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  • Writer's pictureClaire Bentley

WHAT TYPE OF WRITING GOAL MOTIVATES YOU?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


We see it all the time: the advice that ‘you must set writing goals in order to be a successful writer!’


There are plenty of articles which delve into the reasons why we ‘should’ set writing goals, and some of them go into detail about how to break a large goal (e.g. writing a novel) into smaller, manageable chunks.


These strategies are certainly useful, and it is worth exploring and trying out different goal-setting methods, especially early on your writing journey.


As a writer and editor, and as someone who practically inhales writing craft books, podcasts and videos, I wanted to explore the ways in which different types of writing goals work for different types of writers.


This article explores four overall ‘types’ of writer when it comes to setting writing-related goals. For each one I give tips, tricks and strategies to help writers a. recognise if they fall into that specific category, and b. use that as a basis for deciding the most effective goal-setting strategies for them.


If you can, try to identify which category (if any) you fall into. Work out what type of writing goal best motivates you. You may know this instinctively. Experimenting with different strategies will help you work out which type of goal best motivates you, and which ones frustrate, stifle or bore you.


[PLEASE NOTE: this article is a reprint (with permission) of a guest blog post I wrote for So You Want to Write.]


TYPE 1: ‘WORDERS’

Worders are best motivated by writing goals based on word count.

You may be this type of writer if you:

  • Get excited about writing a certain number of words in a session.

  • Like to keep writing until you hit a pre-specified word count target, even if that means breaking off in the middle of a scene or section.

  • You’re interested in speeding up your per-hour word count.

Multi-coloured Duplo blocks lined up, each with a number from 0 to 9
Some writers are motivated by building their word count


If you’re a Worder then you’re in luck. Traditional goal-based writing advice tends to revolve around identifying a word count target for your prospective novel and then breaking that down into word count ‘milestones’ for each day or each week. And let’s not forget that NaNoWriMo, one of the best-known writing challenges in the world, has a ‘success’ goal based on word count.


Things to watch out for:

  • There’s a good chance that you prefer drafting to editing, because word counts make it easier to see your progress than if you are wading through edits.

Goal-setting tips if you’re a Worder:

  • Set writing goals based on number of words written, e.g. ‘today I will write 1000 words’.

  • Use charts and stickers to track your word counts. Make it as fun and colourful as you wish!

  • Join in with writing sprints in the writing community. Friendly competition can help you increase your word count. For example, a number of authortubers on YouTube lead live writing sprints.

  • Look into writing games which you ‘win’ by increasing your word count, e.g. Write or Die.

  • If you’re at the editing stage then try to identify an ‘alternative’ to word count to keep you motivated and help you see your progress, e.g. number of pages edited.


TYPE 2: ‘TIMERS’

Timers are best motivated by writing goals based on time spent writing.


You may be this type of writer if you:

  • Try to squeeze writing into any small gap in your day, even if you only have five or ten minutes.

  • You have a set time during which you plan to write, and you sit down at that time and don’t stop until the time is finished.

  • You don’t mind leaving a scene or section partway through, and you feel able to jump in and out of your manuscript easily.


Close up of person holding a baby in one arm, and a pen and post-it notes in the other
Some writers squeeze writing into every available minute

These are the writers frantically typing words onto their phone with one hand while they wait for their doctor’s appointment, possibly while wrestling a screaming toddler with their other hand. They make use of any snippet of time they can get. Timers are the ones who have an advantage over other types if they have children or have otherwise busy lives.


Things to watch out for:

  • You may find that dipping in and out of your manuscript when drafting gives you more to do at the editing stage, e.g. weaving many sections of prose together in a way that makes sense.


Goal-setting tips if you’re a Timer:

  • Set writing goals based on time spent writing, e.g. today I will write for a total of sixty minutes.

  • Use spare snippets of time in your day for writing. Get some writing done on your lunch break, while waiting to pick your kids up etc.

  • If you can, try to use cloud-based software which allows your manuscript to automatically update across all your devices, e.g. Google Docs. This way all your work is in one place rather than scattered across devices and documents.

  • Enter shortish blocks of time in your calendar during which you can focus exclusively on writing, and do as much as you can during that block of time. Aim for a length that will allow you to get plenty done but not so lengthy that you lose steam. Shorter bursts are often better for this writer type.

  • Investigate the Pomodoro technique and see whether this might work for you. For example, writing in twenty-to-thirty-minute bursts with breaks in between.


TYPE 3: ‘TASKERS’

Taskers are best motivated by writing goals based on tasks completed.


