Currently Workbook: Behind the Book with Tracy Benjamin

Tracy Benjamin is a creative and an entrepreneur—and the creative force behind The Handwriting Club. This powerhouse has turned her love for handwriting, paper, and pens into a thriving business. She wears multiple hats—artist, photog, blogger, marketer—and manages a blog, newsletter, and social media accounts, all while keeping her creative energy flowing.

We’re so excited to share this interview because Benjamin’s journey exemplifies the possibilities for creatives who want to turn their art into profit. From leveraging her website and newsletter to reach her dedicated audience to battling against social media algorithms, her experiences provide valuable insights for every creator working in today’s digital era.

In addition to her digital presence, she has found a passionate audience through self-publishing unique and beautiful books with Blurb. As you read on, you’ll gain a deeper insight into Benjamin’s creativity, bookmaking process, and vision for the future of self-publishing. Stay tuned for a dose of inspiration and practical advice that could be the catalyst for your own creative journey.

A Preview of Currrently Workbook: Behind the Book with Tracy Benjamin

You are the amazing creator behind The Handwriting Club and Shutterbean, your photography and food blog. Tell us about your creative journey to this point.

After a stint in my early 20s managing a recording studio, followed by working in a cubicle under harsh and soul-sucking fluorescent lighting, I felt terrible letting my creativity go to waste. I was trained in graphic design and photography and wanted to continue the momentum I had built in my schooling, which is why I started my blog, Shutterbean, in 2007. I was looking for accountability in my photography and was curious about building a community online. 

My blog became a regular practice of sharing my creative pursuits with photography, food, and art in blog format. It took me about 7 years of working as a bookkeeper while consistently maintaining the blog to turn my creativity into a full-time gig. Here I am at it, 16 years later, with thousands of photos and recipes under my belt. It has been a lot of hard work, but I have found it to be extremely rewarding to look back at what I’ve done and how much I’ve grown in the process.

Display of handwriting and digital text in the Currently Workbook design

Why do you believe print and writing by hand is crucial in the Digital Age? 

I will always and forever be a pen-and-paper person (thanks to my mom!). While there is ease and convenience of doing things online, you cannot beat the magic of being able to write something down on paper. Digital devices can be a huge distraction and require things like charging and batteries. As much as I can play around with fonts and graphic design, nothing beats a handwritten note.

Handwriting is full of feeling and personality. All the information about a person is right there, from the pen that was chosen to the paper preference! If you have a pen and an index card, which I stash in every part of my house and car, you have a place to put your thoughts and feelings. 

The best thing is that no alerts pop up when you’re writing things down. It’s an incredible way to be present.

Photo of Currently Workbook annual series displayed throughout the past years

How did the idea for your Currently Workbook annual series come about? 

I’ve shared a monthly recap called Currently beginning in 2016. This monthly column has showcased some of my journal pages, pictures, and writing of what went on each month. It’s been a way for me to self-reflect and make notes of what I was doing every month. 

After my mom died in 2017, I was left with over 30 years of her calendars. She left a trail of magic behind, but there were so many things that I wished I knew about how she spent her time—like what she thought, what she was reading, eating, listening to, reading, and more. 

I spent the first year of my grief planning and designing my Currently Workbook because I wanted to build an offline tool that would help me catalog my months in analog mode. If someone wanted to join in on the self-reflection process, all they needed was a workbook, not a blog. 

I knew that if I made something that was easy and fun, it wouldn’t be that intimidating to do. By sharing my workbook pages with my audience online, it’s held me accountable to do the work. I haven’t missed a month yet! 

What is your creative process like when working on this project each year? Has anything changed since your first edition?

I have shared my pages in my workbooks since 2019. The best part about it is that I can see how much my art and handwriting have improved over the years. I’ve had fun playing around with the layouts over the years and have added fun sections like seasonal bucket lists and pages to add self-portraits so you can see how you looked over time.

The very cool byproduct of creating this project is that my art practice has grown, and my handwriting is finally where I’ve always wanted it to be. 

