Making it Your Business: A Mission Statement

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Once upon a time, I managed the Library for a 14-office international law firm.  A huge part of my job was grappling with business minutiae – including the creation and implementation of a Strategic Plan.  Prior to that job, I had never been a huge fan of Strategic Plans; I thought that they relied on jargon to avoid discussing true issues.

Then, I had an epiphany.  I realized that if I created and implemented a Strategic Plan, I could use it defensively.  I could argue that the Library should not take on Hated Tasks A, B, C, and D, because those were not part of our Strategic Plan.  I could also mount an offense:  I could demand resources, based on the Strategic Plan that the institution had approved.

When I walked away from library management and became a full-time writer, I created a Strategic Plan for myself – the whole thing – a Mission Statement, Goals, Strategies, and Activities.  Really.  It looks sort of like an outline, and I keep it in a Word document, on the upper left corner of my computer desktop (which is otherwise bare of documents.)  I refer to it regularly, to determine if I’m on track in my writing career, to make sure that I’m heading where I want to go.

And so, I thought it might be useful to spend a few Magical Words entries on building a Strategic Plan.  First up:  Creating a Mission Statement.

Yeah, I know.  A Mission Statement is a waste of time.  It’s a way of telling the world what it wants to hear without putting any muscle or commitment behind the telling.  It’s a chance to say what everyone already knows.  It’s an opportunity to roll out the thesaurus – or at the very least, the Buzzword Bingo card.  Blah, blah, blah.

But a Mission Statement is more than that.  It’s an opportunity to define the parameters of who you are and what you want to accomplish.  It’s a chance to build a measuring stick, against which you will consider every specific Goal, Strategy, and Activity that you define.

Mission Statements are most effective when they’re specific.  Sure, you can say, “My mission is to be a writer.”  But how does that really help you chart your future?  Do you want to write fiction?  Non-fiction?  Poetry?  Do you want to write in a specific genre?  Do you want to be published?  By a traditional publisher?  By a self-publishing venue?  In print?  Or electronic only?  Do you want to make a living off of your writing?  Or keep it as a joyful hobby?

All of a sudden, a Mission Statement isn’t so namby-pamby, is it?

See what you can put together.  Share it with us in comments – or tell us why you think a Mission Statement is a waste of time.  Let us know if you want comments/critiques of what you’ve put together.

And in future posts, we’ll move on to the other elements of a Strategic Plan:  Goals, Strategies, and Activities

Mindy, looking forward to reading the Mission Statements of others

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17 comments to Making it Your Business: A Mission Statement

  • I’ve been working on a mission statement for a while, but disguised as a blog bio and a tag line. Somehow, calling it a blog bio and a tag line seemed less intimidating than a mission statement. (I’ve gotten stuck on the tag line, but I’m getting closer.)

    The two parts, taken together, tell not just what genre I write, but remind me how my work is unique. For example, I like to write non traditional heroes, I like hints of magic, and I tend towards certain themes. I also like to include my goals for X time period. Even if that tends to remain depressingly the same :)

  • When I worked at a public library, the concept of “strategic plan” seemed a bit difficult to grasp. Maybe it was because I was mostly a young bookshelver working in circulation. Now that I’m a library technician working at a special college library, I truly understand and appreciate what it does. (For example, it justified our need for an extra part-time staff member, to help with our extra workload during the busy season.) But I never thought of applying it to myself!

    So I guess my mission statement would be, “To make a successful living as an author, published by a traditional publisher in the young adult fantasy genre.”

    I really want to say that my pre-mission to that is “to achieve representation by an agent”, but I’m guessing that’s part of Step 2.

  • Erm, time. I knew I forgot something. So … “To make a successful living as an author, published by a traditional publisher in the young adult fantasy genre within the next five years.” *nods*

  • Suzi – It’s interesting, how all of the “self-identification” pieces of the writing puzzle fold together, isn’t it? As for goals for X time period – I slot those into a different part of the Strategic Plan – one that I’ll be writing about next month!

