On my new client intake form, which is an extensive Q&A about a writer’s project, publishing goals, and writing life, there is a section on goals and objectives. It looks like this:

Goals and Objectives
What are your goals and objectives for your book? Why are you writing it?  Leave blank any boxes that do not apply.

  • To make money
  • To make a name for myself an expert/authority
  • To influence/educate/illuminate/comfort/entertain people
  • To raise my voice/speak up/claim my story
  • To prove that I can do it, either to myself or others
  • Because I feel called to do it/I am burning to do it/I can’t rest until I do it
  • To leave a legacy for my family


I very carefully crafted this list to include all the big ticket motivations that tend to fuel most of the writers I work with. These are the things that I hear people saying over and over again, the reasons that make writing a book such a different undertaking than so many other activities.
I think it’s valuable to stop and ask yourself WHY you are doing what you are doing, especially at the start of a project, or if you feel yourself getting stuck or stalled out. There are two main ways this helps:

  1. Focus. You can move words around on the page all day long, but unless you are clear about your goal, you will have a hard time making those words do what you want them to do. When you remind yourself what your goal for the work is, it becomes easier to know what to leave in and what to leave out.
  2. Motivation. If you find yourself overcome with doubt or despair about your work, reminding yourself why you are doing can make all the difference between giving up and persevering.

I recently had a writer fill out the form and she added a box to the list – an action I thought was bold and awesome in and of itself – but then I read what she wrote and it took my breath away. Here is what she added:

  • To model for my kids what it means to pursue a dream (hard work, frustration, failure, perseverance, etc.)

I thought this was such a powerful addition to the list. For one thing, it’s one of the key motivators that keeps me persevering when I get lost or stuck, and I had failed to identify it as such. I am deeply proud of what I have modeled for my children over my years as a writer and a writing coach. My girls are both grown and gone -- no longer lounging in the big chair in my office watching me work -- but while they lived with me, I showed them every day that stories matter, that words matter, that putting your butt in the chair matters, that helping people raise their voice matters, that I matter, and by extension, that they matter, too. I would venture to say, in fact, that this may be the primary accomplishment of my career.
But regardless of whether or not you are a parent, this statement perfectly captures the truth of what it means to pursue a dream. So often, we think of dreams as lofty, glorious, noble undertakings. We picture the come-from-behind win, or the glittering acceptance speech – the public, visible moment -- but the reality is that pursuing a dream does indeed mean a ton of hard work, frustration, failure, and perseverance.
A lot of the time, it’s not that fun. And when it comes to writing, most of the time, it’s done alone.
But in doing it, we are modeling something good and meaningful – and showing ourselves what matters.
And yes – in case you are wondering, my client intake form is hereby updated with this new option. Thanks for the profound reminder, Jen!