Sunday, 16 October 2016

Stand by Your Plan

A lightbulb moment without the bulb.
Recently, a flurry of LinkedIn messages (thanks, all, by the way) reminded me that this is the anniversary month for daring to stick my head above the parapet and call myself a writer - for pay. 

I did things a little out of sequence, having previously reached two writing milestones:
a) The Little Book of Cynics, which I co-wrote with David French, was published by Crombie Jardine - it's now available here
b) I had a feature published in a national newspaper - here's an online version.

However, to all intents and purposes I became a professional writer after leaving my long-term employer through redundancy. 

Did I have a plan? Not exactly.

I had a wish list, sorta. It went something like this:
1. Write the two novels I never had time for.
2. Get books published.
3. Earn a living as a freelance writer.

LESSON 1: The only things that generally grow well organically are vegetables.

It has been a meandering and sometimes bumpy road, with a few interesting detours. I've written features and blogs, ghostwritten three series of content for different clients, penned a few greetings cards, been a magazine columnist four times and I'm currently awaiting the publication of my fourth thriller. (I can hear the party poppers from here.) 

However, at the risk of mixing my travelling metaphors it has not all been plain sailing. Along the way I've also temped and worked part-time in an office to cover the bills (which has been great for keeping touch with the outer world).

And the plan? Well, it's more defined now and still, I'm pleased to say, a work in progress.

LESSON 2: A plan is not a guarantee of success. Working to a plan is a guarantee of focus though.

Planning is about setting direction, setting boundaries and setting priorities. As a former project manager I'd say it is very much about monitoring and controlling. We may not be able to control the income at the start of a business, but we can control how our time and effort are spent. Mridu Khullar Relph, for example, advocates 30 pitches in 30 days, while other actively encourage a timetable to allocate time meaningfully and to create space. 

From the discussions I've had, some writers fear space - they consider it idle time, or that they're not working hard enough. I don't think writing is like that; not for me anyway. The most successful work I ever did with greetings cards came from half an hour I deliberately set aside just to think about and play with words. While my rational brain screamed that it wasn't real work my irrational, subconscious got on with the business of creating. The result? £500 of material. Reader, that was a very good day. 

LESSON 3: A plan needs to be reviewed regularly.

When I first started out I checked all the usual suspects for freelance writing work. I was the grist of content mills on many an occasion, and even tried to 'build up my following' on free content sites (free for the writers, anyway) in an effort to follow a supposedly surefire revenue model. To be fair, it probably was for the sites' owners (yes, more than once...) who earned advertising revenue from our endeavours. By checking back with the plan and by monitoring progress I could see what was working and what wasn't. Most of it wasn't. When we embrace the space we are more willing to let go of any actions or strategies that are ineffective (that simply fill our time and make us feel like we're doing something useful).

I was both industrious and fortunate - a great combination. I wrote my books, found a publisher who was looking for a thriller series (still working on that one for the standalone novel) and built a solid foundation as a freelancer. Now my plan is all about what happens next. News to follow in due course!

Thanks for stopping by and do get in touch if you need a writer.

Derek