Why Routines Can Be the Core of Creativity

Akanksha Singh is a journalist, content writer, and editor based in Mumbai, India. She writes about travel, culture, social justice, and her experience of being raised as a third-culture kid. Essays and journalism have appeared in Bon Appétit, CNN’s Parts Unknown, HuffPost, The Independent, South China Morning Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, and many more.

As a child, my Air Force brat dad drilled one thing into me: If you’re not at least two minutes early, you’re late. Since then, the idea of being late has given me immense anxiety. (The condition is exacerbated by the fact that I live in Mumbai, one of the world’s most heavily-congested cities, where it’s impossible to predict arrival times of any sort.) That said, the idea of people’s time—including my own—being important is something I’ve learned to respect, especially since I’ve started working as a full-time freelancer.

It irks me to no end when a musician I’m interviewing texts to say they’re running half-an-hour late after I’ve reached our café at the agreed-upon time, and it’s even more frustrating when the rebuttal to this is a sympathetic nod accompanied by, “Yes, but she’s a creative…” 

There are many legitimate reasons why a person might be late to a meeting, but being ‘a creative’ shouldn’t be one of them.

I know this because, at one point, I was that type of ‘creative’ person. Not the type who didn’t think owning a wristwatch was fashionable (still rocking my grandfather’s retro Titan, thank you), but the type who didn’t do anything unless she ‘felt’ it.

***

There’s a convincing (albeit self-perpetuating) myth that ‘feeling’ it is better than ‘forcing’ it when you’re trying to earn a living through your art. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing to wait for the muses to smile upon you as you romantically put pen to paper to write your magnum opus; less so when you’re writing a listicle on where to eat in your city, or how to go about saving more money as you set up a freelance business. 

I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with ‘feeling’ it; just that the feeling comes more frequently when you start setting aside time to do your work. Sit down at your desk, open up your guitar case—whatever your ‘it’ is.

While I used to believe in the wishy-washy idea that setting rigid hours for yourself was somehow harmful to my creative spirit, I now see that the truth lies in balance. For instance, I know I’ll never be the type of freelance writer who timetables her day to the hour. That’s just not me—I’d be terribly bored within the first two days of doing what I’m doing as I’m doing it.

I thrive on variety and a peppering of uncertainty. I find that it’s great to get out and actually do things before I sit down to write. That bit—when I’m going out to a museum or a bookshop, say—is where I get to indulge my creative self. But when I’m home, which I have to be for a minimum of four hours a day, I write like there’s nothing else in the world. I don’t care if that’s two hours and two hours, or one hour and three hours, or one-and-a-half hours and two-and-a-half-hours (you get the idea). I put in the work, and I’m accountable to myself.

In other words, I make myself ‘feel’ it for a given amount of time. Specifically, with an oven timer that dings to satisfaction when I’m done.

***

An editor I once worked with, Chloe Angyal, recently tweeted the following:

She’s right; we’ve conveniently taken an eraser to the fact that those who we thought could work only when they ‘felt’ it had the luxury of time, money, or someone making one or both of those things on their behalf.

The fact is, the stories we hear of ‘go where the wind takes me’ artists—and people who are so in ‘the zone’ that they became immune to the laws of time and rules of polite society—are myths. In her book The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer refers back to Henry David Thoreau:

Thoreau wrote in painstaking detail about how he chose to remove himself from society to live ‘by his own means’ in a little 10-foot x 15-foot hand-hewn cabin on the side of a pond. What he left out of Walden, though, was the fact that the land he built on was borrowed from his wealthy neighbor, that his pal Ralph Waldo Emerson had him over for dinner all the time, and that every Sunday, Thoreau’s mother and sister brought over a basket of freshly-baked goods for him, including donuts.

Donuts, people! Donuts!

It’s ridiculous to think that being a creative sort of person requires you to simultaneously be an isolated, lost-to-the-world-until-my-novel-is-complete kind of person. The reality of it is that those ‘lost-to-the-world’ moments when we’re engrossed in our work are punctuated by real life—and there’s no shame in that! My four-hour timetabling efforts are my way of choosing how and when to punctuate (or an editor choosing the same for me).

When I was starting out, the idea of routine scared me. Sort of like it went against the idea of being creative, almost. Since then, I’ve learned that a writing and freelancing career requires enough structure in your day to pull your creative efforts into place.

I don’t want to sound like I’ve got it entirely together, because I don’t—this is still my first year of doing this full-time. But what I do works for me, and while it took a little trial and error to come to, it’s the sort of routine I can stick to without much effort.

Because if there are three things a career of full-time freelancing needs, it’s this: structure, coffee, and—of course—donuts. 

The Power of the Shower Curtain Whiteboard

Hart Fowler is an independent journalist. S. Noelle Lynch is an incendiary nocturnal fiction writer and journalist.

My 24-year-old sister is younger than me, and a third-grade elementary school teacher in DC.  

She said: “We’re not writing anymore. It is all typing on the keyboard and phone.” 

She meant the old-fashioned way of writing it down on paper, in manuscript or cursive. 

10,000 years of script. From cave-drawings to scrolls of papyrus and Gutenberg’s press, to paper, chalkboards, Remington typewriters, legal pads…  and now PowerPoint.

Does writing with pen and ink still serve a purpose?

Yes, and we work to prove it. 

My fiancée and I are both work-at-home-writers, and have found success by organizing our work utilizing the age-old technique of large-scale visual display. The kind that you do not have to plug in.  

It’s like dry-erase board, but bigger and better.           

ENTER: The shower curtain  

Our number of clients and story-ideas grew because we do good work—and good work tends to beget more work, no matter what field you’re in.

We found our growing list of pitches and commissioned work, story ideas and random crude drawings, were constantly running off the edges of medium-sized dry-erase boards. Writing smaller didn’t give us that sense of importance we wanted from the display.

We knew we needed a bigger board, which is a good problem to have.    

But even the largest sized white-boards at our local art store or box stores wouldn’t fit our needs. Ordering an industrial-sized board, like the ones used in boardrooms or classrooms, was unfeasible.  

The epiphany occurred to us while trying to find a toilet plunger at Home Depot in the Bathroom Decor section.

There it was.  

 A transparent 6′ by 8′ shower curtain.

 She looked at me all-knowing.  

I looked back nodding.   

Yes was the answer, and $10 was worth the risk.

