Lily Meade is a speculative young adult author represented by Elana Roth Parker. Her writing has been published in Bustle and Teen Vogue. When not writing, she films educational videos on the craft of storytelling for her YouTube channel and recently launched a writer-focused planner company. We spoke with Lily about her work and being a Black creator.
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
I like to describe my content creation as “life inspired by fiction.” I do a lot of different things now, but my YouTube channel was created with the intent of sharing my passion and inspiration in storytelling with other people. Now I have a new business — it’s only a couple months old — First Chapter Design, and that’s a stationary company that creates products that are also centered around storytelling and helping people better tell their own stories. Whenever I create something, whether it’s a video or a notebook, and hopefully my books, my goal is always a life inspired by fiction.
BGC: What made you start vlogging?
I guess an obsession with YouTube. I was aware of BookTube, but I was more inspired by other authors that I had seen who did YouTube, like Jackson Pierce and Kiera Cass. They had a friendly, chatting with a colleague sort of style that I wanted to emulate more than the VlogBrothers format. I didn’t realize until maybe a year in how closely my audience overlapped with BookTube, because I don’t really talk about other people’s books. I didn’t want to build my platform for my own career talking about other people’s work, especially because I didn’t ever want to be in a position where maybe I didn’t like a book but I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or say something I didn’t mean. I don’t really consider myself too much part of BookTube because I don’t really do reviews, except for the occasional one that really speaks to me. But I don’t really not consider myself a part of BookTube. What we call AuthorTube and BookTube are so aligned, because it’s all centered around the passion of storytelling.
BGC: How has vlogging helped with your writing and vice versa?
Because I’m talking about writing, I have to know what I’m talking about. I read more books on writing and when I am thinking about content creation, it’s engaging the same core muscles. When I get a new revelation when I’m working on something, I usually open up my phone and put a note in. It’s a way to get out some of the things that take up your brain and can be distractions by giving them a home. My mother always says, “You should journal about your feelings since you like writing so much,” but when I write things down that’s permanent home for them, and I don’t like to give bad feelings a home.
I really love that creating videos helps me connect with other people who can then share their experiences and their stories with me. Hearing how people have enjoyed what I’ve made or how it’s helped them learn inspires me because I started writing back when I was a teenager and I started with fanfiction, so getting positive feedback around storytelling has always been a big motivator for me.
BGC: Why do you create?
I don’t really feel like I have any other choice. I have tried not to because I come from extreme poverty and it’s not practical for me to be pursuing a writing career, but I’ve never been able to escape it. When I had a regular job, I would sneak away to the bathroom with my phone and write down little notes, and I’d be constantly thinking about stories and what I wanted to write or what I wanted to create, just all the time. I read on every break I had. Now, I have a genetic condition that causes really severe migraines, so I can’t work a normal job anymore. So it sort of feels like if I can’t make writing work at this point then I’m not really sure what I can do, because of my disability.
But also writing has been for a long time — especially with the struggles that I’ve gone through in my life — the most intimate form of therapy, because it’s been a way to work through feelings that I can’t really put in any other place. Even if it’s science fiction or fantasy, it’s a way to dig into those really raw, real world problems in a way that’s less raw but still speaks truth to them. This past year I thought I might have lost the ability to do that. My relationship with writing got really hurt and I was afraid for awhile that it would no longer continue to be that safe healing space for me. But I’m slowly getting back there and as I improve and repair that relationship with my writing it’s shown even more how vital it is to me, so I guess that’s why I create. Writing inspires literally everything else I do. It’s why I create videos and products and everything else.
BGC: Who do you hope to reach through your work?
I hope to reach people like me but also people completely unlike me. At this point I should maybe put “Angie Thomas-stan” in my bio because I talk about her all the time, but I think she’s a perfect example of how I would like to make a reader feel. I remember being torn apart but also so seen by The Hate U Give and I know that if I’d had that story when I was younger my life could’ve been so much different because it helped me understand things that I couldn’t put into words at the time. And it could’ve given me the tools to help people in my life understand these things that I couldn’t explain then, and maybe we wouldn’t have had the problems that we had. And I’m even more excited for On The Come Up because it’s about a girl who has ambitions and dreams and has to balance that with the financial problems of her family. So I know this is really going to mess me up! I don’t write contemporary, but I really hope that whatever I do write, readers feel seen and heard and that it gives them tools to stand up for themselves more, because that’s always what books did for me. I didn’t have a lot of friends or confidants when I was younger. That’s partially why I write YA fiction, because I feel like that’s one of the most powerful times to reach somebody and truly influence the course of their life. I really want to empower people to know that no matter how much they’re struggling it can be better, even if it’s not better all the time.
BGC: Who or what inspires you to keep creating?
Always that “what would I want when I was younger” image. But also since I’ve done YouTube, it’s the people who follow me and interact with me. I really never expected how engaged people would be. This is a little selfish because people are always like “don’t start YouTube for the money or for the fame,” but I really did it to help build my platform so that I could better get an agent and a book deal. I’m a pragmatic business kind of person so I put my passion into it, but my goal was always to build something and it really threw me how much people actually connected to me because I wasn’t trying to put out a fake image or anything. I wasn’t presenting myself as anything false, but I didn’t expect people to actually care about me or to want me to succeed or to be as happy when I do succeed as they are. I’ve had some bad times with YouTube — I had this whole harassment brigading problem with the alt-right for a little bit — but it’s really inspiring and motivating to hear from people who care and who are excited. I’ve heard from a couple different people that they’ve used my videos in presentations at school or have shown my videos to their classrooms. So I create for myself first and foremost, which is probably the best way to continue creating something because if you’re creating with an audience or trend or someone else in mind it’s easier to get burnt out. But now I’m not discounting the people that I am reaching, and they do mean a lot to me. When myself isn’t enough to keep me motivated, sometimes that is.
