What to Write Today That Will Change Your Life Tomorrow

Carol Tice

JoyAre you worried that your freelance writing career won’t turn out the way you want?

We’re going to do a quick writing exercise today to help you with that.

But first, I want to share a bit about the person who inspired this post.

One of the speakers at last week’s World Domination Summit was 84-year-old Bob Moore, of the wildly successful natural-foods company Bob’s Red Mill. Bob is a local hero in Oregon because he gave his company to the employees in a stock-ownership plan. And he still hasn’t retired.

One of the things Bob said struck me as critical for freelance writers.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day crises of running your business. But you have to stay on track and make sure you’re guiding things in the direction you want. How do you do that?

“Have a ‘major direction’ list,” he said.

Where are you going?

As soon as he said it, I felt sort of bad.

I’m good at making to-do lists for tomorrow or this week, but feel like I’m not so good at keeping track of the overall direction of my career.

Having a big-picture list is a powerful way to keep focused on what really matters.

Recently, when I looked at my writer website, I realized it was sadly out of sync with my current goals. It was still focused on finding article-writing gigs, when my primary writing goals now are:

I’ve updated my site now, so seeing it reminds me that I need to say “no” to gigs that don’t fit my goals.

As I recently noted in my letter to myself as a new freelance writer, it all goes by so fast. And if you don’t keep a focus on the big picture of where you want this all to end up, you probably won’t get there.

How to clarify your goals

What if you’re not sure where you want to go?

Here’s one thing I do when I’m trying to get a perspective on my major direction — I read obituaries in the newspaper.

Especially if they’re someone around my age. Or a child.

Some are sad stories of lives half-lived. Others are amazing tales that seem like they’d make a good novel!

I’ve also written a few obits as a journalist, and there is no tougher assignment than summing up a life in a few words.

Our lives are of varying lengths, and we never know how long they’ll be. So it’s important to move in the right direction.

Before time runs out.

People are always asking me what it’s like to have ‘made it’ as a writer, but I don’t feel like I have. Really, there is no arriving, no destination except for the one place we’re all going.

The place where someone else is opening the paper and reading our obituary. Before that, it’s all a journey.

Reading obituaries leads me to so many questions about my own life that help shape my direction list:

  • What are my notable accomplishments, if you had to sum them up in a few short sentences?
  • Have I been the best wife and mom I could be?
  • Am I making a positive difference in this world?
  • Does the way I spend my time now lead me in the direction I want to go?

Look back on your writing life from the perspective of the end of your life. Imagine what you’ll see.

Is that what you want? If not, it’s time to change course.

What’s on your major direction list? Write in the comments and share it with us. Or try writing your obituary. How would you like to be remembered?




  1. Lindsay Wilson

    I have been thinking about this sort of thing a lot lately. My grandma had Cancer, so she spent several months waiting to die. It seemed like, at 88, she still hadn’t found what she was after in life, which made it all the harder to see her go. It made me change focus with my life. What a good idea to apply it to your writing life, especially if you work from home, the sort of career where your work and personal life tend to bleed together.

    • Carol Tice

      I have a mother-in-law like that, Lindsay. She alienated all the people in her life, never broke free of toxic relationships in her life, and now it’s about over, and she’s very angry and bitter.

      You know, years ago I was an AIDS Buddy in L.A., back when the disease was new and people just died of it, pretty quick. And I had one buddy who was about 30 or 35.

      He had really never done much with his life — he drove a truck, never got married or found a life partner, or traveled, or bought a house. And he knew his life was over, and I think had so many regrets. It made a very big impact on me.

      Life is short. How can we make an impact on this world and leave it a better place? That’s the question that motivates me. What more can I do?

      • Lindsay Wilson

        I think one of the best things you can do with your life is pursue what you really want to be doing. If you can make good money working from home doing what you love, I think you’re on the right track to not having regrets when you know you don’t have a lot of time left.

  2. Kevin Carlton

    Carol, I always take time out from my normal day-to-day work to do things that will help me achieve my long-term goals – without fail!