We hung it that very night, stretching it tightly with nails as if it were a large canvas.

We asked each other if the pressed creases would present a problem, if the plastic itself would hold dry-erase ink, and if it would just be tacky like you’d imagine a shower curtain could look on the wall.

But the creases came out in the hanging, the plastic held the ink, and it didn’t look bad at all. Our doubts relieved, we immediately began drawing up work-flows, with sections for pitches, work-in-progress, and lead-ideas—and we’ve never looked back.

Here’s why our shower curtain board works:

Writing big feels big

We’re fortunate to have a large office-room with a tall ceiling. Since our shower curtain is mounted with 3 feet between the bottom and the floor, the top stands 10 feet easy. We have to climb up on a chair to hit the high points.

The physicality of that means a bunch. Standing on a chair to write down a pitch—or even better, marking a pitch as accepted—adds a sense of importance that a Google Docs or a spreadsheet doesn’t.

And that feeling is important.  

Like a detective on a cold or hot case, you get to stand back and see where you stand—and climbing a chair to write down your triumphs or failures makes you feel like you are in the game.

Because you are.  

Standard dry-erase markers work great on shower curtains 

Dry-erase markers give us a sharp look, which is key. We use a standard kitchen sponge with a splash of water to wash away edits, and use an old bath towel to dry up the drips.

We use black for pitches, and green for works-in-progress. (One work-in-progress can be the result of 20 pitches, as you probably know.)

We write our current work-in-progress in big letters in all-caps in the most prominent spot on the board, reminding us of the reason for all of this: which is to write, you writer, that’s what we do. 

And naturally, we use green for the color of money, showing us the commercial value of all of our work.

We use blue for submitted pieces, or what we call The Outbox.

We’ve debated using red for late payments from publishers, or to include our freelance balance sheet on the board. That’s a part of freelance life (though we’ve had more good luck than bad with publishers) but ultimately we decided not to display the finance on the board. We chose to write the art things on the board and save the nuts and bolts of commerce and finance for a spreadsheet.

 Which leads us to the last and closing section.   

The Shower Curtain Board is no substitute for Google Docs and/or a spreadsheet

We still use Google Docs and Folders and spreadsheets religiously for organization. When you pitch 20 pubs to get one hit, you need a good place to handle dates and follow-ups.

The beauty of the board is that it complements the rest of our necessary organizational tools. The big visual display is a testament to your work, a physical, visceral element that goes a long way in the impermanent temporal “delete/backspace” world.  

A 6’ by 8’ board can also serve as a large-scale to-do list. Need-be, you can write “buy broccoli” or “toilet paper” and not interrupt what you’re really working on: “Pitch How Retail Employs More than Coal Mines.”

The sense of satisfaction we get from looking at our work on a grander scale than the laptop can provide has helped our morale, confidence and camaraderie immensely, a welcome innovation on an old-fashioned tool that works for us in the fast-moving world of freelance writing.  

It is an age-old technique, after all—writing things down with a pen and ink.

Photo credit: Hart Fowler and S. Noelle Lynch

How Going Incognito Sparked My Creativity and Deepened My Practice

Samantha Hoilett is a freelance content writer and strategist. She’s a specialist in value-packed writing for digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle brands. Find her latest writing on Medium, say hi on LinkedIn, or visit her website at forwardthinkingcontent.com.   

“Oh, that’s nice.” If you’re an amateur artist, you’ve probably heard this phrase before—and when you regularly share your art with friends and family, it can get exhausting to hear this canned response. No one is all that interested in your daily sketches, artistic process, or why you chose ink over watercolor. They also don’t understand why you’d practice drawing if you aren’t planning on using your skills professionally.

Although I drew often, I felt like I wasn’t receiving the support my hobby deserved. At times, I was worried I would stop drawing all together. Then I discovered Instagram’s art community—and decided to join it not as myself, but as an incognito artist. Here are the five ways my anonymous Instagram account improved my art:

I could experiment without explaining

When you share your art with friends and family, you’re getting the same perspective from the same people over and over. It can also be awkward when they ask you to explain a piece—Is that meant to be you? Why are there flowers coming out of her head? Does this mean something deeper?

Sharing my art online exposed it to people all over the world, with no explanation required. People take it at face value or provide interesting perspectives I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. For example, one commenter said one of my pieces reminded her of a Polish children’s story she read growing up.

My Instagram account has helped me see my art from fresh point-of-views and get excited to try new subjects. Sharing my art anonymously let me draw things that were deeply me, without feeling like I was exposing the inner workings of my mind to distant acquaintances. 

I could start and stop projects

When you tell your friends and family about a creative project, it can feel like you owe them a regular update. The truth is, creative projects always take longer than people expect—and sometimes you realize the project you’re working on isn’t going in the right direction, or you get inspired halfway through your project to change directions and try something entirely new.

Explaining this to friends and family can make you feel like you failed or disappointed them, when in reality, it’s a healthy part of the creative process. For me, an anonymous art account felt like the perfect workaround. I could experiment with new things, start and stop new projects, and update my audience on my progress without feeling like I had had to provide a success story. It was incredibly freeing.

I could make as much art as I wanted

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” — Andy Warhol 

As amateur artists, we know that creating a final product is a long process. It can feel obtrusive to regularly share messy, unfinished drafts to friends and family. Instead, we only share the final product and hope that the hard work that went into it is implied.

Like the Warhol quote suggests, it’s easy to wait around and see who loved it and who hated it. When you’re finally done, it’s tempting to squeeze out as much praise and recognition as you can before moving on to your next piece. 

Sharing art anonymously on Instagram is a great reminder that it’s not your responsibility if people like your art. Your only responsibility is to never stop creating. You come to accept that not every piece is going to popular, and that not everything you share will be a masterpiece. This same process helps you come to appreciate that your creativity is an infinite resource, and you can always create something new. 

I became a more confident artist

If nothing else, having a private Instagram account has helped me increase my confidence. With friends and family, no matter how much praise they give, there’s always a nagging feeling that their positive words and encouragement only come out of obligation.

Building a small following on Instagram has let me see that there are people out there who enjoy my art and find it worth sharing themselves—even if they know nothing about me. This gave me the extra confidence I needed to keep creating, experimenting, and practicing. 

