List of resources for writing opportunities, especially if you’ve read/seen the keynote before.
When the Emerging Writers Festival approached me about doing a keynote about selling yourself and showed me their proposed blurb, I cackled. Internally, because I was in a tram, but still. They wanted me to teach about writing a good bio and making elevator pitches and all of these other things that, if done well, will help you defeat the dreaded scourge of…
★ IMPOSTOR SYNDROME ★
You’re likely already well-aware of the idea of Impostor Syndrome. This concept that your attitude is the only thing that’s getting in your way of success, that if you just believed in yourself more, or even if you adopted the confidence of, say, a Mediocre White Man:
You will finally be able to BREAK FREE and make ALL THE MONEY and be a NOTABLE WRITER! Stop feeling like a fraud and you’ll be able to achieve SO MUCH.
Here’s the thing:
★ IMPOSTOR SYNDROME IS VICTIM-BLAMING BULLSHIT ★
What I’ve found is that it’s not that people don’t believe in themselves enough. It’s that so many of us DO put ourselves out there, try just about everything and then some, follow ALL the advice…and it still doesn’t work. And when it does work — it doesn’t make sense. It’s so random. Things that should be a slam dunk completely fail — while things that seem “no way in hell” actually work out.
This is pretty much the running theme of my life. Applying to all sorts of jobs, grants, opportunities, whatever — and the results being super inconsistent.
Trying every piece of advice, and then some, no matter how contradictory. Being told, more often than not, “YOU WERE GREAT AND YOU DID NOTHING WRONG — we just picked someone else”.
And I see this so much with others too — people who have put in buckets of time and energy and money into their work, people whose often free or underpaid labour get celebrated but find it difficult to get a living wage. People who are very talented, who are very much skilled and experienced — but still hit wall after wall after wall.
“Am I good enough?”
“Am I enough?”
But it’s not us that’s at fault. Impostor syndrome is not the problem here.
The problem here is that we keep expecting the arts — and really, the rest of the world, but especially the arts — to function like a basic math equation. Logical rules, the same results every time. 2 + 2 = 4. Do the right things in the right way and success is yours.
But really, there are no logical rules. There’s no right way for anything.
Grants are pretty much a lottery, especially with increased funding cuts. In the last couple of years, the NSW Arts and Culture Fund reported a success rate of 2.7%, Australia Council for the Arts reported a 13% success rate, and Creative Victoria reported a 21% success rate — and that’s considered high.
People get snubbed for jobs based on their last name. Research in Australia, the United States, Canada, and many other countries worldwide have shown that applicants with non-White/”ethnic” last names get fewer callbacks for jobs than applicants with White last names, even with the exact same resume and cover letter.
And if you’re in Australia on anything less than permanent residency or citizenship, like the bridging visa I was on for 5 years, all those opportunities the rest of the arts world takes for granted aren’t available to you on a technicality.
And even when you do get your permanent residency or citizenship sorted…your past comes back to haunt you.
“You don’t have specific enough experience.”
Not for lack of trying!
(I should note here that bridging visa holders (of multiple varieties), international students, and pretty much anyone who’s in Australia on a visa that isn’t a tourist visa are still liable for taxes, despite not being able to access resources like grants, certain jobs, scholarships, loans, Centrelink (including concession cards), sometimes even Medicare. So we’re essentially having to pay for services we can’t access and may not be able to access for many years. Keep that in mind when you hear politicians talk about extending waiting periods due to “self-sufficiency”.)
2 + 2 = 4? It’s more like
★ 2 + 2 = A BANANA ★
So I’m not interested in giving you conventional advice. I’m not interested in the same sort of advice that I’m sure you’ve heard from every other Selling Yourself workshop, the sort that — if you’re like me — leaves you frustrated every time because you’ve done this already and it’s still not enough.
Rather, I’d like to share with you some more…unconventional methods, things I’ve tried that has worked out for me, weirdly, and maybe would work out for you.
I can’t guarantee that this will lead you to success. Nothing is foolproof. But maybe it’s worth a try, because why the hell not. If you’re going to feel like an impostor, embrace it. Everyone’s an impostor. The rules are illusions. 2 + 2 = a banana. Maybe you’ll be able to make banana bread from all this.
Let’s start with a little thing my friends and I like to call:
★ JOKIFESTING ★
So, the whole concept of “Manifestation” or “The Secret” ANNOYS ME TO TEARS. “Oh just visualise your dreams, if you Think Positive, The Universe will provide!!!” I used to be much, much deeper into this world and it hardly ever panned out. I HATE IT SO MUCH.