    Sure, I don’t earn as much money on a day-to-day basis, but at least I know where I’m heading and that every day I’m one step closer to getting there.

    • Carol Tice

      So what are those goals, Kevin? Let’s get some accountability on this thread today for where we’re trying to steer our lives, I say!

      • Kevin Carlton

        Carol, you’ve put me right on the spot there.

        Rather than general goals, such as getting to a 6-figure income within 5 years, I have a big long list of short actionable steps that will help get me to where I wanna go.

        It’s a bit like Amandah’s list. You know: further develop website, build more relationships, start guest blogging, start inviting guest posts, optimise social profiles, create a useful downloadable report, the list goes on …

        I do a little bit every day between client stuff and it’s moving along OK.

        If I did have to state one general goal to aim for in the next 6-12 months, it would be to generate a worthwhile passive income to supplement regular client work.

  3. Terri

    So I guess, I’m not the only one to read obituaries in my daily newspaper. It’s a habit I started a few years ago after attending the funeral of my husband’s father. His eulogy was so fulfilling. He was so accomplished. It was inspiring and it made me question my goals, direction and life. Ever since that day, I too read obituaries as a reminder to live a life of purpose, and direction. Most importantly, it’s a reminder that my journey is definitely not complete until I take my last breathe. It’s definitely a great motivator for my writing career.

  4. Leigh Anne Stewart

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. One reason is that my Mother died two months ago. Even though I’m in my 50’s now, I always wanted to make her proud. I have decided to open an online ebook store. I am a freelance writer, but opening an online store is what I have wanted to do for years now. I’m writing my list of goals, and will try and stay on target with them every day. I will take each day as it comes to become a better business owner, mother and wife. I will even read the obits, and perhaps write one for myself now, and again in 5 years, and see what the changes will be.

    • Carol Tice

      Sorry to hear about your mom, Leigh Anne – may you be comforted by the Source of peace.

      I know so many people who have been prompted to make major life changes by a death in their family — to get serious about dating and getting married, or to quit a job they hate, or move.

      Best of luck with your online business!

  5. Jessica Flory

    Wow. It’s amazing how easy it is to get off track of what we truly want. Time zooms by, and we’ve missed our destination. Thanks for this inspiring post!

  6. Terence

    One of the main things I have learned in my 65-year run on this endless track: acceptance and love – and first and foremost, the self-acceptance and self-love variety.

    It wasn’t always that way. The first few innings saw me mostly judging myself and you, and mostly in a critical and condemning way. Not anymore.

    I’ve been fortunate to encounter people and groups which have shown me the beauty of pure, unadulterated acceptance. And the funny thing is: once I can accept myself, I can accept you.

    What a difference my days are when I live in gratitude rather than critical and condemnatory judgment.

    Gods bless the later innings…..

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, and those of us lucky enough to have later innings.

      My dad loves to complain about his aches and pains, but always adds, “But it beats the alternative!”

  7. Gosia

    I came across email containing this post and wondered when did I subscribe to your blog. The answer- long time ago. Where am I now, career wise? In exactly same position. Life wise- I gave a birth to wonderful son I wish to support with the help of my partner. This blog inspired me to start writing again( the only thing I’m good at, except making coffee and I definitely don’t want it to be the shining point of my obituary).
    Once my son goes to sleep tonight it’s time to read archives of this blog. And write my obituary- as a first writing exercise.
    Thank you.

    • Carol Tice

      We look forward to reading it, Gosia!

  8. Tammy

    What an inspiring post Carol! I say scrap the things you’re doing that is not working towards your goals. I’m currently working on a blog post that has the same type of points in it. Thanks Carol! 🙂 You always write such thought-provoking, and take-action posts here. However, I don’t make a habit of reading obits. Hmm, but hey tomorrow; I may give it a shot. As always, excellent points! =)

    • Carol Tice

      I think most people find obits depressing and sad. I find them fascinating and very often uplifting. The longer ones families have clearly paid for are often like a history lesson and novel in one.

      But let’s say I like to see their date of birth was somewhere around the 1920s or so. I love reading those — often a long life very well-lived.

