Creating Your Personal Development Plan as a Writer

Creating Your Professional Development Plan as a Writer

As genre writers, we’re fortunate to have numerous professional development opportunities available to us—conferences, local chapter workshops, online classes, and more. The topics are so diverse that each whispers its own seductive benefits. So how do you wade through them all?

First, you plan. Stop reacting to what’s available and instead spend time assessing your personal and professional needs. Creating a yearly professional development plan can save you money, sanity, and time.

Second, identify your preferred learning style—auditory, visual, kinetic. Later, this will help you choose the best professional development mediums for you. If you don’t know your learning style, take this quiz for a better idea.

Identifying Your Strengths and Weaknesses as  a Writer

Then I suggest you begin with two SWOT analyses. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

SWOT

SWOT #1: Craft Skills

Even if you’re writing your tenth or hundredth book, take the time to assess your craft skills. Look at strengths and weaknesses first. For example, your strengths might be character development, setting, and plot twists. Your weaknesses might be structure, point of view, and sexual tension.

Once you identify these, don’t automatically assume you should focus your professional development efforts only on your weaknesses. Are your weaknesses areas where you’re merely competent, or are you getting consistent feedback—from editors and readers—that these craft areas need significant work? I argue that if you’re competent, you may decide those weaknesses don’t have any place in your professional development plan, simply because no matter how long you spend developing them, they will never morph into strengths. Instead, consider concentrating on further developing your strengths. However, if your weaknesses are holding you back from publication or some other career goal, then be sure to earmark those for your professional development plan.

SWOT #2: Business Skills

Repeat the process with your business skills. Here, the analysis of opportunities and threats is more critical. The publishing industry is in flux with no change in sight. Accept that and you’ll be more likely to thrive in this fluid environment.

Again weaknesses aren’t automatically transferable to your professional development plan. But do ask yourself which topics you’re under-educated about: Goodreads, building your email list, Amazon algorithms (aren’t we all?).

Identifying Your Most Urgent Goals as a Writer

After going through the SWOT analysis process, step back and look over your grids. Now, begin to plug your list into an Important-Urgent grid. Hmm…now we’re seeing some interesting results.

Important-Urgent

Obviously, the skills that are both important and urgent deserve a place on your next year’s professional development plan. Also pay close attention to that block including those items that are important, yet not urgent. Those are likely the skills you’ve intended to work on for the past three years. But somehow, Facebook always changes its rules or another social media outlet pops up, and you sideline the less urgent, yet critical skills.

Now take a discerning look at the items listed in your Not Important block. Do you really need to learn how to develop a major LinkedIn presence? If you hate Twitter, should you learn how to gather more followers? Only you can answer those questions, but I’d bet the answer is no.

For those items landing in the Not Important and Not Urgent box, it’s doubtful they have any place on your professional development plan.

Scheduling Your Goals as a Writer

Now, you have a solid list of professional development topics to pursue, and you might also be hyperventilating. How do you tackle all this? The reality is you probably don’t. Return to your list— is each item in your Important blocks critical? Can anything be moved to the Not Important blocks?

Now, you should have a manageable list of professional development targets. Schedule them by quarters:

  • January–March:  important and urgent
  • March onward: important and not urgent

Only now do you begin looking for professional development opportunities. You might be tempted to grab every bit of information you can find on each topic and gorge. Don’t.

It’s time to create parameters for the important skills you’ve identified. List what you need to know about the topic, if possible.

Again, using our Goodreads example:

  • What Goodreads is
  • The rules and norms of the site
  • Goodreads gurus
  • Running giveaways

Now that you have a manageable list of need-to-knows, it’s time to search for places you can obtain the answers. Do you need a $500 day-long seminar in New York, or can you track down YouTube videos, podcasts, and messages on a writer loop? Gather your resources and estimate the time needed to study the topic and put the learned knowledge into practice.

Why a Development Plan Saves You Time

Perhaps you’re protesting that all this planning wastes time you could otherwise use to read every blog post ever written about Goodreads. Well, at this point, you’ve determined exactly what you need to know, so you’re able to immediately disregard half those posts as irrelevant to your professional development plan. Rather than wandering through the forest of information (aka the Black Forest), you have a target and a plan to hit that target. In the long run, planning will save you time.

