Wear Real Pants

Real writers wear colorful blouses. I thought.

Real writers wear colorful blouses. I thought.

When I was first drafting my first book, I had a “writing outfit.” I loved wearing it during the writing hours I carved out of my schedule. I loved wearing it on non-writing days to remind me that I had something else in the works, even if I wasn’t actually working on it.


It was the professorial equivalent of what I imagined successful writers wore. It included beautifully tailored long black pants, a blouse with just enough color, and a jet-black cardigan.  There were also high heels involved, for obvious reasons.


It made me feel like what I imagined a writer felt like: Professional, but not too professional (certainly no suits), comfortable, but not too comfortable (no pajamas either). Dressing the part made me feel like I actually made sense playing the part, even if my insecurities railed at every turn.


I imagined others could perceive me as a writer. How could they not? In my own mind’s eye, I looked exactly like a successful writer.


The truth is no one cared. No one who saw me hard at work in a coffee shop thought I was a writer. No one who saw me anywhere gave me a second thought. Everyone else was too busy with their own lives, insecurities, tasks, and perceptions to care about my own.


But even if I pretended I was wearing my writer’s outfit so others could identify me as a writer, the truth is I was wearing it so I could. I set high expectations in my own brain, and dutifully my body helped me fulfill them. I looked like a writer, so surely I should be writing. I looked like a successful writer, so surely what I wrote was good. It was useful. It was accomplishing what I wanted it to accomplish.


It started as a trick for my own self; but it didn’t end that way. It ended with fulfillment. I was writing. I was really doing it!


It felt amazing.


I remember that feeling with some regularity, especially when I’d rather wear pajamas all day. Wearing pajamas doesn’t make me feel successful. It certainly doesn’t make me feel professorial. I tell myself I do my best work when I’m not in a stuffy, uncomfortable outfit; but the alternative doesn’t have to be pajamas.


We’ve gotten remarkably good at dressing comfortably. Thank goodness. As corporate environments have relaxed their dress codes, we are no longer required to wear suits or garments that misalign our outsides with our insides. Once upon a time in another lifetime, I relished the chance to wear jeans to work on Fridays, a “privilege” the leaders of the patriarchy were reluctant to bestow on us crazy vagabonds who almost certainly were more concerned with our own well being than the firm’s. And of course, we weren’t permitted to wear jeans every Friday; that would be crazy. On some Fridays under certain circumstances because we were very lucky, we could wear jeans. You’re welcome, they told us.


Now years later, in a slightly different context, I wear jeans regularly and professionally. Neither my work nor my clients’ perceptions of me are hurt. In fact, I suspect they are helped. My outward appearance reflected the work I was trying to do authentically and comfortably. I gave my work the respect it deserved, and I felt good doing it.


There was an article floating around the Internet not too long ago with a few tips for coping with a bad day. “Have you pet something furry?” the article asked. “When is the last time you got a bit of fresh air?” “When did you last exercise?” All valid tips for resetting what otherwise might be a less-than-pleasant day.


But my favorite, by far, was “Are you wearing real pants?”


By dressing for the part—and yes, wearing real pants—we trick our brains and our bodies into exceeding our own expectations. We treat our activities each day with the respect they deserve. Whatever we’re doing deserves real pants.


Painting in the studio requires real pants, and certainly some precautions to protect our garments. Rehearsing a piece requires comfortable garments, and yes, real pants. Editing our own work requires a professionalism and respect for the process we might otherwise minimize. Updating our websites and CVs, checking our bank balances, revisiting our record-keeping systems, and even building our budgets are all vital tasks to running a successful business.


They deserve real pants.


“Real pants” don’t have to be tailored, uncomfortable pants associated with a formality that doesn’t work with our industries. But it should be something more than pajama pants. And perhaps by matching our outward appearance with the professionalism those tasks demand, we’ll be more apt to finish them quickly. We’ll complete them well. We’ll give them the attention they deserve.


And the sooner we do that, the sooner we can get back to our pajamas.


January 2016 Tasks

To Do This Month: Get Organized


business-art-tipsWe start each new calendar year with the best of intentions, don’t we? We swear we’ll drink more water and eat more kale. We promise to take more steps and snooze our alarms fewer times. (Or maybe that’s just me.)


This month, harness that “fresh start” enthusiasm—even if it is the life-planning equivalent to the placebo effect—and make it work for you.


Schedule Admin Time

Think about when you do your best creative work… Is it first thing each day? Late at night? Once you hit your afternoon stride?


Maybe your best creative time is first thing in the morning. If so, the morning hours would be awful times to tackle administrative tasks like following up via email, updating your expense log, or scheduling social media posts. Don’t interrupt your peak creative time with administrative tasks.


Schedule administrative time each week for any time that isn’t your creative peak.


Maybe instead your creative practice hits its stride in the afternoon. If so, then the first hour or so of each day (while you are still waking up) is a great time for non-creative work. Prioritize creative time—dedicated creative time that isn’t subject to interruptions—when you work best. Schedule administrative tasks during other (predictable, planned) hours.


The hours don’t have to be predictable and planned, but they work best that way. Planning time for administrative tasks enables your brain to relax while you are working creatively. You don’t have to feel guilty about neglecting administrative tasks. You’ll conquer them during your planned administrative time each week.


Pro Tip: Use Two Desks and a Timer to Revolutionize Your Business Practice
Scheduling administrative time removes your procrastination excuse as well.Do you find yourself postponing creative time because you simply must update your website? Or post to social media? Or read that article everyone is talking about? Complete those tasks only during your scheduled administrative time. And set a timer, so you know when it ends.


Perhaps instead you distract yourself from creative work by addressing personal to-do items. Paying your utility bill, making a grocery list, and cleaning out the cabinets are great tasks to keep you from our studio. Having two desks—one for personal tasks and one for administrative tasks related to your creative business—helps solve that problem.


Find a System

Once you have your administrative time scheduled each week, spend some time figuring out what to do during those hours.


Whether you use Excel, Quick Books, You Need a Budget, Mint, or something else entirely, find a system that works for you for 2016. We’re partial to Excel because you probably already have it on your computer (so the price is right), it is incredibly customizable (so you can make it do what you want), and you can share the data as you wish (so your accountant will thank you).


Pro Tip: Use charts and graphs to distinguish your funding applications
Using a system that has communication capabilities (think: charts and graphs) can help your funding applications too. Master using charts and graphs to communicate financial messages and use them to complement your budget, your grant applications, and your monthly financial reporting. Even if it is just for you. Making your system pretty to look at will make it much more enjoyable to update. Trust us.


Commit to maintaining your system—whichever one you choose—throughout the year, and remember to forgive yourself if your best efforts fall short before the year ends. You can always return to the proverbial administrative wagon. Excel works just as well



Start 2016 strong by getting organized.

  • Schedule time each week for administrative tasks based on your own ideal schedule.
  • Set up a system that will work for you for the year. (Our January online course, XLS Basics can help if Excel is the system of your choice.)
  • Commit to ongoing maintenance (especially if maintaining your system involves forgiving yourself for falling short now and then).