This year has been the first year that I've actually been published. As exciting as it is to see my name in print, when the first publication arrived I couldn't help but take pause. Was this the sign of better things to come? Wait – should I have come up with a pen name? Does it say something about me as a writer that I've only published flash fiction so far? By getting published in magazine X does that mean I’m only a genre writer? Agh!!
All this stress got me thinking. A lot of writers send their work out willy-nilly. They’re blasting their work into the proverbial black hole of submissions. And who can blame them? It’s hard to choose the right journals. You have to purchase them to read them, or trek over to the local library and hope they have them in stock. You have to sift, and sift, and sift, panning for literary gold.
Emerging writers don’t know where they will be in ten years. All they know is they are sitting on five to ten halfway decent stories, or poems, and those pieces need to get out there – NOW! So they keep sending work to the black hole. They keep writing stuff with heat, no matter the genre, and they tuck it away until it finds the right “place.” They often don’t take the time to think about what kind of writer they want to be. They save their work in an obscure folder on their computer and never look at it again. They don’t look at the big picture.
How can we combat this problem? One great way I've found is to write a personal mission statement for your writing. Think of it like a nonprofit mission statement. It has goals – purposes – values. It is a short and easy way to describe yourself as a writer. I’m not one to pigeonhole a writer, but knowing where you are going sure does make it easier to get there.
So, here’s my top five tips for creating your own writing mission statement:
1. Start with your goals. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself:
- How many pieces do I want to publish a year? (Make a goal – maybe one a year to start, then 2-3 as you gain credits. Maybe more. Maybe you write a lot – I don’t know. Just put down the number that feels right.)
- How many pieces do I want to write a year? (Notice this is different than number of pieces to publish. If you’re not very prolific, you may want to up this goal to give yourself some motivation.)
- What kind of work do I want to write? (Genre? Nonfiction? Poetry? Everything? Don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. Maybe the only determining factor to type is “Good quality.” Then your goal would be to make sure you finish as many pieces as possible – even if you aren’t that happy with them.)
- Where do I want to send my work? What kinds of places am I looking for that fit “my style”? (Make a list! What journals do you love? Why do you love them? Same for presses, agents, etc. Depending on your market, this could be pretty long, but at least it’s a start. In making a goal for what kind of places you need to find, it’s going to be easier to find them.)
- What are my writing weaknesses? (Editing. That’s mine. Maybe yours is grammar, or having a clear narrative, or commas. Write it down and make a goal to fix it, or at least improve.)
2. Decide how you’re going to get there.
Do you need to brush up on your vocab? Do you need to take a writing workshop? Perhaps you write a lot, but no one reads your work. Consider joining a critique group, or utilizing meet-up to find a writer group in your area so you can meet other writers. Is there a writing conference coming to town where you could meet agents? Could you get outside and observe the human condition more? Maybe you’re bored and need to try something new. Figure out your needs and decide how to meet them. Make a plan for the rest of the year:
January: Apply for writers conferences
March: Sign up for a workshop
July: Write in a new genre or format
November: Participate in NaNoWriMo
3. Determine your audience.
Make yourself an audience profile. Who is your reader? What do they like? Are they into cats, or dogs, or hamsters? Do they eat sushi late at night with whisky and your stories to read? Or are they the casual poetry reader who picks up the occasional lit mag? Do they want to escape, or learn?
4. Synthesize your goals. Summarize them into one overarching goal. Write it down. Rewrite it. Make a date with your mission statement to update it every six months or so.
5. Stick to your plan. Keep it posted where you can see it. Have a friend or your critique group keep you accountable. Share it on your website and your social media.
Now, you may not get to the actual mission statement. You may just end up writing down a few goals and ideas, and getting motivated. But the exercise isn't about the perfect mission statement – it’s about knowing what you want with your writing and how to get there.