Revisiting the decisions that successfully transformed my writing strategy for 2010

My dad always said, "Plan your work, work your plan." We in the business of reeling and writhing - I mean reading and writing - especially need the structure of a yearly business plan and five-year vision plan. My policy is to get that sucker on paper by the last day of December so I can get up January 1st, load the Christmas tree out the door and hit the ground running. I mean writing.

Last year, I saw an item in Scott Jeffrey's Enlightened Business blog that blew my mind a little. "5 Powerful Decisions to Transform Your Business" radically changed my 2010 business plan. Scott's original post makes great sense for any company, but I tweaked it for writing, applying the same principles to the soul proprietorship that is the corporate body for most working authors.

When I posted it on the blog here, I optimistically said, "These transformative rules have seriously adjusted my thought process and just might make 2010 my best year ever." As it turns out, 2010 was the most successful year of my career thus far. So maybe the advice bears repeating...

#1 Decide to focus on your best customers.
This is that "laser like focus" Colleen talks about, and it goes beyond cultivating a readership. It also speaks to the relationships we build with our publishers, agents and fellow writers. I think we have to broaden the meaning here to focus on how our time and energy is most productively spent.

#2 Decide to focus on building a highly functional team.
Three essential teammates for writers: A smart, aggressive, like-minded agent. A smart, supportive, collegial critique group. Domestic allies who understand what you do. Team-building begins with letting those key people know how deeply and sincerely grateful we are for their support.

#3 Decide to grow from within.
Scott's post talks about a "corporate culture" that aligns core values. For a company of one, that means being the industry you want to work in. Organized. Optimistic. Perseverant. That's not what you do; that's who you are. Seriously consider your artistic philosophy, then embrace and embody it without apology or compromise. To thine own self be true. All other ground is quicksand.

#4 Decide to be the best at something.
"This decision requires sacrifice and focus," says Jeffreys. Malcolm Gladwell hypothesizes that you're the master of a craft after 10,000 hours. You've really got to LOVE what you do to rack up that kind of mileage. What is it about this work that gives you that chill on the back of your neck? Dialogue? Sense of place? Untying a Gordian knot of a plot? I think that frisson of yes becomes an affinity at about 3,000 hours. After 6,000 hours, the affinity becomes a knack. Somewhere around 9,000 hours, the knack becomes a strength. And once you've mastered your craft, that strength becomes your brand.

#5 Decide on a more compelling future for your organization to rally around.
The publishing industry has undergone a seismic shift. We're in the wild, wild west, my darlings. Anything is possible, so why not envision something wonderful? What is the essence - the high concept, if you will - of what you want out of this industry? (For me, it's "fair pay for good art".) Envision that future and earn it.

We live by decision. It's that simple. Large and small choices shape an office environment, a day, a career, and ultimately a life. That's the terrifying, thrilling possibility for transformation in every moment.


Colleen said…
Great post, and an excellent reminder that writing is a business, not a hobby. It needs to be prioritized and strategized like a business... the business of an art.

Welcome back, Joni! Wishing you a happy and productive new year!
Mylène said…
Print the points, my friends. Tape them up. Writing is indeed a business, even if authors generally don't get to launch their own lines of perfume or casual-wear (although some of us do get to open up theme parks).

The challenge for me, though, Joni, is not to let business decisions overwhelm artistic ones--that is, to hold onto "to thine own self be true" while negotiating the realities of the market. You want to be savvy. But still . . . you.
I have to disagree a little with your comment, Colleen. I think for some writers, writing IS a hobby, and that's just fine. I know plenty of poets, playwrights and short fiction writers, for instance, who never expect to make a living from their art. For some of them, it makes sense to see writing as a hobby, since they'll never be able to put in the kind of hours that someone who is blessed (cursed?) enough to write for a living does.

There are also people for whom writing is therapy, and that's all it is. I know many students who write for themselves to process trauma; some of them write beautiful, brave works that other people would be privileged to read, while others really should be keeping those works to themselves. Something I've learned this past year, as I've shifted out of academia and more towards the business side is that neither side has it entirely right.

There are many reasons to write, and some of us may write for all of them. But I don't think we should look down on those who choose or use writing in a different way.

And to "hold onto 'to thine own self be true' while negotiating the realities of the market." Well said, Mylene. Well said.
Since Joni's post is about business strategies for writers, I felt safe in assuming I was talking to business-minded writers with my comment. But I'm pretty sure that people who are committed to getting their work out there (whether or not that work is of the kind likely to earn one a living) would benefit from a lot of these strategies.

Those folks writing for personal growth and pleasure are lucky in a lot of ways. They can have much of the fun of writing and disregard many of its stresses. But if they're bitten with the desire to go pro, then they have to pay attention to the other side as well.

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