Note: This is a guest post by Becca Puglisi. Becca is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others. Her website, Writers Helping Writers, is a hub for all things description, offering tons of free resources to aid writers in their literary efforts. Her new online reference and brainstorming library, One Stop For Writers, will be available October 7th. ~
If I could pick one word to describe how my writing career has turned out, it would probably be unexpected. I started in 2004, composing YA fiction. That was all I ever wanted to write. But when an opportunity arose in 2008 to start a blog with my critique partner and writing soul sister Angela Ackerman, I took the chance. It was the right choice, even though a big chunk of my writing time had to then be devoted to nonfiction, since this would be the focus of our blog.
By 2011, our audience had exploded and they were clamoring for a published version of our content; in a very short period of time, I found myself a published nonfiction author. Four years and three books later, I’m not only a nonfiction author but also a speaker and writing coach—a happy change, but a far cry from where I once envisioned myself as a writer.
It’s been an exciting ride but also a crazy one as I’ve tried to figure out where my time and energy should be devoted along the way. This is a question many writers struggle with, particularly in the early years when they’re learning who they are, pinpointing what they want, and defining their personal brands. As your writing career progresses, there’s increased pressure to take on more responsibilities.
You’re told to start a blog, get involved in social media, attend conferences, do school visits and book signings—all while honing your craft and writing that all-important next book. These are all good ideas that can work toward your goal of becoming a career author. But you can’t possibly do everything. How do you decide where to focus?
When things got squirrely for Angela and me, we knew that we needed a clear roadmap to keep us on track. For us, that ended up being a business plan. I highly recommend it for all writers looking to clarify their career path and direction.
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By identifying our areas of focus, setting primary and secondary priorities, and scheduling deadlines for our goals, we had a clear view of where our priorities should lie during the year. And it made decision-making a whole lot easier.
For instance, when we created this plan, there were a few additional things we had wanted to accomplish in 2014. But once we established our areas of focus and started identifying our goals, we realized that the other items weren’t as important; there simply wasn’t time to pursue them. So we pushed them to 2015.
Another example is when I was asked to join a group blog, where I would share the responsibility of critiquing writing samples and offering feedback. I struggled with this decision because I love to critique, and this fit perfectly into our Build Writing Coaches Persona goal. But I soon I realized that this particular time commitment would outweigh the potential reward. I loved the idea, though, so in October I started a monthly first-page critique contest called Critiques 4 U at our blog. Critiquing three pages each month was something I had time to do, and by hosting the contest ourselves, it would drive traffic back to our blog and contribute to the Optimize Existing Visibility Opportunities portion of our business plan.
These are just two examples of how I was able to use our plan to make decisions that would maximize reward while maintaining focus on what was important for our business. And, honestly, any writer can do it. Here’s how.
1. Formulate A Business Plan. It sounds a little scary, but it’s really pretty straightforward, as you can see from this step-by-step post that Angela wrote for Jane Friedman’s blog. Creating a plan takes a lot of thinking, and staring out the window, and crossing things off and adding new items to your list. But, eventually, you’ll end up with a clear picture of where your focus should be for the year.
2. Post It In A Prominent Spot. I have mine tacked to a bulletin board above my desk. This way, when I receive a request, all I have to do is look up and be reminded of where my priorities should lie.
3. Ask Yourself Question #1: Does this request fit with my goals and areas of focus? If the answer is no, it’s likely that this particular job will not only take you away from where you want to be, it will steal time and energy from the projects that would have helped you accomplish your goals.
4. Ask Yourself Question #2: Do I have time? Many times, opportunities will come along that fit very well into your plan, but they’re time consuming, and saying yes means saying no to a higher priority item. Other times, that new opportunity aligns so perfectly with your business plan that it should become a top priority in place of something on your list.
Case in point: in the last quarter of 2014, Angela and I were on our way to accomplishing all of our goals when one of the developers of Scrivener contacted us about creating a software application that would, among other things, include the content from all of our thesauri. Ironically, we had been thinking about a plug-in concept for our books and had previously looked into Scrivener to see if they would be a good match, but the timing just wasn’t right to pursue it.
Now, we found ourselves faced with a new opportunity that would require a huge time commitment just to do the research on the front end. But this opportunity tied directly into our second and third areas of focus and looked like it could be the next logical step for our business. So we pushed back the deadlines on the remainder of our goals and even sidelined a few so we could pursue it. As a result, we have partnered with this developer, and sometime this fall we’ll be able to offer writers a software product—One Stop For Writers—in addition to our published books.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Say Yes. It’s easy to use a business plan as a crutch—an excuse for not taking on an opportunity that scares us or is outside of our comfort zone. Remember that a business plan is meant to be a guideline, not something written in stone. If something comes up that aligns well with your goals and areas of focus, jump on that bandwagon. I can’t tell you how many times in my career it has made more sense for me to say no to potential opportunities. But saying yes was almost always the right answer and I benefited every time.
6. Don’t Be Afraid To Say No. The writing community is a social and collaborative one, largely because the author’s journey can be so difficult. As a result, we often find ourselves in the position of doing things for friends, acquaintances, and strangers out of a sense of obligation. Never forget that while there are many personal and social benefits to being an author, writing is a business. As a creative, your time is an expense that must be doled out responsibly and carefully accounted for. So if you want to achieve your goals, learn to say no to the things that are counter-productive.
As your writing career progresses and more decisions have to be made, it can be hard to know when an opportunity should be pursued and when it’s simply going to be a distraction. A business plan is a great tool to help you make wise decisions that will keep you on track toward meeting your goals.
Do you already have a business plan or thinking of creating one for your writing career? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.