One of the concepts related to my recent pursuit of getting back to basics is outcome versus process.
A book or a script is the outcome, but the act of writing is the process. The final result occupies such a small space compared to the weeks, months, and sometimes years spent actually creating that result. In terms of a life well spent, which part should be given more importance?
Screenwriter Craig Mazin summarizes this point quite well in episode ninety-one of the Scriptnotes podcast. When a writer finishes a project, he says:
You have to move onto the next thing. And for a business that seems entirely about outcomes, outcomes are the least valuable things in this business. Personally. I mean, for everybody else that’s what matters. For the people that actually make money off of movies, and they’re not screenwriters, or directors, or actors, it’s the studios—that’s what matters.
But, in the end, we’re in an outcome business doing a non-outcome job. And so you have to find a way to enjoy the part of it that isn’t about outcome but about process […] It’s that feeling you got when you finish building a Lego thing. Well, I guess I’ll stare at this now, show it to my mom, be proud of it, and then smash it.
If you entered the writing business to see your book on the shelf or your movie on the big screen, that’s a brief two hours compared to the years that lead you there.
Don’t get me wrong. The outcome is great. It just can’t be the most important part of the venture. It’s the turning point when you have the chance to begin something new.