Not exactly unspoken, because I mentioned this option in my previous post. Regardless, this stage will talk about the so-called ‘unspoken option’, because it seems that no one really wants to consider or talk about this option - working full-time while creating on the side.
“But I won’t have any time and I need to focus 100%!”
That’s what I often hear when we bring up the suggestion of working part-time or full-time to support your creative career.
That being said, working on your creative projects while still holding a full-time or part-time job is a completely viable solution, though not the most ideal. The trick, however, is to find a workflow or a solution that will fulfill your responsibilities and your creative wants, at least until you reach a state you’re comfortable with.
“You have to really want it.”
If I get a dollar for every time I see this piece of advice on another creative’s blog, I can quit my job and not worry about money for the next couple of years.
As common as it is, it’s not exactly the most helpful piece of advice.
Pros & Cons
With every option, there’s good news and bad news. Personally, I like to hear bad news first, so here are a few reasons why this unspoken option wouldn’t be recommended:
Before I conclude this post, I’d like to take this section to say that this option is neither the “better way” nor the “less gutsy way”. The most important point to take in your creative journey is to know what you can live with and work with what you have.
Some artists thrive on the uncertainty of not knowing when their next salary will come, some need the stability of a constant paycheck but still want to create. At the end of the day, you need to be able to work for you.
So that’s what I have for this post - stay tuned next month for Stage 10!
Just because you got your manuscript accepted by a publisher or a agent doesn’t mean you shouldn’t familiarize yourself with the options, grants, and paperwork that come with publishing. If you intend to self-publish, this is all the more important for you to know.
Disclaimer: I’m not the best person to talk about grants or options. These are recounts of my experience, especially with the legal and paperwork needed in the fiction publishing scene in Singapore.
Firstly, grants are just one of the many options creatives in Singapore have to fund their works. It is also one of the most common buzzwords muttered amongst artists and arts organizations in the country.
For a country with a community this small, Singapore can be considered to have rather generous grant programmes. Contrary to popular belief, however, the National Arts Council is not to only place to apply for creative grants (There are grants from the National Heritage Board, Media Development Authority etc…). But since the NAC grants are the most popular here, we’re just going to get a glimpse at them.
Grants can be quite confusing or filled with caveats some of us don’t have the understanding (or energy) to go through. While I encourage reading each line of the grant’s fine print, here’s a more streamlined list of which NAC grants might best suit your needs:
National Arts Council Grants:
And that’s just to name a few. You can find out more about the NAC grants here.
Other Funding Options
Apart from grants, other funding options can come into play. Two popular ways include seed funding, as well as crowdfunding.
To clarify, seed funding in this case means self-funded - when you’ve saved to invest in your creation. While this may not sound like the ideal option, but it is one of the more common options - find out your base costs of your project, and see how much you can fund it on your own. This forces you to be frugal with yourself, and also gives you that little boost of motivation to actually think about breaking even (a.k.a. recover your costs). Unless you’re rich, then I don’t have anything else to say.
The other popular option is to go into Crowdfunding. Kickstarter, IndieGogo, InkShares, and Patreon are just some of the platforms many creators use to fund their projects. While some are like platforms for pre-orders, all of them will give you the responsibility of delivering on your promise - you cannot take people’s money without rhyme or reason, after all.
There’s another option apart from these two, though I do call it the unspoken option, since it seems to be the option many artists I speak to don’t even want to consider. I’ll explain about it further in my next ‘Stages of Creation’ post.
Regardless of your choice of funding, there’s going to be some paperwork involved (unless you decided to seed fund your entire project). While each fund application would require different application documents, they seem to always want the following documents. Therefore, be prepared and have them ready (make copies, scan etc…) for any time they’re needed.
Just a note on this - be as concise as possible. You don’t have to be too formal about how you’re describing your project / organization / brand to stay true to the essence of what you’re intending to create, but remember your audience - who probably won’t take too kindly to “too-casual” language.
When your grants are with government bodies, there’s a huge chance that they would like to see your certifications and licenses before deciding to grant you funding for your project. Very simple - make copies, scan, and store your academic certifications, testimonials, and what-have-yous as if you’re going for a job interview.
