Chatting · Writing Advice

Creative Strategy

Trying to maintain a balance between real-life obligations and your creative pursuits is less like walking a beam and more like one of those platform games where you just have to time the jumps right and hope you don’t fall in the lava. Our days are a battlefield of shifting schedules and absent attention spans, so today, in the honor of my website-launch anniversary earlier this month, I’m sharing some of the wisdom I’ve learned over the last two years. If you’re looking to be more purposeful with your writing work, I hope this can share some helpful advice!

What are your long-term goals?

If you want to write as a hobby and post your work for free online, your first and only priority should be to write for yourself and have fun. If you want to publish, you’ll need to know whether you want to self-publish, query agents to go on submission to traditional publishers, or run a hybrid model, and do research on what it takes to make it into each side of the industry. What are your goals for publishing? Sales, royalties, marketing commitments, and professional skill sets are all important factors in deciding which type of publishing you want to pursue, and one route or the other might be better depending on the book and your mindset. If you want to write under a pen name, do you plan on having multiple pen names and running multiple platforms? What genres do you write and what’s your target audience? Do you want to make this your full-time career or pursue something else as a day-job and keep this as a passion project? The answers to these questions will determine how you approach your personal writing strategy – which shouldn’t be the same for everyone!

My example: I knew in high school, when I started thinking about career paths and college majors, that I wanted to have a financially stable life where I could work a 9-5 or eventually part-time role and still have mental energy to work on my hobbies when I came home. I’ve talked before about how I balance my storytelling and STEM studies, but this means I treat my writing like a part-time gig. My goal is to self-publish because I like the idea of maintaining creative control and a larger percentage of royalties from my sales. I write under the name Etta Grace to separate my fiction from my real-life career and maintain my privacy on both this platform and from my employers. At one point, I thought about launching a second pen name for my middle-grade fiction, but decided running two platforms and building a new one from the ground-up would be too much work. Therefore, my platform needs to have some crossover appeal to reach my wide audience audiences.

It’s not too late or too early to think about this and making a new plan. If your life situation changes, if might be a good time to reevaluate, if you’re going through a big career change, starting or finishing school, or going through a significant family event. Write these down before you continue reading.

Look ahead at the year

It’s impossible to plan for everything, but through a global pandemic and an impending economic recession, we still have to go to class, work, and see our families. It’s easier to account for ebbs and flows in productivity when you know what obstacles will keep you from the laptop and you can compensate for the lost time in the quieter weeks. Sometimes it’s possible to line up steps in the writing process with these seasons, such as releasing a suspense story around spooky season. Keeping tabs on upcoming events helps keep you from getting blindsided by the inexorable progress of time.

My Example: My semester starts in August, so I planned to finish editing Draft Three of Runaways around that time so that I could hand off the manuscript to beta readers while I tackle senior year. When I move out of my apartment, I’ll need to take down the sticky outline that’s still hanging on my wall, so the Laoche spreadsheet/document outline needs to be done by the time you’re reading this. I want to cosplay Vin Mistborn for Halloween so when burnout hit this summer; I switched to working on the first piece of the costume so it would be ready in advance and picked a shirt design I can use for multiple costumes (check out last week’s post if you missed it for a walkthrough of that thought process).

If you know there’s a transition coming up, do yourself the favor to pre-emptively work around it. With a plan in mind, that’s one less stress to be cluttering your mind during those turbulent periods of life. Unlike a writing career, getting a degree has a clear path to follow, so this lets me make progress towards my personal goals without feeling like I’m falling behind on my books.

Look ahead at your fiction

Planning a series is an enormous commitment. Publishing leaves you open to further exploration with those worlds, characters, and missing scenes if you have avid readers who will want to know more. Marketing requires having freebies on hand to encourage people to read your work, such as mailing list cookies and art giveaways. My best advice for not going insane is to multitask – if you can reuse short-stories for content, save yourself the pressure of producing extra words under time pressure. Use every project as an excuse to procrastinate on other projects, so you can always stay working on something that interests you at the moment. Whether you’re a plotter of panster, before going into any publishing, have an end in mind by outlining or fast-drafting.

My example: I’m terrified of publishing Storge – the prequel for the Laoche Chronicles – then starting on the series itself and realizing I didn’t set things up properly and I can no longer go back and retcon my old work because it’s already released. I’m outlining the entire series at once hoping there will be less risk to releasing the books one at a time as I write them without digging myself into a plot hole. I want to work a few books ahead of schedule, so that #1 is done and #2 started by the time Storge gets published. This way, there’s not a huge wait between them, and I know I’m up-to-date on my lore and foreshadowing. I also plan to have novellas between the books to fill the time and provide missing-scenes. Unfortunately, making a debut with something this massive is intimidating, and so I plan to self-publish Runaways first, as it’s a much simpler and self-contained story. I needed cookies for my mailing list, so instead of writing one-off short stories, I’ve been using this method to explore the fae world more, and want to collect those works waiting in reserve for an anthology.

Even if you have nothing published yet, it never hurts to start working on your author’s platform early, so that by the time you have all your ducks in a row, you also have readers at the ready. Think about how you want your book-backlog to look in 5, 10, 20 years, and set up a list of priorities so that you can switch out WIPs as needed.

