While I am reading a book, I like to listen to and read interviews with the authors to find their advice on writing and the lessons they have learned about being authors.
So, after I read the short story, “Paper Menagerie,” I went looking for interviews with the author Ken Liu.
I found his writing advice on goal-setting, which he learned from Tobias Buckell, very interesting:
“The best writing advice I’ve ever heard is from Tobias Buckell, a fellow writer and a friend. He said that the thing about writing is you have to figure out the difference between goals and the things you would like to have happen to you. . . .
The difference is goals are things that are entirely within your control. Things you would like to happen to you are not within your control at all, so if you set those things as your goals you’re going to be disappointed because you those are things you can’t even do and strive to make happen to you. For example, a goal would be, “I will use this next year to complete three short stories.” That’s a goal, because sitting there and writing, and setting aside the time to read, to outline, to write, to revise, to edit, those are things you can control. You can decide how to spend your time. But if you decide your goal is “I would like to be professionally published,” or “I would like to sell my novel this year,” that’s not a goal. Getting your story published requires a publisher to accept it, and markets will accept or reject stories for any reason in the world. That’s not within your control. Whether you can sell your novel, or whether it will be a best seller, or win an award.
Source: NBC News Interview with Ken Liu
It helps me to distinguish between “performance goals” and “process goals.” A process goal is, like Liu said, something you can control. A performance goal is something that you hope will happen if you successfully complete your process goal. All too often we let the things that we cannot control make us unhappy.
The only critique I would make is that setting a performance goal or a “things-you-would-like-to-happen” goal can help you set more audacious process goals. I strongly believe that you should not set a performance goal without also setting a process goal.
For example, author Michael Anderle built a community around the concept of “20 Books to 50K” (Facebook Group). Writers want to make a living as writers. It is something they want to happen to them. Anderle discovered that writing 20 books is a goal that all writers can control and, if done correctly, leads to making $50,000 a year as a writer.
Performance Goal / Things-You-Would-Like-to-Happen Goal: $50,000 annual income
Process Goal: write 20 books
Likewise, I am experimenting this year with a set of performance goals on a Success Spectrum of Poor-Expected-Good-Audacious. I know that if I want to reach those audacious or good goals, I can work backwards on what I need to do to get there.