Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
If you thought writing what you feel driven to write would keep you from getting tangled up in what some call the “writer’s curse,” odds are you’ve already discovered the truth: there are still too many choices to make about what to write, and about all you feel when considering them is overwhelmed!
So how do you determine what to write?
The short answer: by defining your mission.
Here’s an excerpt from ALL ABOUT WRITING TO SELL that might help:
DEFINING YOUR MISSION
We’ve all heard it. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you get there?
Well, the truth is, you can’t. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, it’s never too late–or too early–to decide who you choose to become or what you intend to accomplish. But what if you just don’t know? How do you figure these things out?
Spend some quiet time alone. Think about them. What are your dreams, your desires? What do you feel passionately about? What do you love? Hate? What makes you happy or sad? What embarrasses or humiliates you? What tickles your fancy; ticks you off? What motivates you, brings out your best? What brings out your worst? Do you know your own hot buttons? The things that leave you cold?
Remember, knowing what you don’t want is just as important as knowing what you do want. Use your negative responses to cull and pare, and then focus on the positive responses to help create a content and happy you who creates works you’ll be elated at having associated with you.
By getting to know the whole you–and if it’s been a while since you’ve thought about these things, you need to get reacquainted before making decisions about the rest of your life–you give yourself a chance to find out not only who you are, but what you stand for, and what you stand against. You get in touch with your dreams. It’s making those dreams realities that put magic into your life. That magic is contentment, and it lifts an adequate storyteller to a gifted one.
Think back to when you were a child. What did you dream about then? As you matured, it’s likely many of your dreams changed, but it’s highly possible some important ones have remained dormant inside you, just waiting until you were ready to rediscover them, and yourself. Explore now. Assess. Then evaluate and make your decisions about where you choose to go from here, and why you choose to go there.
When I begin teaching a new group creative writing, after introductions, my first question is, “What kind of books do you want to write?” I’m always amazed that so many writers don’t know. Often, I get responses such as, “Whatever sells.” These writers, unfortunately, haven’t yet realized that writing commercial fiction doesn’t work that way.
To convey love for a book–its magic–the writer first must feel it. That doesn’t come from “whatever sells,” it comes from writing about something that inspires the writer. Something that engages–often enrages–the writer’s emotions. That engagement translates onto the page and makes the reader care.
What do you want to write? What must you accomplish in your career to feel content? Must you sell a specific number of copies of your book? Make a specific bestseller list? Be sent on publicity tours? Must you produce two novels each year? Four? What exactly do you want?
That is your mission.
It’s important that you let others who play an important role in your life know your mission. If the core group in your life–your family, your agent and editor–all know your goals, then they’re not wondering what you want or wishing they could read your mind. They know because you’ve told them.
This communication can be a wonderful thing. By telling others your goals, you open the door for them to tell you theirs. Often that produces an atmosphere conducive to making collective efforts at attaining combined success. No one is floundering, wondering what they should be doing. Everyone is focused–and they’re focused on positive, constructive aspirations.
A few years ago, eight writers formed a group. I was fortunate enough to be one of them. Our mission was simple. To get everyone in the group published. For the two of us who had been published, the goal was to get published again. We worked together, watching out not just for our own interests, but for those of everyone in the group.
We did it. Books, magazine articles, short stories, newspaper columns, professional, academic-point papers–in fiction and nonfiction. Considering some in the group write children’s stories, some thrillers, some science fiction/fantasy,
some romance, and some literary fiction, as well as all of the different types of nonfiction, this accomplishment was a remarkable feat. Darned telling, too.
Why did we succeed? Because everyone in the group knew the mission. Everyone
focused on it. Worked at it. Every individual committed to collective success. We looked out for each other in marketing, crafting, and submitting with the same dedication and care that we expended in our own work.
Devotion and dedication can produce magnificent results. It’s simple and effective. This concept not only works with writing groups. It works with spouses, bosses, and close friends, too.
Once, a married couple decided they wanted a divorce. They couldn’t afford one. So they defined a mission: a plan to save for a divorce. They discussed it, budgeted, really communicated about strategies for saving for their divorce fund. The time came that they had put away the money to cover legal fees, but this process had worked so well, they redefined their mission.
They decided to continue to work together to save enough money so that each of them would start their new lives apart with a nest egg. During this time, when they were working on their missions, this couple made time to talk with each other, they shared their excitement and enthusiasm, their successes and triumphs–and their fears about going on alone. By the time they’d saved the nest egg money and had accomplished the mission, they had to define a new one. Why? Because neither of them any longer wanted the divorce.
Odd? Not really. For the first time in years, they’d worked as a team, as a couple. They’d dared to share their dreams and their fears with each other. Talking candidly and openly had become something they did not do. So they’d lost touch. But in pooling their resources and working together on a specific mission, they found the magic in each other again.
