Documenting Your Artistic Practice
I live my life surrounded by so much paper. A pile of books sits in my windowsill — a combination of library books I’ll certainly never finish before their due date and books and plays I own, texts I dream of reading one day. Bookshelves tuck into every corner of my apartment — under the windowsill, inside an unused closet, below my growing collection of plants. The wall in front of my desk is papered with postcards from friends across the country, women who mean it every single time they say “Wish you were here!” Even my calendar is paper, much to the dismay of my super tech savvy bestie and my partner, a man who knows his schedule at a glance. Flipping through his calendar is a silent activity. Flipping through mine is percussive.
So it might come as a surprise that my own Artistic Handbook has always been a digital document. I’ve had more than my fair share of “When’s the last time I backed up my computer?” conundrums and I didn’t want my accountability process to get lost in the ether. So I turned to Google Drive. Every day for 100 days, I logged in and wrote. I checked the days off on my (yes, paper) calendar and crossed the topics off my (again, paper) work list, but with a digital Artistic Handbook, I couldn’t lose my progress if I tried.
Now, I’m not advocating that everyone embarking on their own Artistic Handbooks needs to go digital or go home. It’s all about finding the process that gives you the most peace of mind. My friend Scott writes everything by hand before he ever powers up his computer. That’s a process that works best for him — and when he sends me an important text, it’s usually something he’s put a lot of thought into before he ever opens the messaging app. He’s been talking about adopting the Artistic Handbook to suit his own artistry and I have no doubt that he’ll do the whole thing by hand. It’s a process that brings him joy and calm. Much like my Google Drive method brings me calm.
But it’s more than just the in-the-cloud storage method that makes me feel calm and in control. It’s what’s inside those pages. I know that if I’m looking for an artist statement or a synopsis for a particularly tricky play, I’ll find it in my Artistic Handbook. I know that I can turn to this document when I’m burnt out from seeing live performance. (The Theatre Love List — where I keep track of actors, directors, & designers that I love really helps with that.) And when I’m feeling frustrated with my general lack of productions, I have Working With Dramaturgs: A Love Letter to turn to.
And it’s not all positive; it would be cruel to pretend that it is. I legitimately have a section called Recovering From a Shitty Day and a completely other one called Do I Need an Agent? where I reflect on the merits and drawbacks of my current agent-free situation. My sick leave policy includes mental health coverage, but we don’t yet live in a world where I’m making enough money to give myself paid sick leave.
All in all, this 73-page document includes 51 different topics. And I don’t even touch on my journalism career. That part of my career started ramping up after I finished writing this Artistic Handbook and I’m still trying to decide if journalism warrants it’s own Handbook — or if an appendix will do.
I start teaching the Seattle version of my Crafting Your Artistic Handbook class next week and I’m excited to dive into this process with my fellow Seattle artists. Our class is small but mighty, but I know the impact will be huge. Know someone who might benefit from the CYAH series? Share this blog post with them! There’s still space in my Seattle class (which starts next week on May 6!) and in the online series (which begins July 8). Register at daniellemohlman.com/artistic-handbook.