4 steps to figuring out your next act

Waiting for the curtain
Flickr user Mickey Thurman

(MoneyWatch) For years, Paula Derrow was the articles director at Self Magazine, where she specialized in personal essays. After leaving that job, she spent some time figuring out what to do next, and this summer is launching a series of "Gazebo Writing Retreats" at a rural property (with a gazebo) in Eastford, Conn. These workshops will focus on personal essays and memoir. She shares her steps for figuring out her next move.

1. List your favorite parts of your prior job. "One of the things I loved most in my old job was working with writers," Derrow said. Indeed, over years of people pitching her essays, she saw plenty that could have been made better with some help and figured there might be a market there. Think back to a typical work day, and ask yourself when you were happiest. What were you doing? That may offer a hint about what would make a good component of your next project.

2. Figure out what you wanted more of. "I love traveling, and I always had kind of an image of teaching writing workshops in beautiful places," Derrow said. Of course, when she had a regular full-time job, that couldn't happen so often, but it was always something that intrigued her. Make a list of activities you told yourself you'd do more of "if only I had more time!" Maybe you do now. What could your next act include?

3. Test and iterate. "I'm starting very small-scale," Derrow said. "Each workshop will have eight people." Rather than commit a lot of capital to a project, try something out, see what you learn and go from there.

4. Take a portfolio approach. "I am not one who wants to put all my eggs in one basket," Derrow said. She's doing other projects as well -- editing, freelancing, teaching -- and seeing how this one pans out. If it goes well, she can scale it up.

How would you figure out your next act?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mickey Thurman