Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Planning a Writing Career

Much as I'd like to say otherwise, writing is a job. Sure, it's also an expression of self, an artistic endeavor, and a gift, but when the day is done, you're exhausted and you've got a thousand words to write it's just another job that must be done.

Not to pop any balloons or anything like that. The fact is, I love my job. I can't imagine doing anything else. As a matter of fact, I'm trained as a teacher, but I don't plan to ever go back to the classroom (my dining room table and my four kids aside) unless it's to teach writing at a community college or university. What's the sense? My dream is to write. It's what I'm doing.

Here's the thing, though. Writing is a tough job. And I'm not saying that because it opens us up to criticism and rejection. When I was a teacher, I went to school every day. I saw my boss. I saw my fellow teachers. I saw the results of my teaching efforts in test scores and kids' success. Every two weeks I got a paycheck that proved that I was indeed doing a job. As a writer, I don't talk to my editor every day. Mostly I don't talk to her even once a month. I know what I need to do and I focus my energy on doing it so that she can do her job (which involves a whole lot more than my manuscripts). That means that eighty-five percent of the time, I'm working on my own without any input from my 'boss'. She buys the book and sends me off to write it trusting that I can produce what I've said I can. I don't have a crowd of people standing around me cheering me on, I don't have a boss telling me every day what to do and how to do it, I don't have colleagues that I can meet at the water cooler to discuss plans with. And I don't get paychecks every two weeks. The money comes in as my books sell and my royalty statements arrive, or as I receive further advances for work done. That may mean months or weeks between paychecks.

Why am I saying all this? Because the road to publication always begins with a dream. Acheiving that dream, though, is only the beginning of a very fun, fulfilling, and tough career. Careers require plans. If you haven't already jotted down your goals as an author, you should take the time to do it. Do you want to write one book a year? Two? Will you spend twenty hours a week writing or forty? Do you have a dream publisher, or just a vague idea of where your manuscript is headed?

I sold STILL WATERS four years ago in December. Up until that point, my plan was to sell a book in five years. Once I acheived my goal I immediately made a new one. I wanted to sell book ten within five years. I've worked hard to acheive that goal, knowing that name recognition is a good part of being successful in this industry and that the only way to have my name recognized by LI readers was to get more books out a year. I may be a busy homeschool mom, but I have spent time thinking through my writing career. I know what I want to acheive today, this month, and this year. I also know what my long term goals are.

Whether you're just starting out, or have been doing this for a while, I recommend that you take the time to think about your future as a writer. Dreams are nice, but it's concrete goals that set the stage for success.


Sabrina L. Fox said...

I have very practical dreams/hopes for my writing. My biggest goal, if I could have exactly what I want, is to be able to be home with Tanner and still have a writing career. I'm tired of working outside the home and if I could use my love for writing to make that come to fruition then I'd feel extremely blessed.

I hear people say all the time "you won't become rich writing those books." The thing is that I'm not looking to make loads of money. I'd just like to be able to work from home. :-/

I do have an actual date/goal but I'm almost afraid to vocalize it. LOL.

Good post, Shirlee, and congrats on the title. ;) I'm sure it will be a great book.

Shirlee McCoy said...


The year I sold STILL WATERS, my husband had been laid off, was working a night job until he could get back into IT work and I was concidering going back to teaching to supplement our income. I commented in a submission care group that I'd like to know if I'd sold the book so I could decide whether or not ti apply for a fall teaching job (I'd been waiting close to a year by that point) and an author emailed me privately to chastise me. She said that I wouldn't make much money from writing and that I'd better get use to cutting coupons and stretching meals. Needless to say, I was crushed by her response, not because she said I wouldn't make money from writing, but because she treated me like a silly dreamer. I've never been a dreamer. I've always been very practical. I knew how much I'd probably make off a first sale. I also knew that if I could eventually have three books out a year, my yearly income would be close to what I'd make as a teacher. It takes time to build a writing carreer, but it really is worth it. I may never be rich, but I'll know that I've pursued my dreams with passion and that I taught my kids the true meaning of success.

And who knows? Maybe one day I'll write that elusive best seller!

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Sigh. You're story sounds very similiar to ours, Shirlee. My husband lost a great job last year and we've struggled to get back on our feet even though he has a new job. (pay isn't quite as good, but it's stable) I make pretty good money and can't "afford" to quit.

I have tried to research to the best of my ability what the type of books I want to write pay and like you I told my husband that once I sold three books we could afford for me to stay home and write full time. :) So that's what I'm praying for.

And who cares about a best seller? You're writing what God has laid on your heart and impacting the lives of women just like us, every time they finish one of your books they come away with something of value. (not saying having a best seller wouldn't be awesome, LOL)