The Problem With Big Writing Goals
by Writing Workshops Staff
A month ago
If you break down your goals and concentrate on the writing process, the results will speak for themselves.
Every writer has a dream they are chasing, a goal they are trying to achieve. But focusing on the Capital G goal can present a big problem and actually stand in the way of your success. New York Times best-selling author Jim Collins says “big hairy audacious goals” (or “BHAGs”) can seem overwhelming and amorphous, which presents the biggest obstacle to getting to where you want to go, especially with your writing. All the sudden the project, the goal, can feel too big, too out of reach too quickly.
Author Brad Stulberg has a solution, and I agree with him. He argues you should focus on the process instead:
Focusing on the process means breaking down a goal into its component parts and concentrating on those parts. It’s an incredible focusing mechanism that keeps you in the here and now, even during the pursuit of distant goals.
The recipe Brad outlines is simple, and I follow it in my own writing practice. He writes, "First, set a goal. Next, figure out the steps to achieving that goal that are within your control. Then — (mostly) forget about the goal, and focus on nailing the steps instead."
The goal is unweildy. The steps, though, they're manageable. Indeed, focusing on the process with your writing ensures that one’s self-worth does not hinge on what will happen to the manuscript when you get to THE END. As a fiction writer, I mainly focus on sentence and scene, only what is right in front of me. Like Stephen King and others, I am a pantser (meaning I don't outline). I hold the premise of my story in mind as I write. If I'm writing the first act I can't get too worried about what is going to happen in the final scene of my story, mostly because I'm not there yet. I take comfort in Anne Lammot's idea of the shitty first draft, one sentence at a time.
In his article on how big goals can backfire, Brad Stulburg said that "focusing on the process fosters what University of Quebec psychology professor Robert J. Vallerand calls “harmonious passion.” Vallerand argues harmonious passion is characterized by a deep intrinsic motivation, a love for doing the work involved in achieving a goal. It’s the opposite of what Vallerand refers to as “obsessive passion,” or being motivated by and attached to the external recognition that achieving a goal might bring. Harmonious passion is embracing and relishing in the process of getting better at a given pursuit. Obsessive passion is becoming a slave to the achievement of goals for achievement’s sake. Vallerand has shown that while the latter is linked to burnout, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and depression, the former is linked to long-term performance, well-being, and fulfillment."
So, each day I'm focused on the 250 words I plan to write because I know if I show up every day the words will gather and I'll have a draft in time.
If you focus on the process, the goal will take care of itself.