by Christine Kohler
Anyone who pursues a life in the arts knows well the path of practice, discipline, and persistence. Yet that path is not a straight line. Ask anyone who has survived a life in the arts for decades. (Raising my hand, in 2020 I hit the 40-year mark as a published writer.)
I'm about to review my writer goals for 2020 to see how I did. I cringe at checking them. I'm usually on-course with accomplishing my yearly goals. If one falls by the wayside, it's because a contract or two cropped up instead. But this year…what a year. I don't need to tell you about the hole blasted into the middle of my year from April 2020 until…until…the pandemic's not over yet. Unless you are a nurse or in a nursing home, you probably won't see a COVID vaccine until Spring. I won't until maybe May. Even then, will life go back to semi-normal? What. A. Year.
Oh, where was I? Ah, yes. Goals. (I get so easily distracted these days. Practice, discipline, and persistence hasn't been my daily routine this year. I've been playing and creating in different ways.) It wasn't just the pandemic that cancelled opportunities for me this year, it was also a drastic shift in the YA market. If you could read my rejection letters from this year, it really was a case of, "It's not your writing or story, it's the present market." However, whatever it shakes to that I did or didn't do, when I report that to my weekend goals' group, I'll be okay with it. Chilled. Out. … Honest!
Why? I took a lateral step in creative outlets that satisfied my goal-driven need for achievement. I didn't give up writing. But, I also turned toward something that I've always considered as supplementary to my writing—photography. In 2016, I applied on a whim to freelance for iStock Getty Images. I had just moved to a wildlife reserve and thought it would be relaxing to photograph nature. When I applied, I didn't know if I would get accepted. On the application, however all those years of experience added up. I'm published in photography in magazines, newspapers, and one NF book about refugees by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Getty accepted me within two days.
I didn't do much to build my photo portfolio until 2018 when I set a reasonable monthly goal. If you don't set goals, you don't have anything to shoot toward. I exceeded that goal. I also realized by then that shooting iStock photos which sell was more like photographing for advertising, such as leaving copy space. Not surprising, many of my photos are bought and used to illustrate articles, since that's how my writing background sees photo opportunities.
My portfolio grew, then the pandemic halted road trips, and halted seeing my grandchildren and using them as models. My husband was a good sport and allowed me to photograph him doing chores, yardwork, and pretending to garden. But it didn't take long to photograph everything in and around the house and run out of ideas what to shoot next. That's when I expanded in an unexpected way. I thought, what do I know about the most? Children's literature. Years ago, I had played with making felt board pictures with my eldest grandson. It was fun, easy, and came out pretty well. So, in 2020 I expanded my portfolio by making mixed media pictures and photographing them in what iStock Getty Images classifies as "still lifes." I also created awareness ribbons with different backgrounds and groupings, including hearts hung on a clothesline.
Late in the year, when I ran out of salable ideas again, I expanded to a fourth category: historical illustrations copyrighted before 1900 in public domain. This type of work is an extension of all the years I wrote education materials. Again, a sidestep from what I had already been doing in my writing career. By opening myself to making lateral moves, I doubled my sales in 2020.
If Ford and GM can make ventilators, then you can find ways to make lateral expansions in your arts career, too. It's no different than a musician, writer, or artist who also teaches the craft. Or a book writer who also writes curriculum. Or a poet who writes song lyrics. Or a children's lit illustrator who works as a commercial graphic artist for a newspaper. In the arts, that's how most of us keep our careers alive. That's how we make a living with our art. Hodge-podging sidelines of our craft—editing, copy editing, teaching, writing a multiple of genres for multiple markets. It's how I was able to make a living as a professional writer for 40 years.
How are you going to adjust your artistic goals for 2021 taking into account the pandemic will still dominate life for at least half the year? How will you adjust your writing goals if the markets drastically changed from what you write?
Let me leave you with this thought: Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.
I wish you all a creative journey on this very twisted path!