My Roadmap to Success
What am I? Among other things, I am a writer. Also, I am a photographer, a weaver, a baker, a cook, a reader, a student, a teacher. But first and foremost, I am a writer. What does a writer do? S/he writes. In the post below, I will set out a roadmap to a successful career as a writer. In what follows, I speak from my personal experience, but that doesn’t mean that my words won’t have meaning for you, my reader.
I am basing this project on a webinar put on by AWAI, the American Writers and Artists Institute. That webinar, “Creating Your Own Personal Roadmap to a Well-Paid Writing Career” showed up in my in-box a couple of days ago. It lasted 90 minutes and gave a brief overview of how to create your own roadmap. When we get behind the wheel and start out on a road trip, we can just start driving, so long as we don’t really care where we end up. If we have a specific destination in mind, it helps to have a clearer vision of where we are going—and the easiest way to do that is to have a roadmap to success.
Vital Elements for the Roadmap
In the case of building a life, a career, there are certain elements that will be vital for the roadmap to success. First we need to know our destination. In my case, what do I want to achieve with my writing. This we will call “My Destination.” A destination can have many aspects. How many readers do I want? How many subscribers? How many people actively engaging with my work through comments, through e-mails, through buying my products? The easiest metric may be money. How much money do I want to make from my writing, and more important, how much money do I need to make? And yes, I am going to talk about money. Deal with it. This is, after all, where I am planning to go—my destination.
With the destination in mind, there are practical matters to attend to. Does the car have enough gas? Do I have food for the trip? Have I packed the right clothing? Or in terms of career success, do I have the necessary skills, and if not, how do I acquire them? In their webinar, the AWAI presenters suggested that we need two buckets: a skill building bucket and a business building bucket. Both buckets should have something inside. I would add, that you also need a spigot to add new material to each bucket as you complete tasks that would otherwise empty the bucket. Those I will address in the Building for Success section below.
Planning the Route
Knowing the destination and having my buckets ready, I next need to plan the route. When I drive from home to Missoula, I have two options. I can take highway 200 or Interstate 90. When I go to Spokane, I have three options. The further from home I go, the more options I have. In planning a route to success, I have many options as well. These I will discuss in the section titled “My Route.”
Where to start is not an issue for a road trip. You start where you are. With this project, it is necessary to define exactly where I am. I also need to decide which vehicle is going to begin the journey. I will be discussing these issues in the section “Where to Start.” With all those decisions made, I will need to determine just what will be the next step. How will I build my business to achieve the success I can plainly see ahead of me. I address these issues in the section called “Next Projects.” Fasten your seatbelts, we are going for a ride!
MY DESTINATION–Using the Roadmap to Success
I write. Sounds simple, doesn’t it. Starting at Portola Junior High in El Cerrito, California, my teachers taught us how to write. In eighth grade, our English teacher collected our writings and published them in a booklet. In high school, our teachers were well aware that our class was headed, most likely, to the University of California at Berkeley. It was the home town school.
In the mid 1960s, matriculating students had to pass the Subject A exam. Your results on the Subject A determined whether you could proceed to college-level English composition classes, or would need to take remedial composition. Our high school teachers did not want us in the remedial class. Need I say that when I entered Berkeley, I passed the exam?
What followed was five years of intensive study when I earned a BA with a double major in three years, and an MA in another two. One year later, I was officially ABD—everything was completed for a PhD except the dissertation. ABD—All But Dissertation. That book took thirteen years to write. I received my M.A. in 1972. My PhD came in 1986. But no, I didn’t spend thirteen years slaving over a hot typewriter. Life intruded, as it often does.
Our professors at Berkeley had told us that most doctoral candidates drop out at the ABD level. At the time, I found this unbelievable. Then it happened to me. What I learned was that if you are not working (and being paid to work), you don’t eat. But if you are working, you have little time or energy to write. In my case, it took being in an academic setting, working with a boss who was working on her doctorate, to motivate me to finish my own. And now I’m retired. There is food in the pantry and a good work place in my home. I can write, I have the skills to write, and I love doing it. So where do I want my writing to take me?
How I Want to Live
I want to live my dream life. My first blog was titled “If there were witchcraft.” This is the title of a song we sang around the campfire at church camp back in my youth. The song says that if there were witchcraft, “I’d make two wishes. A winding road that beckons me to roam. And then I’d wish for a blazing campfire to welcome me when I’m returning home.” I used to think that six months on the road and six months at home would be my ideal life. Now, I’m not so sure. I love my home, and am very comfortable here. BUT, and it’s big but, I don’t have the money to travel as much as I would like.
