We are creation.
We bring forth the ideas buried in our bones and loose them in the world to impact and inspire others. We start our days working on our own projects, and the energy of those projects propels the growth of The Creative’s Apprentice.
We are connection.
Creation isn’t complete until a project is set free and able to run its course, independent of the creator. We teach creators the tools they need to connect their art with its audience. Our creators work in countless mediums, and we connect with one another over the lived creative experience.
We are support.
We acknowledge the people, opportunities, and challenges that have carried us forward in moments we were stuck. We build education, accountability, and mentorship into our programs, allowing creators to draw on the energy of their collective support system in the times when their own energy wavers.
We are compassion.
We model kindness, first and foremost toward ourselves. We dispel the misbelief of suffering for our art. We embrace mental health, self-care, and sustainable work methods. All of our teachings incorporate mindset. Thoughts drive creation, and we are the living embodiment of a healthier creative reality.
We are courage.
We are brave enough to believe there is a different, financially viable, and better way to live as a creative. We are the pioneers whose creativity fuels us emotionally, supports us financially, and empowers us wholly. We know in our bones there is a better way, and we explore the unknown to prove its existence, obliterating the myth of the starving artist along the way.
The Creatives Behind TCA
Primary Creative Mediums: Writing & Business
Zone of Genius: Demystification of business for creative minds
Jessica Conoley, Founder & Content Creator
Jessica Conoley is the unusual creative hybrid who loves the business side of her creative career as much as the writing side. Her fiction ventures into fantasy worlds, but her analytical mind is firmly rooted in the reality of what it takes to be a paid working creative. At TCA she combines her preferred creative mediums to simplify and demystify business at every stage of a creative career. Her goal is to provide step-by-step, easily implementable educational advice, so creatives can stop worrying about all of the “business stuff they’re supposed to do,” and focus on the creative work they love to do.
Jessica graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in English literature. She spent the first twenty years of her working life in corporate environments. In telecommunications, she learned about sales and leadership. Banking taught her the intricacies of finance. Years in insurance honed her skills in contracts and negotiation. And while each corporation expanded her skills, they were all creative deserts.
Jessica went searching for a more fulfilling career, met with a career counselor, paid $600 to a research institute, and drove to Texas to be led back to a childhood passion—writing.
While continuing her fulltime corporate work, she entrenched herself in the writing community. She sold her first essays and flash fiction pieces to literary journals and local publications. To learn more about the publishing industry, she volunteered for Whispering Prairie Press, a Kansas City based literary non-profit. Jessica became president of the organization and enjoyed the first-hand experience of growing a small business, watching the financials grow from a deficit to a surplus, and building a supportive community. As Managing Editor of Kansas City Voices Arts & Literary Magazine, she gained insight into the publication process and experimented with marketing tools and resources as she grew the magazine’s reach.
In 2015, five years after taking those research tests, Jessica left her corporate job, and stepped away from her non-profit and Managing Editor work. She assumed it would be a temporary break from corporate, but as requests for editing, speaking, and consulting rolled in she reveled in the complexities of being a working creative. In 2017, she signed with Kneerim & Williams literary agency for her fantasy novel, The Color Eater. Her editorial business and coaching services continued to evolve. In 2021, she niched down her focus and launched The Creative’s Apprentice so she could specialize in teaching creatives the art of business.
Learn more at jessicaconoley.com
Primary Creative Mediums: Writing & Music
Zone of Genius: Creating a safe place for creatives to express themselves freely
Imari Berry, Online Business Manager
Imari Berry is the introverted creative who relishes the process of creating: the brainstorming, the writing, and the revising and the revising and the revising. . . She also loves songwriting. She transforms her characters’ dialogue into melodies she hears in her head. As the original apprentice at TCA, she is the alpha tester for all workshops and weighs in on simplification and understandability of all materials from a new creative’s point of view. She also handles strategy and logistics for TCA’s online communications. Her goal is to a create a safe space for creatives to learn the business side of the industry.
Imari has a master’s degree in social work and excels at helping others find solutions to their own problems as they discover and express themselves. In her time working in social services, she dealt with many complex caseloads—one being herself.