You may be this type of writer if you:

  • Don’t like leaving a scene or task unfinished.

  • You prefer longer writing sessions to shorter ones.

  • It takes time to settle into your manuscript, and you struggle to jump in and out of it when short of time or distracted.


Stacked wooden blocks of different colours and shapes
Some writers are motivated by completing discrete tasks

I fall into this category! I also have young children and a very hectic life: being a Tasker is not always helpful in my case! However, I still manage to get lots of writing done. If you have a disability or chronic illness then being a Tasker may actually be beneficial, e.g. doing larger chunks of work on your ‘good’ days and allowing yourself to rest on ‘bad’ days. Taskers are more likely to get lots of writing done in one go rather than spreading the work across several days.


Things to watch out for:

  • It may be easier to procrastinate and get distracted if you are this type of writer, as sinking into the work takes time.


Goal-setting tips if you’re a Tasker:

  • Set writing goals based on tasks completed, e.g. I must finish XX scene by the end of the day.

  • Make the goal realistic but also a little challenging so you’re less likely to procrastinate during your writing session.

  • Don’t force yourself to jump in and out of your manuscript: instead, use ‘snippets’ of time during the day to carry out life admin tasks which will help keep your larger blocks of writing time clear of ‘clutter’ and distractions.

  • Writing every day may not work for you.

  • Carve out large blocks of writing time in your schedule to allow yourself to become absorbed in the work. For example, I’ve accepted now that I can’t jump straight into writing after putting my kids to bed. I allow myself time to switch my brain from one mode to the other. However, I also have to make sure this doesn’t turn into procrastination (and I’m not always successful!)

  • Try to set up ‘triggers’ to help you get into the flow of writing, e.g. same writing space, ambient music, a candle, a specific snack… whatever works for you.


TYPE 4: ‘DRIFTERS’

Drifters are best motivated by not setting writing goals at all.


You may be this type of writer if you:

  • Struggle to write if you are not in the mood or not inclined to do so, even if you try to force yourself.

  • You feel stifled and suffocated by the thought of writing schedules and to-do lists.

  • You are hyper-focused and get lots of writing done if you’re in the mood for writing.


Black pen on a background with different coloured leaf patterns
Some writers have a more organic and less regimented writing pattern

Many writers (myself included) rely heavily on writing schedules and tend to recommend others do the same. However, there seems to be a category of writers who are abandoning writing schedules altogether, deciding instead to write when they are in the mood rather than removing the enjoyment from it by forcing themselves to write when they don’t want to. A Drifter is likely to work in less frequent but longer writing sessions.


Things to watch out for:

  • Not getting a lot of writing done if you’re rarely in the mood to write, or if life gets complicated and exhausting and the ‘mood’ doesn’t strike you as often.


Goal-setting tips if you’re a Drifter:

  • Don’t set writing goals if these genuinely do not work for you!

  • Don’t bow to pressure from the writing community, or from anyone else, if you know that schedules stifle you rather than help you.

  • You may have days where you get no writing done, but if you’re in the mood then take full advantage (if you’re able to): lose yourself in the story and enjoy yourself!

  • If you find yourself in a position where you do need to make a writing schedule (e.g. if you’re on deadline) then go with the type of goal that ‘feels’ best for you (even if you only use it temporarily).

  • You may find that ‘looser’ schedules or deadlines help you find a middle ground between finishing a writing project in a timely manner without removing all the spontaneity and joy from the process, e.g. ‘I will finish this manuscript by the end of the year’.


CONCLUSION

I have identified four general types of writer when it comes to setting effective writing goals.


Worders gain the greatest motivation from word count goals. Timers gain the greatest motivation from time-based goals and fit writing in wherever they can. Taskers are motivated by goals based on completion of discrete tasks. Finally, Drifters (for want of a better term!) gain the greatest motivation from not relying on writing goals, and instead writing whenever the mood takes them.


There may be more types that I haven’t come across yet.


None of these types are ‘better’ than any other. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses. However, knowing which category you fall into can help you set writing goals which motivate you and which help you progress on your writing journey. Just because someone else swears by word count targets or strict writing schedules, doesn’t necessarily mean this will work for you. There is no one right way: always do what works best for you.


BEFORE YOU GO…

What type of writing goal (if any) works best for you? Do you have any tips or strategies for setting writing goals?


Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions:

Socials: @cbentleywriter on most of them!

Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/clairebentley


I welcome respectful and friendly discussion on the topics I write about, including if your opinion differs from my own.


Disclaimer: generative AI

I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.



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