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Process vs Outcome: What Motivates You?

As 2012 creeps to a close, the time for resolution-making draws near. The dawning of a new year is our cultural cue to sit down and reflect upon our hopes and dreams, and to commit to the incremental steps necessary to make those dreams a reality. This ritual can be motivating, inspiring, For writers, though, sometimes it feels like we focus too heavily on outcome over process.

It's easy to get caught up in the frantic pursuit of tangible achievements, such as:

  • Finish a novel.
  • Get an agent.
  • Get a book deal
  • Self publish 
  • Sell x amount of books
  • Join a critique group 
  • Read 100 books
  • Get into an MFA program
  • Start a blog

Of course, these types of goals are useful because they're easily measurable. At the end of the year, you know if you've accomplished what you set out to do. Or not. But what about process goals? How often do we make those? These are the types of commitments that are focused not on achieving a certain end, but on improving the experience (which may, in turn, lead to a desired end state, but that is not the focus).

Process goals for writers might look like this:

  • Write what you love
  • Love what you write
  • Find your own voice
  • Write dialogue that's authentic
  • Focus on pacing 
  • Refine your foreshadowing skills
  • Try a genre/POV/tense you've never tried before
  • Connect with other writers/readers
  • Define your point of view as an author
  • Connect with more teens and become an advocate for your audience

While there may not be a fixed "end" to these types of pursuits, they do hold an advantage over outcome goals in that they are more readily in your control. Likewise, process goals do not lend themselves to self comparison as much as outcome-oriented ones do, and can be more motivating and enjoyable.

First and foremost, when making resolutions and setting goals, the biggest thing is to know yourself. What works for one person may not work for another. And no matter what you do, make sure to build in some time throughout the year to reflect and readjust your goals as necessary, and to take in pride in the journey.

Remember, for most, writing and trying to get published is an ongoing pursuit. One that takes far more than a single lap around the sun. This is a concept both eloquently and earnestly expressed in the following video by our friend and author T. Michael Martin (THE END GAMES).

Thanks, Mike, for sharing your thoughts with us! (Follow him on YouTube here.)

Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

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