Forget about six months on the road. I am not sure that I have the finances to spend a week away from home. I told you we would be talking about money. How much do I want to earn from my writing and photography? Let’s start with $5,000 a month. With my retirement, social security, and income from selling my mother’s house in California, that would give me enough to spend a couple months a year on the road. The next question is how much do I need to make? Well, I consider myself fortunate to have my current income streams, but I don’t think of any of them as risk-free. The absolute minimum I would need to make is $3,000 a month to cover living expenses without many frills. $3,000 a month would replace my pension and my social security checks, should they disappear.
And for my family?
But what would this mean in my life or to the people around me? Kevin works hard to supplement his social security. He just accepted a job that will have him driving 100 miles a day. One hundred miles of mountainous road in a Montana winter. Do I worry about this? Of course. I also worry that his vehicle is nine years old and has over 200,000 miles on the odometer. But there is no cushion in our finances to replace it. Working four days a week means adding 400-500 miles a week to that odometer. I want such a cushion. Also, I want to relieve the stress that I see manifested in Kevin’s health. While he doesn’t speak of it, and never complains, I know that he worries about our finances. If I could take that stress away from him, I would be overjoyed.
Travel Writing in my Future? Is that on my roadmap to success?
Finally, back in the 1980s, I dreamt of creating a coffee table book about Montana’s fifty-six county court houses. With retirement and a digital camera, I was able to finish that work a few years back. (You can read it on my Montana Counties blog.) Once I finished that, I turned my attention to the two states closest to us: Idaho and Washington. In order to finish those state coffee table books, I need to make at least three more trips. That will take money that is not currently in the budget. Additional income from my writing and photography would help immensely. And then what? A book on Oregon? Wyoming? West Virginia? Why not, if I have the income. I certainly have the time and desire. So that is my destination in a nutshell. Get to the point where I am bringing in $3 to $5,000 extra each month.
BUILDING FOR SUCCESS–Unfolding the Roadmap
I have my two buckets ready by my desk. The first bucket is labelled “Skill Building,” the second is labelled “Business Building.” They both have items inside, but the trick is to attack those items one at a time. It is too easy to work on one task, then put it down because task two is bright and shiny. Skipping back and forth is rarely effective. What items do I need to focus on and complete, before turning to the next. Let’s look at the buckets separately.
Skill Building Bucket
As I have said repeatedly, I know how to write. I also know how to take decent, if not stunning photographs. What I need to learn is how to market them effectively. To that end, I have a course in my skills bucket. A few months ago, I bought a course from the Elite Blog Academy. I’ve already talked about money, so I won’t mention how much I paid for this course. I am part way through the course, but no where near finished. I need to finish the course, taking every step and perfecting my blogging techniques and skills. This will include learning how to monetize my blog—something I have had little experience and less luck with. I need to know how to set up a sales page, and how to drive potential customers to that page. All this will be covered in the course I already have.
Using Computer Programs More Efficiently
I also need to improve skills with several programs. These include being comfortable with Scrivener—a program specifically for writers, and the program I am using to write this post. In addition, I need to really learn Designrr, a program that takes your web pages and turns them into e-books. I have Designrr on my computer, but if I want to sell e-books, I need to use it on a regular basis—and use it effectively. Finally, I need to improve my skills with Adobe’s photography programs, especially Lightroom and Photoshop. I am comfortable with both, but there is so much more to learn. Fortunately, there is CreativeLive which has a wealth of online classes in every aspect of creative work.
And then there is AWAI, which started this whole project. Fourteen years ago I bought a course on selling photography from AWAI. I did the first few lessons, but then put the course aside. Last year, I picked it up again, and went a bit further into the course. As a result, I now have a regular gig writing a feature for the quarterly magazine Distinctly Montana. I have even written a couple articles for the magazine. This tells me that AWAI knows what it is doing and that I need to pay attention to what they teach.
That’s a lot of stuff in my skills bucket. And my time is limited, even in retirement. What I will do with this roadmap to success is focus on the Elite Blog Academy coursework first. I will move on from that when, and only when, I have successfully finished the course. Along the way, I expect to learn how to best use Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to send potential readers (and buyers) to my writing and photography.