It’s confirmation bias. It ignores systemic and structural inequalities that make it harder for “The Universe” to provide — like discrimination against ethnic last names and bridging visas. It’s, again, victim-blaming bullshit.
HOWEVER. I have found some really weird success with things that started off as a loose idea, an off-hand comment, a joke.
Take my last big project, Queer Lady Magician, a show combining stage magic, social justice, and storytelling. All I had really was a name, some random ideas, and a few pithy social media posts asking whether or not I should do anything with it.
People seemed enthusiastic — enough that I somehow got a team together. I decided to put in a bunch of applications for different festivals and programs, thinking that at most I would do a 5-min set at a cabaret somewhere. I didn’t even put that much work into those apps — I just wrote whatever came to mind, what was it about the idea of Queer Lady Magician, about revisiting my childhood love of magic as a queer feminist adult, that intrigued me. Why not.
Women’s Circus, Crack X, Performance Space, and a bunch of others said Yes. Over a year after those pithy half-joking social media posts, I now have 2 seasons of an hour-length show and a bunch of performances across Melbourne, Sydney, and Newcastle.
Queer Lady Magician got jokifested into reality.
Here’s another example. I’ve been reading and commenting on Autostraddle, an international queer women’s web magazine, from pretty much the beginning.
I’ve been to A-Camp, the staff knew who I was. I’ve been interviewed on their site a few times, contributed to some round tables. But the four or five times I tried to apply for a staff writer position, I didn’t get the role.
On my last attempt, I went “fuck it”, and sent them a cover letter that started off with:
Hey Autostraddle! You know me, please see previous applications :P
Incidentally, I wrote my first full piece about Queer Lady Magician on Autostraddle, thanks to a colleague’s idea of 2018 Brands, and I used that piece in all my apps. It was super, super helpful.
Those are just a few examples of ‘jokifesting’, of off-hand comments and applications written on the fly that ended up being way more successful than I could have ever anticipated. In contrast, there have been many applications where I’ve slaved over each document, wrote and rewrote everything, got super, super prepared…and nothing. Not even a reply.
I think the reason this worked so well for me is that there’s something very potent about not being too emotionally attached to the outcome. I think we can get so caught up in making sure we Write The Right Bio and Follow All The Rules, especially the implicit ‘industry standard’ ones, that we end up being bored with our own output. We sound just the same as every other application. We sanitize ourselves, try to uphold some kind of Perfect Image to impress others, even if it’s not an image we feel okay with. We hang our entire self-worth on the success or failure of this one application, which stresses us out, and that stress gets taken out on the rest of the application. It’s not fun anymore.
Whereas if we’re not so attached, if we come at it with an open attitude — it can be really freeing. We’re just being ourselves. We can experiment with ideas, we can experiment with our bios, talk about ourselves how we want to. Be a little more…irreverent.
It’s not that I didn’t care about the project. I cared about Queer Lady Magician, it was a very personal story about childhood loves and fear of failure and trauma. I cared about Autostraddle — that cover letter also had a stack of pitches about things I wanted to write, as they asked. Everything I applied to was things I was genuinely interested in.
What I didn’t care so much about was trying to impress people. Trying to contort myself into some idea of what The Gatekeepers would like — when I knew the odds were already stacked against me. It didn’t always work, but in some situations, I think my irreverence was welcome refreshment. It’s certainly brought me some very interesting opportunities I never thought were in my reach.
How did I do so?
★ SEEKING OUT OPPORTUNITIES & CREATING CONNECTIONS ★
One strategy that really worked for me, and which I wholeheartedly recommend, is
★ GOING OUT OF CHARACTER ★
It’s a bit like “going out of your comfort zone”, but this isn’t just about doing things that make you uncomfortable or facing your fears. It’s more about being open to trying things that you wouldn’t really consider ‘your thing’ or ‘your scene’. Sometimes we get caught up in this idea of “oh I’m a Writer who only writes about This Specific Topic and therefore I will only go to Things That Are Relevant”, but it really helps to break out once in a while.
Venturing out, even just once to satisfy your curiosity, can bring a lot of personal benefits. It deepens your sense of self, it makes your understanding of the world more nuanced and diverse, it makes your life a little more interesting. That can be a whole other essay. But in terms of creative career benefits:
★ Introducing a whole new avenue for making work ★
My entire performance art career really started from this: I decided to take burlesque classes on a whim. Mind you, for a long time I didn’t even think I had any sense of sexuality. In the past, I would have found the whole endeavour degrading. But I decided to try it just once, be a little “naughty” for a bit.
