WOAH! This is the 100th post!! This one snuck up on me, so I’ve put a lot of thought into what I wanted to write. In the end, I decided I’d really like to share some reflections from the past year, and the things I’ve learned since starting this whole creative journey.
Venturing into the world of creation, self-publication, and just putting yourself “out there” in general is quite daunting and stressful. I’ve discovered a lot about writing adventures, creating content, community management, etc.. I’ve also reflected upon my own process as a creator: my strengths and weaknesses, how I balance things (or not), and how my goals have evolved over time. It’s been a time of growth and evaluation as I take stock of the past year and look ahead into the future.
It’s been a busy year and, while I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, I definitely felt that rush, that self-imposed stress, frequently throughout the year. If I could go back and give myself (or anyone just starting out) some advice, there are certain things I know I’d want to focus on. So…if you’re just starting out on your own creative journey, or if you find yourself wavering under the stress of “The Grind”– a concept we tend to glorify and detest in the same breath– then this is for you. I hope you find it helpful!
Dream Big, but Start Slow
What do you want to do? No, really…if time and resources weren’t a limiting factor, what would you create, and how would you like to see it grow? Is your dream to write and publish stories? Do you want to build a community, a collective of creative collaborators? Do you want to create works of art to stimulate the imaginations of those who see them? Start up your own business and sell a craft?
Envision your “final form” and think about it in terms of goals. For example, I would *love* to turn Heroes of Iyastera into a TTRPG system of its very own, with original content, adventures, and settings. I want to grow the Scribbler Network into a collective of people who collaborate with and inspire eachother to create even more amazing things!
Don’t try to rush to the end– turning those dreams into reality will take some time. Everything begins with one step at a time. If you try to do it all at once, you’ll end up risking burnout, trying to do too many things all at once, and consequently achieving nothing the way you had hoped (speaking from experience). When I first started this blog, I got excited– I was making my first foray into being a “creator” and I felt great.
After only a week into the process, I started trying to write blog posts, jump into self publishing before I really understood the process, and look for collaborative projects all at the same time. I nearly crashed before I had even really begun. It took a few nights of “…what the heck am I even doing” before I snapped myself out of the loop and scaled things waaay back.
I took my overly-ambitious schedule of three posts a week and scaled it down to two. Later on, as life became busier with work and school, I dropped it down to a single post a week.
Once I proved to myself I could maintain a simpler blog schedule, then I moved on to writing adventures. Even that was scaled back: instead of accepting every new project that came my way, I focused on only one at a time, to ensure that I wasn’t overloading and that I was creating work I could be proud of. Far better to create smaller batches of good quality content than to try to mass-produce things just for the sake of keeping the factory line moving!
As you’re developing your schedule, it’s important to keep to it as close as you can. Whether it’s blog posts, social media activity, or streaming– the frequency doesn’t matter as much as the consistency. That way, you incorporate creation into your routine. It becomes habit, intertwined with the fabric of your daily life. Also if you have a regular schedule, the people who are drawn to the things you create know when to tune in for the content they love!
Keep it sustainable at first, maybe one or two pieces a week, a written product a month, etc. Something you can do alongside your other work and life committments.
Even if you have the extra time to do more, it’s important to always have “wiggle room” for growth and shifting things around as needed. If you fill your days to the brim, you limit your flexibility if unpredictable events come into play: you get sick, you have to put in some extra hours at work, and so on. If you can maintain that initial schedule comfortably, for a few months at least, then maybe it’s time to grow!
Keep to a Plan
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve struggled with keeping to a consistent plan– it’s far too easy to get over-zealous, to let yourself be swept away in the thrill of new opportunities, and succumb to the siren song of the “good idea fairy”. Like my story in the first section, when I get excited by a particularly fruitful phase of productivity, it’s super tempting to seek out new projects and collaborations, each one more ambitious than the last…only to become overwhelmed with shiny new things while my original “to-do” list collects dust in the corner.
To combat this, I’ve started using Short-Term and Long-Term lists. The projects I’ve already begun, or the ones that I know won’t take as long to complete, stay on the Short-Term List. I don’t add anything to that list until each item is complete, then I look to the Long-Term List to see what I can take on next. That isn’t to say that items can’t move between the lists, but if you do start shifting projects around, be sure to make it an even 1:1 swap between the lists. If you add something to Short-Term, something else needs to come off the list to make room. I try not to have more than three projects on the Short-Term List at a time, otherwise it’ll just keep growing out of control.