    Laura – What is it about us librarians, and our strategic plans :-) Your mission statement is similar to mine – defining streams of publication and genres…

  • Hmm. My mission, with a dash of ambition, would be:

    “I will become a best-selling author of Speculative Fiction, specializing in Epic Fantasy, making a full-time living from my writing and writing-related activities.”

    That’s all I really want 😉

  • I never thought of mission statements like this. I work at a hospital (for benefits I can’t afford otherwise) and teh hospital mission statements are as you said — blah blah blah. Big words saying nothing.

    But for me…a mission statement would clarify where I am, who I am, and what I want to do and be. I think it will require time and soul-searching and honesty, so I’m not going to post one here today, Mindy. But I’ll be working on my own mission statement. I like it!

  • mudepoz

    I’d have to have a mission. My dogs have missions. Me, damn ADD, too many. Hm.

  • Well, the one of the goals leading toward the enactment of my mission statement is pretty much going to be a bust as of the end of March, I’m guessing. I wanted to be picked up, by agent or publisher, by the time I was 40. Even if I finish the final revisions by the end of February (my self-imposed deadline) I don’t think I’ll make the March 28 deadline with waiting time and such, even if it’s picked up on the first try.

    Mission: To be a prolific and successful, full-time author in the fields of fantasy, science fiction, and romance through traditional publishing venues and a paid and respected screenplay writer in multiple genres. To create high-quality writing for the fans of the aforementioned genres and be accessible and ingratiating to the fans of my work.

  • I like this idea, Mindy. Like Faith, I’m reluctant to write something without thinking about it a lot. But I see a mission statement as something other than a list of goals, and so I think I’d start somewhere around here:

    “My mission is to be as skilled and successful a writer as I can be without sacrificing my health, my sanity, my love of the written word, or my commitment to my family.”

    Or something like that….

  • Sarah

    Thanks, Mindy – you’ve actually given a good reason to have a mission statement. Right now mine would include the words “will not be intimidated out of writing by people who don’t take my mission seriously.” Today a colleague “jokingly” called me autistic because I keep refusing her invitations to party on weeknights. Okay, so posting this is my way of dealing with the sting, but as I type I think that should be part of my mission statement, except in positive terms. “My mission is to get my butt in the chair and words on the page, regardless of the opinions or scorn of other people.” It’s a start. Now it needs something about finishing, submitting and finding an agent.

    David – I love yours. I made a very similar promise to myself on the first day of grad school. Little did I know how close I would come to breaking that promise or how important the promise itself would be in keeping me on track. Mindy’s right – it does help to say these things aloud and keep them front and center.

  • Stephen – “dash of ambition” is what it’s all about – these are the dreams that we define for ourselves when we’re being the very best writers that we can be!

    Faith – I agree that these things require some soul-searching. It’s taken me months to fine-tune my strategic plan, but reading over it a few days ago, I realized that it really is the career map that I want it to be!

    Mudepoz – Strategic plans in general, and mission statements in particular, seem like useful tools to organize activity within the challenges of ADD. The Plan and the Statement help you to gauge when you’re on track, maximizing direction and focus. (I type this, woefully ignorant of the specifics of living with ADD, but all too aware of the limitations of working in an institutional environment where the focus changes wildly from week to week and month to month…)

    Daniel – I’m sorry that you need to reset your time-focus, but it seems as if this Strategic Plan discussion could not be taking place at a better time for you! I like that you included fans in your mission; sometimes writers don’t think of the fans as part of the core mission, but rather as part of the Goals, Strategies, and Activities (which we’ll be stressing in months to come.)

    David – I agree with you, that the mission statement isn’t a set of goals; rather it’s more of a statement of belief, or a presentation of ethics. As such, I think that yours is a great stepping-off statement; I’ll be curious to see if it changes as the notions percolate!

    Sarah – It’s hard to educate the people around us to understand the choices that we make for our writing. I’m glad that my post “spoke to you” as you’re working this out in your own mind. I’d encourage you to think broadly in your mission statement – less about specific strategies (“butt in chair”) and more about overall mission (e.g., “proudly pursuing my career as a writer” without the negative details of “despite misunderstanding coworkers” ::wry grin::

  • I really like this idea. I’ve been trying to get back into blogging after a hiatus, and I’m working on my second novel’s manuscript. I think this may be a really good exercise in laying out precisely what I am looking for. I kind of did it earlier last year when I took on the whole “treating writing like the job I want it to be,” but never anything concrete. I ran some numbers, and finished my first manuscript.