Following up from the previous point - it’s likely that your curriculum vitae / resume would be one of the supporting documents needed in your application as well. As mentioned in the previous point as well - make sure your CV is updated, organized, and is aligned to your grant proposal. Again, think of this as a job interview.
It’ll be good to take a “trial look” at the Application Forms and note down the information you’ll need before submitting your application. This will help you get all your information ready, especially when with online forms that can time out. Same thing with hardcopy forms that you have to submit as well - take note that every blank has been filled, and make full use of the document checklist before submitting your application. Most importantly - submit your application early or by the deadline, for grants, deadlines are not negotiable (at least when you’re thinking about your chances of getting the grant!)
Conclusion of this post is - there are opportunities and resources to support your creative journey. However, the responsibility of picking an appropriate grant and staying good on your project lies with you as the artist.
General rule of thumb: You cannot take the money of others and not care about them.
Again, all the best with your drafts and your pitches - stay tuned next month when we tackle another stage of creation!
Your work is done, you’ve gone through numerous feedback sessions, and you’ve edited your heart out of your piece. Then comes the next, dreadful question - Now what?
I have had mentees ask me the same question once they were done with a story, and my answer usually centers on these three points:
This month, we talk about getting your work out and what you may like to know before presenting your work to industry gatekeepers.
First and foremost - you’ll need a pitch line, or a hook to bring in potential agents or publishers, and most importantly, your readers. To challenge yourself, try to reduce your story to a 21-word long paragraph, no exceptions.
Audiences now have no obligation to consume stories or entertainment to the end, so if you can’t hook your audiences in quickly, you can lose a lot of people - including those who “fit the profile” of your ideal audience.
Surprise exercise - Summarize your novel or story in 10-20 words!
You can also find examples on the following sites:
Secondly, the next thing you’ll want to take note of is “who to pitch to”. In this area of the world, or Singapore in particular, there are a few options:
We’ll be talking about Self-Publishing and the support you’ll need in a separate post. Instead, we’ll focus on Publishers, Open Calls, and Agents - since they’re a little more straightforward. At least with the workflow.
Thirdly, would be how to pitch. Like the parties you can pitch your stories to, there are different ways you can do so. Regardless, there are these common main pointers to take note of:
TL;DR version - read and follow the submission requirements, and keep your story pitch short and sweet. Most importantly, if you need to explain / defend your story without having it defend itself, you might want to relook at your story.
That being said, I would say the most important tip is to be patient or send a polite request for a response about a month or two after your submission. Be professional and straightforward - begging, declaring your passion for writing, or saying that you’re just a student looking for a chance are surefire ways to be shut out from the running.
If all else fails and you really feel like there’s nowhere else to go, try other options - we’ll be doing another post of another popular alternate publishing option, self-publishing. So stay tuned for that!
Again, all the best with your drafts and your pitches - stay tuned next month when we tackle another stage of creation!
If you have been following the my series stages until this point, you should be at the point of getting feedback for your completed draft. This month, we’re going to take a break from giving you tips for story creation and instead, give you some pointers regarding the various mediums you can tell your stories through.
To keep things simple, I’m going to limit each medium to a single, main tip, some from personal experience, and some from friends in the industry.
Number 1 Rule of writing for comics: If it still reads perfectly fine without the visuals, then it’s probably not best in comic form.
I learnt this from writing ‘Unstable Foundations’. Coming from a largely prose background, I had to think of the story dialogue and descriptions in terms of still art - No point if your comics consists of talking-head panels 90% of the time. In comics, you have the advantage of art to show your story instead of wrecking your brain on how to ‘show, don’t tell’ - use it.
Long story short - You need to feel the story with only your ears.
Welcome to Night Vale, Within the Wires, Archive 81, Serial - after listening to these podcasts for a while, I came to a conclusion of the commonality between all of them (and why are they are so good). You can feel and be in the story without the need for visual aids.
The balance between an audibly tantalizing story and leaving things up to the imagination is crucial - and rather enjoyable, coming from a listener’s point-of-view.
Prose - Long Form
I know this is old advice but - begin with the end in mind.
In longer fiction, it’ll help to keep your base idea as simple as possible (like Inception. Hehe.) - that way, you’ll have a solid foundation on which you can plant your tree of a story. Personally, the most-heard advice I’ve gotten from editors and mentors find their commonality in keeping the base idea simple.
