Why It Is Better to Focus on Process Rather Than the Result While Writing a Novel

When a writer (or someone who aspires to be one) begins to think about the idea of a novel – its plot, characters, and narrative possibilities… – what they long for is to write a great novel. 

A work that will conquer readers and last over time, a work that will remain relevant for tomorrow’s readers. There is no more honorable desire.

But this desire is exciting and disturbing: how do you write a novel? Can I do it? Do I have the necessary skills, are this plot and these characters good enough? When the goal is ambitious, the doubts are more significant, and so is the pressure we put on our shoulders. It is easy to succumb to it and eventually give up. Creating a novel is one of the most difficult challenges in writing. It’s a far cry from preparing a college essay using a paperhelp promo code, and it’s different from running your own blog. Writing a novel is a long-winded task requiring persistence, willpower, and regularity.

However, there is a way to achieve any goal we set, no matter how ambitious, and turn the process into something rewarding. That’s exactly what it is: focus on the process, not the goal.

What is important is to focus on the process

It is necessary to be clear that every result (i.e., every goal achieved) is the result of a process, a series of sustained actions that lead us to it over time. It is the law of cause and effect, which you should also know as a writer: there is no effect without a cause.

Losing ten kilos (the result) is the logical consequence of eating healthy and exercising regularly (the process). Writing a novel (the effect) is the logical consequence of thinking the work through and writing regularly.

If you eat healthily and exercise regularly, you will lose weight sooner or later. Weight loss is the consequence of healthy eating and exercise. If you work on your novel with dedication regularly, you will finish it sooner or later.

Now, the crux of the matter is whether to focus on the result (the goal) or on the process. And focusing on the process gives better results and brings more happiness. Let’s see why.

1. Focusing on the process generates immediate satisfaction

One way to spur us to achieve our goals is to think about how we will feel when we reach them. Imagine, for example, how much better we will feel when we are ten kilos lighter, without having trouble climbing stairs or aching joints because we are overweight, not to mention how much better our clothes will fit. Or imagine the enormous satisfaction of putting the last word on our novel, finishing it, and handing it over to a trusted reader to receive his or her opinion (and perhaps his or her praise)

This visualization technique is valuable and positive. It works. But the problem is that we know that the satisfaction of achieving the goal will only come later. It will not be today when we feel rewarded for our efforts. The reward is postponed.

However, this does not happen when you focus on the process because the reward takes place at the very moment when you do what you have to do that day (to reach that goal that is still there, in the future, somewhat distant).

Today you can feel the satisfaction of running and eating meals with vegetables, fruits, and healthy food. Today you can feel the satisfaction of having sat down to write, concentrating one hundred percent on the task, and having finished that scene, that dialogue, that chapter.

When you focus on the process, you get a win every time you do what you have to do. And that’s every day or almost every day. The satisfaction is immediate and continuous.

So, on the journey from where you are now to where you want to be, you accumulate a lot of small victories. And each small victory counts as a success that will make you feel good about yourself, creating a sense of accomplishment, giving you the confidence to keep going, and showing you the progress you are making.

2. Focusing on the process push us to go ahead

Surely you know what a vicious circle is, those repetitive and cumulative situations that do not lead to a good effect. For example, having a doughnut for breakfast and, since you have started the day badly, eating a hamburger and, in the end, having a pizza for dinner. Or not writing for two or three days, thinking that the week is already impossible, and deciding that you will do well next week and write daily.

It is easy to fall into these spirals, and they always have something to do with us not achieving our goals. Knowing that we have not done what we should have done (or that we have done what we should not have done) generates feelings of sadness, stress, and frustration… It makes us feel bad.

But just as there are vicious circles, there are virtuous circles. The feeling of doing well, of doing what we should be doing, drives us not to falter, to keep going, to do well one more day.

Focusing on the process, where every day is a small victory, generates these virtuous circles.

Feelings of happiness, achievement, pride, progress, and optimism have been shown to dramatically improve our performance. Making progress on meaningful goals creates feelings of well-being, increases optimism and creates incredible motivation to keep going. In his book Happiness as an Advantage, researcher Shawn Achor explains that our brains are programmed to perform at their best, not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive. When we are happy, when our mindset and mood are positive, we are smarter. We are more motivated, and, therefore, more successful: we achieve our goals.

3. Focusing on the process drives you to do what you need to do

If you’ve ever owned a dog, setting up a reward system is very helpful in training. The dog does the right thing and gets his reward. Rewarding is nothing more than linking a positive stimulus with a certain action. And it doesn’t only work with puppies, it also works with humans.

As we have already seen, those small daily victories that we conquer when we focus more on the process than on the result generate positive feelings in us: of achievement, satisfaction, progress, and pride… And those feelings are our reward.

As we tend to look for gratification, the reward, we will apply ourselves to do what produces it.

Every time you focus on the process, you feel good about yourself: you are making progress, you feel a sense of accomplishment, and maybe you are even a little proud of yourself. These good feelings act as a reward, reinforcing your behavior: you will always want to repeat the action that made you feel good. So you’ll go for another day’s run, and you’ll string together your writing sessions one after the other. And in doing so, you’ll not only be getting your reward, you’ll also be making progress toward achieving your goal.

You’ll feel good every day about what you’ve done and, at the end, you’ll cross the finish line triumphant. Isn’t that wonderful?

4. Focusing on the process allows you to concentrate on what you can control

Pretending that the world is free of unforeseen events, imponderables and even bad luck is not smart. Epictetus said, “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: some things are in our control and some things are not”.

If you stop and think about it, you will realize that the outcome is often not in our control, but the process usually is.

You can’t know exactly when you will finish writing your novel. You have no control over that point. But you can write every day for an hour or two, that part is under your control.

You have no control over how readers will receive your novel once you finish it (a fear that sometimes paralyzes some authors). Still, you can apply yourself to do your work as well as possible: think well about the work, take care of every sentence and every word to write a beautiful text, make a thorough revision…

The good thing is that, if you focus on the process, if you put into play who you are every day, it is almost certain that you will reach your goal. Paradoxically, the best way to achieve a certain result is to forget about it completely and focus entirely on the process.

5. Focusing on the process makes things easy, simple and actionable

Focusing on the outcome can be overwhelming, leading to inaction, getting stuck, or not starting at all. Writing a novel seems like an impossible challenge to many people: a lot of effort is required over an extended time.

But focusing on the process simplifies everything. We can break down a big goal into manageable steps and focus, one by one, on taking those steps.

Don’t think about the months you’ll have to spend writing your novel. Think about what you’ll write today. Just focus on your work session today.

John Steinbeck put it this way:

When I am faced with the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, I am overcome with a sickening sense of failure, and I know I can never do it. So, bit by bit, I write one page and then another. The day’s work is all I allow myself to contemplate.

Now you know: Every goal achieved is the logical outcome of a process

When you focus on the process, you are guaranteed a series of daily victories, which will result in a constant feeling of progress, optimism, confidence, and motivation. And that feeling will lead you to want to do what you need to do every day. In other words, you will be walking the road to your goals while enjoying the journey.

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