The Purpose of Your Writing Life

“[T]he meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for MeaningI first titled this post “The Purpose of A Writing Life,” but that would miss the point entirely.

Why do you write? It’s a question I’ve focused on a lot here recently because figuring out for ourselves what the purpose of our writing is—what meaning it has for us—is a key to writing more, writing better, and writing in a way that brings more satisfaction than frustration.

Your Goals Are Not Your Purpose

Goals are generally a good thing to have, but they are not your purpose. We might have a goal to write a certain number of words a day or finish a story or query agents or even to make our living as a writer.

None of these goals, however, speaks to why we write. Without purpose, we can meet our goals and still feel lost and unsatisfied.

Our Purpose Is Not Our Brand

Our public face as a writer, should we choose to have one, is also not our purpose. A writer’s brand is simply how we hope others view us as a writer, giving readers a better chance of knowing what to expect from us and helping them to find us wherever our words reside.

Our brand, though, rarely gets to the heart and soul of our purpose, which is harder to capture in a memorable tag line or motto.

For example, I have come to see that my purpose of writing is in fact to give my life meaning. Writing helps me to make sense of the often confusing world around me as well as to be a part of that world. Understanding this purpose puts into perspective why I read what I read and even sheds light on feeling an outsider at various points in my life. It’s all of a piece and is very hard to explain to others. It is also my meaning only, not the meaning for all writers.

We often don’t know our purpose as writers until we start writing on a regular basis, and once we do begin to glimpse our individual purpose, our ideas of happiness and success are transformed in the most surprising ways.

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” ~ Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

See also

Viktor Frankl on the Human Search for Meaning (at Brain Pickings)

In the following interview, Viktor Frankl explains his ideas of freedom, choice, and having something to live for rather than just rules to live by (see more video clips at the Viktor Frankl Institut):

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