I found an artistic community

There are millions of people who are Instagram just for joining the art community. By joining this community anonymously, I was able to be honest and vulnerable about my art. I regularly commiserated with fellow artists about the struggles of different mediums, capturing certain emotions, dealing with plagiarism, and other challenges we faced. I got to show up as myself and connect with others who shared similar ambitions.

In addition, this community offers endless inspiration and support for your creative process. In my two years on the platform, I’ve never received a negative comment on my work. Monthly drawing challenges like Inktober keep you motivated and encouraged to keep drawing. Professional artists share their preferred materials, drawing process, and a range of other resources that can help you grow as a creative.

At some point, I believe I’ll be ready to share my account with friends and family. And thanks to Instagram, I feel like I’m a better artist for it.


How I Fund My Indie Games Habit With Writing and Consulting

Rachel Presser is the founder of Sonic Toad Media. She’s also a full-time hustler, part-time shitposter, and a constant traveler who feels that life is too short to wonder what could’ve been.

I’ve been in the video games industry in some capacity for eight years at the time of writing. To say that it’s been quite a journey is an understatement.

Indie game developers are frequently told by people in and outside of the industry alike, “Don’t quit your day job!” just as essayists, artists, and playwrights of yore were told the same thing. Given the vast amount of indie games produced these days, there’s definitely some validity to this statement.

But as someone who’s never really had a day job work out, I’m not fond of this phrase. It screams “Don’t take any risk!” Which, oh yeah, making games is fraught with risk. Unlike other creative endeavors that can have a more immediate payoff, making games not only takes time (which means several months or even a few years of living expenses to account for) but also other expenses like paying other people to tackle the development aspects that you can’t, exhibiting, marketing—it’s a lot of cash and it blindsides you. It’s why people say not to quit your day job unless you’ve got a parent or spouse to support you.

Still, I don’t like this phrase and I do not like day jobs. My philosophy is “build the career and lifestyle that enables you to work on your own projects.” Because having both time and funding is so crucial for game developers, I knew I had to build an infrastructure that would give me the time I needed while not putting me into a position where I’m constantly fighting to get paid.

As the title surmises, I did that through building a small digital media business and focusing on web content! (Sonic Toad Media and Consulting, go check it out.)

Isn’t building a second business twice as much work (and risk)?

Maybe. But for a lot of us entrepreneurial types, especially those who don’t like being beholden to an investor or anyone who offers money with strings attached, we don’t know any other way.

Like “indie developer,” people tend to view “freelance writer” as a risky enterprise. It was something else I was told was impossible to pursue, let alone make good money from.

I proved them wrong.

Read How I Made $10,000 in a Month By Snarking on Furniture and McMansions. That right there is proof of my income, and it’s not the only source. It’s more than what any job ever paid me, and I did it in less time than a comparable job would demand. So if you’re in the video games industry and wondered how the hell I could afford all these conferences, paying a dev team without nickel-and-diming them, AND living in NYC plus at least one vacation a year: there’s your answer!

The abridged version of how I got to this point is that I lost my last salaried job in 2014, and freaked out like anyone would. I was supporting my game studio at the time with my salary, but I decided I didn’t want to pursue another precarious day job in an industry I never even wanted to work in (finance, if you’re curious). So, using my business experience from my accounting background and running Himalaya Studios, I started teaching business courses tailored for game developers. Then I began writing about these topics for Gamasutra and getting offers from universities to speak to students. I had stumbled into a career that was both fulfilling and paid well, but the precariousness persisted.

The longer version of this story is on a guest post I did for game marketing service Black Shell Media, where, to fast-forward things a bit: I realized after we got turned down by an investor that I didn’t want to grow a huge studio and head the next TellTale or Avalanche. I wanted to make my own totally out-there indie titles where I’d own my ideas and my labor, and I also needed a way to formalize the consulting work I was doing and the first few paid articles I picked up. Sonic Toad Media was born.

How I got well-paying clients to come to me

To market my consulting services, I wrote pieces for Gamasutra as often as I could. I’m not a fan of “working for exposure,” but when you’re in an industry as tiny as game development and you have an even tinier handful of authoritative publications, sometimes you have to do that kind of work to market yourself. By providing helpful content for free on Gamasutra, I got far more leads and paying clients than I could have by buying ads.

Gamasutra worked well for passively generating leads. But what about actively pursuing opportunities? Well—sometimes you have to get out there and start meeting people in person.

The ability to travel and attend conferences has given me some of the biggest boosts in my career. Even if not every single person I meet at a conference turns out to be a paying client or source for university gigs, in-person networking is an essential part of my business growth strategy. Yes, you need money to travel as often as I currently do, and not everyone can pull this off in the early stages of their career—which is why I kept my conference habit hyper-local when I was broke and my savings from my tax office job were dwindling. I only went to events where I could reasonably get there by subway, or perhaps a day trip out of Penn Station or Port Authority with free or cheap admission. 

Having that regular presence at industry events, whether local or national, was crucial. I dove into this more in my Gamasutra feature about networking, and how people tend to view networking as this transactional one-time thing. Nope. Networking is a long game. Be patient unless the person you met at that event expressed an imminent need for someone with your talent. If you’re not able to afford to travel to the big conventions, head to Eventbrite or Meetup.com and look up free and cheap events close to you that meet regularly. Start one for your line of work if it doesn’t already exist!

But even networking can’t always fix the precariousness of a contemporary career. What do you do when you’ve exhausted following up with every person you met but your long-acting digital methods like social and content aren’t working out?

Find a more consistent digital source of income.

Becoming a writer by accident (and a problem-solver on purpose)

One of my favorite creator origin stories is how best-selling Irish novelist Marian Keyes became a writer by accident. She was working at a law firm and someone accidentally came across her manuscript, thought it was great, and suddenly she’s sold millions of books.

I accidentally got into digital content in a similar way. A colleague at Playcrafting said I was a really good writer and should find ways to get paid for it. Then I realized how much money I could make with content writing and how easily it could fit into my life. When I managed to do an entire assignment on my iPad all the way from NYC to Raleigh for my first East Coast Game Developers’ conference, it hit me that I should take advantage of this flexible and portable income source to travel and make games.

If you’re adept enough with writing, you can make a nice living in way less time than it takes to work a day job. Some of my writing work even outpaces what I charge for consulting services nowadays.

Last year, I wrote a book for Freedom With Writing titled How to Earn a Living as a Content Writer. Here’s one of the key takeaways: positioning is how I consistently secure good rates no matter what kind of work I do.

