Career Smart Writing

By Ursula Vogt

The most important work any writer can do will never see an editor’s desk. It doesn’t make any difference what you write, where you publish, or even if you’re watching the mail for your first acceptance letter; the few pages you write for yourself can build a new career, or take an existing one to a much higher level.

If you’re looking for professional writing success, you probably use the one basic plan all writers have in common. Write. Submit. Cash the check. When the plan fails, and it will, a career smart writer survives while the rest talk about when they did a little writing once. For a lucky few, the basic plan works, but it’s not sophisticated, not focused enough to build a future. At some point, you need to write a career plan. Not just a general list of goals, because most of us have one of those, too; I mean a plan to reach those goals. It’s the best way to insure you have a career rather than a hobby.

Immediate gratification is priceless in our world. We want new ideas we can put to work right now, so let’s take that approach with a writing plan. Consider this a writing assignment from the toughest editor you know–yourself. Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to dream big. If you take it seriously and give it your best effort, your career plan will start producing usable results in about ten minutes.

Success Is A State Of Mind

Start by being clear about what success is for you. Everyone has a different definition, but the one thing most have in common is that you need to keep proving yourself. If you buy into that thinking, you’re giving someone else control of your career. Writers tend to focus on their lack of accepted submissions, their rejections, instead of focusing on their writing success.

Rejection letters are a big part of a writer’s life. You’re going to get them and sometimes your writing will deserve them, but notice I say, your writing deserves them, because rejection letters aren’t personal. Writing groups and chat rooms are full of that discussion, so don’t kid yourself into believing rejection letters are the reason you aren’t achieving goals. You might be a good writer who needs to polish up the submission and marketing skills, or one who needs to improve grammar and punctuation. It may be that the editor is shoulder deep in the same kind of thing you write.

Try a proactive approach that puts you in control. If you have successfully published before, you can do it again. If you haven’t—wonderful. You won’t make the mistake of starting out with the hit-and-miss approach. The key isn’t proving yourself; the key is training yourself to be the best writer you can be. Make it one of your goals to spend time improving your craft, and if you think you don’t need to learn anything more, think again. The markets change daily.

Despite our best efforts, eventually, we all pace the floor, coffee cup in hand, wondering what to write, where to submit, or considering real estate as a better career option. It’s a given that you will still have dry spells, but that isn’t a measure of success either. If you know where your writing is going, career dreams quit being dreams and become attainable goals. Dry spells stay dry, but they’re much shorter and they won’t take control. You will.

Playing Office

Have you ever had a day when ideas poured from someplace deep, someplace you didn’t recognize? It was so good you felt guilty for putting your name on it, because surely, creative elves visited your desk during the night?

The next day usually turns out to be one of those dry days we were just talking about. In the absence of a creative downpour, you start organizing file drawers and alphabetizing sticky notes, looking for that writer’s high. You can’t recreate that feeling any other way than by writing. Playing office is the ultimate denial. You can organize all day long, a few days like that are actually necessary, but if you don’t write, you won’t achieve the level of satisfaction we all look for.

Go ahead and use the dry time as effectively as you can. Maybe reading through old notes and files will jog the muse to life, but recognize it for what it is. Try writing, even if it turns out to be the most creative grocery list at the market.

Write The Plan

Once you are past the success crisis, it’s easier to be realistic about what you really want to achieve. Do you want to write a book? Good, write that down. How about a specific number of article submissions a month? Add that to your list. I have a conference I want to attend that requires submission of several chapters, two months in advance. It’s on my goals list.

Take an honest look at your desk. What do you have that needs work? What potential story dried up? What market possibility sits there unexplored? Maybe your desk is empty. Add, find potentials to the list.

The Daily Check

I have four or five questions tacked over my desk that I apply to everything I write, and I should be able to answer yes to at least one, and preferably all of the items on the checklist. Feel free to use mine or tailor it to your own goals, but keep it positive. Keep moving your career in a forward direction.

  1. Will today’s project improve my writing skills?
  2. Will this expand my knowledge base?
  3. Is the submission to a well-researched market?
  4. Will the publication be a good addition to my writing resume? If not, is there a strong reason for submitting it anyway? Sometimes volunteer work is a reason of its own. Maybe you just like the publication enough that your resume isn’t the goal. Allow yourself these rejuvenating writing projects, they’re important.
  5. Does it define me, as a writer, in a positive light?

Your list may contain things like targeting particular markets or specific genres. Maybe it moves you toward finishing that book and learning to market it.

If a project doesn’t fit the plan, don’t pitch it. File it away for another day when it can be tweaked to fit. As you expand your knowledge base, you may find one of these ideas to be perfect in the future.

Not Just Another Plan

The most important aspect of a career plan isn’t the actual writing. Have you ever wondered why simple writing goals weren’t met in the past? There’s a good chance the reason is that a goal was set, but no solid plan to achieve it came next. What makes your plan a success is that by developing the checklist, you commit to action every day.

Another crucial follow-up is to treat goals like you would any assignment. Show up at the desk ready to do your best. Go an extra step by scheduling time to evaluate your progress, adjusting either the plan or your approach, and be flexible. You may need to fill in gaps, or slow the pace if you’ve over-estimated.

Take a few minutes to write three pages today, and you’re less likely to give up on success tomorrow. By following your own plan, you spend time improving your writing instead of getting caught up in the hit-and-miss approach. Achieving the smaller goals will add up to a successful writing career instead of a writing hobby.

© Copyright 2001 Ursula Vogt

Ursula Vogt is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Writer’s Digest, Chronicle Online, The Writing Parent, Parenting Today’s Teens and Writer’s Exchange. You can find her at