The process for Career Planning is similar to planning for anything else, so I decided to apply my thirty-seven years of professional land use planning to develop prototype career plan for authors.
The process require some time and soul-searching, and you really should write it down. There’s all kinds of research to support the effectiveness of putting something on paper. It creates a higher level of commitment. Even if you don’t prepare a written plan, give serious thought to the contents. There may be some aspects of your career you haven’t considered.
The following is a very condensed version of a class I give. If, after reading this, if you want the full information and worksheets, contact me.
WHY PREPARE A CAREER PLAN?
Every writer/author should prepare a career plan because it helps you to clarify what you want out of writing and to make informed choices about your career.
● You need to know where you’re going in order to get there.
● Writing is either a hobby or a business. Both are okay, but you should know what it is to you.
● You need to know what you’re striving for in order to make choices.
● Writing takes commitment and requires sacrifices; it requires large investments of time, emotions, money, energy, and self-esteem. You need to know how much you are willing to invest.
● A career plan is a guide for decision-making.
● You need goals and measurable action steps to measure your progress.
Your career plan is for you―you never have to show it to anyone. It will change over time. Put your plan in writing and keep it where you can see it. It will help you keep focused. When preparing your plan:
● Be brutally honest with yourself.
● Tap your emotions.
● Visualize it.
● Be specific
● Be realistic. You may win the first contest you enter, or you may sell the first thing you write and send out, but you may not. Most of us don’t. Tailor your plan to what it real.
● Keep it simple.
● Reevaluate and revise at least once a year. Sometimes more often.
There are three basic steps to any kind of planning. Ask yourself these three questions.
● Where am I now? –Assessment of the current circumstances;
● Where do I want to go? – Statement of Vision and goals;
● How do I get there? – Action plan with specific actions and measurable milestones in a time frame.
STEP 1 – ASSESS YOUR CURRENT STATUS
Assess where you are in terms of skill development, what you need to learn, experience, etc. The questions that are pertinent are related to where you are in your career. Be brutally honest with yourself.
● Personal Motivation – What motivates you? How long have you been writing seriously? Why do you write?
● Commitment – What is your personal commitment? Are you willing to give up other parts of your life to write? How many classes have you taken? How many pitches have you made?
● Productivity – How productive are you? Do you constantly increase the number of words you can write?
● Professional Activity – Are you a member of a critique group or writing organization such as RWA? Mystery Writers of America? Are you active? Do you attend conferences?
● Presence on the Web – What is your presence on the web? What social media sites do you belong to and are you active?
● Roadblocks – Write six things you perceive as keeping you from achieving your goals as a writer.
● Strengths – What are you best writing skills?
● Weaknesses – What are the areas in which you need improvement to your writing skills?
After working through these assessments, write down where you believe you are in your career and what areas you need to strengthen.
STEP 2 – WRITE YOUR VISION AND GOALS
All of us have general goals, but the more realistic and specific they are, the more likely you are to achieve them. Think about these things and do some serious soul-searching.
1. Career Purpose Statement
● What is your career purpose(your inspiration for writing)? – What is it you want to tell the reader and/or contribute to society through your writing?
● What is your life purpose? – (Heavy stuff, right?) Why do you believe you are on the earth? If possible, try to integrate career purpose and life purpose. It’s okay if you can’t deal with this, but give it a try and at least give it some serious thought.
● What do you believe? What is important to you? – What are your hot buttons in real life? What are you passionate about? What moves you and makes you angry, or cry, or excited?
● What do you like to read? – What are the underlying themes you like to read about? What draws you to them? Write down five themes/hooks that never fail to move you.
● What do you like to write about? – Write down five topics or themes that show up regularly in your own work. Write three verbs (e.g. inspire, challenge, entertain, frighten, etc.) that best describe the impact you want to have on your readers.
●Who is your target audience(s)? Identify your target audience as specifically as you can. (Such as children in high school getting ready for college, or Women who were married a long time and then lost their spouse to death or divorce, etc.).
Now write your Career Purpose Statement. It will read something like the following examples: 1) To entertain readers with a much-needed escape when life get tough, or 2) to inspire women to follow their dreams; or 3) To give hope to young people about their futures.
2. Ultimate Career Goal
● Write down your initial idea for an ultimate career goal or career vision.
● Now, make the statement more specific and note tangible end results.
● Add the emotion and incorporate how you will feel when you read the statement.
● Add visualization. When you achieve this career vision, how will it impact you?
3. Author Brand
Your Author Brand is not only a tag line or a catchy slogan; it is your reputation, your voice, what your write about, your public image, what makes your work unique from everyone else’s, everything about you. It show in a few words what someone can expect from your writing.
4. Professional Image
● Personal Physical Appearance – How you look, dress, and your overall physical “tone”
● Personal Physical Manner – The manifestation of how you feel about yourself
● Personal Speech – How you speak. What you say and how you say it
● Written Words – What you write, on paper, in novels, in interviews, e-mails, blogs
● Non-Personal Physical Appearance – The appearance and impression of your website, your stationery, your business cards, your advertising, and all things that represent you and your product
STEP 3 – PREPARE AN ACTION PLAN
So, now you know what you want your ultimate career to look like. This part of the plan is identifying the steps you must take to achieve your goal.
Remember, the key to an action plan is setting specific realistic goals that are measurable within a specific time period and that you have control over.
If you’ve finished several novels but never sent any of them out, you are in a different place than an author who has won several contests, had several full manuscripts requested, and has rewritten a novel to correct the flaws an editor or agent has pointed out. Authors who just sold their first book are in a different place than authors with several books published.
Start with where you are now, and eat the elephant one bite at a time. However, each action step should move you in the direction of your ultimate goal and should build the author brand. Be honest with yourself. The action plan you develop must be feasible and must take into consideration your constraints in targeting your goals.
1. Five year goals.
● Write your realistic five-year goals.
● Prioritize your five-year goals – Your five year goals will be fairly general.
● List the action steps that must be taken to achieve those goals. – Your action steps will be about as general as your goals.
2. One year goals
Now, go to your one year goals, and keeping in mind where you want to be in five years, prepare goals for the first year.
● Write your realistic one-year goals – Be specific and detailed here.
● Prioritize your one-year goals – Ask yourself, “If I could do only one thing on this list during the year, what does it have to be?” Then look at what’s left and go through the same process. This will give you a list of what is most important.
This doesn’t mean you work on goals one at a time. All of them are important, but sometimes they have to occur sequentially. The priority list is a tool to help you manage your resources and career. If something comes up that affects available time, money resources, etc. (such as an illness), you know where to cut…from the bottom of the list. If your available time is cut in half, you drop the last goal or do less work on it than the higher priorities.
● Write realistic action steps (what do you have to do) to achieve your one year goals – Action steps must be specific, have a time frame, and a measure of success…and they must be something you can do yourself.
● Monitor your action plan as adjust as necessary – At least every four to six months do an update of the action plan and measure your progress.
REMEMBER THE PURPOSE OF THE PLAN
Planning is all about making informed decisions. Along any career path, there are choices and opportunities. When any professional is faced with such decisions, it’s better to have a good grasp on where you’re going and how the decision will move you in the direction of your goals. A career plan is intended to be flexible and updated frequently. It’s only for you, and it’s a valuable tool.