Turns out I was really into it!
I got to tap into my body more, explore a whole other avenue of personal expression, it even fed into my other creative work — like copious essays around racism and body standards in burlesque, when previously I had a major case of writers’ block.
A decade on, with many ups and downs and the motivation to try more things that I didn’t think I’d be into — like a freakin’ MFA, when I never thought I’d ever get a Master’s degree in anything — here I am talking to you about it.
All because of a whim.
★ Giving the opportunity to express what’s important to you with a new audience ★
Circa 2015 I went to my first game jam, GaymerX San Francisco’s GXDEV, which is this event where people are put in a room together for about 24-72 hours or so and make games in that time. I haven’t really made games before, I was curious about it, I just didn’t know where to start.
The game jam opens with people pitching ideas, and I pitch mine: “Papers, Please from the perspective of the visa holder”. Papers, Please, a game where you play a Soviet-era immigration official, was an indie cult hit — but as someone traumatized by multiple countries’ immigration systems, I wanted to throw my laptop against the wall. I didn’t want to sympathise with my oppressor. I’ve wanted to make a response for ages and this was my chance.
A couple of people with coding and design experience came up to me wanting to help, so we worked together on a game called Here’s Your Fuckin’ Papers, a bunch of really annoying mini-puzzles representing the pain and tedium of Immigration. Slow paperwork, invisible walls, invasive questions.
What really blew my mind about that experience was that while I have used every damn form possible to talk about immigration — writing, performance art, petitions, even a short film — this game was one of the first times I saw people viscerally get it.
The pain they felt trying to solve those mini-puzzles. The conversations that came after, the other games that came after, the other opportunities like speaking or writing that came because people saw my game. The money we raised for immigration-related causes by selling copies of the game.
That one game was way more effective in getting people to care about immigration compared to most of my writing, my performance, every other thing I’ve tried. But I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t take the risk of checking out that game jam.
I mention pitching here, so I want to sidebar into
★ ELEVATOR PITCHES ★
“Imagine you’re in an elevator with a CEO and you only have 5 seconds to make an impression” — how often does that actually happen?! You’re more likely to be in an audience of your peers! Even in a festival like EWF where there are publishers and editors present — there’s not really that big a power difference than you think.
I’m NOT a fan. I think it turns us into insincere walking ads, considering other people only as a means to an end. I’ve had people try to ‘elevator pitch’ me before at events and the moment they realise I’m not really someone that can give them money, they turn off. Or they only connect with me when I’m useful to them, and then no further.
What I find more valuable:
★ LISTENING ★
Having conversations with each other, being curious about each other. Seeing what all of you are interested in, working on, finding ways you can connect and collaborate with each other. Not barging in with “Hello I’m So and So and my current project is Blah Blah” when that’s not what’s being asked.
Yes, there are times like that game jam or your grant app where they ask you to summarize you & your project in a sentence, but when they do that, they tell you what they’re after. One line, or one paragraph, with this and that point.
And you know what helps you figure out what to say in that one line? Having conversations with people and listening to them. Those conversations help you hone down what people find interesting about you, about your project, about many other things. They give you a different perspective to consider, insight you may not have thought of — which jokifesting helps too, as you’re open to new ideas when you’re not so attached. They help you suss out if the person you’re talking to is someone you want on your side. They remind you of what matters to you, and thus what’s the most important thing to get across when you have to write your elevator pitch.
But if you jump into conversations with that elevator pitch, you lose out on that opportunity to connect and make that pitch stronger. You lose out on being able to know if that person’s worth pitching to in the first place.
People tune out ads. Don’t sabotage yourself by making yourself easy to tune out.
★ Connecting to a wider range of people★
That novel insight or different perspective? That’s definitely gonna come from someone outside your usual sphere. Even if you find that you’re not into the situation or activity you’re trying out, you can still meet people through there that become friends, collaborators, advocates. Building those connections can lead you to more opportunities. Here’s an example.
