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Interview with Louise Stigell
On finding the right places for your art
In the first of what I hope will be an on-going series, today I’m talking with, the writer and artist behind .
I stumbled upon Louise’s newsletter back in August, with her firm (but very polite) rebuttal of one of’s posts. You can Louise’s piece here:
Louise’s central point - that you shouldn’t feel obliged to indulge in social media - definitely rang true for me. Having spent years jumping around different platforms, repeating the cycle of excitement and disappointment, it was reassuring to read an opinion that consciously rejected the grind.
Bear in mind, this was long before Musk started his Liz Truss-style sabotage of Twitter.
Louise writers about art and writing and hosts a YouTube channel about being a creative person. Here’s a recent video about her Substack experience:
SKJ: Your newsletter is ‘Confessions of a Terrified Creative’. That suggests a certain fear and guilt associated with being a creative person - both things I recognise in myself - and I was wondering if you could talk a bit about where that name came from.
LS: The name came to me while I was planning on starting a podcast. A podcast that I made 1 1/2 episodes of before I realized that podcasting really isn't my thing... But I liked the name and kept it for my Substack newsletter instead.
Being a professional creative is not for the faint of heart. We face so many challenges on a daily basis and have to continuously work on ourselves in order to get to do what we love for a living.
I've been talking about these topics - creativity, creative self-care, creative entrepreneurship - for many years and in many different forms. I have a lot of experience, and know a lot about these topics, but I've never been comfortable calling myself an expert or some sort of leader figure who has it all figured out. I'm still anxious and confused on a regular basis. And it's important to me to be entirely honest about my struggles. In fact, being open and honest about them is empowering in itself.
So I guess the name signals that I'm in the same boat as everyone else, and I want to create a space where we can talk about the full experience of being a creative, and lift each other up.
SKJ: When did you decide to try to make a living from your art, instead of ‘traditional’ employment?
LS: I've known that traditional employment isn't for me ever since I had my first few employments as a twenty year old. I just couldn't do it. I'm too sensitive, too independent, too introverted to fit in anywhere for an extended amount of time. And so I've never really been traditional in any sense. I've known that I need to use my creative skills and I need to be my own boss. And so for most of my career, I've tried to make that happen. I've been many types of creative freelancer and entrepreneur.
However, I wouldn't call freelance writing and web design "making a living from my art", at least not for me. I've run blogs, sold courses, and put a few novellas on Amazon. But I didn't fully step into being a professional creative until a couple years ago. I was on sick leave for burnout and didn't know what to do with myself. I just knew I didn't want to write sales copy for corporations anymore. I picked up drawing a painting as a therapeutic practice, and noticed how good it made me feel. And then eventually, after many months of doubt and anxiety, I decided to pivot my career into art instead. And later, to start a YouTube channel. I've done this for about 1 1/2 years now and am still adjusting into it.
SKJ: At what point in your life did you feel confident describing yourself as an artist?
LS: I've been dabbling in art and creative writing and acting and music all my life. But for some reason, maybe because I've never managed to commit to any one of them in particular, I haven't considered myself a ‘true’ version of any of those professions.
I've always been confident in myself as a ‘creative’ in general though. And as an artist in particular maybe around six months into what I call my ‘artist journey’.
SKJ: I think the first thing I read from you was your response to Elle’s social media article. Your attitude was very much to refuse the inevitable pull of social media. Has that always been your approach?
LS: No. I slaved away on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter for most of my twenties and early thirties. I tried everything to make those platforms work for me. After all, it's what everyone says you "should" or "must" do, especially as a creative business person and a freelancer. I first became critical of social media around 2016. I credit that to Cal Newport and his TED Talk "Quit social media" and his book Deep Work, which changed my life. He made me re-think how I was spending my time as a creative.
Since then, I've had my fair share of back and forth, primarily with Instagram. Mainly when I started out as an artist, because then I thought "Hmm, maybe THIS time it'll work."
