"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any." —Russell Baker
What are your values as a writer? What are your writer goals? Not necessarily your "business" or "career" goals, but your "writer" goals? Think about it like this: Why do you write?
Some of us write because we must. Others write because that's the only thing we really know how to do well. Some write for reflection. Some write purely for money. Others write because storytelling is in the blood. Instinctively, you know why you write. You know it in your heart. But putting it down on paper makes it...well...official.
I read a blog not long ago, one of those "five things you can do to make your writing time better" posts. Mostly I abhor those kinds of articles. They are usually silly and written mainly to get eyes on the page. Rarely is there serious value in them. But the last suggestion on this particular blog entry was on what the author called a writer's mission statement.
If you've been in the business world more than two minutes, you know about mission statements. Companies craft statements that best describe the organization's goals and values. Many times, the statement appears hollow. But what if the company truly meant what it said? What if the mission statement honestly played out in real life; what if the company or organization did what it promised or what it believed in?
Now consider your writing. Can you write a three-to-five sentence mission statement on why you write? Be honest. Be true. Consider the personal value of this artistic endeavor. Keep the statement in your wallet. Tack it on the wall above your desk. Make it your screensaver.
Here is just a part of the mission statement for Poets & Writers magazine:
Poets & Writers’ work is rooted in the belief that literature is vital to sustaining a vibrant culture. We focus on nurturing literature’s source: creative writers.
Pretty simple. To the point. Clear.
So, how do you turn a mission statement into your own?
1. Write in first person.
2. Keep in brief.
3. Be authentic.
It must be your statement and only yours. First person helps this process. Brevity is the soul of wit, right? Brief keeps it manageable and memorable. And tell it like it is. Be honest with yourself. This is the only way the statement will ring true to the one that matters...you.
Columbia College Chicago, where I teach, has a page on its Career Center website that can help you start the process. Consider this rough template:
As a (writer, novelist, essayist, copywriter), I (what you want to do, hope to do, what you are doing). I [explain what makes you special about what you do]. I [say what you believe, include your values, training] and [end with how you will contribute positively to your artistic work.)
Joanne Phillips, a writer of commercial women's fiction, has her mission statement on her website. And it's a good one:
I write stories to entertain and offer a temporary escape into another life. I create interesting characters who may linger with the reader long after she’s finished the story. I write about characters who learn to examine their lives – their motivations, their hopes and fears – and find the courage to change. I write about the important stuff, but with a light touch. I write about the four Ls: life, love, loss and lies – including the lies we tell ourselves. And yes, I want to change the world. A little tiny bit of it, anyway.
It can be messy. It can be incomplete. But writing a mission statement can help focus you, bring you back to the core of why you write, or motivate you on a singular project you just haven't been able to complete.
Try writing your mission statement. And if you want to share, I would love for you to offer your ideas right here.