The Push Your Writing Career Forward Test

What’s on the iPod: Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright

Talk about a quick start and sprint to my work week — yesterday was packed with projects, client calls, and negotiations. Today there are fewer calls, but more work. I like that. I can turn the phone off and just write.

I was able to work fast and get my day completed before meeting visiting family in the city for dinner. Plus, I was able to get my exercise in to my schedule. I’m in the middle of the T25 Workout, and thankfully it’s just 25 minutes out of my schedule — for various reasons. I make time for it instead of excuses, and I can’t last longer than 25 minutes at that high of an intensity level. It’s brutal. Effective, but brutal.

The switch to this exercise plan came after struggling for a year on one that I thought was intense, but didn’t push me hard enough. I was challenged by the first regimen, but it was too easy to adapt. Also, there was no focus on diet change, which this new plan emphasizes. Since starting two weeks ago, I’ve had five pounds disappear and I feel healthier. And to think nothing would have changed had I not gone outside that comfort zone.

It’s like that with our writing careers, isn’t it? We send queries, answer job ads, and follow our routines because they’ve become such routine. What we do stays the same, and while it may work at first, we start to feel and get a bit stagnant. Writing clients we have now have limited projects in mind, or we lose a client for various reasons and don’t remember how to replace them. We stay in that comfortable box we’ve built and don’t push beyond it much, if at all.

And that’s how we let a writing career die of natural causes. We are the natural causes in most cases.

Time for a reality check.

When was the last time you really tested whether you’re moving forward or digging a hole for yourself? Try this simple test to see which direction your writing career is taking:

What have I done in the last month that’s completely new? Anything? Did you reach out to a prospective client (one that wasn’t on a job board), take up a new social media form, become active in a forum, or attend an on-site event? If so, give yourself 5 points.

Am I marketing consistently and mixing things up enough? If you’ve added a new way to reach out to clients, give yourself 5 points. If you’ve continued to market regularly, give yourself 3 points. If you’re doing more of a hit-and-miss, same-old-routine process, give yourself 1 point.

How am I reacting when clients say no? If you thank them and continue to contact them at two-month intervals, give yourself 5 points. If you thank them and ask them to keep you in mind but don’t follow up for at least six months, give yourself 3 points. If you say nothing or halt communications altogether, give yourself 1 point.

Am I trying to learn something new? If you’re taking classes, studying grammar or style as part of your regular routine, or connecting with a mentor, give yourself 5 points. If you’re occasionally reading books, blogs, or articles actively in an attempt to improve your skills or knowledge in a particular area, give yourself 3 points. If you look something up when a client or blog commenter points out a problem, give yourself 1 point.

Am I pursuing new areas on a regular basis? If you’ve planned a number of new things you’d like to attempt and have made a schedule around that, give yourself 5 points. If you’ve chosen one area you wouldn’t mind going into and you’re doing a little research, give yourself 3 points. If you’re content being right where you are doing just what you’re doing, give yourself 1 point.

Now add them up.

If you’ve scored 18-25 points, you’re nurturing and growing your writing career.
If you’ve scored 14-17 points, you’re doing okay, but you could be missing opportunities to grow both your business and your confidence.
If you’ve scored 13 points or below, get busy. You’re in danger of stagnating and losing potential clients.

Do you have a plan that allows you to explore new opportunities?
How much does education and knowledge growth play into those plans?
What is your best advice to help other writers know how to push their careers forward?

About the author




  • Jake Poinier January 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    I had a speaking engagement this weekend, talking about writing and publishing to a local group of professional speakers. One of my key points was the importance of forming a creative team: graphic designers, web folks, PR, writers.

    It was an unscripted Q&A, and on the fly I said that "it's really an ecosystem. And if I'm honest with myself, I'm frequently the organism that holds back evolution." Decent laugh line, but the more I thought about it, it's really true…and fits in well with what you've written here about dying from natural causes.

  • Paula January 14, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Drat. I came in at 17 points But I split the difference and gave myself a 4 in the client reaction since I usually check in at 3 month intervals, not 2.

    Good motivator for me to improve!

  • Anne Wayman January 14, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    21 points here… love new stuff… I assume this is scientific, right?

    Paula, 90 days… that should count…

  • Cathy Miller January 14, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Isn't it interesting how my first reaction was to say, I haven't done that. Yet, when I thought some more, I realized I had. Why am I selling myself short?

    I started a new blog based on a decade-long passion. I wrote some really creative (in my mind anyway) introduction emails.

    I do follow-up to a no, but I could shorten the time to do so.

    I'm still new enough to freelancing that I am constantly learning something new. I am pursuing selling some non-writing products.

    Better than I thought. 😉

  • Lori Widmer January 14, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Jake, I think we can all admit to similar sins.

    Hey, 17 isn't bad, Paula! Good going. I think we all can find room for improvement, myself included.

    Anne, you over-achiever. LOL

    Cathy, it's funny how we don't even think about it after a while, but just go ahead and do new things. Sounds like you're growing like a weed. LOL

  • Devon Ellington January 15, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    I stretched to contact some new-to-me markets already this year, and have had some positive results.

    I'm cleaning house of the lowest-paid, most unreliable clients.

    I'm taking computational neuroscience and Environmental Law/Policy classes.

    I got a grant for a new play and two new book contracts.

    I want to build on the momentum.

    I find follow up works better quarterly rather than every two months.

  • Paula January 15, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Okay. Devon just made the rest of us look like total slackers. You've made an amazing start to the year, Devon.

  • Lori Widmer January 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Way to move forward, Devon! I love it. Isn't Coursera a great resource?

    Love that you're building on the momentum. It's so great when a wave comes that you know you can get the most of.

    She does, Paula. 🙂

  • Patty Kline-Capaldo January 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Really great blog site, Lori. Lots of good advice from some impressive personal experience.

  • Lori Widmer January 16, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Thanks, Patty. 🙂

  • Lori Widmer January 16, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Jenn Mattern, the busiest freelancer I know, just pointed out that her score on this little quiz of mine was incredibly low. How is that? Because Jenn has a different way of approaching her career than my questions suggest. As a result, my test makes her look like a slouch when in fact she's probably out-earning me. 🙂

    The quiz — don't take the results too seriously. It's just to remind you to put a bit more effort into what you're doing if you're not working as much as you'd like to/need to.