Here are some branches you can think about after you get your base story idea down:
Prose - Short Form
Pro TIp: Have your beginning, middle, and end all encompassed into the needed word limit.
All stories need to be all-encompassing, so readers won’t have the chance to point out loopholes in another story that they may find in the universe you decided to spread out over all your works a la Terry Pratchett. You may have a plan to have all your stories be linked by a single universe, but your readers don’t know - or are interested in - that.
So yes, many of the best short stories are able to balance leaving the reader wanting more but can also stand alone.
Bonus: Word Limits
There have been a few times where stories were rejected because they submitted stories which were too long - if your story exceeds the word limit by 1.5x, then try another place with a higher word limit, or start scrutinizing for areas that really need to be cut, or considering if your story should be a short story in the first place.
Generally, most places ask for stories between 2,000 to 8,000 words for short stories. Pulp Toast (the zine I handle) asks for stories below 3,000 words. And no, no amount of begging and declaration of passion “for writing” will help your case if your story is rejected (see previous post on the Editor’s Table).
And that’s all we have for the first half of the year - stay tuned next month as we start tackling some of the trickiest stages of getting your work out there.
There’s a saying that writers love to write, but hate to edit. There are reasons for that, and I covered them in my previous post on Feedback.
This month, we’ll be looking at what possibly goes on at the Editorial Table, instead.
A Huge Mess
If the place you’re submitting to has any form of reputation, you’re looking at an average of hundreds of submissions coming in a day. That also means a huge mess in the Editor’s inbox and on their table.
It’s not an exaggeration.
So do cut your editors a little slack, especially if they’re not handling the publication full-time.
At the same time, I’d say this gives all storytellers more incentive to submit their best work, correctly formatted - making your editor’s life a little easier goes a slightly longer way (after good content), trust me.
We can say and fantasize all we like, but deadlines are a reality of life - whether you’re a creative genius or not. Same thing goes with your Editors. With tight deadlines and book launches looming, Editors have a load of responsibility to get content out on schedule.
Content will keep coming, but books need to be released to make pay and rent.
At the same time, Editors are usually at this in-between situation where they want to spend time to make creator’s stories the best they can be, but also have to cater to the people who sign their paychecks - the publisher or clients. Therefore, when your Editors give you a deadline, chances are, it’s the best date they can think of so that the project’s schedule won’t be thrown off too much.
The Better Between Two Choices
Oftentimes, Editors find themselves in an unenviable position of having to choose the better between two greats. It can be due to the publisher’s budgets, market information, or just which one fits the anthology or collection better and it only had one slot left.
Putting aside the fact of some manuscripts really not making the cut due to the quality of writing, disregard of the publisher’s format criteria, or stories that are not aligned with the anthology’s theme, the Editor can be left with a case where you only have 12 story slots in this anthology, but 16 stories that made the cut.
That’s when it gets really down to the wire - Editors will be looking out for silly mistakes, the slightest loophole, or even which story seems to fit best so they can trim out the duplicates.
Therefore, it is common for Editors to say, “Sometimes, it’s not about the quality of the work. It’s about which work ended up becoming the best fit, instead of the best.”
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Editors have many deadlines to adhere to - on top of their daily work and follow-ups with more authors than they can handle. So to be brutally honest, many “can you please tell me why my manuscript has been rejected?” emails can go unanswered just because the Editor literally have no time to craft something more nuanced than the rejection letter received.
Regardless, do send in your queries - politely, please - if you have a burning desire to know how your manuscript did.
Just don’t feel entitled to an answer, and keep creating.
And that’ll be all from the Editorial Office (at least, some part of it)! Stay tuned next month for the next stage - Mediums (and no, not the ones you use to communicate with spirits).
You wrote your ideas, plans, and disciplined yourself to complete your story. So now what?
Given how saturated the creative market is in the local, regional, and international playing field, you would want your work to be the best it can be while still retaining your voice. And that’s when you enter the stage of Editing and Feedback - possibly one of the most important stages in your journey to creating and putting your work out there.