BGC: Why is it important as a Black person to create?
This is something that I learned after I started, because when I started I was just being a practical business person. I saw how BookTube was helping reviewers build a platform that was moving into actually publishing books. But I didn’t realize how hard or how important it was for me as a Black woman to speak my experiences and my truth. I don’t want to stop talking about things that are maybe uncomfortable, to be a more palatable Black person. I know it’s really easy to fall into the Angry Black Woman stereotype, but I honestly believe that even if it takes longer and it’s harder, if I’m honest and I’m speaking as vulnerably and truly as I can, in the long run that will be better for my mental health as a creator to keep creating, my pride and strength in my work, and my ability to connect with people. When I talked earlier about how surprised I was that people actually cared, it’s because I am so honest. I talk about things even if they’re really uncomfortable, embarrassing, even if they don’t make me look like a polished professional creator. But then I end up with really passionate people who are willing to go to bat for me. Ultimately a creative career is built on word of mouth. My favorite marketing technique for creators is that you can make a living creating as long as you have 1000 true fans willing to buy whatever product you put out there. So the idea of maybe being the biggest name isn’t my end goal, because 1000 true fans would feel a lot more emotionally satisfying than 10,000 fans that don’t have that same level of connection.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
I really struggle with that. I’ve talked about my issues with my health and finances and that has been a big problem. Again, because my audience is so engaged they’re really understanding, but that also makes me feel worse. Last year I had to take an extended 8 month break, because of both health and financial issues, and I’ve been really scared about how to return to YouTube, because I don’t want to not acknowledge the time that I’ve been gone, but I also don’t want to just go on and on apologizing because that’s not a very valuable video.
I am returning to YouTube soon and I’m super excited to do so because I’m only going to be making videos that speak to my core mission of a life inspired by fiction and the honesty and connection that I want to make with people. I’m not going to waste my time on things that I don’t believe in, because I’m limited both by my health and responsibilities.
Technically, in terms of actually balancing things, not just emotional, I’ve been using a lot more organizational apps and planning out my time. I’m really lucky that my family — I live with my mother and two younger brothers — all really understand and respect my commitment to my YouTube channel and my writing. I’m really lucky because I know that a lot of people don’t have the support that I do. They don’t have people that are willing to also make sacrifices so that they can make sacrifices and put their best self towards something. So I really think it’s both emotional, technical, and interpersonal. And it doesn’t always have to be perfect. Whenever your fall off, the key is not to give up or restart from the beginning, but to just pick up and keep going.
BGC: How have you been able to build a support system around yourself? What does that look like?
That’s again something I’m really trying to work on right now. I mentioned I lost my connection and trust in writing as a healing tool. So much of my life is built around writing, as I’ve already spoken about, so that really fractured my whole life. It was sort of an existential crisis. So in rebuilding my relationship with my writing I’m also rebuilding my trust in other people, and what exactly a support system is, because it doesn’t have to be a fancy squad or anything. I’ve been reaching out to people privately when I see them talking about their own struggles and letting them know how valuable it is for me to hear those things because I feel in a lot of great circles, but especially in traditional publishing and especially when people have a cultivated social media personality, that talking about anxiety or depression or feeling less assured in your career is not something people want to broadcast. They don’t want to feel weak. But I feel like it helps make you seem like more of a real person. So when people make themselves vulnerable I’ve been reaching out to them and telling them how much it means to me, giving them positive feedback. Trying to create a connection more personally, not performatively. I’m always going to be loud and obnoxious about my friends but I’ve been focusing more on building these connections. That’s been really helpful for me and I guess I can’t talk about it too much in terms of how I built that and how that’s been working for me because that’s something new that I’ve discovered recently. But I think it will probably be a good strategy long term.
BGC: Any advice for young creators/ones just starting?
I do believe that it is really important to be as open and honest as you can. Don’t put things out there that are too painful or raw for you to share with people, but don’t be afraid to talk about what limits you, what prevents you from doing the things that you want to do, and things that frustrate you. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are talking about those things. Everyone can put other people on pedestals, but we’re all a lot closer than we all realize, and I think both YouTube and writing are industries where you need a support system and you need friends that are maybe higher up on the ladder than you and on the same level to go for the long haul, because you can’t do it on your own. Also never take anyone’s bullshit, especially on things that are your own experiences. That is really hard, especially when you’re really small and when you’re trying to build yourself because sometimes being honest and not taking bullshit makes growing harder. But again, I really feel that it’s better to grow slow but grow real, than to build a castle out of unsturdy bricks.
BGC: What’s a future project that you’re most looking forward to working on?
I’m really excited for my new focus on my YouTube channel. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to reintegrate in there. I plan to talk about jealousy, how mental health affects your writing, and imposter syndrome. Those are all really raw, and I’m a little scared but also really excited to hear about what other people think about those things. Writing-wise I’m working on an idea that I’ve had for over a decade now, but I finally feel like I have the ability and the strength to write. I really feel that if I don’t write this story I won’t be able to write anything else because it keeps on trying to sneak it’s way into everything else. I can’t say too much about it but it’s about cultural loss, and history, and the things that aren’t and are allowed to be saved, and who is worthy of being remembered. I think that ties into a lot of issues that I’ve had lately and also a lot of things that I think people will connect with. I think it’s going to be a really exciting fun story, if it doesn’t kill me first.
You can follow Lily on Twitter @LilyMeade, and subscribe to her YouTube channel here.