My friend Lain Veres, who I met through a games conference here introduced me to jazz cabaret chanteuse and community organiser Mama Alto, who is straight up one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
I performed at Mama’s album fundraiser, which inspired another games friend, Barbara Kerr (who I think I actually met through Tumblr) to send me the link to the callout for Melbourne Festival’s production of Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music, a 24 hour drag/cabaret/performance art/music extravaganza that’s hard to elevator pitch. (I applied for it in 5 minutes because I didn’t actually realise the massive scope of the event till I got accepted as a Dandy Minion (so was Mama!) and went HOLY SHIT. JOKIFESTED.)
From there I met queer disability rights activist Jax Jacki Brown who got me involved in the queer disability arts collective Quippings.
Now I’m co-producing a show with them for this September.
These things snowball.
★ THE INTERNATIONAL INTERNET★
Speaking of Tumblr: The Internet is a really good source for opportunities, but I say the International Internet because I’ve found that there are a lot more opportunities internationally that are actually open to people in Australia and elsewhere. I think people don’t realise that a lot of foreign options are actually open to international applications because of how Australian arts organisations are so stuck on “permanent residents and citizens only”, but honestly many other countries, especially the US, aren’t that fussed. If they don’t state a restriction upfront, just apply. Pitch. Ask if you’re not sure, especially if you’re worried about tax implications. At the worst they’d say no, or say yes but you’ll have to cover your own travel costs. But you’ll likely get more Yeses than you expect, especially if you’re a minority, I’ve found.
Some examples of resources (you can see a list of my favourites here — it’ll ask you if you want to look at a Google Doc, say yes):
- Facebook groups: There are many writing-specific ones, such as Young Australian Writers or the wide variety of Binders groups (some Binders groups can be a little too Entitled White Women heavy but there’s plenty of alternatives). There are also industry-based groups, such as Women in Telly or the Women in Arts Management Collective, as well as community-specific ones like CACK! Disabled + Deaf creatives across Australia and Diversity in Australian Media. Even groups that are more social and not necessarily career focused (like the Melbourne Babe Collective) can be super helpful, as people are likely to share opportunities there with people they feel aligned to.
- Twitter events: Two big ones that take place are #PitMad, where writers pitch their manuscripts on Twitter to get the attention of publishers and agents, and #DVPit which is the same thing but for marginalised writers and illustrators. There often are also callouts in response to a specific incident: for instance, during the first US Travel Ban, various editors worldwide Tweeted about accepting pitches from Muslim writers.
- Newsletters: There are opportunity-specific ones, such as Sonia Weiser’s Opportunities of the Week (collates writing callouts on Twitter) and The Create Daily, (mainly film and TV-focused but has some variety). Many organisations also publish in-house and/or external opportunities: for instance, Sundance Institute, Auspicious Arts, Next Wave, Midsumma, Emerging Writers Festival (of course).
- Specific websites for opportunities: Some good examples include Paper Cat Press (mainly animation/comics/speculative fiction), Published to Death (traditional publishing), and ResArtists (artist residencies worldwide).
★ FOLLOW THE RABBITHOLE★
You know how on Wikipedia you read an article, follow links to their sources and related articles, which then leads you to other sources and articles, and somehow you’ve gone from Mark Twain’s biography to the Great Rites Controversy in the Ming Dynasty? That works really well for finding opportunities online.
Read an essay you like? Look for their calls for pitches page.
There’s a Facebook event that catches your eye? Look up who’s hosting it, follow their page, see what they post.
Visit a venue? Sign up to their newsletter.
Look up artists and writers that you like, follow them online, support their work, say hi — because that’s going to lead to more opportunities, more spaces, more people. Just don’t be creepy about it.
Also, be that rabbithole for others— we’re all in this together. You likely have resources that others will find useful.
This all works offline too — follow that rabbithole wherever you go.
So. Impostor syndrome? Victim-blaming bullshit, making us feel like we have to fulfil some kind of random ideal that doesn’t actually exist. Fuck this random ideal! Go out of character. Try something out. Apply for something even if you think it’s out of your reach.
There’s a quote I read somewhere, the source eludes me now, but the gist is:
Because we’re minorities, people don’t care about what we make.
But because people don’t care — we can make whatever we want.
So don’t worry about having to “sell yourself” — be open about what it is you’re curious about, let people in, listen to each other, you’re in this together.
2 + 2 equals a banana. Make banana bread.
★ We are all impostors. Let’s embrace it. ★
I’m looking for work! Ideally part-time stable work in Melbourne but also open to other ideas (including presenting this keynote elsewhere!) If you appreciated the keynote and resources, check out my LinkedIn or website and get in touch for further opportunities.