Just a note before we start: Note that I’ve said that this is one of the most important stages in your creative journey - that means there’s no guarantee that this will be the easiest or most enjoyable stage.
From personal experience, many questions on feedback lie with two main categories - Asking for feedback, and Receiving feedback.
Asking for Feedback
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve received from asking for feedback is the fact that you have to work for your feedback. More specifically, people cannot give you good feedback if you don’t know what you’re getting feedback for.
So before asking for feedback, here are some questions or points to consider:
When do you want or need the feedback?
This is crucial - you don’t want to waste time, but you don’t want to waste anyone else’s time either. Thus, you’ll need to figure out the right time to ask for feedback.
Usually, I start asking for feedback during two major instances:
This helps so that I don’t fall into the “perfectionist” trap of never ever finishing because “it’s not good enough” - it won’t be until you decide that you’re done. Set a limit for yourself - one rewrite, then you’ll ask for edits or feedback, or I’ll consider this done and ask for feedback two weeks before submission deadline.
Also, give your feedback group a reasonable deadline - depending on how much detail you need and how long your piece is, usually I give about 1 week to 1 month for people to get back to me.
That way, you can get the help you need.
What do you want feedback for?
As mentioned earlier, you won’t know if people are giving you good feedback or feedback to consider if you don’t even know what you want feedback for in the first place.
“But Jo, this is ridiculous,” you may say, “I just want feedback on my story and the feedback I get is all over the place!”
Therein lies the rub - you want feedback on your story, yes. However, there are many aspects of storytelling that can be critique. Therefore, it is in your best interest to weed out maybe 2-3 main questions you’d like to ask your feedback group before sending your manuscripts to them for feedback.
Here are some examples you can consider:
Not your parents or grandparents. Unless they are professional editors. LOL.
Try to have a diverse group of people who you can ask for feedback from - teachers, mentors, friends, writer’s group mates, fandom mates, etc… - one of the best things you can do is to include people from your target audience into your feedback group.
An important thing to note - DO NOT pester your editor or proofreader friend to have a look through for free. Editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, or people in the publishing industry in general are very busy people, regardless of whether or not they’re your friends or you’re just a student.
Personally, if you’re just looking for a person to give you comments or answer your questions on how your piece reads, ask your friends or a mentor (However, like editors, do not expect them to comply all the time).
But if you’d like a professional opinion or a major upheaval of a long piece of yours, and you have no idea how to go about it - put aside some cash and hire a professional editor. Singapore-wise, you can take a look at the Book Council for a registry of possible partners or editors.
Before you start, please also note that not everyone in your feedback group is obligated to return to you with feedback, especially if you’re not paying them to beta read your work. So the first thing you’d need to do is to decide when to take feedback into account and start edits.
Personally, these are my criteria before I start my revisions base on critique:
Again, your criteria is up to you to decide.
Now, with all the comments coming in, the next question would be how to deal with them and apply them to your work.
First and foremost, here’s just a quick rundown on what criticism is vs. what critiques are - many tend to think they are interchangeable, but knowing the difference can help smoothen your editing journey.
One of the easiest ways to differentiate the two would be as follows: Criticism is negative connotation or comments which contribute nothing to the betterment of your piece. Critique is negative comments that help you better your creation, usually with suggestions from the critic.
As you go through more editing processes, you’ll have a better feel of which comments help the story, and which you can ignore. Note: For those starting out, it’ll be good for you to take at least 90-95% of feedback into consideration, especially if they are from your target audience or professionals. Remember, feedback is to help you tell the best story, not to affirm or stroke your ego.
After sifting through the comments, you can now start to organize them. A good hierarchy to sort them under can look like this:
And like all professionals - remember to follow-up with your critics or beta-readers: Thank them, clarify feedback, ask questions, and if they’re amenable, send them your edited version. Regardless, remember to thank the people who have helped you with your work!
BONUS: Giving Feedback
While this entire post is about working with feedback, it’s a little weird not to share a few tips on how to give feedback - just to give other creators an easier time with their works.
Tips for giving feedback are a little more straightforward. From a generic point-of-view, these have worked so far:
And before I go, here’s a technique I seem to find myself living by, especially after many sessions of this technique for feedback and workshopping working so well for me.
