Sustaining Online Success and Other Stories from Elisa Doucette's 10+ Year Creative Journey
We take a peek behind the curtain at Elisa Doucette's 10+ year journey as an online creator, from her beginnings as a writer and editor to her creative process that powers her newsletter and cohort-based courses.
This interview is part of a series called Creators Unlocked that delves into the world of content creators to uncover the stories behind their social media posts.
From Twitter to TikTok, the articles aim to offer insights and learnings for aspiring and established creators while also offering a glimpse into the lives of those behind the screens. Check out the other interviews here.
For Creators Unlocked, Elisa Doucette gives us a glimpse at the stories, processes, and lessons from her 10+ year journey as an online creator. She shares how she found her niche, catering to driven writers, and her approach to blending personal interests within her content.
Elisa also gives us an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run a successful creative business. Spoiler: it’s the invaluable team members at Craft Your Content, her editorial agency, who help bring her vision to life.
Elisa, the writers’ writer
If Elisa Doucette is known for anything, it’s writing. That’s the focus of all her online content in all its formats, from the workshops and courses she runs to her newsletter. It’s also the focus of her agency, Craft Your Content. Her audience is mostly writers, and she describes them specifically as “driven writers who are passionate about writing and committed to pursuing it intensively.” This applies to every writer, from hobbyists to those seeking a career in writing.
When asked about expanding outside writing, Elisa mentions that she’s tried other formats. “We used to have a podcast on Craft Your Content called "Writers' Rough Drafts," but she found podcasting to be surprisingly labor-intensive. "It was challenging to get people, especially marginalized voices, to come on the show and share their experiences. Often, they felt unsure of their worth or were nervous about participating, which made it difficult for me to convince them to join,” she shares.
Another significant factor that Elisa highlights as a barrier to experimenting with other forms of content creation is a chronic illness, fibromyalgia. It causes constant fatigue and pain, which makes it challenging for Elisa to participate in activities that demand high energy levels or extended periods of being "on." While she can manage interviews or guest appearances on podcasts, taking on the responsibility of producing her own podcast or video content would be too physically exhausting.
She mentions exploring other content formats, such as Reels and TikTok, which require shorter commitments. However, Elisa mainly sticks to writing, which she says “...allows me to work at my own pace and accommodate my physical limitations.”
Pick a niche, but don’t lose the soul of your content to it
While Elisa seems to have landed on her niche pretty seamlessly, she’ll be the first to tell you it wasn’t that simple. “I've been doing this since around 2008, starting in the world of personal essays and personal blogging when it was more prevalent on the Internet.” Time and self-discovery have all contributed to the Elisa we know today.
Elisa creates for writers, yes, but she’s also more than just her expertise and interest in writing. “I also have diverse interests as a geek and intellectual who enjoys exploring obscure topics.” So niches are great, but also concerning to Elisa, who says, “My concern with niching down and sticking to a specific lane arises when it comes to personal sharing on social media or in more personal content like newsletter essays.”
She doubles down on the example of her newsletter, describing a section highlighting untranslatable but beautiful words from other languages. While it’s not necessarily relevant to the newsletter, she finds it interesting and has used it to build rapport with her audience. “When Merriam-Webster put out a call for unique words in followers’ native languages, I had three readers send me the link the first day!”
By allowing space for personal interests beyond the niche, Elisa has made connections and discovered unique opportunities. So, while having a focus is important, being too rigid with a niche can cause you to miss out on valuable opportunities and connections. Elisa describes her approach as “sitting on the fence,” blending niche focus while maintaining personal touches in her content.
Mix analog and digital for maximum creativity
Thanks to Elisa’s daytime identity as a business owner running content agency Craft Your Content, she operates an extensive tool stack. Some online tools she highlights include:
- Google Keep for jotting ideas or notes at random times
- Trello, which serves as her content editorial board, where she can create cards for ideas, add links and research, and let the ideas incubate and grow until she’s ready to write about them
- Google Docs for writing and collaborative editing with her team
- WordPress for publishing
- Thrive Themes and Thrive Architect for her website (specifically the Bookwise theme, which is specifically targeted toward writers)
Elisa also loves working offline, using various analog “tools” to organize and process her thoughts. She mentions:
- A classic whiteboard for the tactile experience of organizing ideas visually
- Post-it notes for organization
- Pen and paper for taking notes, hand-writing sales letters, and creating outlines for articles. “Writing by hand allows me to slow down and think more deeply about what I'm trying to express,” she adds.
Despite all the fancy tools and devices available, sometimes reverting to pen and paper can be the best way to create content.
Going from no content to content, or Elisa’s creative process
It’s not unusual to see a multi-step creative process (aka anything more than just writing down an idea and executing it). But Elisa’s is particularly interesting given her long history as a writer and creator. She’s refined her process over several years, and it shows in the thoughtfulness of her explanation. In its direct form, here’s her answer: "What does your creative process look like?”
“My creative process involves various steps and tools, starting with collecting the seed of an idea. These ideas could be observations, thoughts, or content needed for an upcoming deadline. I use Google Keep to jot down ideas on the go or Trello to store them for incubation. In this incubation phase, I collect links, conduct research, and build out the article concept.
I like to think things through as much as possible. A technique I learned from the Sherlock Holmes books called the "Mind Palace" helps me visualize and organize my ideas. I use boards, wooden desks, or notebooks to lay out my thoughts and move them around to figure out the article structure.
