Friday, August 21, 2020

Assignment Writing and Inspired Writing—What’s the Difference?

by Crystal Bowman

When I write a manuscript for children that I hope will become a published book, it often starts with an inspired idea. I begin with a market research, write a rough draft, then revise a million times (maybe not quite that many but that’s what it feels like). Once the manuscript is completed, I create a proposal and pray my agent can find a home for my new baby. Other times, however, I write books because a publisher assigns me a writing project. Let’s examine the difference.

My passion is turning ideas into books—whether they are my ideas or a publisher’s ideas. When I accept an assigned writing project, it doesn’t mean I am not inspired. It just means the inspiration comes when I accept the assignment. I write mostly for children and more than half of my books are in rhythm and rhyme—that’s sort of my “thing.” So some of the publishers I write for occasionally ask me to write rhyming board books or picture books on topics they feel are right for the market. Of course, I say yes. 

I once attended a critique group with aspiring writers. When I shared my excitement over my latest assigned book project, one writer said, “Oh, I would never do that! If it’s not my idea, I will not write the book.” Really? To this day she has not been published. 

Another Way to Look at This
If you want to build a house, you get to decide what size and style home you want. Then you hire a qualified contractor to build it for you because that is what he does. If the contractor said, “Oh, I would never build a house using someone else’s idea,” I doubt the contractor would get much business.  

Sally E. Stuart, who published The Christian Writers’ Market Guide for decades once said, “If you were a dress maker and made a blue dress in size 7 and went door-to-door trying to sell it, you probably wouldn’t have much success. But if you offered your services and asked someone what kind of dress they would like you to make, you might get a few offers. 

Publishers study the market and they know what sells. For writers who may not be getting writing assignments from publishers, it’s still wise to study publishers’ guidelines and follow them closely. If a publisher is looking for specific genres or topics that resonate with you, then go for it. If not, then it’s not a good fit. 

The payment for an assigned project typically differs from a submitted project. When one of my ideas evolves into manuscript, I also write a proposal. If it’s accepted, I receive an advance payment with a royalty contract. When I accept an assignment from a publisher, I do not need to write a proposal. I receive a work-for-hire contract with half payment on singing the contract and half payment on completion of the manuscript, but no royalties.  

Bottom Line
I am a writer, that’s what I do. I am able to come up with my own ideas and turn them into published books, but I also love being part of a team and making someone’s vision become a reality. So whether my writing is assigned by a publisher, or inspired and proposed by my own little self, writing is my passion and it’s all for the glory of God.


Crystal Bowman is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children and four nonfiction books for women. She also writes lyrics for children’s piano music and is a monthly contributor to Clubhouse Jr. Magazine. She loves going to schools to teach kids about poetry. She also speaks at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups and teaches workshops at writers’ conferences. When she is not writing or speaking, she enjoys going for walks, working out at the gym, and eating ice cream. She and her husband live in Michigan and have seven huggable grandkids.


  1. Crystal,

    Thank you for explaining this important concept to other writers. Writers write what is needed for the market. Sometimes the ideas come from the editor and sometimes from your own experience. It's one of the reasons my literary attorney has told me that i've signed more work made for hire agreements than anyone she knows. I've been a working writer for years--and these work made for hire contracts are ideas that come from the publisher or editor. As writers, we write what is needed--which is often a different mindset for writers--but important if you want to get published.

    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Terry. I appreciate your affirmation.

  3. An assigned project may be the publisher's idea, but you, as the writer, give it wings to fly!