Does goal setting and monitoring work for writers?

Tracking star

Ninety percent of writers say they want to write more frequently. Earlier this year I tested whether goal setting and monitoring can help writers write more. Here’s a summary of the findings.

The test website – Write-Track

I’ve been exploring whether goal setting has benefits for writers. I designed a website to see if setting and monitoring goals can improve writing habits. The idea is by improving their habits writers would make progress on their projects and through practice become better writers.

Writers completed surveys throughout the test to provide feedback and opinion. I’m humbled the generosity of the writers who took part and I’m keen to share a few findings.

The writers taking part

Those taking part in the test were pretty experienced writers: 47% had been writing more than 10 years, 43% 2-10 years, with only 10% writing less than a year. 79% have been published or produced in some format and 37% were taking a writing course or doing a PhD.

When asked, 90% said they wanted to write more frequently; this was in line with previous findings Most would like to write daily and improve their writing habit. They found the most difficult aspects of writing were finishing a project followed by keeping positive, and developing a regular practice.

Goal setting

“I’ve been setting goals and targets for a while now. But Write Track helped me do this in a more systematic way – and sometimes in a more public way – with support from others, which really helped.”

Goal setting is not a new activity for writers, 38% already set goals, though only 17% monitor progress against them. As the test was about goal setting it was great that 82% had a specific goal they wanted to monitor during the test.

Together the writers set 337 goals with the most popular goal ‘track my writing’ set by 42 people. Track my writing was the simplest level of monitoring which allows writers to ‘track’ each time they wrote to build up a picture of their practice. The website gave them the option to make notes about where, when, what they wrote and how they felt about it.

set goal

“Goals for writing felt the wrong approach for me; an opportunity to fail rather than a challenge to make me feel motivated.”

I’d researched the types of goals writers set so offered different ways to set them on the website and included the most common types. However, the testers didn’t like the ‘popular goals’ function preferring to set their own parameters. It was interesting when we reviewed what had been set to find there were many identical ones. When developing goals it is important that individuals have control of what and how they set them

“I did reach my goal, which I am very pleased about!”

We got a chance to celebrate as 17 goals were achieved during the test including finishing a final draft of a novel, entering a competition, submitting a play to a producer, undertaking a daily writing exercise, finishing a short story, editing a draft, and sorting out writing notebooks.

High, medium and low users

The target was to have 100 testers and in the end we had over 140. Recent research on testing new technology said 5% usage is good, in the end we had ten times that and were able to divide the writers taking part into high (23%), medium (26%) and low (51%) users.

It’s no surprise that the test worked for some and not for others. Those who used the website and app most got the greatest from it: they set more goals, tracked more often, used most features especially making notes and commenting, and were more likely to use the app compared to others.

“It has been a revelation to me and really has helped to guide my writing practice towards developing good habits!”

All of the top users found it helped them reflect on their writing, 92% made progress on their goals, 77% said it helped them write more; all but one of the high users said they would use it again.

The main barrier to using the website for the low users was lack of time, though I’m not sure whether it was lack of time to write or the idea that using the website would use a lot of time. Some users encountered technical issues which put them off going back.

Those who set their goals to public were more likely to monitor goals and make progress compared with those who set profiles to private or hidden. Writers who set more goals made most progress against them.

“It’s helped remind me when I haven’t written – sounds odd to say, but I can quite easily con myself into believing I’ve done writing when I haven’t.”

Things to take forward

So to answer the question: does goal setting and monitoring work for writers? I’d have to say yes but not for everyone, and not necessarily through using technology. Enough writers found benefits – and for some the benefits were significant – to convince me to continue with the project and further develop the website and app.

I asked if users found the website accessible and 93% agreed – this was very important to the team working on Write-Track. However, we learnt that the website was too complicated, with too many steps involved to join, set up goals and track them, and users needed guidance to get started. Simplifying this is the main focus of our work at the moment.

“I found it useful to log in each day and track my word count – giving myself credit was motivating. I also found inspiration from seeing others engaging with similar issues.”

Writers found the most useful aspects of the website to be the goal setting and tracking features, though many users wanted more from the community section and this is something we’ll be developing over the coming months.

Our challenge is to keep the core functionality clean, simple and not distract users from writing yet make sure there’s enough support, functionality and interesting content to keep people engaged.


Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.