Process vs Goal Orientated as a Writer

There are countless ways to approach writing. Our routines and methods are constantly evolving and changing to meet the demands of our current project and schedules. 

My writing routine is constantly changing in response to other aspects of my life, but recently I was reflecting on how my attitude to writing has changed. I used to be goal orientated; now I’m more driven by process. 

So, what’s the difference?

Being goal orientated means that the writer’s motivation comes from completion. As a writer, that may look like finishing the first draft, then the structural edit, then the line edit.

Their focus is on the horizon and less on their feet.

They still care about the process, just not at the expense of their goal; they are ‘Type A’ personalities who are driven by producing measurable outcomes. 

These are the types of writers who pride themselves on being efficient. They are not the type to do multiple scrappy drafts as a way to ‘figure out the story’, and the idea of deleting an entire chapter or section is not an option. If time and energy have been sunk into a project, then that project had better perform. 

Being goal orientated doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a singular focus on publication–though that probably is the ultimate goal–but with each stage of the writing process (thinking, drafting, editing), they tend to be more motivated by the idea of completing that stage than by engaging with the work. 

They are the type of writer who is happy for having written.

Writers who are process driven, however, find joy in the act of making and they are less concerned with the success or completion of a project. Writing–period–is a good use of their time because they don’t put any pressure on the work to actually…work. 

These types of writers are more likely to see their creativity as play. The stakes around their writing are lower because they approach writing in a manner that is exploratory and the joy of making is what they value most. 

Process orientated writers will still have goals, but not at the expense of their process. For them, it is all about how their writing happens and less about what their writing can achieve. 

Of course, these two ways of making are not mutually exclusive and most people will probably sit somewhere between the two or their motivation for creating may change between projects or be influenced by other external or internal factors. 

From what I’ve seen in my students and clients, setting clear, measurable goals and figuring out an approach to writing that is exciting and do-able are equally important. Setting a word count target may be the right way to motivate yourself one day; another day you may be more motivated by the idea of mapping out various versions of a single scene. 

Years ago, I watched an interview with Josh Homme (frontman for Queens of the Stone Age) and he made the comment, ‘If you expect music to do anything for you, you’re expecting too much.’ 

The same can be said for writing, but we don’t need to take this quote literally because I do have expectations around my writing. Except, those expectations have nothing to do with fame or fortune and everything to do with living a rich and fulfilling creative life. 

And look, yes, I know that sounds very pollyanna-rish because we live in a society and culture where monetary value is how we measure the worth of almost everything, but the rewards I reap from writing are beyond measure. 

I was goal orientated for the first few years of my writing life because I was desperate to get some publications under my belt and lay the foundations for a sturdy portfolio career, but over the course of the last two years in particular, I’ve become much more driven by process. 

I’m less focussed on achieving a certain number of publications a year and more concerned with the quality of those publications. 

Of course, setting goals and having something to work towards is a great idea–not to mention fun–and I still set goals for myself, but they tend to be a lot more flexible and frankly, within my control, then they used to be. 

Setting goals for your writing isn’t strictly necessary, nor is perfecting a writing routine or creating elaborate rituals, it just depends on why you write and what the expectations around your writing are. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re goal or process orientated. Setting goals is an easy way to measure progress, and considering your process will ensure that the achievement of those goals is enjoyable and emotionally rewarding, but being aware of which category you lean towards may assist you in striking a better balance between the two.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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