    Now, though, I think this will be a great kick in the pants to actually outline a timeline of what I want out of my writing–to make a living with my writing. It may very well be self-publishing ebooks (here’s hoping the bottom doesn’t fall out of that market). I know I’m good with social media and PR, and I have the entrepreneurial experience and motivation to really make a go of it.

    I just have to type it out in a less-rambling sort of way. Thanks for the idea!

  • Tom Berrisford

    Interesting timing on this post, Mindy. Last night I took some time to define some writing goals to strive for between now and StellarCon. I figured I’d create some new ones after StellarCon. The point was to make things more definite instead of just the nebulous “I will write ## hours per week.” The idea of a mission statement ties in nicely with trying to better define what I’m trying to do.

    Like Faith and David have said, to do a mission statement justice requires time, thought, and an openness to revision. I like David’s point about including things that go beyond the obvious writing goals. There are so many stories of authors who either become alcoholics, get divorced, or suffer some other significant loss in the pursuit of their writing goals. To me, the gain would not be worth the loss.

    So here’s my first draft:

    My mission is to be able to make a living as a full-time published author of stories of various lengths that entertain, encourage and touch people in a positive way while not sacrificing myself or my family or compromising my beliefs in the process.

  • B.J. – I’m glad that you found the post useful! We’ll be looking at Goals, Strategies, and Activities in future posts – you’ll likely find those more directly useful in structuring a concrete timeline. I look forward to seeing how this all works out for you!

    Tom – Isn’t it interesting how cons get us motivated to organize our writing lives? IMHO, you’ve done a great job of balancing the disparate elements of the writing life, to structure your personal Mission Statement. (And I think that including those balancing features is useful – as you note, so many authors succumb to addictive illness. In the same way that corporations should focus on known negatives in their industries (e.g., poor customer service), we should account for frequent problems in the writing business.)

  • Mindy> I read your post this morning, and then sort of let it bang around in my head all day. Didn’t quite come up with a mission statement, but I like the idea. Unless I become a best-selling author, I doubt I’ll give up my day job (benefits, as Faith points out, are nice).

    I guess my mission statement would be:

    I want to be a successful author: publishing urban fantasy, published in the traditional market with some financial success. I want to be a successful academic: publishing in the traditional academic markets, succeeding in being a good and well respected teacher by my students and colleagues, and earning tenure and promotion (through the previous two) in as short a time as possible. Finally, I want to be a successful person: not sacrificing my important relationships, my passions, my health, or my sanity.

    Yeah, and I’d like a pony. No, I’m kidding, I don’t get the horses fascination a lot of girls have. I want a house. :)
    In all seriousness, I do think that laying out a mission statement like this is useful. When I set goals like “I will write at least once a week,” and “I will have a finished draft by ‘x’ time done in ‘y’ increments” I actually get places. So I’ll keep this and print it out and put it up in my office (if ever my corkboard gets installed!) 😀

  • Having just gotten home from my day job (at 8 pm, after 13 hours of multitasking and meeting hopping), my first thoughts regarding a personal mission statement run a lot toward the negatives. However, having read Faith’s and David’s comments about taking the time to think about it and soul searching, I took a deep breath, boxed up the angst with a note to myself not to look at it again until morning, and decided to say, instead:

    1) Thank you for this post, and

    2) My mission statement will include balancing writing, family, and career. It will focus on maintaining my love of words and improving my writing/story-telling skills more than on being able to support myself through writing.

  • Pea_Faerie – That giving up of the day job thing is a goal most of us never achieve! You’ve packed a lot of diverse goals into your Statement – some of my future posts will help to break them down into constructive goals!

    Lyn – Ah, how I remember that striving for balance thing (as a litigator at a major law firm, I had *no* balance in my personal life.) I’m glad that my post was useful to you!