Once you know how long it will take, prioritize your professional development plan in your weekly and daily schedules. You won’t ever get around to learning about new topics if you wedge it in between other projects. Perhaps set aside two hours each week for reading, research, and practice. Or you might prefer my technique, which is to read and study for thirty minutes each weekday morning.

I hope you’ll add a professional development plan to your yearly goals. And rather than waiting until December to begin the process, consider creating your 2014 plan during the fourth quarter of this year. That way, you’ll be organized and ready to work your plan on January 1.

Best of luck in becoming a better, more professional you!

Tell me your opinion: What weaknesses in your writing career do you need to work on?

Creating Your Personal Development Plan as a Writer

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About Kelsey Browning

Kelsey Browning writes sass kickin’ stories full of hot heroes, sassy heroines and spicy romance. She’s the author of the contemporary romance Texas Nights series and co-author of the Southern crime capers, The Granny Series. Give her a shout at [email protected]

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Kelsey!

  2. Hi, Kelsey. Thank you for a great post! I will be sharing this with my plotting group :). One of my most annoying weakness is that I sometimes let self-doubt get in the way of the writing process. I think too hard and edit too much as I’m writing instead of letting the muse take over. It’s something I have to learn to let go of.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Definitely think you should do this process with your plotting group – it would be interesting to get others’ takes on your strengths and weaknesses. They’ll also see threats and opportunities in the business-world of writing that you might not.

      Oh, self-doubt…how I wish there was a cure-all for that! I don’t think it ever goes away (or honestly, should) but finding ways to put it in its place when it crops up? Now that’s a handy skill to have!

      Kelsey

  3. Great post, Kelsey! This is just what I needed. I’m working on my 2014 business plan which has a couple things listed that I need work on: learn to use scriverner, learn how to use FB to build my platform, etc. I was struggling with how to approach them and other weaknesses floating around in my mind.Thanks for the great tips!

    Kelly, I just got my printed copy of Structuring Your Novel today. YAY! Can’t wait to work through it and tweak my writing process even more.

    • Elke –

      So glad you found it helpful. I battle a lot of noise in my head about where to place my energies, so when chaos takes up residence in there, it helps to have have a plan to calm everything down. It allows me to tell myself that whatever shiny, new “gotta do” thing for writers isn’t a priority at the current time.

      I used to wish I weren’t such a planner, but I find planning gives me the clarity and calm I need in order to be creative.

      I’m wishing you the best with your 2014 business plan!
      Kelsey

      PS – I’m a HUGE Scrivener fan. I not only use it for my books, but also for my planning activities :-). All my business and marketing information is in one (yes, huge) Scriv file. In fact, I’ll be cleaning some of that up this weekend, if I can.

  4. Thanks for the great words of advice!

  5. Great post, Kelsey!

    My biggest problem is identifying my strengths and weaknesses. Even after three published novels, I still don’t know!

    • Tracey –

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m with you – identifying strengths and weaknesses in ourselves is tough because we’re not objective. I plan to chat with my CPs and my editor to get a grasp on what they see as my strengths and weaknesses. Then I can check it against my subjective thoughts.

      Kelsey

  6. You’re giving me some nightmarish flashbacks, Kelsey! I’ve been an engineer and project manager in the Detroit auto industry for 20 years, and the SWOT analysis has always played a prominent role in my career. Oddly, I never thought to apply it to my writing career (yes, engineers can have creative outbursts). I do take note of my weaknesses, like structure, and then attack it with the help of awesome people like KM. The problem will come when we resolve our major issues and begin to have some success. Then we tend to ignore minor issues. A writer can remain on the midlist his entire career because he simply stops growing what’s he achieves the “goal.” Well, we should never reach the goal. It should keep moving away from us, forcing us to attack every shortcoming, no matter how minor. The SWOT, performed at regular intervals, will certainly help with that. Thanks for the post, despite the flashbacks.

