writers purpose

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by Jon Bard & Andrea Woolf

 

You are standing at the end of a massive field.  In front of you is a giant, steel ball.


You are told that you need to get that ball from one end of the field to the other.   How do you do it?

You have two choices:

1. You can get behind the ball and push, and strain, and huff, and puff in hopes of somehow rolling it across that vast space.

or

2. You can place a giant magnet at the other side of the field, sit back and watch as the big ball glides across the surface by itself.

If sitting down to write has ever felt like you were exhausting yourself trying to unlodge an immovable object, your solution is simple:

YOU NEED YOUR OWN GIANT MAGNET.

And in writing, the giant magnet is this:     Your Writer’s Purpose.


Having a real purpose for sitting down to create will “pull” you toward a completed manuscript, rather than forcing you to push your way to one.

Have you ever gotten into your car to drive toward something that really excited you? The big game?  A concert from your favorite artist?  A rendezvous with your sweetheart?   Chances are, you barely notice the potholes, tolls or traffic tie-ups along the way because your anticipation of what’s coming — the purpose of your trip — is so vibrant.

Now imagine you’re on your way to the post office, or perhaps the dentist’s office.  Your outlook may be just a tad different, yes?  The other drivers are idiots, the ads on the radio are annoying,  your mind starts wandering to all the tasks on your to-do list.  Honestly, you’d just as soon turn around and go home rather than deal with it.

That’s what it’s like to sit down and write without an overarching purpose.  You’re doing it because “you have to” or “you’re expected to” or because you’ll feel guilty if you don’t.  Hardly a recipe for crafting great literature.

On the other hand, if there’s a big reason for your writing, each visit with your computer is another step in fulfilling your purpose.  It’s not just another day at the keyboard — it’s an exciting piece of an exciting puzzle.

You’re on a  mission.  And you are unstoppable.   That’s the power of having Writer’s Purpose.


Let’s Define Your Writer’s Purpose

“I want to get published” is not a purpose.  It’s a tactic toward fulfilling your purpose.

“I want to make people laugh” is a weak purpose.  It’s barely enough to get you near the keyboard let alone creating something special.

To act as a giant magnet, your Writer’s Purpose must be big, and bodacious and even a little scary to you.  And it must, must, must be about the impact your work will have on the world — not just about you.

Here’s what’s true about a real Writer’s Purpose:

  • If focuses on the value and meaning your work will give its readers, and it does it in vibrant and emotional language.
  • It’s honest, and connects to your actual work, not a romantic or unrealistic ideal of your work.
  • It moves you, and inspires you no matter how often you read it.



Now, let’s build your own Writer’s Purpose, with a series of questions:


Whose life do you want to improve?

Let’s start by making an important statement that all writers need to understand:  No matter what you write, you have the opportunity to improve the lives of the people who read it.    It doesn’t matter whether you are writing a breakthrough self-help book or a book of silly jokes, you are giving real value to your reader.

So, who is that reader?  What are they going through that they need you so much?

Here are some examples:

 

  • Children of divorce who are worried about the future
  • Teens who are stressed and need a fun outlet
  • Young girls who are interested in science
  • Pre-teens who love soccer and want to learn more, etc.



What Will You Be Giving Them?

What value will your work give your reader?  Remember, it’s all about them, so focus on what your readers will receive from your books.

Some examples:

 

  • Guidance and advice
  • Joy and laughter
  • Cool facts that will enhance their interests
  • Encouragement and support for what they’re going through, etc.



What Are You Showing Them?

As a children’s writer, you have the opportunity to show important things to young readers. (Notice I said show, not tell.  This isn’t about preaching or tacking on “morals” to stories.  It’s about letting your characters and plots convey meaning.)

For example:

 

  • That they’re not alone
  • That preserving the environment is vitally important
  • That reading is fun
  • That any problem can be overcome, etc.



Why Are YOU Uniquely Qualified to Do These Things?

Now we come back to you, the writer.  For your Writer’s Purpose to resonate, you must not only believe that what you’re doing is important.  You must also believe that it’s important that you do it!   You must get into the mindset that says this:

 

If I don’t sit down to write today, all the readers whose lives can be enhanced will suffer because of that decision.  That’s because I have important things to convey and, if I don’t do it, no one else will.  Because no one else can.

 


Pretty bold statement, isn’t it?  But it’s also true.  That’s because you are unique.  No one else writes like you, no one else has your life experiences and no one else has a Writer’s Purpose that comes from the same place as yours.


Finally:  How Will Your Work Make the World a Better Place?

Every great book, article or blog post you’ve read has somehow made your world a better place.  Perhaps it was in a modest way (you got a good recipe for eggplant), in a  lighthearted way (you laughed out loud during a trying day), in an absorbing way (that new spy novel made the two hour wait at the DMV fly right by) or in a profound way (you discovered something about yourself that changed your outlook forever).

Take your experience and multiply it by how many other folks read that same piece of writing.  Do you start to see the compounding power of the written word?


So now, dream big, and answer this question:

When I am published and widely read, the world will be a better place because I have given it ____________

You have so much to give, so many lives to touch.   It’s time to do the work.

 


So let’s build that giant magnet.  Use the answers from the previous questions to complete your Writer’s Purpose:


My Writer’s Purpose is to improve the lives of ____________  by giving them ________________ and showing them that ___________________ .  

I am uniquely qualified to do this because no one else _____________ the way I do.   

