It’s the the thing we all of us like to do the most. Yes is so affirmative and so future thinking and growth feeling. YES is the most huggy word in the English language and of course we love to use it as often as we can. Yes we do. But “YES” also brings along with it its favorite sidekick, “Now What?”. When we say yes to a job or yes to a creative partnership, or to an edit or any of the moments in our professional lives, we are sealing some sort of deal. YES is the period of every transaction. Yes, is your signature on a contract, a verbal agreement to take on a job, and every Art Director’s favorite answer to their most asked question: “Can you get it to me by the end of the week?”. So take YES seriously, because even if you don’t, it will. Here’s some quick tips.
YES to a new project you love and want to do and pays great is the easiest yes there is. That’s an inappropriate Meg Ryan in the coffee shop kind of yes. And when those come, and they do, don’t let Yes fog you out of still taking the details of what you’ve agreed to seriously. It’s truly easy when some dream client or some fantastic author or whomever wants you to do a job with/for them. It’s easy to get caught in the moment and say YES to everything. It’s easy to get in big trouble doing this. I’m not saying don’t scream aloud and dance a bit in front of strangers if you want, or need to, I’m just saying let that emotional explosion happen, and then push it out of the way so you can make sure you affirm what you’ve agreed to in a way that the YES you shout at the end is a joyful one free of regret or a deep sense of having made a wrong turn. There’s a reason ecstatic joy isn’t a long sustained state of being: joy makes us stupid. So… bad or good, YES or NO, moderation in all things is the key.
When you sign a YES to a contract you are entering into a different level of YESitude. This is the place where you are essentially getting married to the company or whomever it is that’s issuing that contract, so make sure you both understand the ramifications of this YES, and your side of the cookie so you don’t get surprised. As an a artist making a piece, you own everything about it in all ways. A contract is by its very nature you trading out some or all of those privileges for money or some other form of compensation. This isn’t evil, this is what they are buying with their money, and signing that purchase agreement means you agree to those terms. A YES here affixes in stone not only your rate of pay with this particular person or company, it sets it for the next one too. This isn’t to mean the next job is going to pay as much or as little depending on any number of things, but this particular scale will be the baseline from which to launch your rates. Remember, you agreeing to all of the terms cited in any contract you sign, so make sure you not only read it yourself, hire a lawyer who knows what they are doing to read it for you. If you can magic an agent or manager to do this and couple that with their inside knowledge of you, then you can have an even better conversation. But remember these two things: 1.) A contract on its outset is about setting forth your obligations and their rights. Period. 2.) Hiring a lawyer or a manager to read everyone one of these over and negotiate for you on your behalf is a lot like hiring an accountant to do your taxes- YES, you can do them yourself, but you’ll save a helluva a lot more money if you hire someone who knows how to do them. Contracts have all kinds of arcane weirdly worded clauses and phrases in their to vex the conscious mind of any thinking mammal, know that you will not understand them without help. The sooner you get this sorted out, the better.
YES also should mean more than just what’s on the paper of your contract. And this is the most consequential line in this whole article. When you sign up for a job and it starts demanding more than you thought, but still within the parameters of what is expected of you, be prepared to roll with this. You are always going to say YES in a way that commits you more than what you may have expected from any given situation. Be prepared to do more, go further. At the end fo the project the only thing that really matters in the long long run, is that the work is great and you have done your best. THIS is how you get the next job, or the one after that. Think of your career like long link of chain: hack out a job, protest by withholding work from a crap AD, or self sabotage because you “just aren’t feeling it anymore”, is how you break a link in that chain. And since I assume you know how chains work, that is a bad idea. It may mean eating some crow, and muscling through a bad job with grace. This is harder than you might think, but you do not want to be known as the girl or boy who quits. The value and import of any YES you will ever utter hinges on how you can stay true to that idea even when it’s easier not to. Say YES to the face of a hell job and you will be mightier for it. Know that when you say YES to any gig, you are going to be the one who takes it to the end. There is no shame in getting fired from one- it happens to all of us, but there is a lot of shame for a quitter of a job. Don’t do it because something better comes along. Don’t do it because you hate your editor, or you think the company you work for is horrible. Close out your job, make it about the work above all else, graciously shake hands and walk away. No one ever said you have to work for bad folk, or companies you hate, but word of successfully navigating a hellstorm and coming out clean will only encourage others to want to bring you in for something. Or even if you just had a bum gig but love the company, you land it well and do your best, you could easily find another job coming from them next that won’t necessarily be anything but fantastic. We all get bad gigs that go to bad places, and walking away petulantly from them only makes them stronger and more likely to reoccur.
