How Writers Can Fulfill Their Mission — Today

As a writer, how do you know if you’ve really made it?

Here’s an idea: You can say you’ve done it if you have fulfilled your mission.

This thought was put in front of me by literary agent  Donald Maass, one of the presenters at Surrey International Writers Conference, which I attended recently.

This reminded me that one big problem with being a writer is that it’s so easy to get off track.

There are so many things we could spend our time writing.

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time writing for clients, to pay the bills. I’ve gotten to help a lot of small business owners along the way, and even expose a few wrongdoings. Which all feels good.

Clients call and want to hire you, and you say ‘yes.’ Then you look up, and it’s five years later, and you wonder where you’re headed.

I enjoy the challenge in writing for clients, but is it truly my mission as a writer? Not so sure.

More recently, I’ve been getting to help freelance writers learn how to earn more. I’ve taken a stand against writer exploitation and low pay by becoming a paying market myself. Which all feels terrific.

I feel like I’ve left a real legacy with all the tips I’ve given, and all the thank-you notes I’ve gotten from writers.

But I’m not sure that’s all there is to it.

Asking the hard questions

Have I truly lived up to all of my writing potential?

Have I done all I can with my gift? Probably not.

Maass asked it like this:

“What do you NEED to write? Is there something important you want to tell everyone?

What will you write that will change the world?

Write it.”

I have to admit I was a little flummoxed.

I like to think of myself as having a good handle on my goals and direction as a writer.

I’m well-organized and all. I get a lot done.

But I don’t really know the answer to this.

Is there more important stuff I should focus on writing in 2013? Maybe so.

There is this young-adult novel concept I’ve been talking about with my daughter, who loves it and wants to illustrate it. Maybe it’s time to tear up my playbook and learn more about novel construction, and somehow find the time to write that.

And an idea I’m kicking around in my head about creating a blog that would promote world peace. Now there’s something important to write about, where you could really leave a legacy.

How can you fulfill your mission?

Take that important thing you need to write, Maass said, and write a bit on it every day.

Get it on your agenda, and get it done. Even if you have to do it a little at a time, inbetween kids and life and paying bills and everything else.

Because life is short. And we never know how short it might be.

It’s another way to look at success. Not a best-seller, necessarily, or a top blog.

Just taking a little time today, to write that thing you know you were put here to write. That’s victory.

What’s your mission as a writer? Leave us a comment and share it.

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42 comments on “How Writers Can Fulfill Their Mission — Today
  1. Mandy Harris says:

    This is a great post, Carol. I hope you get to write that young-adult novel or that new blog. But, please, please, don’t stop helping us earn more money writing! I wouldn’t be thinking as big as I do now if it weren’t for you and the Den.

    Thanks for the great post. It gives me a lot to think about!
    Mandy Harris recently posted..Five Things the Best Corporate Blogs Have in Common

    • Carol Tice says:

      No worries!

      Not holding my breath that fiction is going to pay my bills…but I think it’d be fun to create a world and entertain people…and write something with my daughter.

  2. Lisa Baker says:

    Love this. Love even more that as soon as you asked what I NEED to write, I knew my answer — and my first big glossy article, which is coming out in February, is totally relevant to my mission as a writer.

    Also, Donald Maas is one of my heroes. If you do decide to write fiction, you should start by reading his book, Writing the Breakout Novel. It totally transformed the way I think about fiction (kind of like how J-school transformed my thinking about nonfiction ideas).
    Lisa Baker recently posted..happy Christmas eve!

  3. Deb Lamb says:

    This was exactly what I needed to see today, Carol. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write what my heart and soul really want to write. Like my life experiences and how I overcame being homeless, abuse, rape, etc. However, I just don’t know where the market is for something like this. Who could use these types of articles?

    Any advice? Thanks so much for all you do for the writing community.

    Make it a splendid day!

    Deb )
    Ghostwriter
    Deb Lamb recently posted..Columbine Student’s Father 12 Years Later

  4. Absolutely what I needed to read today. I needed a point of clarity, and a clarion call. This was it. I know what I need to be writing and I can take some time every day to do just that. I will also be purchasing the book suggested in an earlier comment for what I need to do next! Thanks Carol!
    Elizabeth Towns recently posted..Closure Book Tour & Giveaway

  5. Terri H says:

    I really needed to read this. I set out on this freelance writing journey to write what I wanted, change worlds, and pen everlasting words to last a lifetime. However, somewhere along the way I lost sight of that. I’ve been pushed to take on writing assignments that I enjoy, but don’t necessarily fulfill my mission just so I can pay the bills. I’ve always wanted to open the eyes of people about education and motivate others to live their dreams. Unfortunately, I haven’t done much of that. I’ve decided that 2013 is the year I get back to the thing that brought me to writing in the first place so I can truly be happy and fulfilled. Otherwise, there was absolutely no point in me quitting my job to do this. If I was going to do unfulfilling work just to pay the bills I could have stated at my office gig.
    Terri H recently posted..5 Life Lessons I Learned from Sharing an Office with a Recent College Grad

    • Carol Tice says:

      I hear ya…and while I really enjoy all the freelance
      Gigs I have because I always love a challenge…it doesn’t mean that little voice isn’t still asking…what MORE could I wrote that would be more meaningful?

