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Defining your Writing Career Through a Mission Statement

Defining your Writing Career Through a Mission Statement

Defining your Writing Career Through a Mission StatementI have a dream. I dream to be a professional writer. You know, a professional writer. Who’s, you know, professional and stuff.

Until very recently I had no idea what being a professional writer meant. I had a vague idea that I wanted to get paid for writing, and that I should be able to make a living from my writing and game design combined, so that, you know, I wouldn’t need to go to work anymore.

I bet that you’ve had that kind of dream: if only I’d strike it big/win the lottery/accidentally buy a Ferrari made out of solid gold I’d be able to retire, live my dreams and eat lunch in my pajamas[note]I no longer eat lunch in my pajamas. Not only do I need to set a good example for the kids, but I no longer find bread crumbs in bead to be sexy.[/note]. But it never happens does it?

That’s because this kind of dream relies on magic. If only I’d magically get X, then Y would be easy. But magic doesn’t exist in the real world[note]Because we’re all Muggles[/note]. That’s why you need a Mission Statement.

Here’s the thing about plans: they’re incredibly hard to create. Yes, you can plan a trip, or a day at work, or anything small, without much effort[note]Except for the trip, planning a trip is a pain in the tuchus[/note]. But if you’re trying to plan something larger, something that may span months or years, then it becomes very hard to keep a coherent image of your plan in your head. It’s simply too big.

That was what I was trying to do by wanting to be a professional writer. I had no idea what being a professional writer meant because I couldn’t keep that much information in my head all at once. And that’s where a mission statement comes into play.

The Function of a Mission Statement

A mission statement states your mission, right? That’s all you need to know, isn’t it?

Err… No.

A mission statement is something that you can check your goals and opportunities against. It needs to show what to do, but also what NOT to do. That’s a crucial part there, to be able to say no to things, and defend the time and energy you have so that you constantly move towards your dreams, not perpendicular to them.

[bctt tweet=”Your #Writing #Career Mission Statement Needs to Show What You SHOULDN’T Do” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

Also, your mission statement has to help you define your goals and plans. If you want to be a professional writer (like me), you’ll need to define activities, specific activities, in order to achieve that goal. So your mission statement might say “write science fiction and fantasy”, and you could break that down to “write one 5 000 word SF story per month”.

That’s what your mission statement does, it helps you break down the dream and ultimate goal (professional writer) into actionable goals (write a X words long, Y genre novel by Z date).

A mission plan also helps you measure your progress, either through checking which goals and milestones you have achieved, or through being able to find measurements to compare over time (last year I earned X dollars, this year I earned Y dollars) and see whether you’re coming closer or further away from your dream.

Requirements of a Good Mission Statement

You mission statement needs to tell you what you’re going to do, and why. That’s it. Easy[note]Not![/note].

There are different ways to arrive at your mission statement, from writing your obituary to looking at what you love to rolling dice. But what you need in your mission statement are a series concrete images.

[bctt tweet=”To create a good mission statement you need to define your dream.” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

That’s what separates a mission statement from a dream. A dream can be ephemeral, flowing, incomplete. You don’t need to know how mucho “mucho dinero” is to evoke the fuzzy-cuddly feeling of swimming in money. You know how everything will be within your reach and how everyone will admire your ten diamond-studded Rolexes. But a mission statement must be something you can actively strive towards. A mission statement is a tool.

Thus to create a good mission statement you need to define your dream. A good mission statement helps you WOOP (That’s going Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan; check out Eric Barker’s post on going from dreaming to doing).

For me, being a professional writer means being able to support myself and my family from my writing. Thus, my mission statement is: “To be able to support myself and my family through my writing.” All done, right?

Not quite. That’s still a dream in mission statement clothing. What does it mean to write? What does it mean to support my family? Am I willing to write anything? How about faked Amazon reviews? How about porn? How about administrative business reports[note]The horror…[/note]? You need to think through those things.

Drilling Down into the Mission Statement

For me, writing means “fiction writing”. I’ve come to that conclusion after working as a copywriter, marketing strategist, journalist, communications expert, reviewer[note]Sounds cool but once you need to sit through an entire move you rate a 1 out of 10…[/note] and more. I want to, some time in the future, be able to support my family through writing fiction.

Great! Finished! Sorry, no. That’s not specific enough. I don’t want to write romance, western or literary. I don’t want to try making a living through furry-erotica. I want to write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I want to write for adults and middle grade audiences because that’s what I find interesting to do right now.

As for the second part: I want to earn enough money from my writing to be able to be the sole bread winner in the family if it would come to that. I don’t expect to be, but in a pinch I need to be able to tide the family over without needing to get a second job.

And I don’t want to spend all my time writing and promoting either. I’m not willing to work 16 hours a day, 24/7. That would burn me out.

Thus my mission statement is: “I want to write Science Fiction and Fantasy for adults and MG audiences, and earn enough money to finance my family’s base survival without needing to spend more than a regular 8-hour work day on it.”

That’s not a complete mission statement though. There’s a lot more that could be added: do I want to write novels or short stories? Do I want to write mainly in one genre or many? Do I want to write for specific magazines? Specific markets? Do I want to promote and go to conventions all the time or not? All those are things that you might need to know in your mission statement.

As for me, I’m still working on mine.

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  • Thank you so much Filip, for reminding us of the importance of (being earnest ?) a mission statement ! I’ll certainly be reworking on mine ๐Ÿ˜‰

    In my previous and most probably soon to be again past life as a consultant, we also used an interesting tool with our clients : the Ishikawa diagram, or a slightly modified version of it. It is often called the Cause and Consequences diagram (or fishbone diagram). It may appear very simple but in effect, it is a powerful communication tool and one that forces people to think about achievable goals.

    You start by drawing the main arrow accross your page, pointing to your “mission statement”. Now it is important that every information on the diagram is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound). Then you draw diagonal arrows pointing to the main arrow : these arrows are normally the main causes that will work towards achieving your mission statement. Then you treat these diagonal arrows like sub-objectives for which you need to write down the causes… Sorry it is much less easy to explain textually than to show a picture (you’ll find many variations in Google images) BUT it does help you, not only to think about your main goal, but also to break down the “sub objectives” into concrete and measurable actions that will make sure you advance towards your goal. Each of these sub-objective and sub-sub-objectives should also be given a Key Performance Indicator, ie something you can measure objectively, so that on a regular basis you can say “yes, I am moving forward”… Anyway, not sure that helps you specifically but, surprisingly so maybe, after years of advising clients, I am happy to apply these tools to my own projects ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks again for the interesting and thought-provoking read !

    • Filip Wiltgren

      This is brilliant! Basically it allows you to break down any kind of global task in a structured and measurable way! And I never heard of this technique before; had to look it up. Now I’m definitely going to bone up (if you pardon the pun) on fishbone diagrams and how to use them, thanks!

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