On Building a Writer’s Mission* Statement

It’s a good morning.  I’m having a professional-sale short story published in Crossed Genres Magazine.  I’m having another short story accepted in eFiction magazine.  I’m walking around the house, barefoot, pantsless, making another cup of tea and putting on shorts while the water heats in the microwave.  I have long since made my peace with microwaving water:  it’s not as romantic as boiling it on the stove, but it’s a heck of a lot less screechy.  And, for one cup of water…ugh, no, I don’t want to get a countertop water heater either, thanks.  At any rate, my mind is wandering.

It’s going to be a hot day, 80 degrees already at 9 a.m.  I’m sure in other areas this wouldn’t seem like such a threat, but in Colorado, which heats up and cools down quickly, it’s a pretty reliable heads’ up.  I stayed up late last night playing Mah Jongg on my tablet, which I initially felt slightly guilty about but reminded myself that if I spend all day working it’s bound to spill over somehow.  So I’m tired but I’ve got a cup of tea in me with another on the way.  It’s Ceylon, good Ceylon but not the transcendental kind of Ceylon that makes you stare out into space and nod to yourself.  Really good tea strikes me as the ideal drug, unless I’m having my period, in which case only coffee will do.  I’m in the PMS phase of that swing of things, which might be considered TMI, but really what it means is that whatever emotions I have have a force multiplier on them.  So when I’m feeling mellow I’m feeling really mellow.

I’ve recently worked out that all of my writing is about bullies.  I knew this about my kids’ fiction, but for some reason, the connection to my adults’ fiction escaped me.  I’m writing about power structures, I’m writing about things that happen because one group is stronger than another.  I’m writing about bullies–it’s just that the bullies are bigger, institutional things a lot of the time in my adult stories.  I’m writing about how everyone thinks they’re getting pushed around when really they’re doing a lot of pushing around themselves.   I’m writing about why the war of the sexes sucks.  I’m writing about the strains that drive people to lash out–to become the bullies they hate.

But I also know that’s not all I write about.

I want to know what it is that makes me write, what purpose I’m trying to accomplish.  I want to try to figure out what I bring to the world–why it should pay me to write!  Like a half-built robot who wakes up to find its master dead of a heart attack on the workbench, I want to find out what my purpose is in life–and to change it, if necessary.  (Because I’m meta like that.)  I want something that lets me know when I’m off course.  I think I’m off course a lot of the time, but I’ve also recently learned that maybe being off course is part of my purpose.  Maybe the things that make me go, “What the @#$% was I thinking?” are the things that most express what it is I am and do.

It would be nice to go into a dark place and write something personally horrifying and be able to go, “It disturbs me…and it should.”

And so I know now that I write about bullies, and when I write something horrific, after I’m done, I can go back and say, “Was this about bullies or power imbalances?”  And if the answer’s yes, I know I have at least part of what I was meant to do.

But this morning, I’m walking around on the perpetual hunt to try to remember where I’ve left my cup-sized tea strainer, which I should probably clean because no doubt it’s so covered in tea stains that it’s starting to affect the taste–this is the world’s best tea strainer.  It’s got this superfine gold mesh wire which is now several shades of dark brown.  The tea’s been a little bitter tasting lately.  I walk into the living room, and it smells like cat pee again.  Great.  I’ve got a cat with apparent Alzheimer’s and an attitude problem, and I love him but it’s a strain.  I carry him over to his litterbox.  I try to remember what I was doing.  Oh, yeah, looking for the–

And it hits me:  something else I write is about finding and accepting the secret self.

The Crossed Genres story?  About an alien teacher who’s trapped on Earth and finds her calling here.  The eFiction story?  About a woman who haunts other people’s dreams, judging them mercilessly, only to find out that she’s judged herself, too–and who then faces her fear, liberating herself as she wakes.

I think back to other stories:  a woman whose horrifying past has revealed to her the horror inside herself, which she decides to use (Dexter-like) against the kinds of people who hurt her.  A Rapunzel who fears her hair until she finds out how easily it’s controlled.  A geisha to aliens who becomes other than human, and more herself.   A hundred others.  A kids’ story about a girl who thinks she knows it all until an emergency happens, when she finds out that strength doesn’t look like what she expected, but that she has it.

The idea cascades.  It rings like a bell.

I find the tea basket and make new tea and eat a cereal bar.  While I write this, I pick honey-covered oats out of my teeth with my tongue.  I’m not there yet.  I don’t have the whole shape of what I am and what I do:  but I have another piece of it, and it feels good.

*So here’s what got me thinking:

Matt Buchman (a.k.a. M.L. Buchman of the Night Stalkers romance series and more) has a personal writing mission statement, of which he has three versions:

Simple:
To Champion the Human Spirit

Middle-sized:
To Champion the Human Spirit, the Power of Joy, and the Wonder of Love

Complete:
To Champion the Human Spirit,
To Celebrate the Power of Joy,
And to Revel in the Wonder of Love!

The simple version for me now embodies the full scope of what I’m intending.
The middle version is the one I initially came up with and expresses it in a form that doesn’t make others eyes glaze over.
The full version, I love the verbs celebrate and revel (my absolute favorite) and wanted to include those.

You can see I have a ways to go before I can be this clear on what I’m doing 🙂

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5 Comments

  1. This is crazy timely. I just realized yesterday that I write stories about characters heavily crippled by substance abuse and mental health issues. I only realized it when a colleague CCed me on an email to hook me up for a guest speaking opportunity. He said something like “Liz’s fiction contains themes of substance abuse and mental illness, making her an ideal candidate.” I had an ah-ha moment.

    I guess my mission statement would now read something like:

    Drama with grit—stories about characters battling substance abuse and mental illness.

    But then there’s my zombie slayer series, which has themes of family bullying and discovering your true self.

    Huh.

    Thanks for getting the juices flowing, De.

  2. De

    You’re welcome! It looks like on your website that you took it another step further, and I like that one better, though.

  3. I like it, too. It might need more work, but it’s pretty close. I’d say today was a success for both of us!

  4. That mission statement is my embodiment of why I write, and, like you I often stumbled on bits and pieces of it while wandering around the house pantless, tealess, and wondering what the cats were up to now. It takes time that way, but hey, if the method works…

    But that’s a little different from “what” I write. Yes, I write tales of “human triumph,” but what they are is an individual’s journey, usually an underdog, discovering how they can become more true to themselves in the process. Oh, they often save the world or the human race or stop a war or something else that makes good story. But that’s just a by-product. What I really write is about a person saving themselves with the help of those around them. That’s the “what” that goes with my “why.”

    Why do I care about all this? Like you said, it kind of gives me goalposts to tell me if this is my kind of story or not, even when I’m in one of those deep-in-doubt moments.

    • De

      I think I’m becoming clearer on the “what.” I can look back over past evidence and extrapolate a few guesses, see if they ring true. Now that I’ve thought about this for a couple of weeks again, I’m starting to wonder if the “why” needs to be more planned, more based on determination than past habits. I’m still not sure about it, though. I do know that I probably won’t find my “why” without my “what,” though 🙂

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