Writing fiction is hard work for low pay. If you’re going to succeed, you need to know why you’re doing it. A reason to keep going when things are going badly.
A couple of months ago, I read a book by Steven Kotler that helped me see what it is that keeps a writer going. The book is titled The Art of Impossible, and it’s one of the best books I read this year.
The Art of Impossible is about tackling big projects, things that seem impossible. And achieving them. Let’s not fool ourselves that this is easy. It’s hard. But it can be done, if you take a long-term strategy.
Part 1 of the book covers Motivation, the thing that keeps you going. Kotler breaks Motivation down into several elements, and I can’t possibly cover them all here. But one of the elements seems to be the key. Kotler calls it the Massively Transformative Purpose. MTP for short.
What is a Massively Transformative Purpose?
An MTP is that impossible thing that you want to achieve that will make the world a better place. It’s not merely something that will make you rich. Or famous. Or attractive. Those are all fine things, but they’re all self-centered and they won’t take you very far. Your MTP needs to be something that transcends yourself. It’s bigger than you, and it’ll carry you farther than some selfish desire. That’s just the way you’re wired, neurologically.
A good MTP is always a bit vague. Miss America contestants are famous for all wanting to achieve “world peace.” Plenty of jokes have been made about that. But “world peace” is actually not a bad MTP. Because it’s vague and amorphous. What does “world peace” look like? You have to think about what it means to you, and then set some clear, precise goals that will take you towards world peace. Kotler calls those “high hard goals.”
High hard goals are things you can measure. You’ll know when you achieve them. And that’s good. None of them will get you all the way to your MTP, whatever it may be. “World peace” may never arrive. But those high hard goals CAN arrive.
How Much is Too Much?
You might think that you are only allowed to have one MTP in your life, and you have to be focused completely on that until you die. Which sounds like a grind.
But Kotler says you can have more than one MTP. He recommends that you have no more than three Massively Transformative Purposes in your life. He has three. After I read the book and thought about it some, I realized I have three also, and mine are all related to each other.
What Do You Do With Your MTP?
It takes a fair bit of work to figure out your Massively Transformative Purpose in life. Much of Chapter 2 of Kotler’s book is about how to figure out yours.
So why go to all this work? There are two clear benefits of working out your MTPs:
- MTPs tell you when to say no. It’s all too easy to say yes to opportunities that come along. Until your life is so packed, you feel like you’re drowning. But your MTPs give you a way to know when to say no. If that amazing opportunity doesn’t take you closer to your MTP, then say no. Period. I wish I’d known this forty years ago.
- MTPs keep you going when the night is dark. If you’ve never known a dark night, you won’t get this. If you have, you will. Keep living long enough, and you’ll have plenty of dark nights. And you’ll be very glad you have an MTP to light the way forward.
How to Find Your Massively Transformative Purpose
Read the first two chapters of Steven Kotler’s book, The Art of Impossible. Chapter 1 is groundwork. Chapter 2 will walk you through the process of finding your MTP.
I won’t try to summarize the steps here. You need the groundwork before you can understand the steps. Get the book and read the first couple of chapters and make a note of every actionable task you find.
Then do those actionable tasks, and at the end of the game, you’ll have your Massively Transformative Purpose.
And your life will suddenly have a very clear direction. Good luck!