Be a positice YES force in your own life and choices. It’s hippy dippy dragon-pooping-on-a-rainbow malarky, I know, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Nobody wants to circle around a black hole, but they love orbiting a sun. A positive progressive outlook on your professional life, even if your work is anything but, can really make a difference. This is the attitude that when you go into a portfolio review you seem bright and happy and enjoy your own work, as opposed to being overly nervous and talking down your pieces, pointing out your missteps and why you should have done better. One of these two kids is going to the circus, and the other is going home to catch up on cleaning the kitchen. It matters how you treat and behave around your peers, how you stay loyal to them and your clients and how you can keep a little more head above the water when things go into the pooper. I have surfed some of the most horrendously ugly human tragedies while on a job and have found that while there is indeed bonding in commiserating, when it comes down to it, it’s better to be about solutions rather than problems. It will bond you like war-buddies after too long in the trench. It makes you happier and feel better overall and guess what, even if that doesn’t matter to you at its very least ebb, it gets you more work.
Don’t say YES to everything! Seriously, this is an especially common thing for those of us just starting out hungry and eager to get our careers going, or those of us mid-thrust suddenly finding ourselves broke and desperate for work. Only you can be your own judge about how much ugly you can take on to pay bills or feed your kids or get a leg up, but it really helps to bounce things off of friends and peers who aren’t YES men for you. Truth and good advice isn’t always going to be what you want to hear and even if you don’t know it yet, you will come to find you’re glad you got it. Sometimes a job is deeply tempting and it seems as if passing it up could be a bad idea even though for some reason, real or not, you aren’t quite able to get to YES with it. I’ve passed on some INSANELY spectacular jobs, because there was a scheduling conflict, or the relationship would have clearly been acrimonious, or it just for whatever reason didn’t feel right. I agonize and I tear at the walls worried I’ve made the wrong choice, but you know, just about each and every one has passed by leaving me available for another job that turns out to be better or more fulfilling. It’s like the universe is Willy Wonka actually giving you the chocolate factory for not having caved into his mean tirade a moment earlier when he said you lost it. These sweet rewards are made all the sweeter by realizing they would have come anyway, and if you had said YES to the worrisome gig, you’d likely not have time say anything but NO to this one. Which just makes your previous commitment all the worse. SO go with your gut. The longer you do this the sharper your spidey senses get. If it’s any consolation I have only in the last year, after working more than 20 years in this business, managed to avoid catastrophic projects by spotting them early where before I only saw them when it was too late.
Find a coping mechanism to make your work, whatever it is, feel positive and YESful. For me the most effective tool has been the combination of trying only to take on the right gigs, (as much as my own need to pay the bills affords of course), and the 52 Weeks Project. This weekly drawing thing I do is about saying YES to art making even when it becomes slogged down in the mire of being simply… work. It takes time away from work and other things and it can be exhausting and not always produce the best images, but the overall effect has been entirely uplifting and positive. If only because I have a safe place go and draw that no one has any say in, and I can be safe there. It’s like a schvitz for your art heart. It rejuvenates and makes you better and fresher when it’s time to get to work. Say YES to taking a break or a trip someplace or just an afternoon off sometimes. Give yourself a little present each and every day if you can, just like Agent Cooper says you should. That cup of coffee, or hobbit-lovemaking art you can’t help but want to draw is where you recharge your batteries and exorcise your demons.