Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Take Charge of Your Writing Career

Tuesday is our pearls of wisdom day, meaning we discuss the craft and business of writing. Today's discussion touches on both topics.

Professional Development

Professional development is more important now than ever in our knowledge-driven society. Technology and business move at jet speed. The writing industry may be a little slower, but it still moves. If you are a career writer, you need to stay on top of the changes or risk being left behind.

You might find it easy to slip into passive mode and go about your writing day without stretching your creative, business or technical muscles. The longer you go, the harder it becomes. Nobody is going to step in and make sure you move forward. There is not one person who is more vested in your career than you. With this in mind, sit down, develop a professional development plan for a specific period of time and put it into action.

What is a Professional Development Plan?

Simply put, a professional development plan is an informal or formal document that provides details about what you plan to learn during the coming year/months. It is typically written after short and long-term goals are identified. The plan becomes a map used to guide and help you retain focus on your objectives. It is a living document, meaning it can change as new opportunities or needs become known.

Why Should a Writer Care?

Writers should care about professional development because without growth, writing becomes stale and old school. Imagine that you have a closet full of books all published ten to twenty years ago. Now imagine that you spend all your reading time rereading these classics. Then you write a book and submit it to an editor. Since you have not spent any time reviewing current books, you have no idea what the editor/agent expects. Additionally, your work is going to sound like it is stuck in the past. Everything changes over the years including the pace at which we speak, the words we use and the common knowledge we’ve experienced. We do things differently than we did decades or even a few years ago. Editors and readers want something they can relate to that’s fresh and keeps pace with the times.

Development Planning

Forget about the cost of training at the moment. Think of all the areas associated with your writing career that need development. The craft of writing, business of writing and technical side of writing are three main areas that break into smaller components. Here are a few examples each category.

Craft of Writing
  • Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC)
  • Dialogue
  • Description

Business of Writing

  • Types of corporations – incorporate or not
  • Contracts
  • Bookkeeping/taxes

Technical Side of Writing

  • Web site development (usability, interface considerations, etc.)
  • Web site hosting
  • Web site maintenance

    NOTE: Even if you don’t plan to develop and maintain the site yourself, you still need to be educated on some of these components. For instance, what to expect from a company you hire to develop and/or maintain the site, how to kick off the development process, how to get results from the Web site, how to track Web statistics and use them to make marketing decisions, etc.

  • Word processing skills (brush up, speed up)
  • Software package skills (bookkeeping software, web development, word processing, etc.)

Action Steps

Now that I have overwhelmed you, let’s break it down into something more manageable. First, know that you cannot possibly learn about everything in one year. Second, you cannot possibly know everything about a topic. Even the experts have to look things up. The goal is to expand your knowledge formally and/or informally to give you a stronger base of knowledge to work from so that you can make informed decisions and increase the quality of your writing. It is all about life-long education.

To begin identifying what you want to accomplish this year, look at your three or five year plan. Don’t have one? Start here. Where would you like to be in three or five years? Write it down. Remember, this is an informal document that nobody else needs to see.

Once you are done identifying these goals, take are hard look at your strengths and weaknesses. Write them down. Do not be shy.

It is time to figure out your plan of attack. How are you going to focus on the specified topics? Do you need a class? Can you study this on your own? The inevitable question is, where do you find the resources necessary to support you? Below are some ideas of where to look for classes, etc.:

  • Join a writers’ group
  • Personal study
  • Continuing Education

Needless to say, there are an abundance of resources out there. All you have to do is a little research. Google your ideas and figure out what actions you would like to take this year. Customize your plan to suit your financial situation. The range of costs is from free to expensive. Do what suits you.

Execute the Plan

Once you have identified your topics of focus and the action steps, do not wait to get started. Before you know it, we will be celebrating another new year. Don’t get left behind your peers. If you are a bit shy in pursuing some of the action steps, find someone willing to mentor you in the area you need help. The bottom line is to get started now.

Download the complete Professional Development article from my Web site: http://www.tammyschubert.com/craft.html

So what's on your professional development plan? For me, I am learning how to include powerful emotion in my stories. To do this, I'm going to be studying Margie Lawson's Deep Editing and her Empowering Characters Emotions lecture packets. You might want to check out what she has to offer: http://margielawson.com/


Sandy Elzie said...


Lots of good info here and timely since we're just starting the year. You mentioned GMC, Goal, Motivation & Conflict. The book by Debra Dixon is only about $10 on Amazon & provides a wealth of info for a tiny price.

For the more experienced writer who already has GMC down, I suggest Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. He's an author, and owns a literary agency in N.Y. He knows what the agents & publishers are looking for.

Thanks for the great suggestions.

Tami Brothers said...

Great post, Tammy. As Sandy said, very timely. I’m about to get bombarded with school and work, which leaves my writing sitting on the back burner. I love the breakdown you have for developing a plan. I think this could very well keep me on track better while everything else tries to bulldoze the process… I’ll give it a try and see how things work.

I’m definitely checking out Margie Lawson’s workshop. Sounds right up my alley.

Tami Brothers

Marilyn Baron said...

Great post. Actually, Georgia Romance Writers is offering a Deb Dixon Workshop on April 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in lieu of our regular chapter meeting. I'm not sure what the cost will be yet but it will be very reasonable so you can find out more at the meeting January 24 or look on the GRW site for more details as we get them.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Tammy, Thanks so much for this post. I am studying craft like crazy, working on web stuff, etc. but, I didn't think about planning it! DUH! This is exactly what I need to do. It's already coming together in my head. Great, informative post.

Tammy Schubert said...


I'm so glad to hear you are all on board with creating your own professional development plan.

Marilyn and Sandy, thank you for the resources. I can't wait until Deb Dixon's workshop. I'll reserve the day on my calendar.

Linsey Lanier said...

Hi Tammy,

What a great post. Next time I need a kick in the pants to get going, I will come back to this one.

Well done, and needless to say very professional. :)


Nicki Salcedo said...

Tammy, I am so ready! Great post.

Anonymous said...

This is jammed packed with some great tools and suggestions Tammy! Thank you for posting these action steps too. For some reason, I cant seem to open my door of words as I thought I could. I am too overwhelmed with our classes and finding work right now to pay some bills and regain that strength and clear vision to start my story. But, I am going to make a plan due to reading this inspiring blog. Thank you Tammy!

CiCi Barnes said...

Wow! This is packed with things I need to hear. I'm even printing out a copy to keep in my information folder. This will be my go-to article to keep me on track of what I want to work on toward becoming a professional this year.

Thanks for all the great info.