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?