The first part of positioning entails a steady digital presence (social media, industry-specific clips, professional headshots, and a polished website) and proof of your accomplishments that’s easy to find. Having a high follower count on Twitter has helped me, even if my feed is full of political shitposting. Decked-out profiles on major content sites and lots of bylines help, as do all my past conference talks.

The other part of positioning involves learning how to solve other people’s problems. For instance, in the content writing sphere, I found that games-related sites often had a difficult time getting editorial-quality writing with SEO-native writers—so I explained how I could provide both of those services simultaneously. Ditto for financial writing: most small accounting firms don’t always have good writers on board, and they’re too busy focusing on serving their clients to consistently create good content, but when they hire content writers they can’t find someone who knows tax law. That’s the pain point I focus on, when I go after those jobs.

If you want good clients who will pay you top dollar, it’s not enough to say “I did tech support for medium-sized businesses for six years.” Turn it around to “I’m a rockstar at dealing with middleware snags” or whatever other problem you’re good at solving.

Position yourself as a problem-solver and lean times will be far more infrequent.

How my freelance work helps me stay in the game

Many people don’t view me as a full-time game developer, and I suppose that I’m not. I do a lot of non-games work and games-adjacent projects to pay the bills. But I don’t do “games on the side” like I would if I was holding down a day job. The games industry is still the primary focal point of my media company, whether I’m writing, consulting, or working on my own indie titles.

What I love about my freelance work is that I get the job done, I solve the client’s problem, then I go back to my life. I have enough money to pay my bills, save a little, enjoy some of the finer things in life, and pay my dev team. I get to travel! I attend conferences, punk festivals, game jams, you name it. I also take on-site teaching and speaker gigs at universities, with private game dev collectives, and with B2B clients who want to build or improve their relationship with the games industry, which just adds to the variety and excitement (not to mention my frequent flier miles and tax deductions).

Would I maybe have more time to work solely on the games if I sought outside funding for my projects? Perhaps, but then I’d have constraints.

For example: Instead of putting time, resources, and nonstop engagement into a Kickstarter campaign for my current title, I’m better off sticking with a client that pays more than what many full-time games industry and marketing jobs pay for about 25% of the time suck. (Throw in Kickstarter fulfillment, keeping up with backers, and taxes, and I’m definitely better off with my current revenue mix.)

Likewise, if I went the traditional publication route, I wouldn’t get paid by the publisher until my game reached certain milestones, which is difficult when you have a chronic illness that randomly strikes and robs you even if you’ve gone over a month without a flare-up. While publishers can offer immense resources for both frameworks and marketing, I’m less stressed at the prospect of using my own money because I can do whatever I want with it. I can use a lo-fi engine like Ren’Py and make the game as long and twisty as I want, choose my own contractors, and be unafraid to take a stand with the game’s messaging without worrying what a higher-up might think of it.

And, while going the investor route is pretty much required if you want to grow a huge company, I don’t want a huge company. I want the freedom to do what I want with my time, own my labor, and think it’s only fair my contractors get a cut of the royalties as well which is something most investors wouldn’t like. I’m content to work on lo-fi engines and small teams with enough time to have a life, and the past few years have shown me this. I’m happy to have gotten my rates high enough to get rid of my lowest-paying content and consulting clients, and have flexible deadlines so I can devote 2-3 days at a time to game development while fitting my paid work around it, instead of the other way around.

When I read Lauren Bacall’s autobiography (when doing research some years back for a game I ultimately put on the backburner), she discussed how her film career subsidized her love of stage acting. Maybe I’m nowhere near the same level as her, but I read that book right around the time I lost my shitty financial job then changed careers for good and it gave me a similar idea I didn’t put into motion til a year later. Today, I’m open to whatever the universe brings next, and am full of gratitude that I get to do work I find fun and fulfilling and earn more than any day job ever paid me.

How I Use My Weak Tie Network to Expand My Creative Practice

Laura Leavitt is a writer, editor, and teacher in Ohio; she has a pet gecko and likes a good game of Ultimate Frisbee on occasion.

Most of us are familiar with the stereotype of the “creative genius,” alone in a room, dreaming up something new that never existed before. However, most of my favorite creative work has actually centered on group problem-solving: an organization has an image problem and wants to use new website copy to start fixing it, or no one in town knows that an amazing event is happening and they really need the publicity. For me, creativity is usually practiced in the context of a community. 

I get a lot of joy out of the feeling that the many circles in which I participate are connected and have the chance to benefit each other. I once taught a student in Indiana, for example, and when I recently ran into her at her cool new job in Pennsylvania, I experienced an amazing rush of connectedness. It makes me feel like my work has value and impact, and it also makes me feel like I’m tied into a web of positive social exchange. Sometimes I need things from my network, like recommendations for locksmiths after I lock my keys in my car. Sometimes I give things to my network, like promoting other people’s events to my friends. Just watching the network breathe in and out, filling needs and wants throughout the community, brings me joy.

This kind of network is often described through the sociological concepts of weak ties and strong ties. Strong ties are, of course, our friends, close family, and anyone who would list us among their most important people. Most of us have a limit to how many strong ties we can have, but nearly everyone has one or two strong ties, at the least. 

Weak ties are interesting in a different way: they aren’t strangers, but they aren’t close friends either. This is anyone who would remember your name from high school or from your last job, anyone who is in the same social circle but hasn’t sat down and spoken with you. The people who read or view or listen to your creative work are another form of weak tie. 

Both intentionally and unconsciously, I’ve been building up my weak-tie network as I expand my creative freelancing practice. Many of my best gigs derived in part from my network, and I know it. A friend or acquaintance of mine tells someone at their company that they know a writer, which helps my name stand out from what might otherwise be a big stack of applications. We work together to solve each other’s problems: I benefit from the work, the company benefits from my writing, my friend benefits by being able to help their company find a good writer.

Here are some of the ways that I’ve specifically developed my weak tie network in order to get access to more of these creative problem-solving opportunities.

Step 1: Develop My Mental Rolodex

As a writer, I have begun to build a list of who needs stories on what kind of topics. When I read a publication I like, I try to summarize for myself what they are looking for. Many of my own assigned stories are location-driven, so I know which publication is best to pitch for any of the six different towns/cities in my beat. Others are topic-driven: for instance, I discovered a publication I really respected that does work at the intersection of sustainability and food production/agriculture. I filed it away as the kind of place I wanted to write for in the future, though I didn’t have a story idea ready to pitch yet.

