"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: How to Begin Your Writing Career

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to Begin Your Writing Career

The trick with creating success in writing is to do what all bestselling writers have done. That is, try lots of things, find out what works - and then follow the money.

But where do you start? Here's my best advice:

Take a piece of paper. Real paper - and a pen.

Write down a list of writing activities that you believe would provide a nice balance of work for you on an ongoing basis. Then ascribe a percentage value to each. For instance:

Short Fiction - 35% of my writing time
Magazine Articles - 15% of my writing time
Fillers - 5% of my writing time
The Great Novel - 10% of my writing time

And so on. Put as many categories as you like. Then, take the same list and ascribe the monetary income you visualize your writing efforts bringing in over the course of a year. Like this:

Short Fiction - 20% of my writing income
Magazine Articles - 35% of my writing income
Fillers - 25% of my writing income
The Great American Novel - 5% of my writing income

You get the idea...

This exercise helps crystallize your goals and how you're going to find time to work towards them. It could be you decide that ten minutes a day spent on writing fillers will represent just 10% of your writing time and that 90% - an hour and half - should be spent on writing your novel. That's fine. It will be up to you to decide on whether the income earned over the course of a year justifies the time spent on any one activity.

At some point every year - perhaps today - you should write down your writing goals with some prediction as to their worth to you - in monetary terms if that's what motivates you. Then, each year, decide whether you want to rethink or prioritize those goals.

It could be that a novel MS reaps you an advance of $1000 - and that magazine articles secured $10,000 over the course of a year. But it could be that the advance is worth much more to you than the cash.

This is what even the most professional of writers do.

Sitting at home and writing successful books is the dream of many aspiring authors. The reality is very different for 99% of professional authors. They, like us, have to juggle priorities. They know that income from book royalties, especially fiction, is
rarely sufficient. Extra money must come from writing outside of their niche, making personal appearances, article writing, short story sales, TV and radio interviews, doing teaching gigs, mentoring, manuscript assessment, whatever it takes to provide a sufficient range of paying activities.

This is something that empirical knowledge, over the years, has taught them. It's something they just know. As should you.

In a diverse world, diversity is the key to survival. Sticking to one avenue of writing is the luxury of the hobbyist - or a mere handful of bestselling authors. The would-be professional knows different - and is willing to experiment; to do as any professional
does, to learn from experience.

Using Spreadsheets to Track Your Success

A few years back I took a government sponsored course aimed at helping small businesses to write a business plan. Of course, given my allegiance to creativity and my natural suspicion of math and numbers, I was cynical about the benefits I might garner from this.

I went along anyway, partly to move out of my comfort zone and partly, well, I'll be honest now, because the local council, through my local small business network, actually paid me to go. Who said the government did nothing for the individual?

Anyhow. I was so glad I went because it taught me some valuable lessons.

I'd been well used to self-help gurus telling me that writing down my goals - and spending time visualizing the results - helped solidify them in my mind. Little did I expect that this was exactly what a business plan can do. It's exactly the same principle!

You literally write down your goals, including their consequences, breaking everything down into little, do-able (and believably do-able is the point) pieces, and then that becomes the template for how you spend your time over the coming months and years.

The course forced me to write down how I thought I was going to make money over the course of the next five years. It made me be specific, precise and, more importantly, realistic. Scary when you do it but enormously powerful when it's done, not least in convincing others that it's a practical plan and not a ridiculous course of actions.

Especially because, as part of the deal for the course, I had to mark off whether I'd actually done the activities I'd planned I would - and report that back to the government. Talk about motivation! At least it made me focus on my objectives - and actually, like I used to dread, take action!

So, I would advise you, as a matter of urgency, to consolidate your writing plans on to a spreadsheet. Break down your goals into a series of steps, with timelines that you can tick off as you go.

Some of the writers I know, to a certain extent, do this already. They have a list of their submissions and they track whether they've been accepted, rejected, need rewriting or re-submitting. It's a useful tool, worth keeping up to date and studying - if only to remind you that you're not doing enough!

I would suggest you take it one stage further and be more business-like about it. Write down your goals in all areas of writing - even those you're not sure you're up to attacking yet - and review them every week or so to see how far you're progressing. Every week? I guess that sounds obsessive. Perhaps.

I read a quote once that I related to and thought was probably true.

It said, "The difference between normal people and successful people is simply that the successful review their goals more often - usually up to five times a day." Gulp.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

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