How to Get the Best Results

One afternoon many years ago I was driving through Seattle to pick up a friend who was visiting from Los Angeles. I was looking forward to seeing him, and so as I drove I found myself imagining our happy hello, and going out for drinks, and laughing at the funny stories he always told. In fact, his stories were always so interesting and funny I wondered if I would have any interesting and funny stories to tell him, and began planning what I might share...

Until I looked up and noticed that I was still driving and that I was about to run a red light. I slammed on the brakes, took a breath, and thought to myself, "I absolutely live my life for results."

You couldn't really blame me for doing so. I wanted a career as a writer. At that point the books I sent out always came back. Those were not the results I was hoping for. If the results didn't change, I wouldn't have a career. Caring about those results was just practical, and I have always wanted to make the most practical choice.

The problem with focusing and focusing and focusing on results is that they don't yet exist. That's the nature of results. When I spend all my time thinking about something I don't have, it can seem as if I have nothing because that's all I see. It's dispiriting and, as any writer ought to know, highly impractical.

Because every time I begin a story, whether long or short, I have the same result in mind: to finish that story. But I will never finish a story by sitting down at my desk and thinking, "I need to finish this story. I need to finish this story. Oh, my God, the story isn't finished yet. When is it going to be finished? What's wrong with me?" No, the only way to finish a story to is to sit down at my desk, open a blank page, and ask, "What would I most like to say at this moment? What is one interesting sentence?"

Books are finished one interesting sentence at a time. There's simply no other way to do it. The most practical question I can ask, whether I'm writing a book or building a career, is, "What is the most interesting choice I can make at this moment?" This simple question can feel a little reckless, I know. To ask it is to forget about the future, where all those very important results are waiting for me. To ask it sincerely is to believe that where I am is always more important than where I'm going.

I managed to make it to my friend safely that afternoon, and we did in fact have drinks, and tell each other stories, though I did not tell any of the ones I had planned. Somehow better ones came to me once we were together. There's just no way to plan a successful conversation. The best I can do is show up and enjoy myself. It's much easier to enjoy myself where I am, where all the traffic lights and streets signs actually exist to guide me where I want to go.

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