When I find a new publication I’d like to add to my rolodex, I write down a basic description of the publication, as well as any contact information I have for pitching, in a spreadsheet. My weak ties here are editors, usually. If I get an assignment or pitch successfully, I keep that editor even higher on my list, since I’ve gotten a chance to prove myself a known quantity with them. 

Step 2: Follow My Curiosity

My weak ties here are the most abstract: if I’m interested in gardening this week, I’m going to read some articles about gardening. If a friend mentions that there are people who are practicing urban organic farming in my town, I’m going to ask them to tell me more. This stage isn’t about schmoozing or going to networking events; it’s just paying attention and combining anything I can learn from my existing network of people with information I can discover using the internet. I don’t assume a story will lie at the end of it, but sometimes it does. 

One example: I love Atlas Obscura, so I looked up my town on that site. I discovered a super-weird, ultra-niche monument in my town, and instead of just saying, “how odd,” I went and visited the monument. I was right! It is super weird! I then did research into the individual commemorated by the monument and his bizarre theory of the Earth being ‘hollow and habitable within.’ It was just interesting to me. Years later, I wrote a long essay about this figure, connecting his trenchant beliefs about the Hollow Earth to our current cultural zeitgeist (or, you know, tried to). It wasn’t inevitable that I’d write about him, but it was always possible, if I kept reinforcing those connections to what interested me.

Step 3: Connect Freely and Honestly, With No Strings Attached

I’ve written for Nicole before about how volunteering is a creative practice for me, but volunteering is also an excellent way to connect with other people, no-strings-attached. Have I gotten ideas for articles out of the idle chatter at the food bank? Absolutely. Am I disappointed if I don’t get anything concrete out of a given volunteer day? Not at all. I enjoy connecting with others as an end, not as a means.

This is the same reason I joined our city’s Rotary Club. Joining wasn’t an instant ticket to high-dollar opportunities to write marketing and website copy. Instead, it’s been a place where, once in a while, someone comes up and says, “You should really profile so-and-so. They have a great story.” I get to know the subject, I think about which venue or outlet might work for that profile, and I pitch it. Most weeks, though, I don’t attend Rotary Club to get story ideas. I just enjoy the Rotary Club’s service culture and camaraderie. 

I’ve also joined a women’s social enterprise in a nearby city, where I write for free but love the community feel. I’ve continued taking yoga classes despite knowing enough moves to do them at home, and I’ve tried one-off activities like cooking classes, all in an attempt to connect. I don’t assume any one event will be the one that connects me to work, but overall, being connected does help me get to take a stab at solving new creative problems.

What’s nice about this strategy is that I don’t burden any of the individuals in my social network with a request for work. If I was really hard up, I think I’d probably do this at some point, and it would prove that the social network I’ve created can help me when I need it. However, most of the time, I get to breezily tell people what I do, and then say that if their company ever needs written work, they can call me. I don’t bring up my work again, except to occasionally gush about the coolest person I interviewed lately.

People do eventually reach out to me about writing gigs; I don’t know how many, but it’s probably a reliable one in twenty people I make solid connections with. However, I want to be a warm and pleasant acquaintance to twenty out of twenty of them, so the interaction is virtually never “networky” in a stereotypical way. Maybe, at its heart, good networking never feels like networking.

That said, I’m still very glad when someone in my community tells me that their non-profit needs a letter written for their donors, or that their company wants help writing profiles of satisfied clients for their website. I’m also glad when I can use my creative problem-solving skills to bring other people together: Jill knows how to fix a radiator, for example, and Joe has a broken one. That moment of helping people help each other, of being an active member of a community, makes me feel alive and valuable in a way that transcends whatever monetary value I could possibly receive from it.

Plus, being part of a community means that some of my weak ties eventually develop into true friendships—and friends are, by far, better than getting new clients.

Maintaining My Love, Motivation, and Time for Fiction Writing While Freelancing as a Nonfiction Writer

Naomi Day is a queer Black woman, a software engineer gone rogue, and a writer from the time she could hold a pencil. Nowadays she primarily works as a freelance web designer and writer for Medium.

I am nearly two months into the life of a freelancer, and I absolutely love it. One of the biggest adjustments has been learning how to continue the speculative fiction writing I do for fun with the nonfiction writing I do for fun and money. Thus far, it has been a balancing act. I have two distinctly separate ways I am currently getting paid: I am a freelance nonfiction writer and a web designer. But I also am, and always have been, a fiction writer.

I used to use fiction writing to relax and tap into my creative side after a long day at work. But now I spend much of my days researching and writing articles. Fiction writing is no longer that instinctive go-to when I am looking for a way to kick back, simply because I am already spending a lot of time writing and finding creative ways to express my ideas. I know I want to continue writing fiction regardless of the other ways I spend my time, so I’ve leaned into the challenge and figured out how to maintain my love, motivation, and time for fiction while I also work as a freelance writer. It turns out many of the ways I ensure I continue to work on my fiction writing are very similar to the ways I make myself successful as a freelancer.

How I think about my three major obligations

Because I want to spend as much time on my creative writing as I spend on my freelance projects, I have figured out one common framework to use to think about these different tasks.

Editor’s note: I drew the graph. ❤️

Imagine a graph. The horizontal axis is money and the vertical one is passion. Each of my three primary interests can be mapped onto this diagram. The first, fiction writing, is highest on the vertical passion axis, but lowest on the horizontal money axis. The second, nonfiction article writing, is in the middle on both axes. The third, web design, is the lowest on the vertical passion axis but highest on the horizontal money axis.

This is a useful mental image for me: I know I want to stay as far up the vertical axis is possible (I’m happier up there! The views are nice!) but I also need to spend some time further down the slope in order to fund that peak happiness point.

So how do I balance these interests when I have limited time and my fiction writing process is vastly different than my work process for my freelance projects?

My motivation for fiction writing is often unpredictable, so I find ways to help the unpredictable happen predictably

Everybody’s processes are different; some writers sit down at the same time every morning and spend an hour on their project no matter how they are feeling, while others book month-long secluded vacations in order to finish a project all in one go. I fall somewhere in the middle.

