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The Motivation Factor

Copyright: Cheryl Wright – All rights reserved


I’ve never been one for resolutions, mainly because I never keep them.

But goals are a whole different ball game. Goals can be measured, they can be changed, but most of all, they can be extremely motivating.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve set goals for myself. You could even call them deadlines.

No matter the project or how big or small it is, I always set goals for myself. This not only gets me motivated and writing, it also gives me guidelines that allow me to plan even more projects. This is a great way to keep moving ahead.

Perhaps I should go back further…

Before I ever got any of my work published, goals were one of the biggest factors in working toward publication. Back then my sights were set on much smaller achievements at any given time. In those early days I received one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had – take baby steps. In other words, don’t try to take on too much at once, ruining your chances of achieving that goal.

That priceless advice has stayed with me for many years, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Baby steps helped tremendously in achieving what I set out to do, and setting goals was definitely one of the vital stepping stones to publication.

Start by working out what it is you want to achieve – the end result. In my case I started reasonably small and worked my way up. I gave myself twelve months to get just one short story published. That happened.

Then I decided to have two short stories published in the following twelve months. That goal became a reality as well.

Next I wanted a regular column. This time I gave myself two years to secure a regular monthly column. Although I achieved my previous goals, I didn’t really work all that hard at getting results. This time I had more at stake – because I’d just had to give up my day job due to a medical condition – so worked harder at achieving the goal.

Brainstorming was my starting point. What could the column be about? Once the subject matter was decided, I wrote up some sample articles, taking as much care with them as I would have if the column was secured and they were going to be published.

Next was the market research. I found six magazines that I believed would be suitable for my column, then sent them off with a covering letter.

Then it was time to sit back and wait.

I lucked out with all six publications, but didn’t give up. With my goals still intact, the search for a regular column continued. A couple of months later, my goal was met – way within the timeframe I’d set myself.

I know for a fact that if I hadn’t set a goal, written it down, and had it clearly on display for others to see, that I absolutely would not have continued on my quest.

It’s no good setting goals for yourself if no-one knows about them. If you have ‘internal’ goals, what are you going to measure them against? You can fool yourself about the dates, change the deadline to suit yourself, but if it’s on display for all to see, the goal needs to be either met or worked toward.

When I’m working on a book that isn’t yet contracted, I tell my writing buddy as well as family and friends the deadline I’ve set for myself. That makes me accountable for a finish date. It also gets me off my butt and working.

Sometimes goals need to be changed. This happened a few years ago when I fractured both feet in three places.

I was working on a novel and had been fiddling about too much. Excuses were easy, and it just didn’t get done. So I set a goal of six months. Then the fractures occurred. I was in way too much pain to write, so the goal was moved up six months. But I hadn’t counted on being on crutches for six months, so I moved the goal yet again. This time I met my self imposed deadline.

Here’s a checklist to assist you in your goal-setting:

  • Be specific about what you want to achieve. Instead of saying ‘I want to finish a book by October’ state ‘my 120,000 word fantasy novel will be completed by October, including all editing’.

  • o Break this goal into smaller chunks…’baby steps’ of say 3,000 words per week. (Using 120,000 words as your basis, if you divide that by 3,000 words, it will take 40 weeks to write this book. Or 5,000 words a week means it will take just 24 weeks.)

    o Setting yourself an actual word count will allow you to understand exactly how much you need to achieve each week to meet your goal. Not taking this step leaves you wide open to missing your deadline. Giving yourself an achievable goal means you are more likely to reach it.

  • The results must be measurable, otherwise how do you or others know you’ve achieved what you set out to do?


  • Is the goal attainable? Don’t set your sights too high. Always work within your own abilities, otherwise you will become disheartened.

  • o Keeping ahead of your goal allows for all those ‘life’ situations that you may (and probably will) encounter. It will also encourage you to stick to your plan of writing X number of words per week.

  • Always give yourself an end date. This gives you a specific time-frame to work with.

  • Review your goals and your project throughout the period you’re working on it. Assess your ability to finish within your goal. Don’t set yourself up for a fall – not only can it be disheartening, it could leave you with a bad feeling toward goal setting.

    Use your electronic diary to its full advantage. Make little reminder notes to assist with the smooth progression of the project. Alternatively, use a yearly wall planner – one that can be displayed in a prominent position.

    I use a combination of these, plus a print diary that has a day to a page. That way I can scribble little reminders of things I specifically need to do each day, or things I need to follow up.

    Now here’s something you may not have heard of before. It’s simple but effective.

    Take a large piece of cardboard and draw a large thermometer. If you have more than one project on the go, draw a thermometer for each project. What you need is something that looks like a ‘real’ thermometer – with a bulbous bottom and two straight sides; you often see these used for charity fund-raisers.

    Make your thermometer 6 or 7 cms wide by about 50-60 cms tall. Write your total word count at the top, with markings at regular intervals of say 2 cms to measure your progress. (I mark mine at 5,000 word increments, but use whatever suits your specific needs.)

    As you achieve the word count, colour from the last level you achieved to the next. I find that watching the progression of the thermometer is a big motivator in getting to the next level. One recent project progressed from not being started, to one third written in just three weeks using this system.

    If you need motivation to finish (or start) your projects, or even if you don’t, set doable goals and go for it! You’ll be very glad you did.

    Click here to download your free printable "Setting Goals Worksheet" (pdf format)


    Read the follow-up to this article: Motivation Revisited


    About the author: Cheryl Wright is an award-winning Australian author and freelance journalist. In addition to an array of other projects, she is the owner of the Writer2Writer.com website and the Writer to Writer monthly ezine for writers.  Her publications include novels, non-fiction books, short stories, and articles. To keep up to date with her publications and new releases, visit Cheryl’s website www.cheryl-wright.com


             Last updated: August 04, 2008