My point in including this is that I’m often told by writers that their spouses don’t understand the creative process, the writer’s needs, and they aren’t supportive. A potential resolution resides in the story of our divorcing couple. Involve your spouse. Help educate them in the process so that they do understand and can offer genuine support. Tell them specifically what you need.
Writers don’t have the luxury of working in a linear fashion. Often they’re juggling, doing author appearances on Book 1, preparing a promotion plan on Book 2, writing Book 3, and researching Book 4. They’re also answering fan mail, ordering supplies so they aren’t reduced to answering said mail on paper towels, writing articles for organizational newsletters, preparing speeches and handouts for workshops or lectures, judging writing competitions, composing newsletters and mailings for booksellers, distributors, and readers.
Often the writer is working on all of this at the same time. If spouses don’t know this, then how can they be supportive? And why, dear writer, do you hold your spouse accountable for something unknown?
This making-people-aware concept also works with children. I need quiet time to write my novels. Long before my children could read, I told them this, and we devised a system that would let them know when it was okay to interrupt me, and when it wasn’t. We made two red lights out of construction paper. If the light was green, it was okay to interrupt. If it was red, then interrupt only if someone was hurt, dead, or dying.
We set the rules. Everyone knew them, and everyone honored them. Simple and effective. I accomplished my writing goal–in a shorter than normal time, which gave me more free time with them–and the children helped me to do it. My books became our books. Because in helping me, they were active participants in the creative process. No frustration, no hurt feelings, no harsh words or annoyances. Just sweet success.
Definitely a win/win situation for the children and me. And it happened because we all knew the mission. Whether you’re discussing your writing career or your life, a mission is a personal thing. No one else can define it for you, nor should they. Your commitment to your mission, your discipline and devotion to it, will determine your success. So listen to the advice and opinions of others, take the good that can be gleaned from them, but in the end, decide for yourself what mission you want to invest in at this time. And keep that mission as dynamic as you are by periodically reviewing it.
We change with each challenge met. With change, we must review and reevaluate. Has what you wanted remained the same? If not, revise your mission to reflect what you choose to invest in now. The most important point our common sense shares with us on this matter of missions is to consciously decide what we want, to choose.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily details, to get that feeling of being overwhelmed, and to just drift. But one day we wake up and it hits us like a sucker punch that we’ve drifted through decades. Stunned, we shake our heads and ask ourselves where the years went, and why haven’t we gotten anywhere. Panic sets in. Panic and regret, and a compelling sense of urgency to do something that matters to us–now.
A School of Hard Knocks for Writers tip: On a daily basis, prioritize tasks and desires so that those most important to you get the lion’s share of your effort first.
Common sense also tells us we should like our own company, meaning we don’t
fear being alone. This isn’t a challenge for most writers, but at times, it can become one. Armed with knowledge of it, when it strikes, we stand prepared.
I once knew a sweetheart of a woman who would get up at the crack of dawn and, before she had her first cup of coffee, she would start phoning friends. She couldn’t bear not having someone else with her at all times. She would cook huge meals, have house parties, do all kinds of things to keep others with her. It was some time before I realized her reason wasn’t that she loved people. Her reason was she didn’t like herself. In her past, she had done things that she’d never forgiven herself for doing. When alone, she thought of them. The constant company of others allowed her to avoid thinking of them–until she was again alone.
The oddity here is that had someone else done those same things, she would have been first in line to forgive them and recommend they forgive themselves. But she couldn’t, wouldn’t forgive herself. Sad, isn’t it?
Avoidance never works because it doesn’t fix anything. The problem just sits there and festers, and the wound stays raw. Until she comes to terms with her past and extends to herself the same courtesy and grace she’d give others, her wounds will never heal and she’ll never know peace. We’ve all done things that, in retrospect, we wish we hadn’t done. But we must learn to treat ourselves as well as we would treat a good friend or even a stranger on the street. We’re all teachers and students, and experience teaches. So learn, then forgive yourself and accept that the past is done. We can’t change it. We can only change what lies ahead of us.
And remember that laughter cures a lot of ills. Hang on to your sense of humor. It’s as strong as Atlas, and it’ll carry you through hard times when little else can.
Being gentle with ourselves and treating ourselves the same respect and reverence we treat others is hard for us. We’re taught to be tough, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining. But the truth is, we all need nurturing. This, we must learn to give to ourselves.
In doing this–nurturing ourselves–we read, we think, we rediscover who we are and what matters to us. Those core-level issues or circumstances that intrigue and fascinate and matter are the topics we should write about. Those things have the power to hold our focus intently enough for us to bring them into sharp relief, and that is the place where we explore the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of things. Exploring the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of something is the stuff of great fiction.
Combine that with a personal mission, and you’ve got potential for success that is both fabulous and potent!*