She was a student on a mission to become a licensed clinical social worker when a dream brought a story to her. The story consumed her, and she realized writing was her true passion. The question “Should I drop out?” haunted her. Near the end of her undergrad studies, her love for writing toppled over her like for social work. She shared her dilemma with a friend. The friend simply looked at her and said, “Do both.”
Imari’s story found its way to TCA’s founder, Jessica Conoley, when she was accepting stealth edits at Johnson County Library. Imari—filled with anxiety—entrusted her first ten pages to Jessica. Months later that story was still calling to Jessica. Based on the strength of Imari’s writing, Imari was offered a scholarship to Jessica’s group authorpreneurship coaching program—the predecessor to TCA’s group apprenticeship coaching.
In the class, Imari was introduced to the creative and business side of writing. Most importantly she learned there is no correct way to create, but there are a lot of effective tools to help along the way. Imari was also introduced to the writing community. Her classmates were some of the most supportive people she ever met because, like her, they decided to hop on the same rollercoaster of writing. Three months after class ended, she was asked to become the original apprentice at TCA. She accepted the offer to be an advocate for those, like herself, who choose to get on the writing and creation ride.
Primary Creative Mediums: Writing & Crochet
Zone of Genius: Inspiring confidence in creatives and encouraging them to imagine bolder
Natasha Hanova, Group Apprenticeship Coach & Content Editor
Natasha Hanova is the ambivert creative who loves imaginative problem solving and discussing the craft with others. She writes sweet and evocative romance with a dark twist. Her experiences as a biracial Black woman fuel not only her storytelling, but her endeavors to lift and support other marginalized writers. At TCA, she applies her decades of experience to guide creatives to hone their craft, provide accountability, and encourage creatives to expand their vision for their career by imagining bolder. As a Content Editor, Natasha wants your manuscript to shine. This may include smoothing out plot issues, fleshing out flat characters, ramping up the tension/conflict, enriching your setting, and/or worldbuilding. Her goal is to collaborate with creatives in finding their manuscript’s voice.
Natasha has wanted to write books since elementary school when she would recycle cereal boxes to make book covers for the stories she wrote. Unfortunately, she bought into the starving artist myth. Natasha earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications Arts. She worked in the marketing department of a bank for years; however, the written word has always been her passion. Natasha sought an outlet for her creative spirit and joined a writers group to hone her craft. She spent most of her free time writing or reading, attended multiple workshops, and networked with other creatives at writers’ conferences where she could often be found huddled in a corner with a small group of people chatting about their work. When someone dubbed her a plot whisperer in 2016, she realized how much she enjoyed working with writers to finesse their projects and decided to offer her services to a broader audience as a content editor.
In 2012, a small press released her debut, Edge of Truth, a diverse YA speculative fiction novel. Her work also appears in a number of anthologies. Natasha has taught writing workshops to both children and adults and has presented at writer’s conferences. She is a past Conference Chair of OWFI. and also served as Prose Editor for Kansas City Voices Magazine.
Natasha’s love of crochet has shown her similarities between yarn art and writing: it takes dedication, determination, and resilience to get through to The End. Similarly, her journey in the query trenches is one of persistence and perseverance. In 2020, Natasha signed with Fuse Literary for her diverse adult horror Withered.
Learn more at: www.natashahanova.com/
TCA’s Origin Story
In January of 2021, three books came to Jessica in unusual ways. The first two books impacted her so greatly she was too scared to touch the third book until five months later. Read our origin story to find out how the books changed everything and led to the genesis of TCA.
In January of 2021, three books came to Jessica in unusual ways. This is the story of how the first two books changed everything.
3 Books—1 Story
By Jessica Conoley
How It Came to Me: It was New Year’s Eve of 2021, and I was with the five people I’d spent more time with than anyone else during the pandemic: my brewery friends and my boyfriend.
New Year’s Eve of 2020, we had a private party at the brewery and danced our faces off with twenty of our friends and family. Periodically throughout the night someone would chant “SPEECH” and we would make the brewer deliver an impromptu address. The drunker we got the funnier it was.
2021 we were deep in our pandemic bubble, cozied around the brewer’s dining-room table. Beers had been consumed. Maybe we’d already eaten dinner. Maybe we hadn’t. Someone chanted, “SPEECH. SPEECH. SPEECH.” The brewer declared we all must give a speech this year, and one by one we worked our way around the table. Mine began, “Well as we all know from last year, I’m pretty much psychic, and based on my intuition book exercises we’re halfway through the pandemic . . .”
