I came across a post via Peter M. Ball – Dying on the Mountain: How Goals will Kill You and How to Focus on the Process, written by Fred Venturini and published at litreactor. In it, Venturini references a couple of different books about positive thinking and goal setting to argue against some common wisdom.
The Power of Positive Thinking is supposedly able to literally change your life, but:
In studies performed by Gabriele Oettigen, visualizing how well things could go actually reduces your motivation, and at a subconscious level, we can confuse visualizing success with having already achieved it. […] Fantasizing about your greatest successes can slow you down, reduce your motivation, and make you feel like you’ve already achieved them.
He also warns against tying your goals into your identity, which is something I’m sure many writers struggle with. For the longest time your goal is to become a published writer, but if (and hopefully when) that happens, you’ve suddenly undermined a part of your identity by achieving your goal and realising that little has changed. You don’t immediately become happy/successful/famous/rich/whatever overnight – not only does publishing move slow, but there’s little chance of riches and fame unless you’re extremely lucky.
And he ends the piece by suggesting that goals can be broken down into processes anyway, and it’s these processes that will help you to achieve whatever it is you’re hoping to achieve with your writing career. Chop wood, carry water, which is something I’ve talked about before.
And these are all great points. I definitely get where Venturini is coming from, and mostly agree with him, but in my mind it’s bumping up against something else.
In an interview with Pagan Dawn Magazine, Alan Moore said:
Your art is as big, as powerful, as beautiful and dangerous as you yourself are able to conceive of it as being.
This is one of the quotes I’ve written onto a post-it note and stuck up in my writing area because it resonates with me. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, if you’re only able to conceive of your own work at a shallow level, then all you’ll be able to write is shallow work. Repo Virtual is a cyberpunk AI heist, but I don’t know that I ever would have written it if that’s all I was able to conceive of it as. More important than that basic plot is the philosophical core of the book focusing on the personhood of non-biological intelligences, and the way those intelligences could become our heirs if we ever let them. Yes, there are still multiple heists and shoot-outs, and a car chase through flooded streets, but I wrote the book because there were philosophical concepts I wanted to explore. (One day I hope to write a book that can explore deep ideas without guns, chases, mayhem, and explosions, but I’m not there yet.)
I’ve talked previously about the struggles I’m having with my next book. Frankly, I’m frightened. And the reason I’m frightened is because my conception of what this book could be is huge. In it I want to explore eco-fascism, eco-terrorism, and the various possible (horrifying) outcomes of the stresses that climate change will place on our civilisation, and I want to do that through the lens of truly disturbing sci-fi horror, which is not a genre I’ve written in at great length. The book has the potential to be serious and important, and also successful, and I desperately want it to be all those things. I desperately want it to be big, powerful, beautiful, and dangerous.
But Venturini is right. That’s not a goal I can work towards; you can’t write a book that is all those things, you can only write a book and hope. But Moore is right, because I need to still hold onto my hopes if I want to make this book the best thing I can write here and now.
I need to have my hopes and my dreams for this book so I can strive to do something more and greater than my previous work, but I also need to say “Fuck the results,” and focus on the process so I can actually get it done. I need to find that balance. And I’m almost there. The further along I get with my new and improved outline, the more confident I feel – not that it’ll be everything I want, but that I’ll be able to write it. That I’ll be able to put one word down after another until I have a novel.
The rest will come, I hope. With all the research and planning I’ve done, and with all the writing and editing I will do, I just have to hope it comes together. Maybe it won’t be important, or successful, but it’ll be the best thing I can write right now, and that’s enough. It has to be.