Every month tells a story. The more years go by, the more others have joined in on the process, and it has been an absolute delight to see how everyone uses their Currently Workbooks! It’s so wild to see how our handwriting plays together. 

I know my mom would be very proud that I’ve been able to help others spend less time on their devices and more time on self-reflection.

Drawing of sunflowers and handwriting previewed in the Currently Workbook by Tracy Benjamin

You have an impressive collection of workbooks, journals, and zines up for sale on Etsy—plus prints, stickers, and more. How do you decide what to create for your shop?

I’ve always just made things that I would want to use, and it’s worked out for me so far. I am a one-woman machine, so as much as I would like to add a bigger selection to my shop, I keep a pace that is maintainable. 

My goal is to get help with my growth, and I am on my way to that!

You also run a blog, a newsletter, and multiple social media accounts. What is your secret to keeping your creative energy flowing?

I have learned that it’s important to build a creative practice. The key to being consistently creative is to build a structure where it’s safe to play and experiment. 

That’s why I decided to create a time management system with my Intentions for the Week planner and my Currently Workbook. They both have given me the structure I needed while giving me the room to be creative because I can ultimately be creative with time! 

Collection of workbooks, journals, and zines by Tracy Benjamin

What marketing tactics have been the most successful for your work? And are there any that you’ve tried that you won’t do again?

I’ve marketed through my website, newsletter, and social media channels. I share my art primarily on my Instagram account and now my YouTube channel

The biggest challenge I face as a working artist is fighting against algorithms and getting my work in front of a decent percentage of my audience. When you’re a small business, it’s hard to keep shelling out money for ads that might not work.

My newsletter and website have been my most successful routes, as I have a very thoughtful and dedicated audience. I feel very lucky that my consistency and hard work have paid off. 

What led you to self-publishing? And why did you choose Blurb?

I met Daniel Milnor (Blurb’s Creative Evangelist!) at a blogger conference, and his enthusiasm for creating books inspired me to get started making my own. He reminded me of the value of being able to hold something you’ve made in your hands. He encouraged me to make a photo book, and I’ve been obsessed ever since!

Share about your bookmaking process with Blurb. What do you love? What’s a challenge?

I have made quite a few books with Blurb. My first book was a photo book of my summer of 2016. After that, I created my Food Journal followed by my first Currently Workbook.  

From there, I made a book celebrating my mom after her death called Things Mom Used to Say followed by my Intentions for the Week Planner and my photographic coloring book, Flowers.

I’ve really enjoyed the process of designing a book, having it printed, and seeing how it works for me in my everyday life! It’s pure magic! 

Self-publishing has also been a great additional income stream for me. Blurb has made it easy for me to get products into the hands of others. While I ship books to customers through my Etsy shop (I personalize each package with extra magic), Blurb has helped me reach other countries through their international shipping. 

The biggest challenge I’ve run into is paper quality and printing consistency. I have lost a lot of time and money trying to get the paper dialed in. I am currently getting my Intentions for the Week Planner re-printed to be at the same quality level as the previous print batch. 

How do you see the future of self-publishing, particularly for niche genres like journals and notebooks?

Self-publishing is very exciting. If you have an audience built-in, you’re more than halfway there! As much as we are moving forward with technology, there will always be paper lovers and people who love writing things down. At least, I hope so! 

What advice would you give to others seeking to turn their creativity into their business?

My advice is to work hard at building your audience and customer base. Stay on top of new technology and avenues of income. Experiment, accept feedback, and keep up the good work. Sharing your process and journey along the way is very inspiring and will help people stay tuned to what you have to offer next! Making videos of your products in use is very helpful.

Is there anything exciting you’re working on that we should stay tuned for?

This past year I started a substack for The Handwriting Club, where I shared my passion for handwriting, paper, and pens. I will also be creating an accountability group where we will work on our Intentions for Week and Currently Workbooks together! More info to come in my newsletter.

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