My creative process involves a lot of moments of inspiration followed by mad dashes to get my thoughts out before they run away and I run out of time. I never force myself to sit and work on a piece of writing I am not genuinely interested in—that defeats the entire purpose of my fiction writing. But because of this, I can’t treat my fiction writing the same way as I treat my freelance work. I can’t put aside all thoughts of fiction writing until a predetermined time, when I sit down and get it all out on paper.

Instead, I find ways to continuously feed my sources of inspiration. I pay attention to the small details around me as I move through the world: a long bus ride through the country can help me build the setting for my next short story, and listening to people in cafés helps me understand how to write distinctive conversational voices. I have also learned to be flexible, capturing these moments on paper or in a note on my phone to include them in a narrative at a later date.

I talk about my fiction writing endlessly to those close to me, both to continue generating ideas and to draw inspiration and my interest in continuing this work from the excitement of the folks I tell. I lean on this external excitement as a motivator when I am in a rut with my fiction writing.

Thought it looks very different from how I get my freelance work done—putting my head down and completing a certain number of tasks—this creative cultivation encourages my natural flow of fiction writing and helps maintain a rhythm of creation.

Intentionality and a well-structured workflow help me create time for this work

If I had an endless amount of time and no need to think about money, I would focus on one project for several days before switching to an entirely different task and repeating the process. But with freelance writing deadlines and web design deadlines, this often isn’t possible. Additionally, even if I make it work on the freelance side, it leaves me with vast gaps of time in which I am not writing any fiction at all. As soon as I meet the deadline for one of my freelance projects, I have to pivot to the next, and before I know it I haven’t touched my writing in a month.

To avoid this motivation-killing delay, I line up fiction projects in the same way I line up nonfiction and web design projects—even though they are unpaid. This gives me a continuous stream of projects to look forward to. It also helps when I’m feeling like the time I spend working on fiction writing is wasted time because it isn’t financially profitable: I can tell myself I’ve already thought this through and scheduled the projects I need on a financial level, so all that’s left to do is enjoy the time I’ve given myself for the writing that makes me deeply happy!

And as for the love part…

I keep close track of where I am happiest spending my time. It has always been true that when I lose myself in my fiction writing, I come out of the process more joyful and ready to face the rest of the world than before I began. Maintaining this love requires that I continue to practice my craft so I always have proof for myself that this is a deep-seated source of joy. When I have extra time and space in my life, I nearly always spend it on fiction writing to continue to drive this point home for myself.

Ultimately I have thrown away most boundaries in my life between “work” and “play”. I lean into the ebbs and flows of inspiration for any of my projects as they come, and maintain a schedule that allows me to record these moments without interrupting the flow of work I am immersed in. Remembering to feed the flow of inspiration for fiction writing at the same time as I feed the flows for any of my other freelance projects helps maintain this process. These steps have become my recipe for a productive co-existence of fiction writing and nonfiction freelance projects, and I’m constantly coming back for another round!

For Whom Do I Write?

Josie ElBiry is a writer, editor, and teacher. Though she is originally from Houston, Texas, she has called Lebanon home since 2010.

Father Antoine just stopped by. My mother-in-law is elderly, so he comes in the rain to give her the sacrament. My husband and my kids follow him in prayer in a language I cannot yet speak, their intonation in unison; I know by its cadence and a few of the words that it is the Hail Mary. 

As of late, these visits for prayer allow us pause from the hurricane outside the window. The people of Lebanon are in full revolution against the government, a national event born of fatigue from entrenched corruption and ineptitude. Each sunset has become a stroke upon a clock tower—the end of the third day, the sixth, the ninth.

As I write, our sleepy town in the mountains, far removed from the tight crowds thronging for revolt along the coast, has attracted a couple of dozen people at the round point. They carry flags and march around in a pathetic attempt to match the fury playing out below us. I can hear their sparse, strident voices through an open window.

The October Revolution, as it has been dubiously christened, began Thursday, October 17 upon the announcement that the people would be leveraged to pay for Lebanon’s crippling debt.

“Hey, they’re gonna start charging us for WhatsApp calls,” my husband announced that afternoon. My eyes glazed for a moment, but I ignored it and went back to writing. I produce copy for an emerging digital marketing platform out of Dubai. For me, the day was business as usual.

By evening, Martyr’s Square in Beirut was swarming. People gathered with flags and back packs. Slogans were quickly exhumed from the 2015 “You Stink!” revolution against the same, ineffectual government. Over the next two days, the movement organized and gained traction. We watched from our perch on the mountain top, on flat screen TVs juxtaposed against nineteenth-century stone, as the crowds swelled past one million, watered and fed by volunteers and neighboring bakeries and restaurants.

Volunteers have gathered each morning by the dozens to collect and separate the trash from the night before. New tents are erected by the day. The carnival-like atmosphere is replete with song, face painting, and humorous albeit crude chants against government figures.

The army, meanwhile, has been sent in to open the roads, miles of corridor blocked off by the exuberant masses. In the night they haul impossibly large stones across the roadways. On the morning of the seventh day, soldiers swept in and corralled a sleepy contingent of protesters. It all played on television, a David and Goliath struggle. The army approached in a phalanx and tried to divide the small crowd.

They pushed back.

I held my agenda in my lap in front of the television and began to cry as women shielded their kids and dirty, worn out men shoved back against armed soldiers in riot gear. People saw what I saw. The protesters were on their phones, frantically trying to hold their position.

Within minutes, the highway began to fill with more people. In less than one hour, there were thousands. They arrived with stacks of Lebanese flags—red and white bands bearing a green cedar tree. Mothers strode onto the scene with babies. Cases of water were borne on the backs of men and youth. The army was overwhelmed. They retreated to the median.

In an awesome series of events, the news cameras got in close to the dividing line between a row of women and a row of soldiers, men who were torn between protecting the people and obeying the Ministry of Defense. Some of these men, dressed in camouflage and holding automatic weapons, openly wept as the protesters calmly stood their ground.

I dumped the day’s agenda and opened my laptop. I spent a couple of hours writing about the scene which had unfolded right before my eyes. Within hours, the piece was published on Medium.

But for whom? Did it serve to stroke my ego while the story I told involved real suffering? Was I using my platform as some grotesque attempt to validate my proxy-driven tears? Do I have any right?

