There comes a point in every aspiring writer’s life when they must decide how they want to use their writing personally and/or professionally. Do you want to make a living as a writer? Do you want a stable day job, and to write novels in your spare time just for fun? Maybe writing is already a small part of your job, and you are looking for ways to do more of it outside of a professional setting.
What do you want, as a writer? What is your intended purpose? What kinds of writing make you feel accomplished? More importantly, how do you decide something seemingly so abstract and complicated? It’s not so hard. You just have to do a little extra work.
Define your mission
Everyone has a purpose. The argument that you “don’t know” what your purpose is doesn’t make sense. You’re the one who decides what you want to accomplish. When trying to figure out what you want to do or stand for or achieve as a writer, you need to first be aware of your own professional mission. This is more complex than “I want to be a writer,” because obviously that doesn’t actually get you anywhere. Who do you want to help? What kinds of messages do you want to send? Why do you want to write? You’re making it harder than it needs to be, I can guarantee it.
I have different “missions” for the different kinds of writing that I do. When I’m writing fiction, I do so with a goal to tell stories that realistically represent issues related to mental health and personal relationships. I want to normalize stigmas. That’s the only reason I’m still writing fiction – because I have a mission I want to carry out. It’s different for my blog posts and it’s different still for my professional writing (freelancing). You need motivation to write and you need a purpose. Otherwise, there’s really nothing stopping you from giving up when times get tough. (Please don’t.)
Try a little bit of everything
I always worry a little bit about new writers who say they know exactly what they want to do. The majority of the time, it’s writing and publishing a novel. It’s the only thing I wanted to do for years, too. I don’t think it’s wise to settle for only one type of writing when you haven’t expanded your horizons. You might think you really enjoy fiction writing, but is that because you genuinely love it – or do you hold it close because it’s all you’ve ever known? Especially if you’re struggling to decide what you want to accomplish as a writer – beyond “getting published” – you should branch out.
You really won’t know how you want to use your writing until you’ve tried using it in many different ways. I’ve written for newspapers, magazines, blogs; I’ve done some technical writing, I’ve even reviewed games and movies. I tried writing a TV pilot once. And obviously I’ve written novels (that’s how this blog started, after all). You really have to keep your options open and figure out where you want to settle down in the writing world, or the multiple genres you want to claim. Don’t just stick with the first thing you try, especially if it doesn’t in some way satisfy you.
Do what makes you feel fulfilled
This is not the same thing as doing what makes you happy. I write a lot about productivity and self improvement for one of my clients. I don’t particularly enjoy writing about those things, and I wouldn’t say doing so makes me happy. But it does make me feel fulfilled. I can deal with writing for a living if it means I can walk away from a full day of writing feeling like I’ve accomplished something or helped someone somewhere in the world. That’s what we all want, when it comes down to it. We want to walk away from our work feeling like we’ve fulfilled some kind of purpose in the world.
If you don’t put your work down feeling like you’ve done something important, you’re probably not doing the right kind of writing. This is an internal feeling – it has nothing to do with how other people perceive your work. There are always going to be people who criticize, who ignore, who miss the point of your words completely. But if YOU feel good about what you’re doing, those things shouldn’t matter. This is why branching out into different kinds of writing is so important. If you really like to write, but you’re not feeling great about what you’re writing, there’s probably a different type of writing out there that suits you better. It’s up to you to experiment, on your own time, and find it.
Deciding what kind of writer you want to be, and what you want to do with your skills, is a milestone everyone reaches at some point. It isn’t a race, though. It doesn’t matter how long you have or haven’t been writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re still stuck in school or you’re years out of a degree. Everyone reaches this point in their writing journey at different times, and that’s OK. Writing can make up the entirety of your work day, or it can be a weekend hobby. You can write for charity or to make extra money on the side.
What you do with it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write knowing you are doing it because you want to. You should always write, at least a little bit, because it’s part of you. You won’t always love all the writing you do (I don’t think many people ENJOY writing papers for a grade). But overall, being a writer should define you only in the sense that it’s what you’re good at, and you’re able to embrace it. Enjoy what you’re doing, in all areas of your life. Never forget that words are enhancements, not crutches. Use them to brighten up your life, and make it the life you want, and deserve, to live.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.