  9. Amandah

    The following is on my major direction list:

    Continue to write my own books and self-publish and/or find a literary agent
    and publisher. I’d love to do book tours, virtual and in-person.

    Develop my author website.

    Continue to write scripts, pitch and sell them

    Continue ghost writing eBooks.

    Travel more, maybe even sign up for a “mission.” Yesterday, I watched the 60 Minutes segment “The Race to Save the Tortoise,” with Leslie Stahl and it made me realize that I’d love to sign up for a “volunteer” vacation or two. I love travel + wildlife and would like to do help with environmental and conservation.

    Continue to write for my writer’s blog.

    Decide what to do with two of my blogs: keep them or let them go.

    Develop my consulting and speaking business.

    This is all I have so far. It could change.

    • allena tapia

      Thank you thank you for this, Carol! I’m happy with my career right now precisely because of this point: I am using my writing to change and influence social policy and to further social justice. Second, I am teaching other potential writers that this is indeed a viable career. I mother in a very proactive way, and my children are making me proud, so I assume I’m doing something right there :} Thanks for this this post, again. Love it.

      • Carol Tice

        Sounds like you are headed in the directions you want to go Allena. It’s a good feeling, hm?

    • Carol Tice

      Nice list, Amandah!

      I too would love to go on a service-themed vacation…with my kids. We recently watched Living on One together, about 4 college students who go try to live on what most people survive on down in South America.

      Our island has a sister-island relationship with Ometepe in Nicaraugua (we sell their coffee here), and I’m very much hoping to go on the annual trip down there with my kids in a few years, when they’re the right age for that.

      • Amandah

        Thanks Carol!

        I’m glad I have a background in travel because I have list of resources for volunteer vacations.

  10. Jacqueline de Burca

    Hi Carol,

    Your post is truly inspirational and very honest. Like some of the others here I have experienced the death of someone close, in my case my Mum. Her death and hearing of others since, has really shaken me up. I still need to make money but am finding ways to start taking the journey on the road that I believe leads to my soul’s destination. However I am not travelling as quickly as I would like.

    From reading your post, I know that I need to spend more time on the tasks that will take me in this direction. The reality is when I do this, not only am I making myself happy and fulfilled but I am also a better partner, because of it.

    Thank you Carol, for speaking your truth and inspiring me


  11. Suchi

    Thanks for such a necessary and inspiring post! I recently discovered a website called futureme that allows you to write letters to yourself and send them to yourself at a fixed date in the future. I’ve already written and received one, and even though it was just a month in the future, it really opened my eyes to how much I had done right but also gone off track in that short time! Sometimes opportunities pop up that seem amazing, but take you away from your true goals, and those are the moments you have to really think hard about where you want to be.

    • Rohi Shetty

      Thanks for this wonderful tip, Suchi. I’ll try it today.

    • Carol Tice

      What a great idea for a website! Definitely something to check out if you have trouble setting goals and sticking to them.

  12. Fran Civile

    That was an inspiring post today Carol! thank you. I really appreciate the practical aspects of your writing in this blog … very little pie in the sky dreams about being a writer but never more so than today with your personal reflections brought on by reading obituaries!

    About your particular interest in obits of people born arount the 1920s I am one of those people, born in November 1918 and still dreaming and planning! It sounds crazy I know but I can’t help it, I’m always living for to-morrow as well as today.

    I’m working on a new blog about health and fitness,a subject I know a lot about through personal application … and yet I’m debating whether I should give up this blog about marketing. I’ve worked on it for a few years, not very well admittedly, but I would like to be able to sell it instead of just letting it go.

    Let me tell you, as someone looking way back, that I believe your direction list is right on target:

    What are my notable accomplishments, if you had to sum them up in a few short sentences?
    Have I been the best wife and mom I could be?
    Am I making a positive difference in this world?
    Does the way I spend my time now lead me in the direction I want to go?


    • Carol Tice

      Hi Fran —

      All I can say is… You go, girl!