Upon my speech’s conclusion the brewer asked, “Do you really think you’re psychic?”
“I’m not opposed to the thought,” I said, “but maybe a better word is intuitive? I’ve been working on that this year. Learning how to listen to my intuition better.”
The brewer stood, left the room, and returned with a book. “You should read this.” He handed me: Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Caroline Myss.
The Guts of It: I flipped open the book on New Year’s, noted it was on its fifty-fourth printing, and came out in 1996. It felt like this was going to be a sipping book, so I waited to read it in earnest until I was in the quiet of my condo with a morning cup of tea. For the first half of the book, Myss shared her personal experiences with healing and power as she matched the seven chakras of Eastern belief to the sacraments of Western religions. She showed how all the belief systems followed the same flow of energy and evolution. The beliefs and sacraments ultimately led to a higher expression of self and an expanded way of looking at the world. The second half of the book explained how energy disturbances in the seven chakras impact physical health. I reached for my pen again and again wanting to underline or flag an important concept but then remembered the book was a loaner. So I ordered a copy for myself. It was definitely a sipping book; I didn’t finish it until the 26th of January.
How the Concepts Bled into Real Life: Months before reading the book, I had concluded there was energy-giving work and energy-draining work, and I only wanted to pursue the energy-giving work. I had stumbled into the energy-giving work a few times by accident, but it had always been blind luck. What I needed was a way to see the energy-generating ideas clearly—which was super odd, because as I’d been pondering this need to see something invisible, I started having eye problems.
The weekend after Christmas the left side of my face was so swollen it looked like I’d been in a bar fight. The optometrist diagnosed an eye infection that required antibiotics and a Vaseline-type ointment. He insisted it had nothing to do with my contacts or getting anything in my eye and said, “It just happens.” Well, I was reading the book the whole time I was taking my meds and wondering what’s this book going to say about eye illnesses? I made it to the sixth chakra and there the eyes turned up with the rest of the neurological system.
While my left eye healed, I tried to wrap my head around Myss’s idea that “Separating truth from illusion is more a task of the mind than of the brain. The brain commands the behavior of our physical body, but the mind commands the behavior of our energy body, which is our relationship to thought and perception.” I interpreted this as my analytical trained-by-school brain works on one level, but I need to use my mind to tap into that good energy. It’s a big wonky concept, and it was still in processing mode when I headed back to the eye doctor for my follow up. Great news: my left eye was, “All better, but uh oh. Wait a second looky there, you have a bruise in the back of your right eye.”
“How do you even get a bruise in the back of your eye?” I ask.
“Do you have diabetes?”
“High blood pressure?”
“Well, sometimes it just happens, but we’ll have you back in a bit to take another look and make sure it’s healed itself.”
Now I wasn’t particularly worried when I left but was not loving this mysterious come-back-to-the-eye-doctor game. I went home, flipped to the sixth chakra, and took another stab at the stuff Myss had to say. She wrote that the primary strength of this eye-impacting energy center is “Intellectual abilities and skills; evaluation of conscious and unconscious insights; receiving inspiration; generating great acts of creativity and intuitive reasoning—emotional intelligence.”
My mind was telling me that I was in the process of detaching from an outdated way of thinking. All that brain rewiring resulted in some growing pains, which manifested through my eyes. Since I didn’t want to keep seeing the optometrist every few months (He’s very nice, and Silver Foxy, but once a year is plenty for reals.), I needed to master this sixth chakra lesson. I hypothesized that once I understood it down to my bones my eyes would return to normal.
When the Lesson Made It into My Bones: While reading this book, I was also writing a non-fiction essay based on a lecture I teach to writers. It was the first time I’d attempted to put my business concepts into long form, and I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I finished writing the article the same day I finished reading Myss’s book.
The next day I was trying to figure out what to do with this article, and I decided to post it on Medium. It was a practical decision; if it got picked up by one of their publications it’d have a larger reach and help set me up as an industry expert. Very rational, sound-of-mind thinking that I was very meh about. That night as I was actually doing the work of posting the article to Medium it felt like moving through mud. It was slow drudgework that felt resistant, heavy, and dark. I left the night’s coworking session feeling depressed and drained.
