One of the most important things I have learned about the writing business is that you should be clear about the goals you want to achieve. Your goals determine how you approach your writing career . . . or your lack of one.
As an example, the writer who wants to publish only one book will have to approach the writing business differently from the writer who wants to make an entire career out of writing. The writer who wants to publish one book need only think short term, whereas the writer who wants to make a career out of this writing thing has to think long term, as in five, ten, or more years.
I’ve already written about my goals as a writer before. These goals–to be great and to make a living off my fiction–inform nearly every decision I make regarding my career as a writer. If a decision will not help me become a better writer or help me make money off my writing, I generally don’t do it.
Notice how my goals don’t include:
-Getting on the New York Times Bestseller List
-Becoming a household name that everyone knows (but not necessarily loves)
-Writing The Great American Novel
-Selling a million copies of my first novel
-Writing a book that becomes a classic
-Being published by a big publishing company
-Becoming a creative writing professor at a prestigious university
-Getting a blockbuster movie made out of one of my books
-Having my stories analyzed in creative writing classes across the country
-Appearing on every late night talk show whenever I have a new book out
-Getting represented by a literary agent from a famous literary agency
-Being invited to speak at campuses, writer’s groups, libraries, and bookstores around the country
There’s nothing wrong with wanting any of that and if any of it does happen to me, hey, I won’t complain. Those just aren’t my goals at the moment. Perhaps I may aim for some of those later on, but right now all I want to do is become a great writer and make a living off my work and I can do all of that just fine without any of that other stuff.
You might differ. Maybe you want all of that or only some of that or maybe you want something else entirely that I didn’t even mention. Maybe you have the same goals as me. Whatever your goals may be, it is important to be clear about them. If your goals are muddled and confused, then don’t be surprised when that happens to your career.
I’ve notice that a lot of beginning writers don’t have very clear goals. They talk about making a career out of their work, but get obsessed with one book or don’t try to learn business or anything that could help them long term. I used to be that way, too, until I realized that writing is a business as much as an art and that if I didn’t want to get screwed over by agents, publishers, or anyone else who tries to take advantage of unsuspecting beginner writers, then I needed to learn that business.
If you do not care to make a career out of writing–maybe you only do it as a hobby or simply want to do it as a side thing to have some extra coffee money–that’s fine. It means you will have to approach the business differently from how I or other writers like me do, but again that’s totally fine. As long as you are clear about what your goals are and don’t try to pretend your goals aren’t what they are (such as publishing only one book and claiming that’s enough to constitute a career, for example), then you will probably do fine (‘fine’ being relative here, of course, depending on your goals).