      On selling the marketing blog…if it doesn’t have a big audience and make money, it’s going to be hard to find a buyer, unless you’ve got an incredible URL like money.com or something. Better to just move on to what you want to do.

  13. Rohi Shetty

    Thanks for this inspiring post, Carol.

    My brother died a few months ago and it was a huge wake up call for me – it made me realize the fragility and unpredictability of life. We know that each one of us must die and yet, it’s so hard to accept the totality and finality of death.

    One of the lesser-known ways of meditation is marananussati – reflection on death.

    Other than a ‘major direction’ list, each writer should also spend some time writing a will.

  14. Linda Hamilton

    My dearest friend died of cancer 22 years ago at age 33. It left me devastated because she was like a little sister who knew me better than I knew myself. Two years later another close friend of mine died suddenly from a heart issue, again leaving me devastated. After their loss I lost sight of many of my personal and professional goals, becoming complacent with a 9-5 job and just getting by. Even after my layoff I did enough to just get by. And I spiraled into bad habits that sabotage my success. In the midst, I’ve heard them encouraging me, pushing me, to reach those higher goals I always wanted.

    This past weekend I realized I truly do have future goals I want to achieve. I decided it’s time to get off my butt and reach them. Your article simply strengthened that drive. Today I’ll pull out my book of goals and jot down the long-term ones, followed by a strategic plan to reach each one within the next few months and years. My accountability partners will encourage me to stay on track.

    Thanks for the post, Carol. Reading others struggles and finding my own future goals again now give me a sense of purpose and drive I’ve not had for a very long time. Feels good to finally get back on track!

  15. Christina Bequette

    Carol, how timely for you to write this. I just finished a book over the weekend The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, and in one of the chapters, he really hit home to me the realization that the ultimate best teacher in our whole life is death itself. It shows us in an instant what our life has been about. If we are not where we want to be or thought or planned to be at this point, now is the time to change all that. In just thinking what we would do if we had just one day or a week or a month left in our life, we can get in high gear and just get ‘er done NOW. We never know when our last breath will be and are we where we want to be right now during that last breath? Or is there something we should do or be doing and moving toward (because we do know we never really get it “done.”) As you said, life is a journey.
    So I recently made some commitments to myself to:

    Get my blog posts up to par and more professionally presented
    Have my next day’s plan done by nightfall the day before
    Get the “have to’s” done-by-one (1 o’clock pm)
    Release and let go irrelevant thoughts and feelings (time and energy drains)
    Respect my work day end (versus letting myself work into the wee hours, unless absolutely necessary)
    Write the books that are still sitting in my mind and on my “in progress’ list

    Thanks for all the help you pass on to us. It is greatly appreciated.

    Christina Bequette

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Christina –

      Apologies — just found this in the spam! And glad I got you out of there.

      The book I read recently that was just shattering and superb for helping us prioritize what’s important is Until I Say Goodbye — longtime cops-and-courts journalist Susan Spencer-Wendel’s compelling and often humorous story of what she did after her ALS diagnosis, with her final year of mobility. Talk about a perspective-setter. Highly recommended to all, and thanks for prodding me to remember to mention it to everyone.

      I share some of your priorities — I do try to have a to-do list for tomorrow before I leave the office, and am also trying to kick the late-hours work shift. I’m making some progress — used to be work ’til midnight was fairly common around here and now 10 pm is usually my latest cutoff.

      I’m not hung up on when in the day my “have-tos” get done though…sounds like too much pressure! I like to write when the mood strikes me and often these days that seems to be afternoon. I say don’t worry about so precisely when they get done as long as they DO.

  16. Penelope Silvers

    What an eye-opening, heart-stopping article! I love your advice to start at the end of your life, to give your current life the boost that it needs. I thought I was the only obit reader, but apparently not. I love the stories that I find, and imagine what the lives were like for the people who lived them.

    Thanks for a chance to stop, re-evaluate, and move forward. Enjoy the day, since it will gone before you know it! 😉

    • Carol Tice

      I am headed out to do just that — a rare hot wind is blowing here in Seattle and it is gorgeous out!