Spoiler alert: It didn't.
Social media is a choice, and there are plenty of other options for those of us who don't like it
It felt just as pointless and stress inducing as before. Social media right now is a game of diminishing returns. And so about a year ago, I quit for good. (My Instagram profile's still up but I don't post anymore, and rarely check the site/app.) I've freed up so much time, energy and peace of mind. And I'm now pouring all of it into building a body of creative work I'm proud of. YouTube and Substack work perfectly together for me. They play to my strengths and preferences in a way social media never did.
This is highly individual, of course. I'm not claiming that no one should ever use social media, because some people really enjoy it. But I have kind of taken it upon myself to assure as many people as possible that social media is a choice, that there are downsides and repercussions to it, and plenty of other options for those of us who don't like it and can't seem to get it to work for us.
SKJ: You work in a lot of projects and artforms: illustration, writing, the newsletter, your YouTube channel. A ‘multi-passionate creative’, as you put it. How do you balance the workload?
LS: That's always a challenge. I'm chronically impatient and wanting to do eleven things at once and have every project be done yesterday.
But I keep all of my ideas and tasks and projects in a productivity app called Things. I wouldn't survive without it. And then I try to focus on just one or two bigger projects at a time.
I have my weekly rhythm of video production and newsletter writing in place, and in the remaining time, I'm painting for a collection, working on a course, writing a story, or whatever it might be. I don't plan years in advance, but rather just a few weeks or months.
SKJ: In one of your articles you mentioned the temptation to be ‘self-helpy’ in online writing. That’s something I’ve been guilty of in the past: that kind of homogenising of online blog writing, where we’re all chasing the ‘typical reader’ or obsessing over SEO. When and how did you move away from that? Your writing feels very natural and honest now.
LS: Haha, yeah...I've been a self-help junkie since forever. Plus I've worked as an online strategist, a ‘content writer’ and a copywriter, and have picked up most of my tricks from American sources.
I can’t be bothered with toxic positivity. I find radical honesty more refreshing.
I took a long break from writing during my burnout and in the early months of my artist journey, and when I later eased back into it, and read some of my earlier writing, I felt "wow, I'm really not this person anymore." My early blog posts and non-fiction book are so cringey for me to read now that I'm a bit older and no longer imagine myself to have the answer to everything. Plus I'm a bit jaded and can't be bothered with toxic positivity. I find radical honesty much more refreshing. You don't have to sound like a 90s infomercial in order to make people feel seen and understood.
Now, I try to aim at a balance between being inspirational and supportive AND at the same time realistic and down to earth. Hopefully, I'm successful at it. But our writing voice changes and evolves as we age. Maybe I'll find the stuff I write now to be cringey a few years from now.
SKJ: You wrote in a post “I'm one of those writers who love the editing process ten times more than the drafting process.” This is the polar opposite of me! What is it about editing that appeals to you?
LS: That's so fascinating. I envy you. I've always envied writers who can write a first draft and enjoy it. I enjoy everything BUT first drafting. I love the plotting and planning, the editing, making the music playlist, designing the cover, writing the blurbs and the sales copy...
I do have moments when I get into the zone and have a great time making my story up on the fly. But most of the time, it's agonizing. I force myself through it just so that I'll have something to edit. When editing, I can let my perfectionism roam free. I can read what I've written and make a long list of everything that's wrong with it, and dream up ways to make it better.
And then I realize I'm the one who has to sit down and write that second draft. And it's back to agony. That's where I'm at with my next novella. I got really inspired and ambitious while editing a previous version of it, it grew to novel size, and now I don't dare touch it with a ten foot pole.
Ahhh, the writing life...
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Thanks for reading! I’ll be back on Friday with a new chapter of Tales from the Triverse.
On a related note, just before sending this I noticed thathas somehow done it again and one-upped everyone in terms of promotion, ending up in a headline article on the BBC. I've not seen much coverage of online fiction writing outside of the scene itself. Nice one, Elle!