When I am published and widely read, the world will be a better place because I have given it ____________


Use this as a beginning, and play with it.  Create a Writer’s Purpose that really speaks to you, that really compels you to get away from the TV and to your keyboard.  That makes you excited and proud to be a writer, and gets you motivated to keep dreaming up new ideas and expanding your reach.

This is your giant magnet.  May it pull you to great things.

Photo credit: BobMical via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

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    Comments

    1. Susie Sawyer
      January 27th

      “Every great book, article or blog post you’ve read has somehow made your world a better place.”

      THAT is what this post just did for me. I didn’t expect to be so moved by this post, but I feel like I’ve just had an epiphany after writing for children for over 10 years! For months now, I’ve been struggling to identify why I’ve felt so sluggish with my writing. Your suggestion to develop a Writer’s Purpose for myself feels like the shot of caffeine (and clarity) I needed for my writing career.

      I so appreciate everything the Children’s Book Insider has done for my writing over the years, but this particular post was just what I needed, just when I needed it.

      Thank you!!!

    2. Jarm Del Boccio
      January 27th

      Thanks so much for this exercise, Jon. . .it helps me to FOCUS on my mission!

      “My Writer’s Purpose is to improve the lives of children by giving them beautiful words and imagery and showing them that Scripture and History can come alive and have meaning in their lives .

      I am uniquely qualified to do this because no one else sees the higher purpose of Scripture and History and writes lyrically the way I do.

      When I am published and widely read, the world will be a better place because I have given it hope, direction and true inspiring heroes to emulate.”

    3. Toni Dietkus
      January 27th

      What a refresher for me~~* Exactly brought back the real heart’s desire that has gotten dusty and rusty as I have begun sitting and pushing that giant unmovable ball. The questions were so on-target. This was more than helpful–I’m one of the persons you may have ‘hoped to help.’

    4. Liz
      January 27th

      I got the ball to the other end of the field by rotating the field. The challenge doesn’t say you have to move the ball, just get it to the other end. I’ve been dealing with writer’s block for a while. I will try rotating my field of purpose. Thanks.

    5. Melissa G Wilson
      January 28th

      Thanks for this Jon. I already reposted this out on Twitter for other to participate.

      My Writer’s Purpose is to improve the lives of kids by giving them books that teach history in a new and creative way through past and present famous leaders and showing them that they can find people in the past as well as the present who have done great things they can emulate.

      I am uniquely qualified to do this because no one else has yet brought forward this idea of learning history through what I call “Masters Mashups.”

      When I am published and widely read, the world will be a better place because I have given kids a more fun and memorable way to learn history.

    6. Pamela
      January 29th

      Thank you Jon,
      That really got me thinking. Thank you for all the great information on your site and in your resources. You are inspiring me to “get the ball rolling!!”
      Here are my thoughts. I will print it out and put it on my Vision Board.
      My Writer’s Purpose is to improve the lives of CHILDREN, TEACHERS, THOSE SEEKING A BETTER LIFE by giving them INSPIRATION and showing them that THEY CAN MAKE THEMSELVES AND THE WORLD A BETTER.

      I am uniquely qualified to do this because no one else THINKS MY THOUGHTS the way I do.

      When I am published and widely read, the world will be a better place because I have given it SOMETHING NEW AND DIFFERENT TO THINK ABOUT AND INSPIRATION TO ACT!!!

    7. deborah
      January 29th

      Thanks very much Jon! “I know many of you are struggling to find the motivation, confidence and direction to move forward with your writing. Today, I’d like to offer some insights that may truly transform your experience as a writer.” You are so right! I really needed this post and it really has me thinking and reexamining the what and whys. I’ve gotten distracted by craft and learning… So timely – very grateful! thank you, deborah

      • deborah
        January 31st

        Jon, I had to add that I have worked through getting down my initial Writer’s Purpose & ideas for structure and stories are flowing!

    8. Dear Jon,
      I am not usually a children’s writer, but I still found this exercise helpful in refocusing on my purpose in writing. My Writer’s Purpose is to improve lives of emotionally hurting, spiritually hungry women by giving them encouragement that God loves them and showing them that he is merciful and wants to restore them to a right relationship with him through his Son, Jesus Christ, in order that they may have peace, joy and purpose in this life.
      Judith
      Judith Vander Wege recently posted…Empower My WordsMy Profile

    9. Lori Eaton
      January 30th

      I loved the magnet analogy! I didn’t think so much about my writing purpose when I read that but thought more about my published story being the magnet and it being so good that children were drawn to it.
      My purpose would be to write picture books that children loved so much they’d want to hear them again and again. Therefore, creating such a love for books that they would WANT to learn to read and continue reading all of their lives.
      I also loved reading how much your post affected/inspired others, Jon.

    10. Sharon Coffey
      February 2nd

      Thank you, Jon. You were able to break down the writer’s purpose into easy to digest components. My writer’s purpose is to improve/enrich the lives of five to eight year olds by giving them joy and laughter and showing them how fun reading can be. I am qualified to do this because my inspiration creates stories that are uniquely me. When I am published and widely read the world will be a better place because I have shared my passion and put smiles on faces of children everywhere.

    11. Thank you for showing how easy to find my writer’s purpose. The purpose of my whole life was to help kids investigate the world and understand its high values. I’m a mom of 3 and I know how hard it may be. I try to write about the moral values children should know and follow. The hardest thing though is to get the story published.
      The magnet analogy you’re writing about is exactly the thing that shows the procedure of writing and publishing. Thanks again! It was a pleasure to read this article.
      Blessings,
      Samantha (writer, happy mom and traveler)

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