Sunday, June 3, 2012

Personal Mission Statements... In Life & Writing

My mom in 1971 (Photo Courtesy of K.O'Kane)
My mother is an amazing woman, and she has always told me you should create a personal mission statement to help guide you through your life. (That's her pictured above. Insightful and wicked beautiful.)

She has certainly taken her own advice. Her personal mission statement is to help children in need, and to leave the world a better place than she found it. As a student interventionist, she works with at-risk youth at an alternative middle school in Florida. She fulfills her mission statement every time she takes a step inside the school grounds.

I think about my mother's advice often as I begin my (hopeful) journey from writer to author. In order to succeed in the literary business (and in our general lives), I think it is important for us to stand for something. To set ourselves apart from other aspiring writers, and to build a unique brand that encompasses the intrinsic quality of "us" that makes us who us are.

I once read that in order to write about interesting things, you need to experience interesting things. You can't write about someone succeeding despite all obstacles if you've never put yourself out there. If you've never been burned, if you've never ached, if you've never wanted something more than what you currently have.

That is not to say that you have to become a bull rider if you want to write about a rodeo, or that you have to become a heart surgeon if one of your characters is a doctor. But if you want your brand to be "All-American Romance," you better know how to live and love passionately. If you want your brand to be "Quirky, Intelligent Artist," you better appreciate the subtleties of life in the artistic world.

I am a bit of a vagabond myself. As I have moved from place to place and worked in a variety of random careers, the one thing I have kept consistent in my life is my flat-out awe and appreciation for the natural world. Its animals, its destinations, its power and its fragility. This is my Essence. This is what makes me who I am.

Digging the Smoky Mountains with my sister and cousins in 1987...
That's me, second from the right, and that weird, brown thing in my hand looks like dirty snow.
I keep this in mind as I begin working on my brand. I would love to write about anything and everything that strikes my fancy, but I think it's important to have a fairly limited writing scope so my readers know what I stand for. This doesn't mean I need to limit my creativity; I just need to make sure my novels carry a certain type of consistency--just like my life has carried a certain type of consistency.

Therefore, here is my literary mission statement: "I strive to inspire readers to care about nature by crafting stories that highlight the interconnectedness of humans and the world around us."

Does this mean I have to preach about the Endangered Species Act every time I pick up my laptop? Does this mean I have to discuss water pollution, or the dangers of run-off, or my personal feelings on the viability of preservation vs. conservation?

No, of course not. I don't want to get preachy. And even if I did, my readers wouldn't want to hear it. Readers expect a good story, not an ethics lesson.

Therefore, my job is simply to set a stage where my characters experience situations (positive or negative) where the power and beauty of the natural world is presented to them. They can be happy or sad or neutral about this, but the point is that I have made the conscious choice to include that element in my storyline. And an echo of that element will resonate in every single book I write.

This doesn't mean I can't write about cities, and this doesn't mean I can't write about people who deplore nature. I just have to make sure the natural world is a "character" in my novels, and my other characters can choose to react to it however they like.

How about you? Do you have a personal mission statement in your life? In your writing? Are these mission statements the same, or are they different? How does this affect the decisions you make in your stories?

16 comments:

The Redhead Riter said...

First, I agree. Your mother is beautiful.

A life's mission statement is a very interesting concept. I guess I've never formally written one for my life, but I've had ideas of what I want my life to include. As the years keep passing and since my daughter is now grown, my view of just about everything has really shifted.

I'm going to have to think on this formal mission statement for my life thing awhile. It really makes sense to actually write one down!

Linda Jackson said...

Great post, LisaAnn. I don't have a personal mission statement, but you are right--I should--and not just for writing, but for life.

I agree with you and The Redhead Riter; your mother is both beautiful and wise.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, that is really deep! I never really thought about it before. But in thinking about it, I guess the way I write and how I blog both carry a message and a statement of who I am.
I strive to show people the true meaning of friendship.
And sounds like both you and your mother are living your dream ambitions!

Angelina C. Hansen said...

Can we trade Moms? Wait. I couldn't be that cruel to anyone. ^_^ Love the photo and the message of this post. I do have a mission statement both in life and in my writing and it has to do with overcoming extreme adversity with humor and hope. That theme runs through all my stories.

Precy Larkins said...

Your mom is gorgeous! No surprise as you are a lovely girl yourself.

My personal creed has always been to follow the golden rule. To be nice to others, to show respect no matter who they are or how different they may be from me. I believe in kindness begetting kindness. I believe in paying forward. There's already so much dissonance and conflict in the world that I'd like to make my own little niche to be free of that. Life is too short to focus on the negative things, so I try to be positive and hopeful. :)

I like your mission statement. I like that you go for what's important to you. You can definitely impart your message without being preachy. If only most people would realize this, the world would be a better place.

No need to step on toes, ya know what I mean? We can all be passionate about something without bringing others down. Great post, Lisa!

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Love this post and love that photo!

For me, I think finding family and blooming where you're planted - forgiveness are common themes in my work - though I get excited about several genres. I think it would totally stifle my creativity if I could ONLY write YA contemporary or ONLY write dystopia....know what I mean?

LTM said...

That is one fantastic mission statement! And I know you'll live up to it. You've done so much w/animals and nature already.

Also, a gorgeous picture of your mom. She is very inspirational--lucky girl! Here's hoping you all the best of success~ :) <3

Donna Perugini said...

LisaAnn,
You've nailed it for a mission statement and branding on your blog. Your theme resonates with me, and I've loved involving my granddaughter with your site.

Your post is very thoughtful. I'd expect to hear something like this in a conference from a confident speaker.

Melanie Conklin said...

It's interesting that you use the word "craft" in your mission statement--I just posted the results of a poll on writer's fears on my blog. What people feared most was not living up to their standards--not having good craft. We are all so alike and yet so different! Thanks for an interesting read.
Melanie

Charlie Holmberg said...

Branding is hard for writers, especially the unpublished. Feel free to write a post on that! I would appreciate it. ;)

Nice mission statement, btw. And your mom is hot stuff!

Christa Desir said...

Oh. I have a brand. It's very dark and edgy and pushes boundaries. I'm not sure I live that way anymore, but I have lived that way. I am around people who live that way. But yeah, this is maybe not exactly a mission statement. I will have to think on this:)

Lori M. Lee said...

I love your mission statement :) And it suits you perfectly. I think mine is simply to make readers care--about the characters, a theme, the plot, whatever, so long as they care about something. Apathy is the worst!

girlparker.com said...

What a great idea! I've never thought about it as concretely before, but it will surely dominate my thoughts today. Thanks!

Painter of LIFE said...

my mission statement is to walk my own road leaving behind goodness and taking with me many memories. I write about Creation, Wildlife and nature trying to capture LIFE at its best...I stumbled upon your blog and like it!!!!
thank you!

Pam Asberry said...

Great post. You have inspired me to write a personal mission statement of my own. Thank you!

Dinda Amanda said...


Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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