Another aspect of planning that I’m particularly bad at, is setting deadlines for myself. It’s far easier if I’m working on a project with others, and the timeline is determined by someone else. If I’m setting my own timeline, I tend to let things slip…and slip some more until I’ve been working on the same project for weeks longer than I initially anticipated…
I’m still finding ways to get better with this. Sometimes, it helps to even just talk about the projects I’m working on. Even if it’s just to a friend. Somehow putting the goal out into the ‘verse and the knowledge that someone else knows about the deadline makes it easier for me to stick to it. I’m also hoping to get a wall calendar or something similar, to keep in a visible area in my office. A place where I can see it each day. I’ve tried using planners and diaries to keep track of projects, but if I’m not using them every day, the “out of sight, out of mind” effect kicks in and I still lose track of things.
Your First Draft is Never Final
This one is more for my fellow writers out there…those who tend to get paralyzed by our pursuit of perfect prose. One of my favourite quotes for this topic comes from Sir Terry Pratchett: “The first draft is just a story you tell yourself”. In other words, it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time through!
The books and stories we read didn’t just manifest as written. They’re not direct transcripts of the author’s original drafts and hand-scrawled notes…they’ve gone through countless revisions, re-writes, and evolutions before ever making it to the editor’s desk. So…stop being so hard on yourself! It’s totally normal to go back and change things– and I’m talking about big things. Plots could change completely, characters can go back into the ether to be used in different ways, maybe the original premise even ends up changing.
The important thing is to keep writing. Keep creating. You won’t improve overnight unless you somehow make a pact with an otherwordly being and sell your soul for the next bestselling novel (not as simple as it sounds, trust me).
My own writing style has changed so much in the past few years, and the only way to continue that metamorphosis is to keep your pen moving! Write as though you’re telling the story to yourself. Don’t get caught up in the ambiguous audience and what they may or may not like. If you like the story, then others will too. Period.
Another tidbit: you don’t have to write your stories sequentially. If you have an idea for the ending before you’ve reached that point in your notes, just skip ahead! Linear time doesn’t exist when you’re weaving your tales and you can piece it together when the time is right. I keep different collections of notes precisely for this reason. Often I’ll have an idea for a certain scene or story beat…as long as I write it down, it could become woven into a story at any point in the plot. Or it might sprout into a new tale altogether!
Don’t Drop Your Hobbies
I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I’ve come to detest the idea of “The Grind”. The idea that you have to keep working, non-stop, in order to find success. If you’re not working, then you’re wasting time or, even worse, you somehow don’t want it badly enough. This concept creates a culture of burnout that sends many creatives into a spiral of self-doubt and sends their best ideas into an early grave.
An important part of the creative process is taking breaks from the work and doing something completely different. Maybe you could take a walk or play some games. Go to the gym. Learn something completely new. Cherish the hobbies and interests that have little to do with your projects. You don’t have to be a unidimensional NPC, defined by only “one thing”. Your whole existence is not defined by the things you produce. You’re a complex and multi-faceted being…so embrace it!
You need to give your mind a variety of things to focus on, or you’ll become stagnant. It’s like working different muscles at the gym. If you only ever do bicep curls (you know the type),you become imbalanced and the rest of your body grows weak. If you only ever eat one type of food, you become malnourished. You need to feed your brain a varied and diverse “diet” of activities and information to keep it strong and healthy!
Make Connections with Others
We live in an age of near-immediate interconnectedness, where you can find others who share your interests and passions with just a few clicks. Finding peeps who are creating projects similar to my own, filling the same creative space as I am, has honestly been one of the most rewarding parts of this journey. The value I’ve found in bouncing ideas off of other like-minded people, sharing tools, resources, and inspiration, and even just having people to turn to when I feel like I’m in a slump, is truly irreplaceable.
While there are certainly those who may become territorial or competitive, there are far more who are ready to share ideas and excitement for new projects. So…get out there! See who else is making things you find inspiring, whether similar to your own content or something entirely different. I’ve grown a lot in my outlook through the writers, artists, designers, GMs, and streamers in the Scribbler Network. Without them, it’s very likely I would have become discouraged a long time ago, and never made it to this 100th post!
Cultivate a Community
As you grow and continue to make connections, you may find that people start to gather around you and the goodness you’re putting out into the world. You’ll start interacting with the same people and expanding your network through new friends and followers. Before long, you’ll start to learn how your specific style and personal “brand” impacts the community you’ve begun to build, whether it’s intentional or not. If you’re anything like me, this is both thrilling and intimidating.
