For most professions/trades the career path while not necessarily easy it is at least straightforward: Get the education/training >Pass the test/apprenticeship>Look for a job. Also, most day job career paths rarely offer alternate routes. In most jurisdictions, if you want to be an attorney, you have to pass the bar exam.
The creative career path appears straightforward: Produce the work>Find an audience>Get $.
The wonderful and frustrating thing about the creative path is that the route to success varies from person to person. In fact there are so many variations on that path; people often have trouble making the first step. There is a multitude of avenues to become a published writer, contests, local newspapers, indie magazines, blogs, self-publishing—all valid opportunities, but not for all writers.
For anyone looking to chart a course in a creative career, I strongly recommend Carol Lloyd’s Creating a Life Worth Living. She puts a different twist on the remark “Don’t quit your day job”. It was my good fortune to have opportunity to hear Lloyd speak early in my writing career. She encourages artists to find meaningful work to complement their creative pursuits instead of having to choose between art and financial security. Her book contains exercises to help creative folks develop tangible steps toward their goals.
What tools have you found useful in charting your path?