The next morning, I was doing my morning human-ing, and the thought Send it to Jane Friedman popped into my head. Tingling rushed from my elbows, down through my forearms, and out the ends of my fingers. It was like the energy of the ideas that had temporarily been stored in my bones had outgrown me. Now the energy knew where it wanted to go, and it was shooting out through my fingertips. (Which now that I write this is a lot like what happens with the main character in The Color Eater.) My brain screamed, “You can’t send it to Jane Friedman. She’s Jane Friedman!” (For the nonwriters out there, Jane Friedman is the industry expert who agents, editors, publishers, and writers read. Hugely respected, if she says something is legit, it holds a ton of weight.) But my mind said, “Of course send it to Jane Friedman, it’s perfect for her audience. This is where the work needs to go.” I was paralyzed in this battle between my brain and my mind, and then it hit me:
This is what the good energy looks like. It’s vibrant and crazy, with a touch of scary-in-the-exciting-kind-of-way. It’s homed in and connected, and 1,000 percent the opposite of what it felt like when I was going through the steps of posting on Medium.
Book #1 was directing me to this feeling.
It was nine thirty a.m. I headed to my computer to pitch Jane before I lost my nerve. Three hours later she wrote back, “This looks like a great post. Send the full piece when ready?”
Jane published my post on February 8, 2021.
What Book #1 unlocked: This was the first step in finding the confidence to make decisions and follow through with action based upon intuition—especially when my intuition contradicted what my rational/analytical mind had accepted as truth.
I can’t even begin to guess how far-reaching the impact will be. But if what happened with Book #2 is any indicator, I think we’re in for a hell of a good story.
p.s. Don’t worry about my eyes. I went back to the optometrist on March 29, and everything was as it should be.
How It Came to Me: January 7, 2021 I woke up to an email, “Congrats—You are a Giveaways Winner!” Now this may not seem like a huge deal, except I’ve been entering Goodreads Giveaways a few times a month since 2016 and never won a single book, ever. My writer friends and I talk about winning a GG like Ahab talked about Moby Dick, so I immediately screenshotted the email and shared it in my writer friend chat so everyone could marvel at the miracle. It was only after I shared the screenshot I actually bothered to read the email and find out what I’d won. The Buddha and the Badass: The Secret Spiritual Art of Succeeding at Work by Vishen Lakhiani. (I wasn’t sure why this book was on my Want to Read shelf but assumed I’d probably heard the author on a business podcast.) Buddha and the Badass arrived in the mail the weekend of January 23, three days before I finished reading Book #1, and two days after book #3 showed up
The Guts of It: Vishen Lakhiani is apparently some big fancy with real fancy friends. He runs a multimillion-dollar company called Mindvalley, and he likes science-ing things just like I do. He says our work system is broken, and “we are operating inside old obsolete models.” The book is about discarding what doesn’t empower you and leaning into your intuition as a guide to running your company. You do this by blending your experiences as a spiritual being and changemaker. In Part I, Lakhiani challenges his readers to go inward to attract the right allies/business partners. In Part II, he describes four elements that transform work. Finally, In Part III, he wraps up with merging the “Buddha and the Badass.” He draws on his own experiences from startup to multimillion-dollar company runner, shares personal stories, and offers insights from and about the fancy and not-so-fancy people he’s worked with. It didn’t hurt either that he quoted Neil Gaiman from Sandman and George R.R. Martin from A Song of Ice and Fire. Clearly this man and I could geek out together on a multitude of things.
How the Concepts Bled into Real Life: I dug into Book #2 on the Monday after I wrapped up reading Book #1. The intro hooked me because I was 100 percent on board with the statement that our work system was broken. I liked that he believed we could create a better way. The fact he was leaning into the energy of intuition really resonated with me, because that built on what Book #1 had just taught me with the whole business essay experience. The second day of reading, I was on the “Attracting Your Allies” chapter, and I thought this is so weird.
For the past few weeks, it had felt like all the periphery (podcasts, books, etc.) learning in my life was telling me to learn about hiring someone. For over a year, I had dreamed of hiring an assistant. I wanted someone to take admin tasks off my plate and give me more time to create. My non-fiction business writing had gained traction, which meant I needed to simultaneously write my Murder-board time weirdness novel and transcribe all of my lectures into written format. But, with the pandemic, my income from freelance work was down; the money to hire someone simply wasn’t there. I’d have to wait years before I could hire an assistant, even though the universe seemed to think I should get one now.