Business Building Bucket
This is the hands-on, nitty-gritty, of making a success of my writing and photography. This bucket has fewer items inside, but lots of possibilities. Currently the bucket is divided between my writing and my photography. For the latter, I have three on-line sales galleries. The most extensive gallery is at an Australian site, RedBubble.com. At present, I have over 1,500 images for sale at RedBubble. I have a smaller gallery at DeviantArt.com where I go by the pseudonym Quint McKown. Finally, I have a very small gallery at FineArtAmerica.com.
I am selling more and more of my photographs through RedBubble, and have so far not sold a thing at either of the other two, but I really don’t know how to market any of the sites. The first business building task I must master is marketing. I also have to make sure that I am adding new work to all my online galleries on a regular basis. As for the writing, as I mentioned above, I have a regular gig writing for Distincly Montana magazine. I need to research and approach other markets for my work. This will keep me busy as I continue to grow and succeed as a writer/photographer. Finally, I have my blog, bryandspellman.com, where you are reading this. I must make it a priority to always have new material on my website and blog.
MY ROUTE–Following the Roadmap to Success
According to the AWAI presenters, determining my route means looking at my experience and background. I’ve talked about my writing experience above. What I didn’t mention was all the writing I did in my career at the University of Montana. One of the hats I wore for many years was grant-writer. Grants that I wrote brought in over $2 million dollars for various projects in the arts—mostly in the visual arts. For anyone familiar with funding in the arts, that is a remarkable record. While science grants can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars, grants in the arts are usually more in the low thousands. A grant of $10,000 is extraordinary, at least it was when I was writing the proposals.
I enjoy writing grant proposals, but I feel I have to have a pretty intimate knowledge of both the project and the group behind the proposal. Plus, to date, all my grant writing has been part of my salaried work. I know that people pay to have grants written, but that has not been my experience. Yet. I am open to learning more. Learning is definitely part of the roadmap to success.
How much do I want to work?
To determine the route, I must also decide how much I want to work. I have to say that writing does not feel like work to me. Nor does photography. But sitting at my desk for hours at a time does become tiresome. I have no problem with setting a goal of writing four hours a day, five, even six days a week. Beyond that, my back begins to hurt and I begin to feel that I am “working,” and not playing.
When I was conscientious about putting out a new blog post every day, I began to feel that I was living for my blog, not the other way around. It should be supporting me, not me slaving for it. That said, I’m not keen on writing for clients. And frankly, being given a topic by a magazine editor feels like writing for a client. Still, I’m not completely opposed to the concept. I just need to find a good balance between the hours I put in and the dollars I am paid. Ideally, my blogging would attract enough attention to sell my books and my photographs. That means having a lot of blog readers.
WHERE TO START?
The obvious place for me to start would be with the course work I have already purchased. That means working the Elite Blog Academy course as well as the AWAI photography marketing course. I will continue to look at other magazine articles to write and sites which will attract people to my photo galleries. Next, I will commit to spending at least four hours a day writing for my blog, as well as keeping up with assignments for Distinctly Montana and any other journals I can build a relationship with. I will also commit to adding new photographs to my galleries every day, and learning more on how to market them. I am excited about keeping these commitments and following my roadmap, step by step, till I reach my goals, my destination. At that point, what’s left but to add a new destination.
One other thing. I need an accountability partner. A couple people come to mind, but I haven’t yet asked. This person will be someone who is working toward his/her own goal and can use a buddy to help with day-to-day motivation. In practical terms, it means spending maybe an hour a week in a Skype call, or something similar, talking about our goals for the week ahead, our successes (and failures) for the week just ended. It means being there for each other, and helping each other over any hurdles we are facing in following our own roadmaps to success. Anyone want to volunteer?
My next projects are pretty straight-forward. I will continue working on my Idaho and Washington coffee table books. While I need to make more trips to each state, for the time being I have enough raw material to spend the better part of the next year working without leaving the safety of my home.
I will also continue working for Distinctly Montana. My next feature will look at Lincoln County, Montana. That will appear in the Spring 2021 issue. I will continue working with my photography, both taking new photos and working with the almost 100,000 I have in my files. No reason not to continue to expand the size of my online sales galleries, which I hope will expand my online sales.
Finally, I will work on learning just how best to use Pinterest and Instagram. I think these are key to building a following, and I know that Elite Blog Academy and AWAI have tutorials on the best way to proceed. All of this is part of following my roadmap to success.
I WILL WRITE EVERY DAY AND WORK TO ACHIEVE THE SUCCESS I CAN EXPECT FROM FOLLOWING THIS ROADMAP TO SUCCESS!