Friday, March 14, 2014

Shiny Paper Clips by Jim Hart

One of my previous jobs required strong organizational skills, the practice of constantly setting (and communicating) priorities, and the ability to track thousands of pieces of work to meet tight deadlines. I had to really pay attention.  And my co-workers were convinced that all it took to distract me was a shiny paper clip.

Sometimes that shiny paper clip took the form of phone calls, endless cups of coffee, quoting from last night’s sitcom, a really good song on the radio, or a knock-knock joke.

Businesses, churches, and other organizations have long understood that to pay attention and keep on track that they need to work from clear vision and mission statements. Everything that is done is looked at through the lens of those statements. When deciding what direction, program or activity to expend resources on, if it doesn’t fit with their vision and mission, they won’t pursue it. It keeps them focused and on track with what they want to accomplish.

Here are some quick definitions:  “A vision statement is a picture of your organization in the future. It is your inspiration and the framework for all your strategic planning. A vision statement articulates your dreams and hopes for your business. It reminds you of what you are trying to build.”

“A mission statement is a brief description of a company's fundamental purpose. It answers the question, "Why do we exist?" The mission statement articulates the company's purpose both for those in the organization and for the public.” (

I tend to look at the vision as ‘what’ and the mission as ‘how’.

Amazon’s vision is "to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said that their vision is "We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products.” (Read his complete statement at

Our vision at Hartline Literary Agency is “to find the finest in new and established authors. Our common goal is to help authors grow and develop their careers.” (You can see our entire statement at

The concept of creating and working from a vision statement and a mission statement is a concept that can be put into practice by every person with a goal or something that they are trying to accomplish in life. When I was in youth ministry I had a personal vision and mission statement.

As a writer, have you thought much about your vision and mission? Have you articulated it in your proposals? Look at the two definitions above and substitute the words ‘organization, business and company’ with ‘I, my, me, and mine’.

I began to think again about vision and mission statements when reading through manuscripts that did not live up to the proposals. Especially non-fiction. They wandered and got off track. There were too many detours into territory that did not strongly support the message of the book. There were distractions.  

Staying on course with a personal vision and mission statement helps to filter out the activities and content that will hinder us from the effective and efficient delivery of our message.  It can be a good weapon in the fight against the shiny paper clips.

What’s your shiny paper clip?


Ron Estrada said...

I have several, but my biggest distraction is the need to stay "up" on the writing conversations going on all over the net. I feel I must stay on top of the discussions in facebook groups or blogs. After all, it's part of my writing career, right? We have to know the latest--and when I say latest, I mean it happend three seconds ago--industry trends. Otherwise, I'll never, ever be published!

Okay, there's my shiny paperclip. I'll get back to work.

Jim Hart said...

Some days I also think that I put too much time in trying to keep up with 'trends' and get sucked into the rabbit hole! Who wants to be caught not knowing the latest and greatest? I guess the answer is to find the balance. I also try to 'compartmentalize' my day to try and control how much time I allot to each activity. Some days I'm more successful at that than others.

You know, shiny paper clips(or the ones that are coated in colorful plastic) still do fill a necessary role in the office!

Diana said...

Well said Jim. I spent time with my appointments at the last two conferences going over the value of a missions statement. Especially in nonfiction- as you said- it will keep the writer on track. So often a proposal promises something the chapters do not deliver.

David B. Smith said...

I love your purpose statement and the dream of finding manuscripts that fulfill the twin objectives of being “greatly enjoyable AND significant.” Some books in current Christian literature seem to be rather small and fluffy tales; I appreciate your passion for finding grand stories where people strive to be noble and make a lasting difference. As always, Jim, a thought-provoking post! (And as for shiny paper clips, ooh, did the Dodgers score any runs since I last checked online . . .)

Linda Glaz said...

Just read this after posting mine today, and realized you, too, were discussing mission and message. Yes, so important to keep at the message, be sure we don't 'wander'.