I tore through chapter two, but stopped at this passage: “People are drawn to you not because of your business plan, but because your dream gives them hope.”
Then Lakhiani quoted Buckminster Fuller:
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
He follows all that with “Have a vision and then start with the who.”
At this point the name Imari popped into my head. I felt the spark of good energy I’d dialed in on while reading Book #1. Imari had graduated from my last group authorpreneurship class. She’d written a manuscript that I really enjoyed, was dying to change careers, and most importantly she had faith—pervasive, unshakeable faith. If I told her good energy was telling me to do something, she might not think I was totally nuts.
She would be a fantastic assistant, but I still didn’t have any money. The energy had grown by this point though, and the previous week’s Jane Friedman experiment was still fresh in my mind. Publishing an article with Jane had seemed impossible until it wasn’t. So, while my brain was saying, I can’t ask Imari to be my assistant. I can’t pay her. My intuitive mind was saying, You don’t have money, but you do have skills. Skills she wants. Skills she needs. Skills she has already shown she’s willing to pay for.
Holy crap, could I barter myself an assistant?
By now the energy had built to the this-is-totally-crazy-but-feels-like-it-could-work way, so I sent her a text. She responded with a Spock gif, which made me laugh and made me want to work with her even more. She was intrigued. We Zoomed that night, and by the end of the day on February 3, 2021, she was on board. I went to bed dumbfounded and not really believing the whole assistant thing was happening. The last thought before I fell asleep: this “follow the energy thing” is not f-ing around.
When the Lesson Made It into My Bones: I was reading Book #2 at a good clip; as I’d decided to do all the exercises on a re-read, this was definitely a sipping book. Three days later I was knee deep in Part III, Activate Your Inner Visionary. The book gave me permission to turn off my logic and shut down the belief that something is impossible. Lakhiani told a story about the designer they hired to create their gorgeous, award-winning office space. The designer came up with some sort of Shangri-La of the working world, and when they got done building the space, the designer said, “Thanks for letting me dream so big.”
That’s when it hit me. I’ve been thinking too small.
All this time with my writing, the magazine I used to run, the editing, speaking, and coaching. All of it had been way too small.
Good energy came roaring at me like a freight train, and an Idea started to fall into place. I was playing Tetris, fitting all the puzzle pieces together as the Ideas fell from the sky faster and faster and faster. I worried I was missing something, but as I turned the Idea around, rolled it over, checked for cracks, I saw the shape of this huge, impossible thing, and I knew what I was supposed to create.
My brain was wailing, This, this is madness. Complete impossible madness. But now my intuitive mind had learned to bypass my brain. It had already sent the Idea into my body. The Idea had taken root in my bones and was growing at an exponential rate feeding on that scary-good-crazy energy.
Over the next week I dissected the Idea like a manuscript. I built the vision out, five years, ten years, thirty years. I saw how it scaled. I zoomed the picture in, examining it line by line. Seeing the first steps, the content creation, the people I’d need. I reached out to the early players and asked them to find the cracks, tell me I was missing something, tell me I was nuts. But all I heard was “It makes total sense.” “I want that yesterday.” “When this thing happens I’m ready to help. I want in.”
For a week pieces kept falling from the sky, landing in my brain, waiting for the moment I would loose them into the world. They came at all hours of the day, woke me up at night. On the fifth night as I was trying to fall asleep with pieces alighting on me so quickly I no longer bothered to write them down. I said to my empty room, “I hear you. I’m doing it, but first let me sleep. I just need to sleep.”
What Book #2 unlocked: I’m a hybrid creative. I have business brain and create brain. I can do both halves, run a viable business while creating literary art. I’ve been told that’s impossible, but it’s not. If I can do it, I can teach other creatives to do it. On February 6, I texted Imari, “This is going to be so much fun! We’re going to obliterate the myth of the starving artist.”
With the enormity of what the first two books taught me, I was too scared to touch book three for five more months. After Book #3’s done teaching me its lessons, I’ll share how it impacted TCA’s growth from the day we launched.