While rummaging in my attic for a reference book, I rediscovered two old books. Momentarily distracted from my quest, I flipped through them, and thought about the single, unifying message of the books. It applies to all writers, from struggling wannabes to established professionals.
The On-Purpose Person (1992) and The On-Purpose Business (1998) by Kevin W. McCarthy discuss valuable principles that could spell the difference between success and failure for our writing efforts.
The keys to successful writing are twofold:
- Discovering our purpose and being on-purpose in everything we do.
- Discovering and being must be intentional.
If we are to be successful, they cannot be accidental, incidental, or occasional.
Each writer’s purpose might differ, depending on the genre, market, and audience. And, how we implement that purpose might change as we develop as writers, and even as we age. We fulfill our purpose by setting goals…but purpose is more than goals. Goals are merely mileposts on the road to fulfilling our purpose. And, purpose finds its highest fulfillment not in merely being published, but in having helped our readers in some way—informing, entertaining, or persuading them.
Our purpose remains constant even when we face problems with our writing or suffer rejection. Having purpose causes us to see our problems not as setbacks, but as opportunities to grow, improve, and discover creative solutions. As Anton Chekov wrote, “You must once and for all give up being worried about success and failures. Don’t let that concern you. It’s your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite steadily, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures.”
I discovered my purpose long ago but I still struggle with staying on-purpose. Life has so many distractions to knock us off-purpose. We get busy living. Spouses, kids, bills, and errands demand our time and energy.
“The trick,” Harland Ellison declared, “is not to become a writer, it is to stay a writer. Day after day, year after year, book after book. And for that, you must keep on working, even when it seems beyond you.”
We must prioritize. What is most important? What will help—or hinder—the fulfillment of our purpose?
Staying on-purpose requires determination, perseverance, diligence, investment, focus, good judgment, and a commitment to continued growth and development. But these requirements do not demand perfection.
We should periodically ask and answer several key questions.
- What is our purpose?
- What motivates our writing?
- What means will fulfill our purpose, and who are we serving by it?
- What are we doing to fulfill our purpose?
Writing is often a solitary task but, to become and remain an on-purpose writer, we need what Napoleon Hill termed a “mastermind group.” This group of people will not only praise us when we get an acceptance, or have our work published, but will also be honest and straightforward enough to tell us when our writing stinks, when we need to sit down and write rather than just talk about doing it, and when we are off-purpose.
Every time you flip a light switch on or off, think about your writing. What is your purpose for writing? Are you on-purpose or off-purpose at this moment? If you’re not on-purpose, what is keeping you from being on-purpose, and fulfilling it? What can you do to get back on-purpose?
Focusing on those questions will help us become and remain on-purpose writers.
WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN WRITING? PLEASE SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE USING THE COMMENTS BOX BELOW.
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Dennis L. Peterson is an independent author and historian and a former editor and educator. He is an avid student of American history with a special emphasis on the history of the South. His editorial experience includes working as a senior technical editor for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, Inc., at the historic Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant and independent work for a variety of publishers, organizations, and individuals. He has had articles on historical, educational, and religious topics published in a variety of journals and magazines.
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My purpose as a Christian is to serve God which includes loving (being there for in the needs of) our neighbor. If he gave me the gift of writing then I am supposed to use that to aid my purpose. In other words writing is a means, not a purpose. It serves the purpose.
My purpose in writing is to entertain. If the readers soak up a bit of knowledge along the way, all the better.