Managing Your Muse
In the same way a Vision Statement can benefit career ambitions, a Mission Statement can help keep each project on track and in line with your short and mid-range goals.
You know that moment when the kernel of an idea for a story first arises? Whether it’s a character, a setting, a conflict; whatever it may be, that first exciting inkling of “I could write a story about that!” That’s when you begin your Mission Statement.
Jot it down! Don’t wait. Grab a piece of paper, your smart phone, a napkin, whatever’s handy. Don’t lose it. These are the precious nuggets of which great books are made. (Yes, there have been some not-so-great books written too, but since you don’t know which yours will be yet, take no chances—write it down.)
Unlike Vision Statements, your Mission Statement can be as long as you need it to be. It doesn’t need to be typed. Mine are handwritten in my journal and there are more projects there than I’ll ever be able to write in my lifetime.
When I do school visits and the kids ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”
I tell them, “From my magic journal.”
Mission statements can be flexible and will adapt as your story dictates. Which means, you don’t need to wait until you have all the plot points worked out, the characters created, or any of those details to get started. You can always update your mission statement.
What’s important to remember is, time changes everything and, if you don’t keep a record, these ephemeral gems will vanish into the ether. I find it comforting to know what my original intent was, even if I decide to change it later.
As important a function as recording your ideas is, the real magic of a Mission Statement is that it engages your Reticular Activation System (RAS). Your RAS is the way your brain organizes the myriad of information bombarding you every minute of every day. Without it, we’d never be able to concentrate on or accomplish anything. It sifts through the ever-flowing river of data and draws our attention to what we’ve told it is important enough to notice.
You’ve probably experienced it often. Two of the easiest examples to cite are when you first buy a new car and then see the same color and style all over roads, or you hear a word for the first time and then, soon after, notice it popping up all over the place. This is your RAS doing its job as efficiently as Google’s search engine.
When you take the time to write your Mission Statement, you are telling your brain that this topic is important to you. You’ve given it more weight and substance than a simple, “Yeah, that would be cool,” passing thought can generate. Your brain responds by drawing your attention to relevant resources. At times, it really feels like magic.
The following is not the only instance when I felt my RAS kick into gear, but it is certainly the most memorable.
When I first began writing my mission statement for The Minstrel’s Tale, I knew it was going to take place in medieval Europe. I knew Richard II would be involved, so I had the time frame narrowed down and had just began my research. It was during this time, before I had written the first word about Richard, when Dr. Brook Ballard walked into my bookstore for the first time. Dr. Ballard was writing a book too, and we began to talk about writing in general. During the course of our conversation, I learned he was a retired professor. His specialty? English Medieval History. Wow!
Of course, I begged him to become my historical advisor for The Minstrel’s Tale, and he agreed, loading me up with source material and even reading through my drafts to make certain I stayed true to the time period. His help and suggestions were invaluable for me to write the books I wanted to write. To make them real enough that readers could escape into my world without blatant historical errors slapping them back to the present.
Would I have had this relationship with Dr. Ballard had I not been clear in how I wanted my book to be? I don’t know, but somehow I don’t think our initial conversation would have played out the same way if I hadn’t been in the writing place I was at the time.
I think that was my RAS at work and I intend to keep it employed by using Mission Statements for all of my projects.
I’d like to share my Mission Statement for this project, Managing Your Muse, so you can get an idea of how to write one. As I’ve said, it’s not complicated or elaborate; in fact, there’s nothing fancy about it at all. (I’ve typed this from my un-edited, handwritten notes, so be gentle in your critique.)
Idea: from Poynter podcast—Writing a Mission Statement for your book or story.
Mission statement…Ugh! God I remember so many of those boring business meetings and struggling through those god-awful mission statements. BUT, I learned a lot from all of that corporate training AND I’ve applied a lot of it in my writing.
Things like using spreadsheets, Powerpoint, Word, teambuilding, flow charts, scheduling, goal setting. Jeesh, there’s a lot!
I’ll bet there are a lot of people retiring from corporate jobs who are thinking of writing a book and don’t know where to start. I could write a book about this. Probably about twenty chapters or so. I think it would help a lot of struggling writers.
That was my initial Mission Statement. Days later, I received an offer from a company who wanted to advertise on my blog. My blog! I haven’t posted on it in months. So, I updated my Mission Statement.
Maybe I can kill a couple of birds here. Maybe I can write it as a series of blog entries and then later, perhaps publish those entries as a book. That way, I don’t have to take too much time away from writing Pangaea, and can still get this done doing just a chapter a week.
I know I really should be using social media more often and keeping my blog up, but it’s just so difficult to come up with good content when I really want to put all of my creativity into Pangaea.
Even so, I think I can do this. I think it can help my career, and help other writers, I love a win/win and it really won’t take too much time away from Pangaea.
After thinking about it for a few more days, I updated it again.
Managing Your Muse! That’s the perfect title. Okay, I’ll do it, even though Pangaea is still my first priority, I’ll commit to writing a chapter each week and putting it on my blog.
Introduction-why I’m writing this and what it’s about
Vision Statement-career goals
Mission Statement-project goals and RAS
Teambuilding-critique groups, alpha and beta readers, editors etc.
Goal setting and Scheduling
Spreadsheets-Characters and plot points
Power Point-character arc
There’s more, but that should get me started and I’ll add as I go. Gotta leave room for RAS discoveries!
That’s pretty much all there is to a Mission Statement. What do you want your next book to be? How will it look? Use this helpful tool to keep you on track, activate your RAS, and keep your idea chest overflowing.
The next time your muse whispers in your ear, write it down. One of the first steps toward managing your muse is to make her feel important enough, she continues to share her imaginings with you. When you think about it, it’s the same common courtesy you would extend to anyone you respected. Respect your muse!