When The Writing Stops Feeling Right – A Purpose Statement Will Help

by Anne Wayman

fixing your writingI think it happens to every writer – you’re writing and gradually become aware that somehow the piece isn’t right. Somewhere along the line you’ve gotten lost.

Sometimes it will be pretty simple to figure out where you went off track.  Sometimes not so much.

There really are only two basic reasons we get lost in our own writing and have trouble fixing it:

  • Part of the reason it can be difficult to fix a particular piece of writing is we tend to fall in love with what we’ve written. If this is the problem you’ve got to let go of either the piece or the attachment to it.
  • The other reason is we’ve lost track of our purpose in writing the piece in the first place.


Purpose statements keep or get you back on track

I suspect more writing goes wrong because of lack of clarity about its purpose than any other reason. That’s why you’ll often hear me talk about creating a 10 word purpose statement for any piece of writing you do.  

It sounds simplistic, but it works. The purpose statement for this post is to: show how purpose statements helps writers get back on track.

With the the sort of clarity a purpose statement requires, when I notice I’m getting all confused all I have to do is read my purpose statement. It will inform me where I went wrong and what to do about it.


Another truth about purpose statements is that if you didn’t write one before you got started you can write one when the writing starts feeling off or you find yourself struggling without knowing quite why.

Crafting a purpose statement helps you spot problems in advance

You may discover as you try to craft such a statement that your idea wasn’t very well formed to begin with. I find my original idea is often to broad, or too big or actually contains several ideas. Working on a purpose statement can help me figure out what’s wrong.

It’s also worth noting that I find the 10 word purpose statement works as well for large projects like books as it does for smaller ones. In fact when I’m ghostwriting a book I don’t get started with much writing until and unless we agree on the purpose statement. Over and over again I’ve proven to myself and others that having a 10 word or less statement about the purpose, the reason for the writing is a huge help.

How to you fix your writing when it starts to go off track and feel wrong?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by jhritz

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

HP van Duuren May 26, 2012 at 6:25 am

Yes, Anne, I do think that it’s indeed a good thing to clearly look at the purpose first.
For example recently I wrote a Book Review mainly because I was curious about – Why - a certain book would be interesting to read.

And it probably also a good question to also ask - Who - would enjoy reading such a book. (Although I do think that on a subconsiouss level I might already have done this by also mentioning an other book that would appeal to a somewhat similar type of reader)
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WritersWritingWords (Eleni) April 18, 2012 at 12:25 am

I recently (very recently!) went through a purpose-statement overhaul for my entire writing practice. That’s a tough one — but I feel so relieved to have decided on my course of action!
Anyway, that was a bit off-topic; purpose statements for separate writing pieces are a very good way to remain focused throughout the process. Excellent idea, thank you!
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annew April 18, 2012 at 10:03 am

Actually, using a purpose statement for the whole business also works well. Thanks for mentioning it.

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Clara Freeman April 17, 2012 at 9:53 am

I’ve never attempted the purpose statement, but I will now. I’ve lost track of my writings in a few instances where my train of thought just drifted…thanks for setting me straight on the purpose wheel.
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annew April 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Let us know how it works for you Clara.

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Laura Spencer April 17, 2012 at 7:05 am

This is great advice Anne! Purpose statements (I think a mission statement is basically the same thing, right) can really help. Plus, I think it’s a good idea to revisit your purpose statement periodically to make sure that it still fits.

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annew April 17, 2012 at 7:29 am

The trick, no matter what you call it, is to limit the number of words… in my experience mission statements can get wordy.

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HP van Duuren April 17, 2012 at 2:56 am

Thanks for your post Anne,

This is actually a technique that I usually use when writing Short Stories,
simply starting with something going like,

‘I want to write a Short Story that will make
the reader wonder about…., etc. etc.’

That way before I know it something of a Story starts developing.
I can see how such an approach could also work for all kinds
of other types of writing.
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annew April 17, 2012 at 7:23 am

Yes, sounds similar.

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John Soares April 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I love the idea of the purpose statement Anne. And the ten-word limit is also about the 140-character limit on Twitter, so we could also ask ourselves “How would I explain this piece to a friend in a tweet?”
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annew April 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Wonderful, John… I hadn’t made the connection between purpose statements and tweets… but you’re absolutely right… thanks for the tie-in.

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Elizabeth West April 19, 2012 at 9:41 am

That’s a good way to come up with an elevator pitch too.
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