Reassessing Your Writing Career

Are You Creating the Writing Career You Want?

Reassessing Your Writing Career

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The New Year is when a lot of us, me included, conduct an informal review of the areas of our lives we often tend to leave on autopilot most of the time. I schedule my annual checkup to gauge the status of my health and determine whether I need to make any adjustments or changes going forward.

I get the car inspected (or my husband does, who am I kidding?) and find out if it needs any maintenance or upgrades.

Though I am an indifferent gardener at best for most of the year, this is when I get out in the yard and suss out what failed to survive the brutally hot and dry Austin summer, what needs to be prepared for the as-of-late brutally cold and icy Austin winters, what needs cutting back, what’s dead and needs to be removed, and what’s growing just fine as it is.

And the New Year also tends to be when I make a review of my business, my goals, and my focus and see what may have changed in my intentions or situation, and whether my plan needs tweaking for the coming year.

Reassessing Your Writing Career

Although I have been working in the publishing field as an editor for 30-plus years—my entire career—in that time my business model and focus have undergone fairly extensive shifts: From starting as a proofreader and copy editor in New York to moving into developmental editing. From focusing mainly on the editing work itself to diversifying into more speaking, teaching, and writing.

Conducting a regular review of what I want for my life and my business has resulted in an ever-evolving mission statement, and subsequently an ever-growing and evolving career.

No matter what level you are operating your writing career on, it too demands regular attention, maintenance, and upgrades. When is the last time you examined your goals for your writing for the coming year, five years, ten years and beyond? When is the last time you considered the projects you are dedicating your time and energy to and whether that’s still where you wish to devote your focus? When is the last time you questioned the path you’re on to see whether it’s still the one that matches your values, goals, and commitment level?

For the last year and a half I’ve been talking in this blog and elsewhere about the follow-up book I have been working on for Intuitive Editing: a deep dive into character development. I’ve been working on the theories and approach for all of that time, drawing on the entire three-decade span of my work with authors, and have made good progress.

And yet the project has been taking longer than expected. Many days I sit down to work on it and find it fails to capture my excitement and full dedication. I kept plowing forward, knowing how much planning and research I’ve already done for it, how much I’ve already written, and considering my public commitment to finishing this year.

And yet as part of my recent review of my business plan, I realized that the reason I’ve been struggling is because my goals and focus have shifted, but I had failed to examine them before now.

In recent years my mission statement has evolved from simply helping authors master writing and editing craft to this current version:

“To empower authors to take ownership of their own careers by honing their knowledge, skills, and resilience in the craft and business of writing.”

My focus is still very much on the craft in my day-to-day editing work and my teaching, but in the outreach I do in speaking engagements and much of my writing, I realize that I have been gradually shifting toward the fulfillment of the other parts of that mission statement. I want to empower writers to take control of their own careers, to feel agency, to create a writing career that satisfies them and fulfills them that they can sustain for as long as they have the urge to write.

That’s the book I’ve been dying to work on.

So part of my reassessment of my business plan for the coming year has involved deciding to shift to that project instead.

Knowing When to Pivot Your Plan

Reassessing your goals and priorities—for your life as well as your business—may result in realizing you’re right on track for what you want to be doing and where you want to go. It may suggest minor changes and tweaks. Or it might engender big shifts to your career plan.

Joanna Penn, a prominent “authorpreneur” who since 2008 has built her very successful business largely on helping other authors successfully navigate the blooming self-publishing landscape, recently announced that going forward she plans to focus more on her own fiction and less on her advocacy and education for writers—a major pivot in her business plan.

As she explained in a recent post about the shift, after 15 years, “I need to pivot and reinvent myself in order to keep creating and writing…. I also need to keep myself engaged. I’m certainly not the same person I was when I started out, and the last few years in particular have been a period of personal change.”

Changing track in your focus or goals doesn’t invalidate what you’ve already done; nor does it mean you have “failed.” It’s simply reevaluating what you want and what you need now in order to continue to find fulfillment in your career.

