Why do I write?
Every now and then I ponder this question, especially on days when it feels like the work far outweighs the reward. When the marketplace feels impossibly crowded. When I’ve left it all on the page and no one seems to notice or care.
This question resurfaced recently during my time in quarantine, triggered by watching the healthy heartbeat of my book sales fall to near-comatose levels. By flipping through page after blank page in my day planner, not a speaking engagement in sight. By the fog of uncertainty hanging over the future.
As indie authors we wear many hats and often work at an exhausting pace to simultaneously write and produce new projects, promote our full list of titles, show up for events and speaking engagements, and, in some cases, balance freelance work. So, when a crisis yanks the rug from beneath us, it’s easy to lose sight of why we do this work in the first place.
I’ve been down this road enough times to know that when I start asking this question, it’s time to take a break, clear my head, and reconnect with my why.
In the corporate world, a company’s why is often articulated by its mission statement. A mission statement answers the 3 Ws—what you do, who you do it for, and why you do it.
- Highlights for Children: We help children become their best selves by publishing content and creating experiences that engage, delight, and foster joyful learning.
- Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
A mission statement can be a source of inspiration or a helpful filter through which to evaluate decisions. And when the fog of uncertainty rolls in, it can be a guiding light.
I needed a guiding light to find my way out of my quarantine funk. So I reached out to the Writer Unboxed Facebook community for advice as I set out to create an author mission statement to help me reconnect with my why. Today, I’ll share what I’ve learned and provide three simple steps to help you create one too.
Step 1: Break It Down
An author mission statement should answer the 3 Ws—what you write, who you write for, and why you write. Let’s break it down into three questions.
Question #1: What do you write?
Make a list that summarizes your body of work.
For example, I write:
- Illustrated chapter books
- Indie publishing advice column
- Travel articles and essays
Once you’ve completed your list, look for the common thread that runs through your work. If it’s not immediately apparent, consider each project and recall what compelled you to write it. What did you hope to accomplish? What message did you want to convey? Pay attention to common words and themes that emerge.
For example, when I wrote Empty Arms, a novel for adult readers, I wanted to teach people about an oft-overlooked period of U.S. history, known as “the Baby Scoop Era,” during which 4 million unwed pregnant women were coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. When I write the High Flyers chapter book series for kids, my goal is to teach young readers about the fun and fascinating sport of pigeon racing, which involves specially trained homing pigeons that compete in races spanning several hundred miles. My goal with The Indie Way column here at Writer Unboxed is to teach writers what has (and hasn’t) worked for me to help them succeed in their independent publishing pursuits. Through my travel writing, I aim to teach people about inspiring new places.
Despite the diversity within my body of work, one word kept rising to the surface: teach.
Question #2: Who do you write for?
Make another list, this time capture your primary readers’ demographics.
For example, I write for:
- Women (ages 35-64)
- Boys and girls (ages 7-10)
- Writers (mainly those interested in independent and hybrid publishing models)
- Travelers (specifically those with an interest in nature)
Once your list is complete, find the common thread. What kinds of habits, beliefs, and traits do your readers possess?
For example, my readers are:
- Curious about the world.
- Interested in obscure and random facts.
- Independent thinkers who aren’t afraid to go against the grain.
- Open to new ideas and experiences.
Question #3: Why do you write?
This question may take more time to answer because our true motivations often hide beneath the surface. As you work to uncover yours, consider what compels you to turn on your computer every day and start writing. What is that force that keeps you glued to your chair hour after hour? What keeps you coming back for more?
The word teach came up earlier. But as I reflected on my why, I realized that teaching is only part of what I love about writing. Before I can teach someone something, I must first explore and discover for myself. This process helped me zero in on the reason I love writing—it’s a conduit to explore the world, experience the joy of discovery, and teach readers what I’ve learned through story.
Step 2: Put It All Together
Once you’ve identified your 3 Ws, string them together using the words and ideas that resonate with you and eliminating those that don’t.
As you’ve seen, there is a lot of diversity in the types of projects I write and the readers I write for. By seeking out common threads, I was able to combine those disparate pieces into a single mission statement that captures my why:
To teach curious minds about unknown worlds through story.
Your mission statement doesn’t have to be lofty or noble, it just needs to be authentic.
Fellow WUer Veronica Roxby Jordan’s mission statement is to create stories that inspire curiosity about the world around us and about ourselves.
Barbara Morrison’s mission statement is to bring people together and build community by writing stories that invite readers to experience different kinds of lives and build empathy.
You’ll know your mission statement is authentic if you feel a connection when you read it. Perhaps it fills you with joy, brings a sense of peace, or makes you nod your head and think, “YES, this is why I write!”
Step 3: Put It To Work
Your author mission statement is a powerful tool that can benefit your work in a variety of ways. Some writers incorporate their mission statements into their lives and draw on them frequently for inspiration and clarity about their work. Fellow WUer Carol Oyanagi keeps her mission statement (to create and share stories of truth, beauty, and sometimes humor through writing, dance, and other creative methods) on the inside of her day planner where she refers to it once a month.
Christian romance writer Ginger Murphy Solomon used her author mission statement to inform her branding, “finding faith when your bed of roses includes thorns.”
An author mission statement can also be useful in pushing past writer’s block. Once I clarified my mission, I revisited my archive of stalled story ideas with fresh eyes, asking, “What can I teach curious minds through these stories?” It turns out that the stories giving me the biggest challenges are those in which I have nothing to teach. This insight has given me the freedom to abandon ideas where I can’t add this type of value or the incentive to take a new approach, seeking out opportunities within those stalled stories to explore, discover, and teach.
Become a Mission-Focused ‘Indie’
An author mission statement is a valuable tool for all writers, especially indie authors who often navigate the publishing world alone. As our post-quarantine “new normal” begins to unfold, your author mission statement can help you stay inspired and focused. And until the fog of uncertainty lifts (if it ever lifts), it will be there to not only help you find the path forward but to remind you why you’re on this path to begin with.
Do you have an author mission statement? If so, what is it? And how do you use it?