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12 Workplace Skills to Apply to Your Writing Career


Katherine quit her pharmaceutical sales job in Colorado and moved back east to write her book. She hunkered down in a snug condo and imagined writing in her light-filled sunroom. Despite more time on her hands than ever, she went days without writing. Within six months she took another sales job and told herself she'd failed.

A gutsy move, to leave behind the security of a corporate job—or any job, for that matter—and devote yourself full-time to your writing. Yet unless you have a solid plan for managing your new career, you could needlessly find yourself back to the grind in months.

Why needlessly? Surely you have the skills to manage your creative writing career as well—or better than—you managed your previous career. You just need a little skills transfer.

Here are a dozen work skills you can apply immediately to your writing career to make it a success:

1. Show Up: Yes, it's a skill. Did you show up on time in previous jobs? How about for writing?

Success Strategy 1: Schedule Writing: Set a time to be in your writing space. Pretend you'll get fired if you don't show up on time. In a sense, you will!

2. Plan: Most creative types prefer to wing it when it comes to just about everything. Yet you planned in your previous job—long-term planning, project management or simply planning how you'd spend the next eight hours.

Success Strategy 2: Plan long; plan short. Create a long-term plan; plan your books and other projects—including time, activities, structure of the writing and even plan your day.

3. Have a vision: You need a vision to create a plan. As CEO of your writing career, it's your job to create that vision.

Success Strategy 3: Envision: Where do want your creative writing career to take you? How do you imagine your life as a writer? The clearer the image, the easier to create the plan that gets you there.

4. Seek Inspiration: Likely, you left your old job as inspiration waned. Now, how do you stay inspired enough to stick to the writing—especially when your inner saboteur has other plans for you?

Success Strategy 4: Inspire Yourself: Take your career vision a bit deeper and write a vision for a writing project. Ask yourself what emotional impact, results and transformations you want your readers to experience. Read it aloud and see where it falls on a 1-10 scale of inspiration. If it's not a 10, what's missing? Tweak until you have a 10.

5. Commit: How committed were you to your job? Did you take pride in completing projects?

Success Strategy 5: Be Committed: Often, the difference between those who make a living as writers and those who don't is commitment. Everyone experiences setbacks. Your commitment determines how you resolve challenges. Read Your vision statement daily—with passion—to stay committed. Your vision may evolve over time; tweak again if it stops being a 10.

6. Set Goals: SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. In most jobs, your success was linked to the goals set by you and your boss.

Success Strategy 6 Set SMART Goals: Start with your vision statement to develop goals that keep you on track.

7. Be Accountable: Most bosses will hold you accountable, but what happens when you become your own boss? You need to devise new ways to be accountable.

Success Strategy 7: Invent Accountability: Use anything from a star chart (like parents use with kids) to an accountability partner to hiring a coach. A coach I worked with sometimes struck a deal with her clients that if they didn't finish a project on deadline, they would have to donate $500 or $1,000 to a political organization they strongly opposed. Now there's motivation! Ah, speaking of it…

8. Get Motivated: What motivated you at work��praise? Satisfaction of a job well done? Money?

Success Strategy 8: Become expert on what motivates you. Replicate your most powerful motivators through small rewards: a cup of tea; curling up with a novel or watching a romantic comedy; social rewards; accolades (by applying for writing awards); or small luxuries, like a bookmark or a book by a favorite author.

9. Market: There's no way around it. To be successful as a writer, you need to reach and impact readers. That's marketing. How did you market in your old job? How did you relate to external customers or "clients" internal to the company?

Success Strategy 9: Find Your Marketing Mojo: Can you translate your marketing strengths into connecting with your readers? If you do well in person, consider events and teaching to engage readers. If you just want to write, perhaps blogging and social media will work synergistically for you. If aspects of marketing overwhelm you, hire someone to take on a specific task.

10. Be a Team Player: No man is an island, right? No job operates entirely independently. Who's on your team now? Your agent, publisher, and anyone you hire—from web designer to editor. You're part of a bigger team, too—a community of writers. The more you support your colleagues, the more they support you.

Success Strategy 10: Play for the Team: View colleagues as community rather than competition. Seek out your writing peers. Follow them on Twitter. Comment on their posts on Writers Digest and the Huffington Post. Retweet. Buy their books and review them on Amazon.

11. Be Social: Socializing is important to your success and your sanity. You need to be able to talk about subjects beyond work.

Success Strategy 11: Use Those Social Skills. Sure, you may need to hunker down in a cave to write, but that doesn't mean you need to isolate yourself completely. Replicate the water cooler through social media and blogging. Share personal stories when appropriate. Get outside the office, too. Meet a colleague for lunch. Write at the library in a quiet room with a writer friend.

12. Be Growth Oriented: In the workplace, mentors and coaches can help you navigate a new environment, learn the rules, develop new skills and plan your career. In addition, you may have honed new skills through professional seminars.

Success Strategy 12: Professional Development: Seek out mentors or coaches. You may want different people for varied skills: writing, business development, marketing and more. Some mentors can be "paper mentors"—their books alone can teach you new skills. Working with them directly or attending a workshop can provide even more impact.

Wow, who knew all those job skills would come in so handy? Good thing your last job trained you for this one!

Treat your writing life as a foray into a new career. You will find yourself in situations where you need to develop new skills. The pages of Writer's Digest are filled with professional development opportunities—from articles to in depth courses. Stay engaged, committed and in connection—and keep asking which skill you need to work on next.

Lisa Tener is an author, trainer, four-time Stevie Award winner and was recently given the 2013 Providence Business News Women in Business Achievement Award. In addition to serving on faculty at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course, Tener has also taught writing and creativity workshops throughout New England and the Caribbean for more than 20 years. She is a co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Transforming Anger: Dynamic Tools to Healthy Relationships (Health Communications, 2005). Tener earned her bachelor’s degree from MIT, with a minor in writing, and later received a master’s from the Sloan School of Management at MIT. For more information, please visit Curious about the more unusual workplace skills of authors? Check out this related post 5 Authors Share the Quirky Workplace Skills That Make Them Successful in their Creative Writing Careers.

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