February 24th, 2016

Design Your Writing Career from the Top Down

Jamie Raintree

writing career

When we first start writing, it’s only natural to start with…well, writing. I remember when I first imagined the idea of writing a book. It was an absolutely ridiculous thought. Me? Write a book? Wasn’t that reserved for the elite of the world? Was there some kind of qualification process someone made you go through before you were “allowed” to attempt such a thing?

I tentatively dipped my toe in for the first few years, not even thinking about whether pursuing publication made sense for me until I was 5 years into this lofty experiment. Up until then, it was mostly one project at a time, one draft at a time, one day at a time.

When I signed with my agent, though, it (or something that rhymes with it) got real. I was suddenly facing my writing “career” becoming an actual “thing” and I realized I had no idea what that meant for me or my future. I knew that if I wanted to do what was necessary to have a career, I couldn’t keep thinking of my writing as a hobby that I did when I had free time. And even more than that, if I wanted to be successful, I needed to have some vision for my writing future.


So I did what I do whenever I’m freaking out–I organized. (I may have been compared to Monica Geller once or twice in my life.) More specifically, I created a Career Plan for myself. In truth, I was still pretty unsure about how things would unfold for me and my book–I’m still not sure–but I knew that if I could at least start to put my vague thoughts on paper, they would eventually bloom and unfold into something that made sense.

Maybe you have some experience with that?

I wrote out my first writing career plan two years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to update it and while I was surprised by how much had changed, I was also surprised my how much had stayed the same. My ambitions for my career have certainly grown as I’ve gotten more in tune with who I am and what my strengths are, but the heart of my dreams have remained steady. The goals that have evolved did so because of the quick progress I’ve made by having a clear vision for my career in the first place.

In the beginning, we must start from the bottom, with the daily tasks. We have to figure out if this writing thing is really for us anyway, right? It makes sense to be sure that you can dedicate enough time and heart to make a real go of it.

Once you’ve decided on the path of publishing, though, the path can be a lot smoother if you take a big picture look at your career and where you’d like it go. After all, you may need the support of an agent and/or publisher to get your book out into the world, but when it comes down to it, you will always be the driving force of your career. Your career plan is your map.


Here are some reasons I believe it’s important to have even a vague and elementary career plan:

  • Knowing what career goals and values are will help you make in-the-moment decisions. It will be easier to stay in line with what’s important to you if you have it written out in black and white.
  • Once your big goals are determined, you can break those down into smaller tasks that you can make progress on every day or every week. No longer will months or years pass without real progress.
  • You will feel more in control of your career. You may not be able to control whether or not an agent or editor says yes to your work, or how long from signing to book release you have to wait, but if you know what your goals are, there will always be a next step that YOU can take.
  • You will be able to see what skills you need to learn and who you need to make connections with in order to move forward.


To create your own career plan, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What is my purpose in creating a writing career? i.e. Creating an income? Leaving a legacy? Entertaining readers? Sharing my message?
  • Whose careers, skills, books, and values do I admire? In short, who are my role models that I can model my career and myself after?
  • What genre(s) do I intend to write? Will there be a common theme or message throughout my books? What impact do I hope to make on readers?
  • What will the breadth of my career be? i.e. Books–fiction and/or non-fiction? Short stories, freelancing articles, and/or blogging? Speaking or teaching? Movies and screenplays? Editing?
  • What do I want my professional presence to be? Will I be highly available to my readers or do I prefer to keep a respectful artistic distance? How much time will I spend networking with other writers and industry professionals? How do I want to be viewed in the writing and reading communities?
  • How will writing fit into and support my overall lifestyle? What will my work/life balance look like? How will my writing income and lifestyle support my life goals?
  • How do I want to feel in my writing career and in my life life?

Have you created a career plan for your writing? Do you have any answers to the questions above that you’d like to share?

Also, if you’d like a free downloadable and customizable template based on my career plan, you can get it by subscribing to my newsletter here.

WITS Announcement: The two class winners from Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s Friday post are Lyn Brittan and Janet Kerr. Please see the comments section in the post for instructions.

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About Jamie

Jamie RaintreeJamie Raintree is a writer, a writing business and productivity instructor, and the creator of the Writing & Revision Tracker. She is represented by Regal Literary and is currently working on her second novel. Subscribe to her newsletter for more blogs, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website below.

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18 comments to Design Your Writing Career from the Top Down

  • Yours was an interesting blog. I have had many career plans as I’ve continued my writing journey. I like the questions you suggested for would-be authors to ask about their career and their life life.

  • This is wonderful advice. I’ve been in the practice of making specific book goals for six months to a year, but although I “know” where I want my career to go, I never wrote it down in quite the way you describe. I do believe I will be doing that today. (Using your template, which I just downloaded). I think having it broken down in writing will help immensely.

    I’d like to add the suggestion of re-evaluating every year, though. That’s what I do, in as far as deciding what books I want to write for the year and where I want to be at the end of the year. This year when I re-evaluated, after sitting down to do taxes, I realized that my two publishing paths (I’m published with a traditional small (mid-sized) press as well as independently) were so disparate in income that the path I thought would take me closer to one of my specific career/life goals was, in fact, not taking me anywhere at all. I had to re-group and change my focus, at least for the next six months, to try to get back on the track I want to be on.

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying the template and very glad to hear you’ll be taking some time to work through it today. I totally agree that re-evaluating is important. People grow and change all the time, hopefully getting more in touch with what they really want every year. I think it’s fantastic that you’re able to see which avenues are getting you closer to your goals and which ones aren’t. And it’s so smart that you’re really looking at that and making decisions to better your career. Wishing you lots of luck as you make your adjustments!

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Great post, Jamie! I’ve always done business/career plans for myself. Recently I went through the exercise again — my agent asks her clients to do business plans each year looking at 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years down the road. It’s a wonderful way of gauging what you’re doing and making sure that everything you add to your to-do list/goals meets your objectives.

    I took my 1 year goals and wrote them on the white board in my office. Now every time I’m tempted to chase another story squirrel or agree to another project, I have that sanity check front and center. 🙂

  • We are kindred spirits! I love a plan and a list. Great post!

  • I’ve created a business plan, that focuses on the big things I can control, and gets back to why I’m doing this writing thing to begin with. Since the stories find me, and not the other way around, Planning out books just doesn’t work for me. But if I stay true to why I’m doing this, and what success means to me, I’m always going to be working toward my happiness!

    If anyone is an RWA member, the RWR magazine had an amazing 3 installment plan on how to set up a business plan.

    Thanks, Jamie, for the great advice!

    • I agree that focusing on what you can control is key. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unknowns and things we can’t control in this business, but there is always an action that you can take and keeping that plan handy makes it easier to know what that is. Also, I love that you’ve created your own definition of success. So important!

  • Aly Walker

    This post is such a great reminder for those of us who are not “business-minded.” I think having a plan is also very helpful on the days when we feel stuck or lost. Thanks for the template and the great questions. 🙂

  • What a well-timed post in terms of my life and writing career. I’ve had some success with short stories and am working on a novel that is far enough along that I need to see it through. This is the point where I either get serious or remain at the hobby level. I’m at the edge of the pool — time to jump in the deep end or go back and sit in the lounge chair.

    Mapping out what a writing career can look like might help me make the move. Thanks for sharing this.

  • You are so organized! I remember reading a blog post you wrote about creating a Life Bible which I thought was brilliant.

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