Many times we writers have a hard time seeing beyond the current piece or job we’re working on. Partly this is because the work can sometimes be all consuming. It’s difficult to remove yourself from one thing to to think about the next. And there’s that pesky thing called “life” that sometimes keeps you from thinking further than next week. Other times it’s because it just doesn’t feel sensible to look too far ahead. Writing doesn’t always make for a consistent (or lucrative) career. Sometimes it’s prudent to focus on the current project rather than getting caught up in the “What if’s.”
But I think it’s important to give some thought to the long term and ask yourself, “What kind of career do I want?” Or, in starker terms, “What do I want to have done when I’m about to exit this Earth?”
Everyone’s answer to the question will be different. Some people will be perfectly happy writing books in one genre, or even using one set of characters, for their whole career. Others will want a more diverse portfolio. There’s no one path and that’s the point. But if you don’t define your path, circumstances will define it for you and it might not be what you want.
If you never think about where you want to go, you’ll never get there. Sure, some people are content to go where the wind takes them. Others want to end up somewhere specific. For that to happen, you need a map. It doesn’t have to be defined precisely year by year, month by month. Things happen in life, after all. But it doesn’t hurt to say, “When my career is over, I want to have done X, Y, and Z for sure, and A, B, and C would be nice bonuses.” If you don’t set some sort of goal or plan, you’ll just end up wherever. And that may be fine for some, but it can leave others regretting lost time.
Putting your wants in the forefront of your mind (and plan) makes them a bit easier to attain. When you know what you want, you’re on the lookout for how to do that. So when an opportunity passes by, you’re more apt to grab it than to say, “That’s nice. Maybe later.”
You’re also more open to creating your own opportunities and taking risks that you might not otherwise take. For example, if working in poetry is a goal but you don’t seem to be getting any traction on the traditional paths, maybe you start your own online poetry magazine, or self-publish your own volume of poetry. Risky, but potentially career-changing.
For me, I’d like to end up with a diverse career. So far, I’m not doing too badly. That’s the beauty of freelancing. You get to work on many projects in different formats and with a lot of different people. And the novel writing is fun, too. Both will continue, although I’d like to branch the novel writing out into different genres. But there’s more I’d like to do. My long term goals are:
- Collaborate with other authors/creatives on special projects. Maybe it’s an anthology, a children’s book, or something that raises money for charity. I’d just like the chance to work with others more and meet more super cool people.
- Write one screenplay that becomes a movie. I don’t care if it’s the cheesiest movie in the world, or even if it’s just a short. It’s just something I want to do.
- Write what I want, not what’s expected. I liken this to actors who end up known for taking on the quirky, smaller roles rather than being stereotyped as superheroes, romantic leads, and action heroes. I want people to look at my work and wonder, “What was the common thread, here?” and have it be as simple as “The things I loved.”
- Surprise myself. I want to be able to point to at least one project where I can say, “I didn’t think I could/would do that!” I don’t know what form it will take, but I’m always looking for that oddball project that will fulfill this desire.
- Have my writing take me to a place where I can advocate for others. This one’s in my bonus category because it doesn’t depend entirely on me. It depends on my work becoming known enough that my voice can be heard. I don’t need global levels of fame, a la JK Rowling, but I’d like to have a platform that’s big enough to support me when I campaign for animal welfare, literacy programs, mental health, or other causes dear to me.
Other things come and go, but these are the goals that stick with me. Mostly, I’d just like to lie on my deathbed and say, “Man, I sure did try a lot of different things and I got to work with some really cool people.”
So, what are your long term goals? What sort of career do you want?