Setting Goals

Many aspiring writers talk about what they will do “someday,” trusting in luck and inspiration to fulfill their dreams. If you're serious about a writing career, though, you'll benefit from setting realistic short- and long-term goals. The more specific your goals are, the easier it is to identify steps you can take to achieve them, and the more control you have over the direction and progression of your career.

Selecting a Specialty

Especially in fiction, new writers benefit from specializing in one genre. Having several sci-fi short stories published helps give you a platform for marketing your sci-fi novel. And it will be easier to find a publisher for your second novel if it's the same genre as your first; staying with one genre helps build a fan base among readers, and your second book will be more attractive to a publisher if you already have that fan base to tap into.

This doesn't mean you can't jump from one genre to another. But, in most cases, that jump is better delayed until after your second or even third novel is published. Besides, the more experience you gain in getting stories or novels of one genre published, the more confident you will be when it's time to try something different.

Fiction writers can benefit from adding nonfiction pieces to their clip files. Nonfiction is easier for new writers to break into, giving you those all-important published credits. You also can strengthen your fiction platform if your nonfiction clips are related to your fiction — if your nonfiction is on new scientific discoveries, for example, and your short story is sci-fi.

Nonfiction writers generally don't have the same restrictions on category, but, like fiction writers, they can get typecast for certain assignments. If your clip file mainly consists of profiles of sports figures, for instance, you might have trouble convincing an editor that you're qualified to write an article about global warming. Some writers get a reputation for delivering quality feature-length articles, and editors are loath to waste these writers' talents on shorter, newsy pieces. That said, it generally is easier for nonfiction writers to get a variety of assignments, giving you a more well-rounded portfolio.

Time Management

Many new writers have difficulty finding the time to focus on their writing. Other obligations — family, your regular job, social engagements, and so on — eat up so much of the day, and so much of your mental energy, that there often isn't any to spare for the creative process. Then, too, beginning writers often don't know where to start work on their project, so they just never get around to it. Here are some tips that other writers have found useful; experiment with them to find a solution that works for you.

  • Make a standing appointment with yourself. Set aside a block of time (ideally the same time every day) for writing and schedule other obligations around that time.

  • Write at different times of the day. Experimenting with the time of day can help you discover when you're at your most creative and productive.

  • Set up a place to write. Even if it's just a corner of the living room, a dedicated place to do your writing can help you focus.

  • Limit your writing time. This may sound counterintuitive, but having too much time can interfere with getting down to work.

  • Set a goal for each day's or each week's work. Personal deadlines for finishing a chapter, a character bio, a synopsis, or needed research can help keep you motivated and on track.

  • The challenge for most new writers is making writing a priority among all the other priorities in your life. At the beginning of your career, before you break into the larger markets and begin to see a substantial return on your investment of time and energy, it's all too easy to let your writing slip into hobby status. But that initial investment is essential if your goal is to become a professional writer.

    Juggling Projects

    Professional writers are masters at juggling various projects, and they almost always have several projects going at once, in various stages of development. There are several advantages to this, not the least of which is the fact that, when you have a second project to work on, you're less likely to obsess over the fate of your first project. There are always new ideas to pursue, which can be a great comfort when one of your ideas doesn't go anywhere.

    Set up a system to keep track of ideas as they occur to you. It doesn't have to be elaborate; it can be as simple as a set of index cards on which you jot notes about potential stories or articles. If you can make notes about ideas when they occur, then file them away safely, these new ideas are less likely to distract you from your current project.

    Writing projects have four main stages of development: the thinking-up stage, the research stage, the query stage, and the writing stage. Ideally, you should have one project in each of these phases at any given time. As soon as you send out a query for one idea, begin doing the research for one of your other ideas. This keeps you busy while you're waiting to hear back on your first query. Once you get a sale, you'll have the full cycle going — writing for the sale, querying your next idea, researching markets or information for a third idea, and dreaming up fourth, fifth, and sixth ideas.

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