Do you have a ‘career’ plan?

An odd title for a blog, you might think, and yes it is. Today’s rambling has been prompted by something that Stephen Jones said in his podcast discussion with Ramsey Campbell at the alt.fiction event last month, and which has been bubbling away in the lower levels of my mind ever since. In the discussion, he proposed that any serious writer should ‘plan’ their career, mapping out where they eventually want to be and how they’re going to get there. At the time I thought the idea nonsensical, thinking that anything like a career progression in an activity as intangible as the creative arts was almost incapable of being plotted out in advance.

However, it’s been a few weeks since then, and my thoughts on it have slowly taken on a different shape. Perhaps it was because I’d been up since 5am that morning and so wasn’t thinking straight, but I’ve come to realise in the meantime that you can indeed ‘plan your writing career’ in the way that Stephen suggested. You can’t be specific, of course, but you can at least plot a general track on which you’d like things to motor forward.

For instance, taking me as an example, this is what I’ve decided is going to happen with my career: first, to get a story published (which has already been achieved), to be followed by getting published on a more regular basis (which is beginning to happen). The next step after that is to be invited to contribute to anthologies (maybe even a couple being put together by well-known editors and authors). And after that comes the first novel.

Fairly modest plans really, when all’s said and done. But I’d like to add that one of my adjunct ambitions is for one of my stories to be chosen for a Year’s Best of anthology. It would also be nice to be nominated for an award or two (but, let me just say here that, should this happen, it would just be the icing on the cake – I don’t necessarily think I will ever achieve it). On top of that would the ultimate accolade for me – one of my stories to be adapted for film or television (extremely unlikely, I hasten to add).

The thing about this plan is that it’s goal-oriented – this is where I would like to be in x year’s time. I am not so arrogant as to think that I will achieve everything because, although I think my work is good enough to be published, it has to be judged by others and they may not see things the same way I do (which is just as well really…). However, these little ambitions (daydeams, if you like) have a certain power of their own, and provide the fuel to drive me forward. I never thought I would ever get published, for instance, but by the end of the year I will have had at least three stories in anthologies, and hopefully a couple more. So I’ve been able to strike off one ambition from the list already, and it’s still only my first year as a writer.

What Stephen was getting at was simply this: while you can never plan your career in minute detail, you can at least delineate it in broad brushstrokes. You can at least look at what you want to achieve over the course of said career and, having mapped out its general outlines, start to work towards achieving those goals. It’s almost a given that somewhere along the line, something will happen that will cause you to deviate from that course, but it could be that it might help you get to one particular goal that much quicker.

It’s often said that visualising what you want and how to get it, whether it’s a career, a car, a house or whatever, helps to achieve it. Planning like this is, indeed, a form of exercise in visualisation. So, if you have the drive and determination (allied, of course, to talent) then having a plan will consolidate where it is you want to go and will, at the very least, provide you with a general map of the road to your destination. And that could be all that’s needed to set you off on the most exciting journey of your life… so start that planning!!

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3 Responses to “Do you have a ‘career’ plan?”

  1. We only ever get to hear about the career plans of the few who succeeded, which distorts the view of their viability somewhat. But call centres and temping agencies are full of people who also had plans…

  2. Good post, Simon. (And congrats on the progress you’re making—good to hear.)

    I believe I know what you mean about resisting (at first) the notion of planning a writing career. I’m not sure, but I think it’s probably similar to the distrust many writers feel at one point for the idea of “planning” or “outlining” a story before writing it. At first, it sounds too mechanical, not spontaneous enough—that is, until you try it.

    The truth is that it’s impossible to be either entirely spontaneous or entirely mechanical—speaking biologically, we can’t shut down or left or right brain (except, of course, with the help of a mad neurosurgeon, but that’s another matter…) When we make a plan or an outline (of a story or a career) it goes without saying that we’ll diverge from it, change it, add onto it. Which is how it should be. (It’s what my friend Frazier used to call “the freedom of the form”.)

    I’m curious—do you plan or outline your stories? I’ve started experimenting with that myself and it’s pretty interesting.

    Again, good post, congrats on the publication. Full steam ahead!

    • David,

      I usually have a vague idea of the story I’m about to write, certainly a general outline of what’s going to happen but, other than that, I just let it write itself and revise afterwards for things like word-count, readability and internal consistency. I find, if I plan something in too mkuch detail, it comes out lacking in some indefinable way. I actually wrote a previous blog on this very subject, which you may like to search out… =)

      Thanks for your input David!

      @Nick: this is all too sadly true….. but I’m determined not to fall into that trap…

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