So far, I only know it to be called the “Workshopping” technique - a process introduced to me by Miguel Syjuco, while I was doing my Mentor Access Programme in 2014/15. It’s used in Creative Writing workshops in professional groups, including Columbia University (where Miguel learnt it).
Here’s how it goes:
It ensures that all participants are committed to helping each other out (if you didn’t bother reading the pieces, you won’t be able to help anyway), so whether you’re a veteran or are just starting out - you will benefit from it.
And that’s it for this month’s Stage of Creation post. See you all next month!
Alright - Idea’s down, your schedule is out, and you blaze through your first week. The second week passes and it’s a challenge, but you get there. The third week comes, you skipped a day - you need a treat, after all. And by the fourth week of the month, your project has been sitting in its status since you left it hanging in Week Two and you’re just staring at the screen until the next distraction comes up to ask for your attention.
Welcome to the treacherous ranges that form the Ridges of Creation.
One of the things that people don’t tell you about being a Creative is how heart-wrenching, boring, or frustrating the process can be. Sure, there will be bouts of inspiration and drive - the peaks of these ridges, but more often than not, storytellers in our personal circles will face a roadblock or challenge of some sort when they start creating.
So what can we do?
First thing you’ll probably need to is to figure out your particular mood or emotion before you started. Many will tell you that emotions will only get in the way of disciplined creation, but your emotional self will get in the way some way or another. In cases like this, it’ll be good to be self-aware before you sit down and then get frustrated over only writing five words after staring at the screen for hours on end.
After getting your mood and emotions in check, here are a few things you can get to doing depending on how the creation mountain is to you that day:
When you feel even that little smidgeon up to it:
On days where you end up staring at the screen because nothing is coming to your head, try these to either move your project along, or even to get that much needed spark to get over your current creation block:
Tips for Better Creative Sessions:
Whether or not you’re having a moment of Peak Performance or a Down Day, here are also a few tips to get as much out of your creative sessions as possible.
That’s all I have so far for the creation stage. I hope my last three posts (including this one) have helped with some aspect of your storytelling journey.
Thank you for your support and I hope you’ve managed to benefit from some of the information presented above. Stay tuned for the next stage, the first after you’re done with your finished product, a doozie - getting and coming to terms with feedback.
When I was hunting for planner supplies to get before my first trip to Japan, Midori came up as one of the few brands to look out for. Though I eventually settled for the Hobonichi Cousin, I decided to use Midori’s A5, grid notebook as a travel journal.
I’m not a huge artist or a sketcher, but this MIdori has served pretty well in helping me jot my travel memories. The three aspects that got my buy-in were the general feel, the grid paper, and the paper itself.
Note: My journal is a perfect-bound, A5, grid design pages, so what I like about the Midori notebooks will be based on my experience with this .
Firstly, the paper. The cream shade, smooth texture, and solid feel of each page makes writing in it a joy, regardless of the pen you’re using. Generally, Midori’s notebooks use Tomoe River paper, so it’s perfect for fountain pens and markers - quick dry, minimal seepage.
Secondly, the grid format within. If you’d prefer something more open, Midori has blank paper notebooks as well. However, I personally fell in love with grid notebooks and journals since I started proper planner maintenance because they were easy to organize and incredibly flexible for design needs. Whether or not you like boxes to keep your notes in check (I do) or just want to do everything from scratch, the grid format allows for a spectrum of uses.
Finally, the general feel of the journal. A5 and A6 are common sizes and so, easy to fit into commonly-available covers. That aside, the Midori journal is light enough to carry around, a great balance for my “cannot-really-write-on-tiny-journals” self.
That being said, I would recommend Midori’s journal or planner if you are looking for:
Apart from the MD Notebooks, Midori also produces various stationery, and is affiliated with the Traveler’s Notebook, which is a favourite of the Tiger. For more information about Midori, click here
Last week, we looked into getting the concept of your story or art down on paper. This week, we tackle the ‘sit-down-and-finish’ aspect of the process.
STAGE TWO: DISCIPLINE
You want to know the truth about my discipline? I get work done, but it’s not in the way teachers will be proud of. TL; DR - I suck.
