Most writers seem to come to the profession in a roundabout way; I was shooting PR photography and working towards my photojournalism degree when I was recruited to write by an ad agency.

Essentially, I took a great big sideways step into the writing world, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I was lucky to fall into the profession without much of a struggle.

Others have it less easy. Instead of randomly wasting time on Facebook, invest a few minutes reading how fulltime sci-fi writer (not too many own that title) Charlie Stross pursued his tangled path to publication.

Contemplating the smoking wreckage of my first decade of writing and selling SF, I concluded that I was Doing It Wrong. I’d been selling short stories to British magazines and anthologies, hoping to build a name and visibility and acquire an agent and a publisher for the novel manuscripts I was producing at a rate of, roughly, three a decade. But the British short fiction market was … well, nobody paid much attention to it. And my experiences with British literary agents were, shall we say, not terribly good. (1996 was the year my second agent fired me.) So: if one wants to write SF and do nothing else, it follows that one needs to be successful enough to earn a living at it, which means cracking the North American market, because as Willie Sutton said when a journalist asked him why he robbed banks, “that’s where the money is”. (Not that there’s much money in SF publishing anywhere, but there are more readers in the 350-million strong market of the USA and Canada than in the 60-million strong market that is the UK.)

So, I worked up a task list. Item: sell stories to the Big Three magazines (Asimov’s SF magazine, Analog, F&SF). Ideally get shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula. (Yeah, right. As if that’ll ever happen.) Write novels. Each novel must be #1 in a series in a different sub-genre, but don’t write #2 next — go do something different while #1 is slumbering in a cobweb-afflicted slushpile.

Stross made a plan, and it worked out well for him.

Even if you haven’t faced that moment where you’re not sure if the rewards offset the hassles, the whole story makes for a great read.