    • Ron –

      Sorry to take you back to your engineering days :-). However, some authors leave behind concepts from their prior careers that could be helpful in managing their writing careers. The good news is you don’t have to sit in a room of twelve people and labor over these grids and lists for half a day.

      Goals are a moving target – I love that because it keeps us growing, which means we won’t become stale and bored. A godsend for creative types.

      Best of luck with your writing, Ron!
      Kelsey

  7. I have two weaknesses I’m working on now:

    1. Time management, or perhaps more appropriately, time scheduling. This is mainly due to my work environment, but I figure I can use it for training. Time management books all recommend doing a series of to do lists — which has never worked for me (just makes me overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to do). I’m having to tackle this in baby steps, just with a focus on controlling the flood of stuff so I don’t lose track and figure out what will work best for me.

    2. Details. I’m terrible with getting details into my story. I’m the opposite of detail-oriented, which is seeing the big picture. The details tend to roll themselves up in the big picture, so when it’s time to write a scene and describe a location, I’m blank. This one is challenging because if I don’t put the details in during the creation stage, I end up with way too much revision (as in, double in size revision). So I write 500 words and then go back over and add details. Write 500 more, and add more details, including to the last 500 words. Sometimes it feels like I have to take my brain out and put another one in!

    • Hi, Linda –

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

      I see how a to-do list can be overwhelming, because if it never ends, we never feel as though we’re accomplishing anything, never finishing anything. Julia Cameron, in one of her brilliant Artist’s Way books, says: “Take the next right step.” That’s all we have to do – the next right thing. Then, we’ll do the next right thing. When I feel myself spiraling out of control with all my to-dos, I go back to that mantra.

      As for your challenges with details, it does sound as though you’re having to replace your draft brain with your editing brain on a regular basis. Have you ever tried to draft one day and edit the next? I’m a proponent of the dirty draft (which means some major revision for me), but I realize it doesn’t work for everyone.

      I think it’s great that you know exactly where your big challenges are!

      Best,
      Kelsey

      • You know that part about draft vs. edit brain might be true. The problem I’m running into is I leave a LOT of details out. Everyone tends to think hair color and eye color and general description. I did a non-fiction piece that was accepted at 6 pages. The editor got on me about the missing details and the final draft was 14 pages. All I did was add details, except that they led to other things in the story that also had to be added.

        I’m finding I have to get them into the story pretty quickly as I’m drafting. If I wait until later, it’s five years to finish a book because it’s like pulling teeth to revise them into the story.

        • Linda –

          So it sounds like when you say details, you mean logic details, rather than setting or description? I can see why that would create some major revision (again, because I find I have to do it myself). Just a thought – consider adding details for one plot strand through the entire book and then go back and do the same for the next. Don’t tweak the actual writing until you’ve done it for all the plot strands you need to add details for.

          May not work for you, but just a suggestion!

          Good luck,
          Kelsey

          • No, it’s not logic details. It’s setting, five senses, description, world building, specifics, etc. I can go out to a place like the beach, see all the stuff there, then come back to write a character on the beach, and I’m going, “Okay, let’s see. There’s sand and water. What else?” All of the rest of it disappears into the big picture. As a result, I have to do everything backwards. It’s not “What would the character notice?” — it’s, “I have a beach. What would be on a beach?” It’s just not an intuitive thing for me to do.

  8. What a great take on the whole “work on strengthening your strengths” idea. And a brilliant way to prepare all the different aspects of writing. I’m not a career writer yet, as I have nothing published yet, but since that’s my goal, along with continuing to build my platform and online presence, this is very helpful! 🙂

    • Grace –

      I have to call you out…you’re a career writer when you say you’re a career writer. It has nothing to do with publication and everything to do with intent. Enough said there :-).

      This career path can often seem overwhelming because we deal in both the creative and the analytical (editing and business side). I think the key is to move back and forth in focus when the need arises, but being sure not to become so consumed with the analytical that we move totally away from the creative. I’ve found that means writing has a loooong learning curve. Good news is that means plenty of professional development opportunities ahead!

      Best wishes for your writing journey!
      Kelsey

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