As a writer, I often beat my head against the blank screen of procrastination and perfection. There is nothing like a tight deadline to make me wonder exactly what it is that I’m hoping to accomplish. One would think such a looming deadline would translate to a well-written story that appears magically on demand. Not true.
At times like this, I really need to know the truth. Why do I write?
Aside from the lofty goals of fame and fortune – (insert giggle snort) – why do I write?
Seriously, this is a question all writers must ask ourselves so we can cling to that answer on those tough days of doubt and lack of focus. The answer to this question provides the foundation for all that we do.
If someone ever asks this question, we’d better be ready to answer with no hesitation. No negative comments. Not even a sprinkle of doubt. If we don’t fully believe in our own message, why should anyone else?
I’ve attended many writing courses over the past decade. Fabulous classes on everything from marketing, content creation, Youtubing, and how to write that important first sentence. How to write for magazines; how to write a book proposal; how to enter contests; how to organize your workspace; how to manage your writing time; how to use your book to create speaking opportunities; how to set up a table of contents; and finally, how to create a meaningful blog post.
The skills needed to excel in this line of work are vast, fleeting and ever-changing. It should also be noted that none of these skills come naturally, and most are the exact opposite of how writers would choose to spend our time.
But in almost every class, they ask a different version of this same question:
What is my mission? My message? My purpose?
In other words, who do I serve?
You see – writers don’t write for ourselves. Sure, writing is how we process the ins and outs of life. It’s so much a part of us, it’s like breathing. Our internal thoughts, trials and triumphs spill out to our external pages. Eventually. (That is, unless a deadline is looming and then all words seem to flee from our overcrowded brains. Another topic for another time. Erg.)
We’re writers, no matter what, and that’s true long before we’ve attracted that first reader. That’s what makes us observant, deep and quirky.
Still, once readers are introduced to the equation, it changes everything in the best possible way.
We can’t simply write for ourselves. We’ve got to figure out who it is that is searching for our words.
In a marketing class, they put it this way – What keywords are people searching for to find your message?
In a book proposal class, they say it like this – On what shelf does your book belong and how does it compare?
In a content creation class, what problem are you solving for your viewers?
It all comes down to who we’re hoping to serve. And then it becomes more about them than it is about us.
Thank goodness. For me personally, that thought offers much freedom. I’d much rather focus on readers than add more tricky and impossible items to my to-do list.
What do my readers need from me?
For example, for me personally, this last year has been a tough one. With many losses and deaths in our family, plus a few unwelcome medical surprises, and I never knew what hit me. On top of this, our little special needs grandson underwent a couple of surgeries and had some additional medical scares that landed him in the neonatal intensive care unit. We’re still learning all the ways he will need support and protection throughout his life, and it catches us all off guard, even on our best days.
As a result, both my creativity level and available writing time took a big hit. I spent countless moments, maybe even months, staring out windows and wondering what just happened.
My creative to-do list couldn’t handle the truth of my reality, and I honestly wondered if I’d ever write again.
Still, deadlines loomed and I was obligated to write something meaningful and worth remembering.
Then I remembered my readers. Perhaps they were struggling as well. Maybe they’re stuck in that same fog of grief, and needed a hand to reach out to them from the other side of that battle. Maybe like us, they’re still learning to be a special needs family, and sharing my thoughts might help them feel less isolated.
In this season of life, these are the people I serve. People who are hurting. People who don’t know what hit them. Even in fiction, people long to be inspired by characters who overcome obstacles and fight their way through to a happy ending. People who don’t know how to do whatever tomorrow requires, so they’re seeking a bit of escape, just for today.
This is who I serve.
Even in fiction, once we find our people, the rest falls into place.
There is no greater blessing to writers than to finally discover their readers. And with that blessing comes more ways to serve. One builds on the other.
I am so blessed to be a writer. So what is my mission? My message? My purpose?
It’s exactly like yours. To overcome obstacles. To get through today, fight for tomorrow, and find a sense of satisfaction in each page of life. And to somehow, even on the toughest of days, create a happy ending and start all over again the next day.
So take a deep breath and pull up a chair. Our personal stories prove how much we need each other. We’re definitely riding out this part of the story together, and I’m so thankful you’re here.
How may I serve you?
Janet Morris Grimes
Now an award-winning author of contemporary fiction and children’s stories, Janet is a wife of one, mother of three, and Tootsie to four. She currently writes from her quiet two-acre corner of the world near Elizabethtown, KY.