      And glad to meet another obit reader. 😉 Really, everyone should try to write them, because after that, all other kinds of writing will seem easy.

  17. David Gillaspie

    There’s nothing like making a list and checking it off as you go. My youngest son just graduated from college and got his first job. A piece of mail arrived from his high school. It was a check list letter he wrote to himself as a senior. Fun read for the whole family.

    I’m glad to know obituary reading is a common theme, a spur to push ahead. I look for people born my year. More of them from 1954 all the time.

    My writing goals have stayed the same, build stories that resonate beyond the reading. You hear it all the time, Carol, but you’re a big help.

    • Carol Tice

      My year is a little bit later than that, David, but not that much! And it stops my heart whenever I see an obit for someone with my own year. REALLY makes you think. What if this were the end, right now? Very motivating.

  18. M. Sharon Baker

    Hi Carol,

    Your post reminds me of the senior high school journey my son has to take this coming year as part of his high school graduation requirements. He has to answer three questions:

    Who are you?
    Where are you going?
    How are you going to get there?

    These are all tough questions to face when you’ve fallen off the wagon. But a little soul searching can get you back on track.

    Thanks for the great reminder.

  19. Dana Sitar

    What an inspiring post, Carol! I’m loving everything that bloggers are bringing back from WDS 🙂 This is such an important way to imagine your writing life: What will you leave behind, and how will you be remembered? It’s exciting to think about and the perfect guide when you’re stuck on a decision in the moment.

  20. Stacie Morrell

    Please see the blog I posted today, inspired by this fantastic post by Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      How cool — headed over to check it out!

      • Carol Tice

        OK I’m back. Note for the future — if you want to riff on a post on a popular blog…include a link to it in your post! Give you some good outbound SEO, and a nice trackback link here on my site.

  21. Sue Campbell

    I’m thinking this would be a terrific once a year exercise.

  22. Rhonda

    Thanks for the helpful post. I try to remember to check my long-term goals every so often to make sure I’m on track. However, they have changed greatly over the last few months, so it is still easy to get distracted.

    Here’s some that I’m working on
    Long-term: help disadvantaged students thrive in university or trade school through the new business I am starting up
    – earn a comfortable income freelance writing and editing – mostly because I love doing this and am so happy that I have the chance to do so

    Mid-term (end of summer): get my opt-in incentive for the student site up and running
    – find some good writing and editing clients

    Short-term: get over my nerves about putting my name ‘out there’

    Short-term: send out my LOIs to trade mags. I have the experience to write for the construction and accounting trades. So, it’s time to let them know I am here
    – finish the two pitch ideas that I came up with over the weekend, find markets, and send them out
    – send out guest post pitches – really, it’s very silly of me to let my nervousness stop me from getting this done!

    • Carol Tice

      Nice list — I patched it back together from your multiple posts. 😉

      And yes, just do it. The nerves don’t really go away…you just learn to ignore them.

  23. D Kendra Francesco

    A few weeks ago, the local paper ran an article about Red Gililand, a cancer survivor. One of the things he says keeps him going is asking himself, “What have you done today to get you where you want to be tomorrow?”

  24. Zoe

    Hi Carol,
    This is a thought-provoking post. I’ve been reading your blog (and other writing blogs) for months now and this is actually my first time of commenting on a blog post and I choose to comment on your blog. Talking about goals, I’m currently working on setting up my own blog and establishing a freelance writing career-just starting.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Zoe — congrats on making your first blog comment! I was on a trip or I definitely would have commented sooner.

      When you think about starting your blog, keep your end goals in mind. What are you trying to accomplish with it? It’s easy to ramble around with a blog, so use your Major Direction list to keep it focused.

  25. Zoe Uwem

    And I know exactly what more you can do. First, you’ve got to know that life is spiritual (if you know what I mean) and of course, death is also spiritual. Your physical life is based primarily on yuor spiritual life, in other words, the spiritual controls the physical.So, if you take charge of the spiritual, you can control the physical and determine what happens in your life. Life must first be created spiritually before the physical ccreation and I know exactly how and what to use in creating life.

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