My business reassessment helped me realize my heart isn’t in the character book right now. It will be again, I have no doubt. I’m a character editor and these are the most important elements of craft to me, ones that I have enjoyed developing practical, actionable approaches for that I think will be very useful to authors.

But I asked myself a version of a question I have used and advocated for years in this annual review process in determining whether you’re doing what you want to do now, enjoying the process of your career, not simply waiting for the product to make it all feel worthwhile. The usual version goes like this:

“If someone told you today that you would never achieve the ultimate-payoff goals you’ve set for yourself, would you still want to do what you’re doing?”

“If someone told you today that you would never achieve the ultimate-payoff goals you’ve set for yourself, would you still want to do what you’re doing?”

Asking myself that question is how I decided I was through with my acting career. It’s how I realized my heart was no longer in writing fiction for the moment.

Asking myself a version of it in assessing my business model—“If I were able to produce only one more book, what would I want to put out in the world?”—made my answer crystal-clear: I wanted to work on the agency-and-empowerment book. This is the message I’m deeply invested in sharing with authors at the moment. This is what will give my career meaning and fulfillment and satisfaction right now. And that’s the main time frame I want to operate in.

Read more: "Measure Your Success by What You're Doing, Not What You Want to Do"

Yes, I have long-term goals, but if we don’t stop and assess them periodically, we fail to take into account that we change as humans. We grow and evolve. Our priorities may shift, our minds may change, our perspective may adjust. If we’re still operating under old assumptions, we’re no longer creating a career meaningful to us in the present.

Creating a Current, Relevant Business Plan

So I encourage you with the New Year to examine your intentions, desires, and goals for your writing career. Have you been working on a story that’s begun to feel like a slog? Ask yourself why.

Does it still match the passions that animate you? It may be that you’re simply stuck in a frustrating part of the writing, a stage so common that it might as well be an official part of the writing process. Sometimes you just have to persist and struggle through those briar patches until you find the path past it.

But if that animating spark has gone out and you no longer feel the same ardor and drive for a story you once did, it could be that your focus or goals have simply shifted. This isn’t the project for you right now.

It doesn’t mean it’s lost forever—every one of my “books in the drawer” has eventually found its way into publication. It just means that perhaps the time is not now. And now is really all we have for sure. Goals are important and they can motivate and focus us, but none of us knows what the future will bring. The life we are living is the one we’re living now, and if what we’re doing isn’t fulfilling us in the present moment, why are we doing it?

The life we are living is the one we’re living now, and if what we’re doing isn’t fulfilling us in the present moment, why are we doing it?

Look at the business side of your writing career as well. Have you always dreamed of traditionally publishing, for instance? Think about the current state of publishing and the market and what it requires of you and the time frame involved and honestly assess, in specific, concrete terms and in depth, whether that still matches your goals.

I worked with one multipublished author this year who was determined to publish traditionally what he felt would be his final novel. But he had come to realize he didn’t want to wait for the sometimes eternal-seeming process of submission, production, and publication. He wanted to get that story out now, on his own terms, so he changed tracks and is planning to self-publish—not because he’s giving up, but because he refuses to, and has decided that while his goal may be the same as far as getting his work into the world, the means by which he wants to do it have shifted.

How about you? Do the things you thought you wanted out of your writing career still apply to what you want now? The answer may be yes, but the only way to know for sure is to examine your premises and your desires and your goals and see if all factors are still the same or you need to do some pruning, uprooting, and replanting, as I spent the weekend doing in my yard.

Here’s a simple but practical three-step plan for reevaluating where you are in your career, and where you want to go:

