Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 14, 2022

How to Decide What You Really Want from Your Writing Career

by Colleen M. Story

writer facing 3 doors to the future

When you first started writing, what did you want?

It might have been a publishing contract, a spot on a best-seller list, a way to work from home, or books that supported your coaching business.

But then as you went along, things changed. You overcame challenges, gained experience, and grew professionally. Your life outside of writing probably changed too.

If you ask yourself what you want from your writing career at this point in your life, you may have a different answer than you once did.

If you’re not sure or if you haven’t thought about it in a while, try the following exercises.

Are You Doing What You Need to Do to Get What You Want?

Ask yourself if any of these statements ring true for you.

  • You’ve lost excitement for what you’re doing as a writer.
  • You’re going through the same motions over and over again and getting the same (disappointing) results.
  • You feel disconnected from who you are as a writer, and tied to being who you think you’re supposed to be.
  • When you reach a goal, it doesn't fulfill you.
  • You feel like you haven’t made any progress in your career for a while.

If any of these statements describe where you are right now, it probably means that you’ve lost touch with what you really want in your writing career.

Even if you didn’t relate, you may still need to gain clarity on what you want if you feel slightly disconnected from your career, or if it doesn’t excite you as much as it used to.

5 Exercises to Help You Determine What You Want as a Writer

1. Create Your Don’t-Want and Want Lists

Split your paper or document into two columns. On the top of one half, write “Don’t want,” and on the other, write “Want.”

Start with the “don’t want” list as that’s usually easier. Write down everything that you don’t want to do as a writer or no longer want to do.

Then on the other side, write down those things you want to do. Often this list builds off of your first one—look at what you don’t want, then use that information to write down what you do want.

Here’s an example:

Don’t WantWant
To write another story in the same genreTo write a story in a new genre
To feel tired and exhaustedTo feel energized about my writing
To work on projects I don’t enjoyTo work on projects I’m passionate about
To spend time on marketing tactics that don’t workTo market in ways that are efficient and make good use of my time
To feel like I’m failingTo feel like I’m succeeding

Keep going until you exhaust all of your “don’t wants,” then pick the top three that bother you most right now. Figure out how you can get rid of these in your writing life.

2. Record Your Most Enjoyable Moments

Think back on your writing career so far. What experiences, achievements, or goals brought you the most joy and fulfillment? Which would you most like to repeat?

Write down at least five. Here are some examples:

  • When I self-published my book.
  • After I conducted a workshop at a conference.
  • When I helped a coaching student achieve his/her goals.
  • After I produced a successful book launch.
  • When my article appeared in a magazine I admired.

Now look at all those experiences and write down the things they have in common. For example, do they all involve:

  • Helping other people to succeed
  • Diving deeper into your creativity
  • Sharing what you know with others
  • Challenging yourself with something new
  • Feeling like you’re becoming a better writer
  • Fighting for a cause you believe in
  • Other

Use your answers to steer you toward doing more of the types of projects you want to do.

3. Digging for Gold

Write down your answers to the following questions:

  • What makes you happy as a writer?
  • What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • Think of other writers you admire. What three qualities stand out?
  • If you had to focus on just one type of project, which would it be?

Examine your answers for words or phrases that leap out at you as important or impactful. Write those words and phrases down in a different place. Your results may look something like this:

Writing novels. Publish two novels a year. Prolific. Detailed. Stories.

Whatever your list looks like, examine it for clues about what you’d most like to focus on in the future.

4. Make a Mind Map

Draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper. In that circle, write down what you want to experience more of in your writing life. Limit it to three things.

For example:

  • Passion
  • Creativity
  • Freedom

Now draw lines connecting this central circle to other circles that you will create. In each of the other circles, write down ways you might get more of what you wrote in the central circle.

Some examples might include:

  • Start working on projects I’ve had in mind
  • Attend conferences or other events where I can network
  • Take a course to learn a new skill

Keep brainstorming until your ideas run out, then leave the map resting nearby in case another idea occurs to you.

5. Take Small Steps

Your next step is to take small actions toward those goals you discovered you “may” want.

Go back and determine three actions you can take, based on your work here, that can help inch you toward your new goals. As you move forward, you’ll feel either you’re going the right way or that you need to go back and do some more thinking.

Do be sure to take at least some action. Thinking only gets you so far—you have to take action to really determine what you want next. When you figure it out for sure, don’t let anything hold you back.

NOTE: Through December 2022, all of Colleen's writing ebooks are on sale for $2.99 or less! Get your copies here. You can also find free chapters of her book and a free giveaway here.

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About Colleen

Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest release, The Beached Ones, was released with CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.

Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed. Your Writing Matters was a bronze medal winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2022). Other award-winning titles include Writer Get Noticed! and Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. Get free chapters of these books here.

Find more at her author website (colleenmstory.com) or connect with her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story) and YouTube.

Top Image by S. Hermann / F. Richter from Pixabay

14 comments on “How to Decide What You Really Want from Your Writing Career”

  1. What a great post! I started an album for my "shining moments" in my writing career that I used to keep up-to-date. This post reminded me to revisit that album and keep adding to it. I needed that. Thanks, Colleen.

  2. I love how actionable all of these suggestions are! And I have never thought of making a list for both "Want" and "Don't Want." That is absolutely brilliant.

  3. This article came at the perfect time for me as I reflect on my writing successes and challenges for the year. The insightful questions you posed help me reflect on the past year and plan out the coming new year. Thank you!

  4. This is so valuable, Colleen! Thanks for sharing! I've seen authors who are so busy chasing what they think they should chase that they miss realizing that they've already got what they wanted!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! Yes, I've seen the same—and chased things myself that I later realized were not that important! Happy holidays to you.

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