Making Connections

Writing should not be a solitary endeavor, and I don’t know what I would do without my friends to enable this insanity. For more practical purposes, your friends are the people who are going to tell others about your writing, especially if they’re also creatives. You become mutual promotion machines and meet new people through the networks you create simply by putting yourself out there. This falls under the umbrella of “building a platform” but really that means building a community.

My example: In 2019 I joined Tumblr, whipped up a blog header and WIP intro, and started posting horrible Inktober illustrations of the Storge cast. Two incredible authors – @abalonetea and @siarven found my work by checking out my blog after I left comments on their work, and we hit it off. Their introduction to the writeblr space let me meet dozens of other talented people and we still chat ideas to this day. You might recognize their names from my interviews here: where we talk about character development and worldbuilding, respectively.

Be friendly, leave comments, find your social media platform of choice, and join groups. Try to get to know the extroverts because they’ll introduce you to the rest of their friend group by proxy. I always prioritize the relationships in my life first because I’m not super social at work, but I have a close knit friend group in real life as well and those people are really important to me and supportive of my creative endeavors.

Budjeting

Money is deeply annoying, and adulting is hard, but fortunately it is also extremely important and so we should still talk about it. If you self-publish, you will need to pay for everything out of pocket, but you will keep more of your royalties and start earning money immediately after the book sells. If you traditionally publish, you will get an advance payment and should not pay for anything throughout the process, but you will not start making royalties until after the sales have paid back the advance, and then you will earn a smaller percentage of your royalties. This is a major factor for many writers in choosing career options. If you know you will be self-publishing, it’s best to start saving up now. It’s also worth considering if you want to monetize your author’s platform, and if so, how? Patreon, Ko-Fi, donations, ads, commissions, and ghostwriting are all additional options to help your writing fund itself.

My Example: In May, I will graduate and start my new adult career in some engineering role. I want to have an editor, illustrator, and cover artist picked out for Runaways by June, so when I have Salaried Money and no more student loans to pay off, I can hit the ground running with production for publication. This blog doesn’t cost me a lot of money to maintain, but it is an enormous time investment, and it would be worth it to set up some kind of monetization, however small, sooner rather than later. I run unobtrusive ads at the bottom of my posts. Though I don’t have the traffic yet to see any payout, I hope it’ll accumulate, eventually. I set up a way to tip me directly if people feel like being a ~patron of the arts~ but I will never lock things behind a paywall or subscription because I don’t believe in running a creative hobby like that.

This is an extremely personal decision, so choose what works the best for your personal situation. A lot of creatives break out in hives at the idea of setting up a budget and marketing their work, but it’s worth thinking about if you want to have peace of mind about making ends meet.

Bide your Time

As far as I’ve read and experienced, it takes roughly two years to establish any kind of online “presence” that gives you consistent feedback. Growth follows generally follows an upward curve, and at a certain point, if you’re lucky, that turns exponential. Consistency helps to please the fickle attention span of the internet, but make sure it’s at a pace that works for you. Though a lot of success in creative industries comes down to luck, don’t let that discourage you from putting yourself out there. Luck is just where preparedness meets opportunity, and you’ll have more opportunities the longer you’re in the game and know where to look, and if you have a strategy in place, you’ll be prepared to jump on opportunities when they come up. Don’t follow the trends, be yourself, and know that eventually algortighms and reblogs and word of mouth can work in your favor to bring people to you.

My example: On a daily and weekly basis, my views for this site are all over the place, but if you look at my history, you’ll see how my audience has grown. These screenshots are from 8/7/2022, as I’m queuing this in advance, so they’re slightly outdated, but still an accurate representation of the point I’m trying to make.

These are the statistics for my top 5 posts in the past year. I wrote the post on Addie La Rue without realizing its popularity, because I just thought it was a good story and worth analyzing. This accidental trend-hopping has contributed far more to those views than any of my original work, and it brought a few readers to the site who ended up sticking around.

Follow your interests, and you’ll be surprised where it leads you. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the results you want right away. Remember, strategy is playing the long game, and it’s not a race.

Habits aren’t for everyone

The advice to write every day is EVERYWHERE in the writing community – from NaNoWriMo to that one post about Terry Pratchett’s 200 words before breakfast. It’s easy to fall into this mental trap that if you aren’t building consistent habits, you’re horrible and a failure and you’re Never Going to Make It. My dear friends, that is but mere bullshit. I know I said earlier that consistency helps build a following to appease the internet attention spans, but that’s the miracle of the queue button.

My example: I sprint through writing in hyper-focus mode and switch projects rapidly to keep things interesting. It’s possible to *post* every week without *writing* every week. The fiction writing matches roughly the same pace. This graph is from last year’s sprint:

Take it at your own pace – even if that pace is oscillating between manic progress and forgetting about it for weeks on end – then schedule things in advance if you need.

Build Backup Plans

Burnout aint pretty and no strategy is complete without prepping contingencies for crises. Leave enough room for inspiration to take the wheel, and to move to more relaxing projects when you’re sick of the big ones. You can always make them work into the big scheme later, and passion is never wasted. I’m definitely not the fastest writer, but I think being well rounded and protecting your mental health is more important than word count.

Thank you for reading and let me know if this has helped you at all! Next week I’ll be sharing a short-story I wrote for the Writeblr Summerfest event hosted by @abalonetea, so make sure to stop back for that. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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