  1. Create a mission statement, or reevaluate your existing one to see if it still reflects what you want now. I don’t mean this theoretically or as a thought exercise: I mean an actual mission statement you write down and keep somewhere you can refer to it often to make sure your efforts are aligning with your vision. What drives you to want to pursue this craft and career? What do you hope to achieve with it?
  • Create and/or reevaluate your business plan to align with your vision.  How will you concretely, practically go about bringing your goals into existence? This may require some research on your part to identify specific requirements to effect your goals. Write it out as if it were an outline for a story. Make a flowchart, a bullet list, a spreadsheet—whatever works for you to delineate the steps on the path that are necessary to achieve those goals. Do you want to finish your manuscript, for instance? Great—by what date, and what is required—concretely and specifically—to achieve that: five hundred words per day? A thousand? Does that include editing and revision time? Vacations and sick leave and time off? Does it factor in all your other existing commitments? If not, build that in too, step by step.
  • Put the plan into action. It’s not enough to dream it or to plan it. Once you have your mission statement and business plan in place, start making the changes or taking the steps required to effect them. What does getting your daily word count in on schedule actually look like and require? Do you need to cut some other commitments? Find a quiet place to work undisturbed? Create a firm schedule in your calendar? Do it, whatever it is, and then get your butt in the seat and do the work.
Read more: "Why Do You Write?"

Writing is a subjective business, and a mercurial one, where much of a writer’s path isn’t within the author’s control.

But much of it is—the parts that really matter, which is how you spend your days and what satisfaction and fulfillment you glean from your writing career. Do everything you can to set yourself up for success, but revisit your goals, your motivations, the realities, and your values—your definition of success, on your terms—to ensure that you’re creating the career that fulfills you, and one that you can sustain for a lifetime.

Read more: "Jimmy Buffett Teaches Authors How to Live"

Authors, do you treat your writing as the career that it is, with the respect it—and you—deserve? Do you have an actual mission statement and business plan for it? Do you evaluate it regularly to make sure it still aligns with your values and goals? And do you use it as a practical guide to make sure you are actually executing your vision and working toward your goals?

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9 Comments. Leave new

  • This is exactly what I needed to read first thing this morning. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Love your shift, Tiffany, and I’ll be following it closely for takeaways!

    Reply
  • This is so relevant for me right now. Thanks. I’ve been slogging through the interminable middle of my memoir. It’s not fun like it used to be. Then I pivoted to write an obituary about my dog (who considered herself a person), and it flowed so easily. I need to get back to that feeling of excitement.

    Reply
    • Sometimes it can help just to shake things up–or step away from something that’s vexing you. Hope you get your memoir mojo back, Leslie. And I’m so very sorry about your pup. The hardest part of loving them. <3

      Reply
      • Thanks. I hope I can get back to the memoir with renewed enthusiasm. And thanks for the sympathies for Donna.

        Reply
  • Patricia Rae
    May 9, 2024 1:50 pm

    Hello, Tiffany! I have to let you know that your recent newsletters titled ‘What are you working toward?’, and ‘Reassessing your writing career’ have hit home for me. After spending 20 years writing my series of books, going through the fire of editing, and all that is required to produce those books – I was sure my story, that I had put my heart and soul into, would reach best-selling status in no time. Fast forward four years later, and I am nowhere close to having my books be bestsellers. But that’s okay, because I have made a real connection with real people through my story – one book at a time. The reward and gratification I receive from readers when attending fairs and events, especially when those same readers come back for the next book in the series, well, that is called pure joy! And that is why I write and promote my books – to make a connection with another soul. Would I like to have that 6 figure income from book sales, and have my posts go viral because I have soooo many followers? Sure, but that is not what drives me. I get downright giddy when a reader tells me that they stayed up late because they couldn’t close the book. Just one more chapter! That means more to me than making the best-sellers list or a 6-figure income. It is a reward I can hang my hat on.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Patricia–I’m so glad the posts have been helpful you in your career and your thinking! I love your journey of moving away from results-oriented thinking about your creative career to more a process-focused mindset. I’m convinced that this is the key to creating and sustaining a happier and more rewarding writing career, one where authors can feel more sense of autonomy and satisfaction, even in a field where so much is not within our control.

      “Pure joy” is a great description for that feeling when someone tells you that your work was meaningful or impactful to them. It’s definitely among the most rewarding parts of what I do too. Thanks for sharing this perspective–I’m currently writing a follow-up book to Intuitive Editing that’s about these concepts, and hearing your thoughts about it affirms that this is the book I want to be getting in authors’ hands right now.

      Reply

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