Note: This is a re-post of an earlier article, before I destroyed my database in a horrible, fiery conflagration. More posts coming soon. 🙂
Writing is a tough business. There are going to be days when you get rejections… sometimes several, back to back. You’re going to feel blocked. Everything you type is going to look like crap. You’re going to get a rough critique – deserved or undeserved. You’re going to hear about someone who started just a few months ago getting a seven figure book deal; you’re going to hear about how the book industry is going down the toilet and NYT bestsellers are getting jobs as greeters at Walmart to make ends meet.
You’re going to wonder why the hell you’re even trying.
This is where a mission statement comes in.
For those of you coming from the corporate world, a mission statement usually seems like a pointless piece of bureaucratese, created during some expensive retreat where executives sit around and spitball high-minded platitudes to put on their yearly brochure. Or it’s a rah-rah sounding thing that you learned in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” where people like Gandhi and Churchill talk about wanting to save the world. (That’s not all the book covers, and I’m not knocking the habits, but having been through the training, I also know that it’s hard to read about Gandhi and then put “I really want to make a bunch of money” without feeling like a complete tool.)
What’s your “mission” as a fiction writer?
Your mission is the fuel in your engine. When you have those craptacular days where you think about throwing in the towel and ignoring the voices in your head, you’re going to look at this little paragraph and remember… oh, yeah. That’s why I’m doing this.
Maybe it’s a little description of the first novel you read that made you cry, that you re-read about a thousand times before thinking “you know, I want to do this.” Maybe it’s the first story you ever finished. Maybe it’s the first positive rejection letter you ever got, where someone said your writing style was fresh and interesting and they’d like to see more from you. Whatever it is, it’s got to inspire you. It’s got to remind you why you’ll keep going on against all odds.
What if my mission is to quit my day job?
If your mission is to quit your day job… well, there are a bunch of ways to quit your day job that don’t involve the soul-crushing beat downs that our chosen profession dishes out on a regular basis. In a way, it’s like taking a job as a mine-sweeper just so you can get out of the tedium of being a clerk. If your only motivation is being an entrepreneur, or no longer being “held down by the Man,” then maybe you need to look at some other ways of generating income and save writing for a hobby. Writing is a tough business, and it takes a certain mindset and a certain determination to pull it off. Be careful what you wish for.
That said, if thinking about how you’re going to quit your job keeps you typing the keys, if it keeps you inspired thinking of how much you’re going to love being creative every day, then write that down. Nobody needs to look at this thing but you.
What if my mission is to be famous, a big, well-paid New York Times Bestseller?
Then be honest with yourself. If you want to be famous, it’s pointless to write that you want to “touch the lives of millions” altruistically because it sounds better. This is for you, not for anyone else. If this is going to keep you tapping the keys, do what you have to do.
What if I don’t know my mission?
This might be a good thing to kick around with your critique group or your cheerleaders. Meditate on it, if that works for you. Take time, but not too much time. Ask yourself: why did I start doing this? In a perfect world, what do I want my writing career to look like? What’s going to keep me typing? When was I happiest writing? What’s my best writing moment?
Then write something. Re-visit it every year. Keep it somewhere you can look at it when you’re feeling stuck – maybe near your keyboard. It sounds simple, but it’s a very powerful, very effective tool.
So… what’s your mission?