Once I have a rough outline, which is more of a tornado of ideas and marginalia rather than a strict bullet-point structure, I sit down with Google Docs to write the article. By the time I start writing, I've already figured out about 80% of the content, so the last 20% is just finding the right words. This pre-thinking process allows me to write thousands of words per hour, similar to Ernest Hemingway's iceberg method.
After writing, my content goes through edits and revisions before being published. For social media content, I at least have them proofread, especially since I run an editing agency, and it's essential to maintain a high standard. For longer pieces like LinkedIn posts, they may go through content edits as well.”
TL;DR, Elisa’s creative process is about nurturing the seed of an idea and giving it the time and space to grow into a fully-fledged piece of content. Then, she combines digital and analog tools to create the content, from capturing ideas to incubation, outlining, and writing.
Balancing administration with creativity
No one understands the struggle to find a balance between practical, mundane tasks and the need for creativity than Elisa. As a business owner, she often has to handle administrative tasks and networking, but she always wants to nurture her creative side for marketing and personal fulfillment.
She acknowledges the need to find balance saying, “I'm not motivated purely by money; I enjoy creating content to start discussions, share ideas, educate, and help people. I believe that if you put out great ideas and content, the return will follow. Building connections and engaging in discussions have been key to my success.”
A lot of her ability to keep up with her massive to-do list is thanks to her team at Craft Your Content. They handle day-to-day tasks, allowing her to be a creator. She also has an executive assistant that helps protect her time, enabling her to time block for various tasks, like writing, researching, and client calls.
It's important for creators to recognize that there's also administrative work involved beyond the rush of creating and executing great content. Whether you have a team or you're a solopreneur, you’ll likely need to block out time for tasks like bookkeeping and invoicing. Protecting both admin and creator time is essential to create balance and prevent them from blending together and leading to burnout.
Administration isn’t the only thing that can put a damper on your creativity. Pressure comes when you hit critical moments of growth, like a sudden influx of subscribers or having a video go viral. The pressure can be from feeling the urge to monetize your content (if you haven’t already) or work with everyone who approaches you to collaborate. However, Elisa emphasizes that giving in to the pressure can conflict with your creativity.
She emphasizes being selective with who you work, saying, “It's important to work with clients who align with your values and creative vision. In the past, I have said yes to projects that I didn't have the bandwidth for, leading to burnt bridges and damaged relationships. As a result, I've had to learn to set boundaries and be more careful about the projects I commit to.”
Elisa mentions, “In my experience, I've found it useful to have a "voice and vision" framework for both my agency and personal content, ensuring that what I create is consistent and aligns with my values. This is the same process we use with our clients for their writing.” This framework allows Elisa and her team to stand firm on their values and provide consistent, quality services to their clients.
Establishing boundaries and being upfront about who you like working with can help balance making a living and staying true to your creative vision. As a creator, clearly understanding your values and desired voice can help guide your content creation.
The evolution of social media and how to protect yourself, as told by a veteran
Social media has always experienced waves of popularity and decline, and having been an active participant for over a decade, Elisa has some thoughts on how creators can stay afloat.
“[Social media’s] progression has resulted in waves of people entering the space and experimenting with various platforms. Over time, however, many may realize they are unwilling to put in the work required to be successful,” says Elisa. Despite this, she highlights that there is an abundance of opportunities for creators with diverse niche audiences seeking content that caters to their unique interests.
The key challenge for creators lies in committing to their craft, whether that is writing, creating videos, or producing podcasts. If you want to do something well, make it an area of focus and become known for it. Yes, you need to engage with various platforms and channels, but having a strong foundation in your chosen craft will help you stand out and weather the changes in social media trends.
Elisa also highlights that by dedicating themselves to their craft, creators can maintain a strong core and a sense of commitment that will enable them to ride out the fluctuations in the social media landscape. For example, concerns about AI writers replacing human content creators are similar to historical concerns about new writing tools replacing previous methods. However, creators who are dedicated to producing lasting and valuable content will always find a way to adapt and survive.
Some advice for creators on the same journey
The most crucial piece of advice that Elisa offers is to commit wholeheartedly to your chosen craft. Focus on developing your skills in that area rather than solely concentrating on the medium, platform, or niche. Being dedicated to your craft will enable you to create content that resonates with your audience and reflects your unique voice.
In addition to committing to your craft, Elisa adds that it’s essential to maintain a sense of curiosity and be open to exploring new possibilities. Avoid narrowing your focus too much, as this can lead to inflexibility and hinder your creativity. Stay open to experimenting with different platforms and content formats to discover what resonates with you and your audience.
Finally, strive to be the best in your chosen field and prioritize creating content you are proud to put your name on. Avoid focusing solely on gaining views and clicks, and instead, invest time and effort in producing high-quality content that genuinely reflects your passion and expertise.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Elisa Doucette's creative journey:
- Embrace personal interests: Even as you niche down, don't be afraid to incorporate personal interests and unique elements into your content. You can make meaningful connections and discover new opportunities by maintaining a personal touch beyond your niche.
- Nurturing the creative process: Develop a thorough creative process that allows ideas to incubate and grow. Capture seeds of ideas using digital tools, conduct research, and build out concepts. Consider using techniques like the "Mind Palace" to visually organize your thoughts and create a rough outline before diving into writing.
- Balancing administration and creativity: The balance is a fine line of keeping up with the practical tasks while leaving room for creativity. Set boundaries, be selective with projects and clients, and protect dedicated time for both. Establish the values that will guide your content creation and maintain consistency.
- Establish an area of focus as a creator: Commit to your craft and focus on becoming known for your expertise. While engaging with various platforms is necessary, prioritize your chosen craft and create content that resonates with your audience.