Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 10, 2012

Accountability in Writing Goals

Many people claim they work best under pressure—that a deadline is their best motivator. That’s great, but writers often don’t have anyone else cracking the whip for them. This lack of outside motivation is especially evident in the early stages of our career, when we are writing for ourselves and by ourselves, with no publishers or fans waiting eagerly for our work. On the contrary, in the early stages it can often seem like everything outside our writing is conspiring to STOP us from attaining our writing goals—or even finishing a sentence.

So, yes, we have to set goals for ourselves. Yet we can still utilize the sense of urgency we get from outside deadlines. In short, we need to find some way to be ACCOUNTABLE for the goals we set ourselves.

I am a highly self-motivated person, but even I need to hold myself accountable. Different writers find different ways of rewarding themselves for meeting goals (rewards work much better than punishments). Some use sweet treats, some use money, some use a special trip or event (such as a trip to the spa or the movies). Many place their goals online so their writing pals can check in with them at the end of the day to see their progress.

Me? I am highly motivated by one thing: my To-Do list. Sounds oddly simple, doesn’t it? But there is nothing I like better than crossing something off my list. The list must be hand-written—I don’t get the same jazz deleting things from a Word doc list. (Plus, it’s too easy for me not to open the Word list in the first place—my handwritten one stares at me from the desk 24/7.)

That’s not to say outside motivation doesn’t help. The hardest thing about sticking to my weekly personal blogging schedule was forcing myself to do it every week. The temptation to “let it go” for a week…or two…or three pulled at me. I finally got to where doing it every week is a habit, and I rarely think of skipping, but the journey to reach that place took a long time. Here on the Author Chronicles, I know my fellow bloggers count on me to make my personal post on time, so I always manage to find a topic and get it posted on time. And I know many people read our Top Picks Thursdays, so I am never tempted to “skip it” one week.

Outside motivation helps in manuscript writing, too. I just set a date to send my current WIP to an editor, and have gotten more work done this past week than in the last month. Some of that efficiency was circumstantial—my mother-in-law was here all week, and my husband was home for much of the week because of the holiday, so I had more child-free time to work. But a lot was due to knowing someone had to have the manuscript by a certain date.

Unfortunately, the momentum of this week’s revision frenzy is unsustainable. As a mother and a wife, I cannot do what I did this week and let so many other duties drop over an extended period of time. I discussed the issue of writer burnout in a personal blog a few weeks ago. Outside motivation or not, I can only achieve so much in a given 24-hour period, and what MUST get done is not always writing related.

So what are your tricks for self-motivation? How do you hold yourself accountable?


  1. I stay motivated by keeping myself in my novel. If I let a few days or week go by without writing I lose myself – and disconnect with my book. So to feed that I now grab time whenever I can to write 1,000 min. a day on my book. I discovered that I CAN write anywhere now…at a cafe, at the pool, grab 15 minutes while my son is in the shower, grab 30 minutes when my son and husband go for a bike ride.

    I found this crucial this summer with school out and a self-enforced deadline of Sept 6 looming to finish. And the factor behind the motivation? Because I love the feeling I have from being in my story ALL THE TIME and knowing it will be done. Its a rush and an addiction I dont want to give up. Thanks for sharing your ideas Kerry!


    • Yes, the “grabbing time whenever you can” mode of working is something I am still grappling with. I do it, but I so much prefer writing in large chunks of uninterrupted time. But you don’t get that with a kid (especially when they’re young) so I’m working on the catch as catch can method.


  2. I love “outside motivation” as a tool to keep up with self-imposed deadlines. Self-imposed deadlines are so easy to break, and I find that even with the gentlest outside motivation that I won’t miss, and will be able to check it off of my to-do list. The thing is that I really do want to keep my self-imposed goals, but it’s just so easy to get distracted that I need a little extra push sometimes.


  3. well written. keep up the great work.


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