  6. Lisa says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    I feel like part of my mission (as a person and a writer) is being fulfilled by my two-year-old blog http://KidsAndMentalHealth.com. I write about children, education, development, and mental health issues – and help others along the way.

    I’m also taking an essay writing course this January which will push me to write more personal and heartfelt topics.
    Lisa recently posted..The Mental Health Blog Conundrum

  7. Interesting post and question today, Carol. I don’t know what my mission is as a writer, but I do know that Maslow’s hierarchy fits into this equation. Unless you’re willing to starve in a garret for your art, you need to be meeting your basic needs for food, shelter, etc., before you can afford the luxury of focusing on a mission. If you’re just starting out, this question may be premature.

    FWIW, I had a mission to write something a few years back and although I like to think I did some good in the world with it, it was very costly…
    Susanna Perkins recently posted..Where’s the Best Place to Retire Overseas?

  8. Jai Farris says:

    This is a great post and full of questions I have been asking myself. I also spend a lot of time getting caught up in writing for other people. And add to that kids, a grown son at home who doesn’t drive but has a job, and various other stuff and before you know it I haven’t written a word of my own stuff. I am also committing to doing some work of my own in 2013 and learning to say no to the other folks who have become so needy. Thanks for your post…it’s nice to know I am not alone.
    Jai Farris recently posted..Merry Christmas

  9. Great post, Carol.
    My mission for the near future is to write a website that explores our options for education our children. Local schools, home school options, educational philosophies, etc. But I spend all my time writing for paying clients. :-/

  10. Amandah says:

    My mission as a write is to begin pitching my teleplay and half-hour sitcom. I’ve already rewrote my teleplay and had writing groups read it. I do need to write the treatment. The half-hour sitcom is completed; I need to have a read through on it. I’m waiting to hear back from a publisher (they take 2-4 weeks) about my historical romance/ghost story, although I may pitch it to other publishers. I have many ideas for screenplays, children’s picture books, middle grade, YA, NA, fiction, and non-fiction.

    P.S.

    I do need to focus on pitching my screenplays.
    Amandah recently posted..Happy Holidays from Amandah Tayler Blackwell at Savvy-Writer

  11. Shari Held says:

    Carol,

    What a timely and timeless post. It made me realize that I need to pay more attention to the little feeble nudges my overloaded brain sends my way in the middle of the night. I write to earn a living because that’s just part of who I am. I also write fiction for entertainment purposes. But my heart lies in another writing direction altogether–a non-fiction book that I’ve been toying with for several years. Maybe 2013 is the year to unleash that dream!

    Thanks so much for the inspiration and clarity!

    Shari

  12. Joshua Monen says:

    Carol, Thank you for this important reminder. Freelance copywriting has proven to be a great way to pay the bills but I miss writing about what I’m passionate about. So I plan to do more of that in 2013. Plus, it’s just one more reason to only work with clients who pay well. If I take low paying jobs I won’t have time to write what I want to write.
    Joshua Monen recently posted..WARNING: Good Writing Kills The Sales and Profits In Your Business

  13. Hi – I have been reading your blog and hopefully absorbing (and applying!) its messages for the past month. I really enjoy your common sense and wisdom. I particularly liked this recent post because I realize that in many ways, YES, I am realizing my passion, my mission and my dreams. (I wrote a book for a certain market – the book is being well received – but more importantly these are concepts I needed to express – and it evolved over the past five years until this past September when the book was published)..I feel fulfilled and blessed in that sense that I have achieved my “mission” – although I didn’t even call it that at the time…I was just following my dream – expressing myself, tweaking, submitting, etc..over a period of 4 + years….. Now I have to set more goals and go for them, and fine tune my energies – knowing what efforts are spinning wheels and what are wise and time efficient – for my specific goals. Your blogs are encouraging and instructive at the same time – a rare combination. Thanks! Miriam
    Miriam Hendeles recently posted..Bottledworder – Good to the last drop!

  14. Dear Carol,

    What an inspiring piece! Thank you so much. It gets me to thinking and inspires me to writing something that will give meaning to someone’s life.

    You did it this time.
    Clara Mae

  15. Erica says:

    I’ve been thinking about this very subject for the past few weeks (milestone birthday). I’ve been so focused on copywriting these past few years that I’ve completely neglected my creative writing. The one piece I did that I thought was creative was still marketing-based. Lame.

