Recently, someone asked for advice for creatives pursuing their artform as a career. I realized I hadn’t done a writing advice post for a while, so I’ve decided to share my tips on how to keep going.
When pursuing writing or any other creative career, the number one best piece of advice I’ve gotten is to focus on things you can control, and if possible to get your worth from that. The things you can control might change depending on your medium, but generally the categories are: the quality of your work (revising, learning and growing as an artist); the quantity of your work (making time to create new work); how often you put your work out there (submissions, etc, and doing that research); and your work space (the fun stuff like having a decent chair, using a good filing system to track your work and submissions, etc.) If you like metrics, focus your metrics on those things, not on things you can’t control (e.g. acceptances, positive reviews, or awards). Celebrate those things if they happen, but don’t focus your worth on them. This is obviously harder than it sounds, but it’s the most important thing on this list to your mental health.
Second, build your network. (Note that a lot of people say to “build your tribe” but I feel like that is icky and appropriative terminology — network isn’t quite right either but we’ll use that.) Try to find other people — writers and lovers of writing — who love your work and build reciprocal relationships with them, because it will help keep you sane and inspire you to try new things. I personally get a lot of satisfaction out of using this blog to shout about things I love, and an online presence is one way to do this, but you can also meet people in person. Some of the people you meet may be established writers, some may be fans that like the same books you do, and some may be friends or family members who believe in you and your work. Look for that external support, and support others in turn. Sometimes it can also turn into career opportunities, but that’s not the primary goal — the primary goal is having someone to commiserate with and trade critique, etc. Having that community will go a long way towards making you feel sane in an industry that sometimes seems designed to make you pull out your hair.
My third piece of advice is simple. Don’t be afraid to move on to the next project. As with all other forms of art, everything you work on as a writer goes into your portfolio. Maybe the timing for that thing isn’t right in the market, but it will be in a few years. Maybe you’re not good enough now but the idea is sound, and you can rework the piece in a few years. Definitely take the time to properly put it out there, but you should always be working on the next thing, too. In the past two years I’ve made a point to always have one novel I’m working on and one novel I’m editing for submission. I’ve got enough of a backlist of stuff that needs to be groomed for sending out that this works for me. Just making new words doesn’t get your old words in front of people, but if you’re not making new stuff you’ll be very frustrated when your old stuff doesn’t go anywhere and suddenly you have nothing to submit.
The last thing is a bit harder, because it’s psychological. If you’ve got any guilt about being an artist and/or your artistic career, whether it’s to do with the finances, your perceived success, whatever — DROP IT. It’s not going to help you and it’s going to get in the way of making good things. We have enough challenges without self-sabotaging. This is something I’ve had to really learn personally, and ironing out those brain weasels has helped me be both happier and more productive.
What are your top tips for pursuing a creative career?