Writers are artists. Most of us operate from a very different core system of values than the mainstream population. We would love to be paid for our work, sure, but money is not the primary motivating force for us. And while we also enjoy recognition, status alone is not enough to really get our engines going.
The driving force for writers is creative self-expression. Our thoughts, feelings, actions, personal character, and most deeply held values all reflect this one relentless pursuit. We have stuff in our head that we have to get out of our head, and hopefully down onto the page. When we don’t do this—when we’re not writing regularly or we’re not writing at all—it feels AWFUL. We feel stunted and crabby and like we’re suffocating. Creative self-expression is at the root of our being. In order to live in any sort of tolerable state of existence, we must honor it.
Your values are the core truths you live by. They are the beliefs you hold that are inextricable from who you are. Since creative self-expression is an essential emotional need for writers, our values always reflect this at the center. That’s why beauty, craftsmanship, honesty, and originality tend to be values that resonate deeply with writers. Values like these are offshoots of creative self-expression.
The key to finding your value as a writer is to make a list of the values you hold as a person. You will discover values on your list that are more personal and private, as well as values that have to do more with other people. For instance, when I made my list I came up with Solitude, Dreaming, Growth, Intuition and Creativity on the private side, and Empathy, Compassion, Friendship, Growth and Creativity on the external side. Growth and Creativity came up twice because it means a lot to me to exercise these values within my inner landscape, and also out in the world with other people. One of the results is the blog you’re reading right now. My values list helped me see that I needed a creative project I could grow from that also encouraged me to connect with others.
Each one of us has a different, very specific set of values. If you’re an erotic romance writer, your values might include honesty, openness, and human connection, which results in your goal of helping people to feel comfortable with sexuality and our physical bodies. If you’re a mystery writer, your values could include logic, reason, and appreciation for the unexpected, which results in the goal of challenging your readers to always think a few steps ahead. Or you might discover that your values don’t fit into any predictable sort of list and your goals are actually much different than you assumed.
Making a list of your values clarifies what exactly the idea of your success as a writer means to you. It also helps you chart your future course, urging you to ask yourself not only where you want to be in the next year or five, but why. Your list of values will probably change over time, that’s perfectly normal, but having them on hand as a reference will greatly benefit you when you feel lost at sea about your writing or your next career move. It’s a way to reconnect with yourself and real reasons you’re trying to make it at this writing thing at all.
I used Steve Pavlina’s list of values to make my own list, and then I used his post on Living Your Values to narrow it down and figure out how they could work for me. Steve’s posts are long, but definitely well worth the read. It takes a bit of effort to make your values list, but once you have a working copy you can just tweak it from time to time. And after you’ve seen what really makes you tick, I think you’ll find unexpected inspiration for new writing projects in your future.
Feel free to share some of your unique values in the comments! I’d love to see what drives other writers.
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