have, and working with what you have.

That was a big, big game changer for me. Because I have a lot of resentment—ha ha—about my lack of extra time now.

I might create a calendar where I’ve cordoned off certain amounts of time to work on the project.

Then we went through the process, in the workshop, of comparing what I had planned to what really happened.

That was very hard, but very necessary.

And then I have to accept the fact that yes, life happened, it was hard, it didn’t go the way I wanted it to.

Once I can accept that, then I can stop using time to just rage and utilize those little pockets to just keep getting the work done.

Whereas before I might feel discouraged and put it off more…

…this time I would feel discouraged and then try again to recalibrate. Which was a change for me.

Next week. How can I make this work with my reality?

It’s not just a matter of accepting external circumstances. The key insight is that those circumstances felt like they were Jennifer’s fault, like she was the failure point. Which led to painful self-blame (and not incidentally, further delay, exacerbating the problem).

In Jessica’s workshop I was able to pinpoint something I had not seen. I could not see it because I was so close to it.

I was feeling discouraged and like it was an issue with my own skill or time management rather than just accepting that now this is a different reality than it was.

That’s been a big change for the positive for me.

And that is a piece that I did not have in any prior productivity system.

The emotional work of facing what’s stopping you

A common misconception is that putting in place systems to support sustainable creative productivity should be mechanical, just a lot of list-making, tactics, and checking boxes.

But in fact, it’s highly emotional to realize—and accept on a deep level—that the life I think I have is not the life I actually have, that they just don’t line up.

Even when you haven’t faced it, that fact is already painful. You face that realization that things aren’t lining up daily, and it’s the source of enormous anxiety and guilt, even shame.

What can you do about it? You can’t (well, probably shouldn’t, anyway) radically simplify your life by cutting out family, friends, paid work. That’s not really an option.

Radical acceptance of your objective reality

What you can do is take control of your decisions about where and how to spend the time you do have available.

Making these decisions yourself and not allowing them to be made for you by default, is empowering.

Even if the decision you make is not what you’d prefer and you’re not super happy about it, at least you’re the one making it.

The acceptance component just seems like it’s a no-brainer. But that’s not true.

It’s emotional and it is something that causes real delays. The emotional delays of feeling very blocked, and Why can’t I get these things done? I hate this.

It often leads to paralysis, in my case.

I’ve found that trying to get comfortable with the idea—This is the new normal. How can we work within the new normal?—that shifting that way is a practice, I find.

More and more I experience those moments of, Okay, I get it. This is how it is. How can I make this chunk of time work?

That really helped me finish the Ombudsman animation.

Get help to take the sting out of the hard work

This emotional process is not easy in any case. And it’s especially not easy to face it alone. That’s why Jennifer was so glad she could rely on her cohort of committed creative people in the Creative Focus Workshop. (And whether you join the Workshop or not—get support for this process.)

It’s pretty important to be all in for the Creative Focus Workshop, for one’s own process and one’s own journey. Because it was really helpful. And in order for it to be that helpful, I had to be plugged into it.

I was ready to do the hard work. Because it was hard work.

Necessary work. But it was hard.

After the cohort ended, I was really lonely! It was weird. I don’t do a lot of online workshops, and I wouldn’t think that doing an online workshop would merit feeling sad when it was over!

I found it very supportive to be part of a group in the workshop that was able to talk about what that was happening.

And in that process I was able to understand—and I think not only understand intellectually, but understand… somewhere else, on a psychic basis, or spiritual—that it was OK to run out of time in the day, and just move on to the next day.

And then things can continue to get done.

Join me for a FREE workshop on How to carve out space in your life to achieve your big, deadline-free creative goals this Friday, March 9, 2018 at 3 pm EST!

Seeing this after March 9? Click through and you can still see the replay!

About Jennifer Shiman:

Jennifer Shiman is the creator of 30-Second Bunnies Theatre. Since 2004, she’s created and produced over 90 short cartoons with bunnies re-enacting movies in (approximately) 30 seconds. The award-winning shorts have appeared on broadcast TV, on demand, online, and in a global ad campaign for Volkswagen Fox. In 2018 she launched a Patreon campaign to help fund six new bunny titles. Find Jennifer on Twitter, and the Bunnies on Facebook.

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Answer these 10 quick questions to uncover the real reasons why you’re not able to take control of your creative work.

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Answer these 10 quick questions
to uncover the real reasons why you’re not able
to take control of your creative work.

Start Here