What are your goals and purposes as a writer?
That’s if we define ‘goal’ as ‘the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result’, and ‘purpose’ as ‘the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists’.
Thus you might have a goal to ‘be living as an independently wealthy person on the proceeds of my writing’; or ‘To experience relief from personal psychological pressure’. And while that might be a part of your purpose - i.e. to produce that result - your purpose might also be ‘to spread joy and happiness through beautiful stories’. If you work towards accomplishing your purpose - writing many books which effectively communicate joy and happiness to thousands of people - you should therefore eventually reach your goal. If, however, you focus too much on your goal, and make it your entire purpose, it might take longer to get there. Think about this: if you make the entire reason for which you write the eventual accomplishment of independent wealth or mental relief for yourself, you’re running the risk of leaving the reader out of the equation altogether. You then have to do a bit of mental gymnastics: ‘In order for me to become independently wealthy, or experience relief, I suppose I have to please these people enough so that they pay me or make my story so general that they can feel that it is about them.’ That’s quite a different aim than ‘spreading joy and happiness through beautiful stories’.
The latter will get you to your goal quicker because you’re focusing on the reader not yourself.
This might sound like a semantics game, but it’s important. Naming what you want to achieve personally will help you to clarify things and can lend enormous power to your creative pursuits. Get out a pencil and notepad and work out what that goal is in as simple and straightforward terms as possible. But when it comes to your purpose, work on disentangling the two. Merging a purpose with a goal can lead to a kind of ‘short-circuit’ and give you extra work; clearly stating a purpose for your writing which is inclusive of the reader is a more certain road to achieving a goal.
You see, it’s not all about you. Writing can be therapeutic; it can be a way of exploring your own thoughts, your own condition, acting out the inner dramas which occasionally plague you, and that’s all very well. But to make a successful career of writing, someone else has to be involved: the reader. So while you’re doing something for yourself, perhaps, you should do your best not to lose sight of the people who will make you successful in the long term. What can you do for them?
Let’s say that you are using your writing to exorcise some inner demon that you are plagued by, and every chapter that you write feels like a conquest of sorts inside. What is that doing for a reader? Is there any way, when you read it over, that certain parts, words, images, actions, can be adjusted so that someone else who comes to the piece would feel more included, and, in feeling a part of the action, also feel that something is being exorcised for them?
There are different ways of doing this. You might feel that something intensely personal and detailed, which had powerful psychological effects for you while you were committing it to the page, might need to be diluted or generalised in order that a reader who hasn’t shared that precise experience could identify with it. But the answer is often counter-intuitive: specific details, close, focused and deeply personal testimony revealed in a piece of writing can work to glue the reader to the page and draw him or her into a scene which might otherwise have remained vague and obscure.
For example, look at this extract from David Copperfield:
I was born at Blunderstone, in Suffolk, or 'there by', as they say in Scotland. I was a posthumous child. My father's eyes had closed upon the light of this world six months, when mine opened on it. There is something strange to me, even now, in the reflection that he never saw me; and something stranger yet in the shadowy remembrance that I have of my first childish associations with his white grave-stone in the churchyard, and of the indefinable compassion I used to feel for it lying out alone there in the dark night, when our little parlour was warm and bright with fire and candle, and the doors of our house were - almost cruelly, it seemed to me sometimes - bolted and locked against it.
Dickens’ image of the graveyard suggests a personal recollection of the author’s to some degree, but the details given - the location of the character’s birth, the white stone - seem at first glance to detract from a more general apprehension on the part of a reader. However, they actually have the opposite effect, making the scene more real to others.
That the graveyard experience was drawn from Dickens’ own memory is supported by the repetition of it in the opening of his novel Great Expectations:
I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister - Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana Wife of the Above," I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.
But here there is even more specific detail. Which all goes to support the case for intensely personal writing, rather than bland generalisation. The important thing is to include the reader, draw him or her into a scene so that the emotional impact can be both expressed psychologically by you as a writer and felt vicariously by the reader.
You will reach a personal goal much faster by having your purpose aimed at providing something for others.