This is your chance to shape your community in a positive way. With the Scribbler Network, I hope to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment where people can come share ideas, find support, and find like-minded people to game and collaborate with. The Scribblers are writers, gamers, streamers, game designers, artists, and more– a wide variety of hobbies, backgrounds, and even ages are represented, as several members of the Heroes of Iyastera family campaigns also take part. When you find yourself gathering together a community, you then have a responsibility to cultivate it appropriately. It’s helpful to establish spaces where people can interact in a safe way.
For the Scribblers, we have a Heroes of Iyastera Discord server, with several different channels (both open and closed) where we can discuss a wide variety of topics. Because the community is so diverse, it does require some management to ensure that everyone feels welcome. That means keeping the public channels free of inappropriate content, especially since there are younger Scribblers in there from the D&D campaigns. There are times where I have to moderate certain comments and ensure that everyone is aware of the “channel rules”. If there are any individuals who become disruptive, I have to feel comfortable with reaching out to them directly, or even kicking them from the server if they don’t respect the rules. This can lead to some uncomfortable situations (I’ve had to deal with things like this in my Twitch chat early on), but it’s something that you need to be prepared to do if you want to cultivate a certain kind of environment. It helps if you have a trusted friend or two who can act as moderators in spaces such as these. That way, you don’t have to confront difficult situations alone.
Celebrate Victories and Milestones
Now that you’ve found a plan and schedule that works for you, don’t forget to find ways to celebrate your milestones. This might be the completion of a particularly big project, or something as simple as sticking to your weekly schedule for over a month! Don’t worry about comparing yourself and your productivity to other creators…everyone’s lives are different. The only person you should compare yourself to, is you.
With each post, each piece of artwork, each stream, you are adding something new to the ‘verse…and your skills continue to improve every time you do. So it’s important to celebrate your accomplishments and take pride in your work! Keep a running list of the things you’ve accomplished each month. You might be surprised at how far you’ve come in such a short time! Celebrate by sharing your accomplishments with your friends and community, or by treating yourself to something special. Could be a day off, takeout from your favourite restaurant, a cool glass of some sort of beverage (if you’re old enough)…as long as you celebrate with something! My celebrations tend to involve sweets and new journals ^_^
If You Don’t Like It, Stop
If at any point you are no longer enjoying this journey, if your passion becomes something that fills you with dread instead of excitement, then it’s time to re-assess.
Take stock of what you’re doing, of what you’ve been creating. Do you still find it fulfilling? Are you taking on too much? Do you enjoy the process or do you feel like you’re doing it to fulfill someone else’s expectations? If you don’t enjoy it any more, you might need a change. There is no shame in changing course! If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, then it isn’t worth doing. The people who follow and support you can most likely tell if you’ve stopped enjoying yourself and will understand if it’s time for a change. If they don’t, then they’re not people you want around anyway!
I’ve had to change course a handful of times since the beginning, whether because of time constraints or feeling like I was losing touch with the style of writing I enjoy…every time it’s been worth it. Your emotions show through your work, whether positive or negative. If you love what you do, regardless of what that is, then your community will too.
Take Time for Yourself
This is the most important segment of all: you hae to take care of yourself. This journey can be rewarding one day, and incredibly stressful the next. The TTRPG field itself can be difficult to navigate, and the more passionate you are, the faster you can fall into “The Grind”. Try to make (not “find”) time to take breaks, a few days off, a way to un-plug and re-charge. If you you’re going to sit down to work on a project, be sure to have water (or tea!) and snacks handy– even if you don’t necessarily plan on working for a long period of time. I know how easy it can be to get caught up in a bought of productivity and let the hours fly past. Another good technique is to have an alarm set, to snap you back to reality every now and then so you can get up, stretch your legs, and get some fresh air. Remember, taking breaks is part of the process and it will keep your mind fresh. Working non-stop isn’t good for anyone, no matter what they tell you. You’ll inevitably burn out and start resenting your work.
The ideas you have in your mind will continue to develop, even if you’re not actively wrestling with them. So do yourself a favour and put the pen down now and then!
I know this was a long post…so congrats! You made it to the end!
I want to thank you for coming with me on this journey. The support of you wonderful peeps truly keeps me going, and I appreciate each and every one of you. We’ve been through a lot together this past year and I hope you enjoy what 2020 has to offer, both in life and here at scrivthebard.com! As always, I look forward to sharing even more stories with you 🙂