We have joined the protests on two occasions. The camaraderie on the coast is jaw-dropping. People have abandoned sectarian flags and religious differences. The crowds are loud, spirited and absolutely peaceful. We spent hours on our feet in the heat, eating croissants and drinking water as volunteers brought them around. Roars and chants mixed in with laughter and tears. There were old women, people in wheelchairs, infants, women in hijab, women in halter tops—united in a monolith of NO MORE.

In the passing days, I have retreated to try and write as an escape, as a way to look through the lens of my own thoughts so as to avoid the cacophony of drama all around. I can conveniently mute the television so I don’t have to hear the chanting, the women screaming into the microphones. My eyes course back and forth in the night, my sleep an exhausted coma. I fill my belly each day with food and buy beer in the afternoon, a pathetic sufferer thirteen hundred meters above the real suffering.

Our internet is crushed, and I wince as, one by one, I have to delete booked, online ESL classes. I may lose my teaching job, the one that sustains me because writing still hasn’t.

My editor calls from Dubai. I can’t believe my own voice when I say, “Yeah sure, I can have that in tomorrow afternoon, okay?”

“Great! But, let us know if you can’t.”

But I can. I can because I need something to dive into, a task not at all related to what I see unfolding each day.

Tonight, Hassan Nasrallah has sent the call, and Hezbollah supporters are swarming the streets with their sickly yellow flags printed with green automatic weapons by the hundreds. The cameras show them rolling, a gang on motor scooters. I am sickened by the possibility that they will go to clash with protesters. How hard will they push to break the army lines?

I went to buy a bottle of wine before the sun fell. Now, I sit to write a blog post about how I focus on my job in the middle of wrenching mayhem. That’s easy. Cowardice provides thick blinders. I have lived here for nearly ten years, but I am not sure if my Lebanese friends endorse my struggle.  I weep in the mornings when my emotions are still in the dreamscape, and I fear the ultimate retaliation of the government against its people like a cold against my bones. This is a protest which began as a few dozen and now breathes as one, massive organism, and I feel like a bystander, a tourist looking for a photo op in a moment that will define this country indefinitely.

They see me. They commend me, but secretly lament that I can leave any time I want. I suppose this is true, but I don’t want to leave. Lebanon is my home.

How to Work With a Creative Partner on a Joint Project

Mitch Caudill is a veterinarian working in residency. You can find his name on the inside box panel of a few board games. Maybe one day you’ll see it on the cover.

We are in the golden age of board games. New titles are published every day, and Kickstarter—the main platform for self-publishers—raised over $200 million dollars last year to fund the production and distribution of tabletop games. If you have ever had any interest in designing a board game, now is the time to do it!

I have always had a handful of not even half-baked ideas for a board game. A few made it to the “draw some things on paper” stage, but none made it further. This wasn’t because I wasn’t sure of the process. I have play-tested board games for Stonemaier Games, a major publisher, for a couple of years and I know the design lingo. I just didn’t make a concerted effort to push forward with an idea and found excuses to not work the project. 

That changed following conversations with Rachel, a friend and co-worker. In addition to her other excellent qualities, Rachel is a quintessential FIRE-seeking, optimizing, driven Millennial. We had spent many evenings playing games at each other’s houses, and after a few conversations set on actually designing a board game.

The game is still in its early stages, but in a little over a month we had developed a semi-playable prototype, are now further developing the game, and are also discussing plans for eventually getting the game to market. It’s been an extremely fun and engaging process and has taken me well beyond what little I had accomplished on my own.

I fully recognize that finding such a cohesive partnership was more-or-less luck, and I unfortunately don’t have much advice for how to find a partner. That being said, I thought I could pass along a few lessons learned regarding working with a creative partner on a joint project.

Create something you wouldn’t have made on your own

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer. The project you create in a partnership isn’t one that you would make on your own. Ideally, it will be something that you couldn’t make on your own! I tend to favor long, drawn-out, intricate games that take several hours to play. The game we are designing will likely play in less than an hour and has relatively simple mechanisms. I am still very excited about it. My joy comes from the act of creation, the practical problem solving, and seeing an actual game come into being. 

When Rachel and I started out designing our game, we both sketched out a general few ideas for a game theme. We mutually agreed on a game designed around the tragedy of the commons. By starting from a place of mutual interest (rather than one person pitching a half-designed idea to other), we both have buy-in. We both get to see the game naturally grow as we add and alter aspects of it, and neither of us has a pre-conceived idea of how the game should develop. 

Another major benefit of this mutual creation is I never have the feeling that this game has to be my singular magnum opus. That desire to have a game be a singular, artistic expression definitely hindered me working on my previous ideas and working with a partner has allowed me to be much freer in tinkering and playing with ideas. 

Split the work and regularly check in 

In terms of the design process, we both have busy day jobs, and working on the game is a side project for us. To help prevent either one of us feeling overwhelmed, or guilty for not working on the project more, we agreed at the start on a steady, moderate workload. We meet every other week for an evening to work on the game. We don’t have a set amount of time for these sessions, but they’re generally 2–4 hours.

More importantly, at the end of each session we agree on what each of us will work on individually before the next meeting. This “homework” might be abstract, like thinking up new mechanisms to try for a given area of the game, or more practical, like making a board mock-up for the next session. This division of work not only lets us get tasks done twice as quickly compared to working on our own, but also allows each of us to do the tasks that we enjoy while pushing to the other person the tasks we find less pleasant.

In between the sessions, we usually send brief emails or texts seeking input or approval on the individual “homework”, and, of course, let each other know if something comes up that might prevent us from completing a task. We also make ample use of shared drives so that both of us can edit documents and leave comments on the work.

Discuss the end from the beginning 

This is a topic we are actively discussing. What are we going to do when we have a finished and polished prototype? 

Board games have only a few routes for production. We could try to sell it to an established publisher, raise money to produce it ourselves, or, potentially, charge for the rules and files and let people make it themselves (this is called “print-and-play” and is a niche area of the board game market). 

For us, if—no, when we get to the stage of marketing the game, selling to an established publisher is probably the most viable option. At the moment, neither of us has real interest in trying to organize a Kickstarter and self-publish the game. On the other hand, pitching a game to a publisher can be a significant commitment and require traveling to conventions or pitch days.

The corollary to discussing the end from the beginning is talking about the monetary inputs, and the division of any profits. Neither of us has put significant money into our game at this point, but at our next meeting one of the agenda items will be discussing some benchmarks and agreements regarding credit. For instance, once the project reaches a prototype, both of us will be credited as designers and entitled to some share of any future profits.