    I have a list of 7 writer’s resolutions for 2013. One is to fill four journals with ideas and creativity, and another is to enter three writing contests.

    I’m still working to make freelancing steady and profitable, but this new version of myself is well worth it. It’s empowered me to dedicate some of of my time and talent to my passions, my voice.

    Thank you, Carol, for this timely post. Enjoy your train trip!
    Erica recently posted..6 Things I’ve Learned in My First 6 Months as a Freelance Copywriter

  16. Laura Sender says:

    This post made me so excited I was bouncing in my office chair earlier. My coworker giggled. Thank you for posting this! My magic pen has agreed to come back out tonight.

  17. Tom Bentley says:

    Carol, I hope you do act on the YA novel—and with your gumption, I’m sure you will. There’s a different kind of fulfillment in writing (and publishing) fiction, and it’s worth pursuing. I’ve found that even setting aside a half-hour a day to write fiction can—in even a modest amount of time—result in significant work: it’s how I finished my latest novel.

    I have made a little money from fiction writing, but the bread and butter (and jelly) continues to come in from copywriting work. But it’s not always about the money.
    Tom Bentley recently posted..Candles for the Broken-Hearted

  18. One of my favorite posts, Carol. Maybe coming to the end of the year makes us contemplate things like this even more. My goal this past year was to start freelancing again, which I have; but there is always that still small voice nudging (nagging) me to finish the children’s and YA stories I have started. Writing that novel with your daughter will be something she will always remember whether anyone else ever reads it or not (although I have no doubt you could be successful in that endeavor, too). I think we need to listen to that “voice” even when we have no idea what the outcome will be or whether it will add to our writing income. There is value in the creativity, the stretching of the imagination muscles, the respite from the assignments for clients, and the commitment to follow through.
    Amanda Cleary Eastep recently posted..Does Your Business Need a Facebook Page? Answer these questions first…

  19. Kandice says:

    Carol- I love this post, because it really resonates with me. I have a list of the “fun things” that call my name to write them. The first one is a YA novel that I have declared 2013 the year it to be completed. After that, I have another YA novel that I’ve been kicking around in my head, an adult romance and a screenplay. All of them have been living in my head for years. I need to get them out. One by one. Bit by Bit.

    In organizing in advance for 2013, I’ve put together a task sheet that includes a section for each of my current clients, my target clients and business development activities and list out my to-dos under each one. I am going to add another category to my list. The fiction category. That way it’s always there demanding attention. Even if I only add 250 words, I’ll cross it off for the day. Any movement is better than none.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Kandice — I think a big problem we writers often have is not feeling a sense of accomplishment for getting PART of something done. But all those parts add up to a whole task completed. I know writers who wrote breakout novels on the ferry to work, 30 minutes each way, for several years.

      As you say, a little bit is movement and progress…and it’s good, and we should check it off as something done.

  20. Amel says:

    There must be something in the air, Carol. I’ve decided that 2013 will be the year in which I focus on projects that bring more meaning to my life. When I look back at everything I’ve learned as a freelancer over the past decade, I feel that it was all in preparation for what’s to come next.
    Amel recently posted..Should You Write for Free if You Don’t Have Clips?

  21. Heather says:

    Great post, Carol. I feel I have two missions: First, making people aware of the need for better mental health care as well as better access to it. Second, making history more interesting for kids and adults (no sense making the same mistakes over and over). I may be one of the few people who needs to be reminded to make money as well as focus on my passions! Balance is a beautiful thing. :)

    Heather

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, you are definitely not one of the few! I think a lot of people end up joining the Den because they need someone to help them get that earning focus.

      • A very inspiring piece. Thank you, Carol. I write for self-expression, to teach, and, if I’m lucky, to change the world. The trick is to find how to write–and I don’t mean stylistically, but in what genres, and how to make money at it and do other fulfilling types of writing on the side.

        • Carol Tice says:

          I think the REALLY big trick is to figure out how to do writing that fulfills your mission AND pays your bills. Think I’m getting closer to there in the past few years, because helping other people feed their families with this-here blog feels SO good to me.

  22. Bill Walles says:

    Carol,
    Your multiple and considerable writing skills are dwarfed by your support, wisdom, and generosity. Certainly those gifts shape your mission and testify to your effectiveness. In the years I have studied and written fiction, the target has been what many exceptional authors profess: great fiction is truth. Not easy or quick and more demanding than any client.
    Seattle has many fine teachers who can point a fruitful path or two to you: Garth Stein, Sherman Alexie, Bob Dugoni, Pam Binder. The Puget Sound Writers Guild in Lacey (my old group) has some fine writers steeped in fiction basics. If you have a fictive itch, write until the truth reveals itself.
    You remain a significant inspiration in my writing life. Thanks and best wishes.
    Bill Walles

  23. Hi Carol,

    This is a very important question since somewhere in the mix we must pay bills. But leaving a legacy is more powerful than chasing bestsellerdom

    When it comes to living up to my writing potential I like to think in terms of having made a difference in one person’s life instead of the whole world of people. That is a worthy mission.

