Which is not to say you can’t have a career as a writer; maybe you can. But you can’t have a career like mine. Because here’s what you would have to do:
1. Start writing freelance in college.
2. Get a movie critic gig right out of school.
3. Have your second job be for the largest online service on the planet.
4. Get laid off and go solo.
5. Start a blog and have it become very popular.
6. Sell four non-fiction books before you sell your first novel.
7. Sell your first novel off your Web site.
8. Have that novel be an award-nominated breakout success.
Each of these steps is actually important to having a career like mine; each step informs the steps after it. Skip a step and suddenly your career isn’t like mine anymore; it’s something else entirely, and the map I used to get where I am is no longer useful to you. You can’t have a career like mine. The only one who gets a career like mine is me.
Other careers you can’t have: Neil Gaiman’s, Ursula Le Guin’s, Robert Heinlein’s, Cherie Priest’s, Nalo Hopkinson’s, Toby Buckell’s, Pat Rothfuss’, Mary Robinette Kowal’s, Cassandra Clare’s or Robert Silverberg’s, to name just a few people off the top of my head. Their careers are not replicable, because they are to a very large extent the product of time and personal circumstance — and in many if not most cases a healthy helping of luck, which matters, too. Learning how each of them reached their successes can be interesting, and may yield some general ideas that you might apply to your own career-building. But if you look at their careers with an eye to ape particular moves, you’re likely to be disappointed by the results.
If you feel you must look at other writers’ careers, a suggestion: Look at more than one, and see what they have in common. What did Neil do that Ursula also did that Robert did too that Cherie is now doing? Look at the things that consistently appear in the careers of multiple authors, and you’ll find the things that might be worth incorporating into your own. As a warning, they are likely to be boring things like “write regularly,” or “minimize distractions” or some such, which are the “eat less, exercise more” of the writing career world. But that’s life for you.
I can guarantee you this: If you try to have a writing career like mine, you won’t have a career like mine — and more to the point, you won’t be having the career you could have had. And that will happen no matter whose career you try to make yours like. So don’t try to have a writing career like mine or anyone else’s. Have your writing career. You’ll be happier.