I spent years in organization development before writing my first novel. By definition every profession has a set of core competencies, and writers are no exception. Professionals in the traditional work world are told that they need an Individual Development Plan (IDP), which details what the person is willing to do to meet her personal goals, and what support she and her coach (insert agent, editor, publisher) think they need to get there.
IDPs have three to five goals and a plan for achieving each one. Mine had five goals: learn the craft; find mentors; read more in my genre; learn how to publish and market a book; and learn to use social media. It took several years to achieve these, but I set realistic expectations and periodically updated my plans
Though I’d written business and academic articles, I wanted to write a nonfiction book about two somewhat famous ancestors. However, I couldn’t find enough facts about all the characters. I love historical novels, so why not try that? I soon found that I had a lot to learn—and unlearn—before I could begin to write fiction. Here’s how my IDP progressed.
Learn the craft. This was a combination of individual study, attending writers’ conferences, and networking with writers. It began with reviewing lists from the endless publications and websites on writing, such as The Writer and Writer’s Digest . The two books I remember most weren’t about the technical aspects of writing, but about the craft and its challenges—Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird.
Fortunately I found two writers’ conferences. One at a local community college was especially good, and I still attend it at its new location in a large county library system. It may be better to go to larger conferences and meet agents, but few of us non-traditionally published authors can afford those.
I follow authors of my favorite genre, narrative nonfiction, which is close to my genre—David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Eric Larsen—on their websites, Amazon, and Goodreads to learn more about their technique.
Find mentors. At the annual writers’ conference I met the coordinator, author Deanna Adams, who has mentored authors for years in the greater Cleveland area. It’s important to find someone near you who is connected to authors and writer’s groups. However, you can do this online too, with groups like Women Writers, Women(‘s) Books; but there’s also something to be said for meeting over coffee or wine when you’re stuck and need some encouragement.
A writer’s group is another way to find mentors. Some successful, published authors are passionate about belonging to a group, and others are of the opinion that they are a waste of time. I tried a writers’ group early on, but I found that drafting work and then finding writers online who have similar interests is more efficient for me. Reciprocity works.
Read more in my genre. For years I’d been reading mostly career-related materials, but I needed a plan to find the best fiction. I’d read a lot of older historical fiction, but I needed newer authors. Amazon, other vendors, and publishing houses list books by genre, and there are related groups and organizations to lend support and collaboration. In my case, I joined the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and other historical writers’ groups through social media. The HNS quarterly review summarizes and categorizes hundreds of new historical novels by the century in which the story takes place.
Investigate how to publish and market my book. I started with the book Writer’s Market , which has suggestions for every phase of this process. The magazines mentioned earlier helped, and there are too many publications and websites to mention. How do you separate the helpful information from the endless ads and gimmicks? This is where your social media groups and other published writers come in handy. I’ve been saved from more than one mistake by asking questions, and it’s more important for self publishers who need to know the publishing and marketing ‘musts’ from the ‘shoulds’.
At the conferences I took advantage of the brief critique sessions offered by several professional editors, and identified two who I thought I could work with.
Learn how to use social media. Its importance can’t be overestimated. I was a novice at the beginning of this journey, and after a frustrating year, I hired a professional to coach me. It took some time and money, but within a few months my website, blog, and personal and Yours in a Hurry pages on social media sites were up. Next year’s social media plan will include better time management to keep them more up-to-date. I’ve seen lot of blogs about how to do it—it’s just doing it!
I’m formalizing an IDP for my next book. This time one of the five goals will be “Find an agent”—a new learning curve I decided not to tackle the first time around. I had to prove something to myself first.
Sample IDPs Here are some websites on how to develop an IDP. They are written for the traditional work world, but don’t let that deter you from checking them out. Best practices transcend professions. Following through with some of these points can help you discuss your future with the next agent, editor or publisher.
Ann holds a bachelor’s degree in Education (English and history) and a doctorate in organization development. Her insights on human behavior were honed through work in human resources, consulting, and teaching behavioral sciences in a medical school.
Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, reflects her love of history and uniquely crafts fact and fiction to take readers to the early 1900’s. The story is loosely based on her ancestors, including a distant cousin who founded Hollywood, and her great uncle, an aviation pioneer. She lives in Tallmadge, Ohio with her spouse, David, and has two grown children. She and her spouse hold memberships in many museums, libraries, historical societies and preservation groups. She’s also very involved in her community.
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Despite 20+ years spent in human resources consulting, an individual personal development plan for writers isn’t something I’d thought of … yet it makes so much sense!
In addition to your excellent points, I’d add the importance of 180 or 360 degree feedback – getting input from someone further along the writing track to identify areas of improvement. We are not always the best judges of our own achievement/progress/proficiency.
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