But while I’m not going to pull out that 99% perspiration phrase, but in all honesty, no amount of inspiration will save you if you take no action. That being said, I’ve discovered a more nuanced way of getting into things other than just, “Shut up, suck it up, and just work hard without any complaints.”
On that front, I have found that discipline can be a huge challenge due to these four aspects. But here’s how I cope:
How do you work?
It’s simple enough. Yet, so many of us don’t really know our optimum working levels, or give statements like - “I’m always last-minute, I need the rush to finish everything well.” or “I’ll do things when I feel like it. My readers need to know that good things take time.”
Knowing how we work as creators, administrators, managers, the lot, can help with scheduling and the discipline to tackle your projects as they come.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine your optimal work routine:
Personal Assessment - How you create when you get to create.
Circumstantial Assessment - What do you have to work with.
From there, you can find and hopefully plug the gaps between your current situation and your most comfortable work environment. (Note: Realistically, you won’t have your ideal work environment all the time - but this can help alleviate matters, especially when you know where the biggest gaps are.)
Overwhelm and Distraction
I’m the kind of person who cannot relax until everything and everything is well and truly done. Also, Murphy’s Law is a good friend - imagine how many times you’ve found yourself in a situation where you face long periods of silence from your stakeholders, only to have all of them descend upon you with urgent matters on your busiest day.
I recognize that this is a problem, but as I took steps to curb this issue, I’ve learnt that overcoming overwhelm can lead to distraction. Instead, here are some steps I took / am taking now to help with my discipline:
Most importantly, please give yourself permission to rest. We are all humans, so there should not be this pressure to always appear as if you’re always working and never resting.
Also, a little goes a long way. When I’m too tired but feel like working on a project, I find myself gravitating to tasks which are time-consuming, but not difficult (e.g. panelling and inking, in the case of comic artists). That way, work still gets done, but you’re not over-exerting yourself.
For me, the solution was simple - turn off your WiFi, or go analog. I’m a huge RPG gamer and love my Netflix and Geek & Sundry, so I’d know that internet is going to be my best friend and my worst enemy, depending on the time of the day.
That being said, another way I do like to keep focussed is to allocate time for the tasks you want completed. A popular way is the Pomodoro Method -
I tend to pull a double Pomodoro and turn it into a Power Hour, with a 25-min session, 10-min break, and another 25-min session to finish it off.
During these sessions, set some rules for yourself. Mine are usually - No WiFi, no music or anything from the earphones, and no answering messages (unless they’re urgent).
And when you have your focus and rules in place - stick to them. The urgency and the time constraint can help you achieve more than if you were to just scold yourself into squeezing it into your schedule.
Schedule time - regardless of how little you can.
Most of us have day jobs, so dedicating huge amounts of time to your creative work may not be on the table. However, here are some pointers to what some of us do:
Bonus Point: When you’re working with others
BONUS - After going through some tips on how to get yourself disciplined and productive, here are also some bonus points for times when you have to play the role of team mate to others:
So there you have it! Some of my tips on maintaining discipline with your creative work. Here are (some of my favourite) other publications or blog posts that can help you with your motivation:
Thank you for your support and I hope you’ve managed to benefit from some of the information presented above. Stay tuned for the next stage of creation - we go into the Peaks and Troughs of Creation!
While I’m currently having a blast with my new layout and the 2018 Cousin, I wanted to give some credit to the Hobonichi Cover makers. As pricey as the covers can be, there are some aspects which have proved to be incredibly useful for me. Take a look:
When I got my first Hobonichi Cousin cover, I was sceptical - I already had another journal cover with pockets and such, why would I need another one?
But when I got to the shelves at LoFT, it didn't take that long to convince me.
Firstly, the covers have a nice feel, fitting plastic cover, and are rather hardy against water (especially accidental water damage) and scratches.
Secondly, most Hobonichi Covers feature the following:
And last, but certainly not least - Hobonichi knows how to engage artists and craftspeople to make things pretty. You can see the other covers for yourself here.
Moving forward, I’ll be looking and reviewing other journals we use regularly in bullet journalling, organization, or just plain diary entries. Covering other planners, I’ll also be featuring other brands used by some of my friends.
So if you’re as crazy about planners as I am, stay tuned for more journals to come!