    Honing your own skills and mentoring others is a delicate balance that you are doing quite well. In this way you are changing the world of your readers and your tribe here on your blog and in the Den. Thank you.

    Like you, however, I’ve imagined that I would like to write in genres other than nonfiction. I’ve daydreamed about travelling and earning a living by sharing my experiences as well as writing at least one mystery thriller in my lifetime.

    If I don’t get those done, however, it’s okay. I know that my books, articles and poetry have been inspiring, encouraging and instructive to a few people in this world.

    One of my favorite gospel songs goes “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.” I very much believe this.
    Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. recently posted..Before Making Resolutions, Assess Where You Are

  24. Hi Carol,
    I totally relate to this because twelve years ago I found and stepped into my mission as a writer who can also coach and help others find healing and inner peace. And I’m so glad I did!

    It was a difficult journey at first because I was aged 50 when I lost everything – my home (and dog) in a fire, my 25 year marriage and my writing career as I felt too old to “start over”.

    I was broke, depressed and felt a big fat failure because I couldn’t see how to combine my talents as a writer with my passion for positive thinking, health and self help topics in which I had consciously specialized as a successful journalist and freelance magazine journalist for many years.

    I read, applied and began to run workshops in The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron) and then promoted seminars for authors and specialists in emotional-energy work (The Journey), EFT tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and more recently Matrix Reimprinting.

    I was given the opportunity to train in these skills and discovered how fast they transformed my own life, healing traumas that went back to childhood. I knew I had found my life purpose and passion: the gift of helping others to BREAK FREE from emotional and physical pain.

    Often part of the reason clients are in pain is revealed to be that they have turned away from – or suppressed – living their true passion and LIFE PURPOSE.

    That’s how I continue to earn my living today – writing books, blogs and articles on goal setting and facilitating sessions on Skype as I now travel and train all over the world helping clients to break free from feeling stuck or blocked in any area of their life.

    I always thought it was trite to say “do what you love the money will follow”. But that’s what’s happened for me. And I know it can happen for you – and others wondering if it’s possible. Even it you start in a small way, continuing your other work, it’s worth at least planting the seeds of your bigger vision and tending it regularly.

    Happy New Year to you and everyone in this great community of writers.

  25. Oh gosh! I guess the new year has me in one of those moods where I’m doing a lot of reflection and planning. Another perfect post for me. I mean it! I’ve really been trying to get a grip on the direction of my blog and my writing career in general.

    There’s so much advice that says to write what’s popular, to write “viral” content, etc. But only six months into blogging, and I’m getting jaded with that.

    I also took on clients in niches that I’ve never had any interest in writing about, and it was interesting to learn at first, but when it’s not the content you dream about and wake up longing to write about . . . it gets frustrating.

    As a new writer I keep telling myself I just have to do this until I find my stride.
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Django Unchained: Roots & Routes

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Sarah —

      Your struggle with client work is why I’m always bringing up my Newtonian Law of Freelancing — Work of one kind tends to lead to work of that same kind (from the same types of clients and at similar pay levels).

      This is why it’s good to keep our core goals and interests in mind, so we head that direction. Or you end up writing about stuff you have to put a gun to your head to do. Even as a new writer, you have control over where you put your marketing effort and the kinds of clients you target.

      On the viral thing, I’m in favor of writing viral posts…on topics I like. ;-)

  26. Stefanie says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post! I just came to the realization that I really need to reevaluate my goals when I almost applied to a writing position (“with the possibility of compensation”) for a website with the same content I am trying to write on my own blog (a long-time dream but barely launched)! I’ve just started earning some money through writing and I have a full-time job so I’m quickly I’m realizing that if I don’t stay focused on my goals as a writer, I will inevitably get sucked into things that totally have nothing to do with my mission, just for the chance to earn a few bucks.
    I suppose it depends on one’s goal at the moment: to make a living writing at a freelancer may be someone’s goal; to to be fulfilled by one’s writing (but not making much with it) could be another’s. Of course, the ultimate goal for most is the third option of making a living writing what you love.
    Thanks for helping me skip that first step of writing what I don’t find fulfilling (I can do that type of work at my full-time job!) and reminding me that at least for now my personal goal isn’t just to write and make money, but to write for my mission and hope that one day I get the luxury of making a living writing what has meaning to me.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sure thing — you can especially skip it if it only has the “possibility” of compensation. If you already have an income from your day job, you’re right — focus on portfolio building and doing quality work. Free blog posts you can write on your own blog, unless they’re for VERY high-profile, high-traffic sites that give you valuable exposure (and a link back to your own blog).

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