Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hope Is Not A Plan: Planning Your Career - Our January 2011 Westside Writers' Schmooze

43 of us gathered yesterday to look at our career journeys as if we were each the hero of our own stories - and we are!

"In nearly all good fiction, the basic - all but inescapable - plot form is: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw."
--John Gardner

So if we're the central character of our lives, we need to be able to state what we WANT.

Holly Black had a wonderful exercise that she shared at the 2009 SCBWI Summer conference where she asked writers to rank different options on their writing career dreams from 1 to 10. Options included writing one single perfect book, being able to live off the earnings from my writing alone, writing a critically acclaimed, award-winning book, becoming famous because of my work, and more. (Check out additional great resources for writers at Holly's website.)

We then all tried to name our dream, taking inspiration from Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" both for naming our dreams and with a great story shared by Sara Wilson Etienne about the collage exercise in that book, visualizing them. Rita had a wonderful exercise for us to try at home about drawing out your dream - 15 minutes, no less, of making all the details of your dream feel real.

Then all 43 of us shared our dreams for our writing and/or illustrating careers.
Dreams included writing a book for a daughter to having a teen come up to tell you that your book saved their life. From wanting a bookshelf full of your books to living in a castle purchased because of your books. From having a lunchbox based on your book to seeing someone read your book on a plane. To finishing the current draft of your work in progress, to getting 3 starred reviews! From being a literary sex symbol to finally submitting, to helping others... It was very moving, and funny, and poignant, and most of all, inspiring!

We then listed our internal and external opposition to achieving our dream. And then, for each force of opposition, the resources we have to overcome it. For example, internal opposition to being a writer might be that voice in your head that says that you'll feel isolated. Attending SCBWI events like our schmoozes and the upcoming 2011 SCBWI Winter Conference are ways to feel part of the community of creators of children's literature. Not isolated at all! External opposition might be not having time to write. Stopping to watch your favorite weekly TV show gives you an extra hour a week... You control your time, and that's your external resource.

Running out of time for the schmooze itself, we discussed everyone's homework (and you can play along at home, too!) Define your short (1 to 5 year) and long-term (5-10 year) goals. And recognize that there are goals you control and goals you don't. For example, getting an agent is a goal you do not control. Submitting to 5 agents you're excited about is a goal you DO control.

And then we spoke about defining ACTIONS that would get you to your goals. What Actions are you planning to take:

This year
This month
This week
Right Now.

Well, right now you're reading this post about planning out your career, so you ARE actively doing something to move yourself forward already! Congrats!

We finished with an inspirational piece from the conclusion of Anne Lamott's brilliant "Bird By Bird" - about how just by going for your dream and taking those actions, even if you don't "win," you DO WIN, because you've grown and been changed by the journey.

"Even if only the people in your writing group read your memoirs or stories or novel, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like when you were a child and you knew the name of every dog in town - still, to have written your version is an honorable thing to have done. Against all odds, you have put it down on paper, so that it won't be lost. And who knows? Maybe what you've written will help others, will be a small part of the solution. You don't even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining."
--Anne Lamott

It was an amazing evening of setting our sights high and planning our paths forward... and we hope your path takes you to the next Westside Writers' Schmooze, on Wednesday, February 9th, when we'll meet to discuss . . .

"Presenting Yourself Online."
Social Networking, Blogs, Facebook, Platforms - laying the groundwork for getting published and then building your career--beyond the first book! For Picture Book through Young Adult, fiction and nonfiction; for newbies through experts at social networking, this schmooze is for YOU. Tell a friend!

Hope to see you there!
Lee & Rita

books referenced during this month's schmooze included:

"Bird By Bird" by Anne Lamott

"The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron

"Advice To Writers" compiled and edited by Jon Winokur

"2011 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market" edited by Alice Pope (I have three interviews in this book, but the inspirational quote I shared was by John M. Cusick in his article, "An Agent/Author's Crash Course in Getting Published."

Upcoming SCBWI events we mentioned included:

The upcoming 2011 SCBWI Winter Conference

Writer's Toolbox: Boys versus Girls with Michael Reisman and Cecil Castellucci

The SCBWI-LA 7th Annual Scholarship Contest for L.A. member writer and illustrators (See what "Cinnamon" inspires you to create!)

There are so many wonderful events coming up in our tri-region area - go to to find out about them all!


  1. At last night's Schmooze, I aimed to high with "My Dream is..." Instead of "Literary Sex Symbol", my dream is to be an International Literary Sex Symbol and be mentioned in Kite Tails.

    Wishful Thinker

  2. This was an incredible schmooze! I feel privileged to have borne witness to everyone sharing their hopes and dreams--with all the wonderful specifics. I learned powerful new ways to visualize my goals, and to articulate how I'm getting there. I'm also now visualizing the futures of everyone else who attended, all of us helping to move each other forward!

    With thanks to this wonderful community, :)

  3. Um. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. I am going to take to our own little group and see if anyone would be interested in doing something similar.

    And thank goodness the Literary Sex Symbol is still open-that's kind of mine. See ya at my treadmill desk (okay, I don't have one, but I could, oh yes I could!)

  4. Thanks for the support Deb.
    Now I wish to amend my statement.

    My Dream is to be an International Literary Sex Symbol, mentioned in Kite Tails, and have one of my books banned and burned by wackos. The only bad publicity is no publicity.
    Shy Guy

  5. First, thanks to whomever is responsible (Lee?) for providing these in depth write ups of the great Schmooze evenings. And most of all, thanks to both Lee and Rita for assembling these very well organized and thoughtful evenings.

    (I'm sure they here it enough but probably doesn't hurt to bring it up now and again.)

    Big love to both of you.

    Now, please, stop distracting me. I've got a story to finish!

  6. "Enough??" What does that mean, anyway . . . ;)

    Yay, Daniel!! Go! Go! Go!!