One issue we have been particularly thinking on is this: what if, in the future, one of us wants to take on the gargantuan task of self-publishing and the other doesn’t want to at all? Self-publishing can easily run into hundreds of hours of work and involve handling hundreds of thousands of dollars. How will the person who spent a fraction of that time working on the design phase be compensated from the overall pot? Similarly, if one of us decides to go to a convention and pitch the game, should they get a bigger stake? 

We don’t have clear answers yet, but are sure we will come up with something that feels fair to both of us. We also both accept that we may not actually ever sell the game, but its much better to have an agreement that never gets used than someone feeling cheated down the road.

After every joint meeting I get more excited about the game and can’t wait until we get to the point of playing test versions with mutual friends. Even if it never gets formally sold, just playing a game I designed and made would be a majorly satisfying accomplishment.  So as a last piece of advice, if you have thought about designing a game and struggled, find a partner and get started! 

The Money Season and the Writing Season

Michelle Song is a professional writer and practical idealist in Washington, D.C.

I have spent the past twelve years of my life burrowing deeper and deeper into Corporate America—while resisting taking on an identity as a corporate drone. I’m certain I look the part; sheath dresses cut from the same cloth as men’s suits, jackets, traditional analog watch, closed-toed shoes, groomed brows, complete with a lady briefcase made of calf hair and leather. It still feels like I’m in costume.

My younger self fostered different ambitions. She wanted to write creatively and lead a life of adventure. She was idealistic. She strove for authenticity in all decision-making, from purchasing second-hand as much as possible to casting off toxic and disingenuous friendships in lieu of stoking healthy and nurturing relationships with kind people. I’ve managed to keep this dream alive in its most nascent state for years by convincing myself that I can have everything I want in life—but not all at once, and also, it may look vastly different from my original vision. So I look at my life in seasons. 

You see, I want to write in an ideal, uninterrupted setting. I don’t want to write for money. Or at least, I am uninterested in trading my creative writing for money. I write professionally for corporations and other entities for money and I’m not interested in tailoring my creative work to appeal to anyone other than a trusted editor, my intended audience, and myself. Once you take money, your most meaningful and personal work inevitably shifts in nature and in purpose. You’ll shop your book around and, if you’re among the very lucky, meet with editors and marketing teams and come up with a plan to make your publishing house as much money as possible. Your success will be measured by your publishing house’s return on investment. The end product will likely be carved into a form you no longer recognize to appeal to mainstream audiences. The function? Completely disparate from your original mission. No thanks. I’ll make my money another way. I’ll be my own patron to my future self.

***

I haven’t always worked office jobs. Growing up below the poverty line and without health insurance, I went out and got a job (any job) as soon as I was of legal age. I’ve worked as a cashier at fast casual restaurants, as a barista, bar back, hostess, retail sales associate, art gallery security guard, and even as a fitness instructor. Aside from the love I harbor for my most cherished people and animals on earth, one of the only constants in my life is my keen awareness of the connection between time, money, and well-being.

A couple years ago, I approached an impasse. Spiritually and physically, I was done. I quit my corporate job on a Wednesday and observed my last day the following Wednesday. Fortunately, I had a solid “fuck you fund.” I was uninterested in looking for another office job, so I worked at a café, lived off of savings, and attempted to write creatively. What a cliché, right? I figured the physical nature of the job that makes a dent in the bills would not deplete the mental energy and stamina required for writing. I learned very quickly that labor is labor, all work is mentally taxing, and a long day doing manual labor and delivering high quality customer service leaves you physically exhausted. Exhaustion, mental or physical, is exhaustion nonetheless. I had never attempted to pursue two paths simultaneously while working physically taxing jobs in the past and I got very little done in the way of creative writing during this season of my life. Instead, I learned that I’m not a person who can work a demanding full-time job for someone else and write for myself in my spare time.

***

“Just write in your free time,” they say. “Do both. Keep your day job and invest in your creative pursuits in the evenings and weekends,” they say. Right. Perform at a level that keeps you employed at a top consulting firm, at a job that squeezes the work and life out of you, and re-energize yourself afterwards to squeeze more blood out of the stone. Writing is not just intellectually rigorous; it also comes at a great emotional cost. This is my experience as a highly sensitive person: When the muses are on my side, my writing actually matches that of my imagination and I feel wholly fulfilled. But even this kind of activating, energizing satisfaction takes from me. I feel heady and buzzed after a writing session until I unwind and service my lizard brain by zoning out to mindless entertainment. My brain cannot operate at its most enhanced and invigorated state for sixteen hours a day, ad infinitum. It’s grueling and unsustainable unless you’re some sort of superhuman prodigy or genius with boundless energy reserves, and even then I wonder if it’s feasible. Even superhumans are extra-human and have a kryptonite that affects them, them only, and no one else.

The recurring problem is this—I haven’t found a way to save mental energy to pour into my writing after work. So I have given up pursuing two paths in parallel. I’ll run the rat race and then I’ll endeavor to write creatively and share my most human life experiences with others to take what they will from me. Be it relief, ridicule, a feeling of superiority, amusement, entertainment, distraction, humor, caution, connection, solidarity, lessons learned, wisdom, encouragement. This is my aim.

***

One day, I will walk out of my job with enough savings to generate dividends to support my otherworldly endeavors. Once I have addressed the physical needs of the human condition (air, food, drink, shelter, the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) by conquering the money piece of it all, I will devote my life to other more meaningful (and wildly impractical) pursuits. The only barrier standing in my way is my money story and scarcity mindset.

How does a poor person leave money on the table? How does an underprivileged person with few opportunities leave at the height of one’s career and earning potential? What happens if there are changes in the U.S. tax laws and I miscalculated my financial independence number? It’s not always possible to re-enter the workforce and find employment after a self-funded sabbatical. This is a quality problem that I hope to come upon in the near future.

When I reach financial independence and feel freed up to concern myself with my creative endeavors and pursue other kinds of wealth, I hope to remember my younger, more idealistic self and answer the calling to do something with my life that isn’t measured by numbers, but something… unquantifiable. Writing takes everything I’ve got—so I’ll do what I can now to set myself up to spend a future season in my life worrying about how best to structure my novel. My professional life looks very different from what I had imagined at a young age, but one thing is steadfast: even my more practical strategies are based on my enduring idealism.