Our thanks to writer Cassidy Hennigan for this guest contribution! Featured image source: depositphotos.com

Have you ever sat down to write and thought, “Maybe I should do the dishes first?” Or set aside time to finish a piece, only to think to yourself at the appointed hour, “The deadline isn’t until tomorrow at noon. I could get up early to do this.” If you’re like me (and most writers), you surely have.

Writing is a solitary activity, and it can be darn hard to stay on task when the only one we’re accountable to is ourselves. People in office jobs have co-workers, teammates, and bosses dropping by their desks; they have others to keep them in-check and on-track. Writers are often alone with their computers. Computers don’t comment when the day is done, and the work is not.

How then, do writers manage to get anything done? The answer is motivation. Having the courage to be yourself. If we know why we are writing and what we are working for, we are more likely to stay on course when it would be easier to procrastinate. Read on to learn about the different types of motivation, which ones are most effective, and how to generate motivation driven effort for your writing.


Motivation is the reason that we do things. It is what moves us to act, and it is essential for setting and reaching goals. Therefore, understanding motivation and identifying what uniquely motivates us can help us develop and maintain a writing practice where we can hold ourselves accountable to start the work and finish it.

Two Main Types of Motivation: Extrinsic and Intrinsic

Extrinsic, or external motivation, is based on rewards or punishments outside of ourselves. Money, praise, status, beautiful clothes, and fear of failure are all powerful motivators. When we are extrinsically motivated, we engage in an activity to gain a reward or to avoid a negative outcome.

Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, is based on internal rewards. Experiencing a sense of accomplishment, mastering a new skill, or feeling creatively fulfilled are all examples of intrinsic motivators. In short, when we are intrinsically motivated, it feels good to be doing what we are doing, and we want to do it well for personal reasons.

For example, if a person swims because he or she enjoys it and it makes them feel good, they are intrinsically motivated. If they swim to lose weight and look more attractive to others, they are extrinsically motivated.

A Third Type: Pro-social Motivation

Prosocial motivation is the desire to benefit another person, group of people, or society as a whole. For example, a person might be motivated to work and earn money to support aging parents or to donate to a particular cause they care deeply about. In either case, they are motivated to work and earn money based on the desire to help someone other than themselves.

Imagine a woman tossing a plastic bottle into a recycling bin. If she recycles because she doesn’t want to be judged by others in the coffee-shop as uncaring or irresponsible, she is extrinsically motivated. If she chooses to recycle because it feels good to know she is doing her part for the planet, she is intrinsically motivated. If she recycles to save the planet and all who live on it from global warming, she is pro-socially motivated.

Why Doesn’t Extrinsic Motivation Really Work?

Extrinsic motivators are the most obvious, readily available, and appealing on the surface; but research tells us that they are the least sustainable. There are three main reasons that extrinsic motivation doesn’t really work:

  1. When one is moved to action based on external rewards such as money or praise, motivation disappears as quickly as the reward does. Extrinsic motivation is not sustainable.
  2. If the level of reward or punishment stays the same, the effect on motivation wanes. Therefore, the punishment will have to continue to grow harsher or the reward more enticing to maintain motivating powers.
  3. When extrinsic motivations are in play with an activity that is already internally rewarding, intrinsic motivation is weakened. For instance, if earning more money or garnering power is at stake, the focus is taken away from that personal fulfillment that is provided by engaging in the activity.

So What Does Work?

In an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Adam Grant makes a case for a combination of intrinsic and prosocial motivators as the magic formula for three P’s: persistence, performance and productivity. These three P’s also happen to be the essential ingredients for finishing a writing assignment on time.

With that in mind, here are three questions to help you uncover why you write:

  • How does writing make you feel?
  • Are you in the flow when you write?
  • Do you have a sense of creative fulfillment when you finish a particularly good piece?

Why do you choose to be a writer?

Excluding extrinsic motivators like fame and money, consider why this career path is the right one for you. Maybe you like the independence of writing what you want and when you want. Maybe you like autonomy of directing in the way that you see fit. Maybe you like the freedom to work in your pajamas.

Who do you write for?

  1. Do you write to offer something specific to your readers?
  2. Do you write to enlighten the world on an important issue or cause?
  3. Do you write so that you can work from home and raise your children?

Your answers to questions one and two are your intrinsic motivators; the answers to number three are prosocial. Here you have the magic formula for persistence, performance, and productivity. Now that you know why you write, make a plan to keep yourself accountable.

The next step is to find a goal setting template online that will work for you and set some actionable goals. Finally, post your list of motivators and your goals in your workspace to generate motivation driven effort for you own writing and to keep yourself accountable. Now get to work.

Tell us how you’re setting your goals for 2017 with your comments below. Have a method that’s worked? Trouble staying on track? Let’s keep the conversation going and help each other be accountable!

Cassidy Hennigan is a hard-at-work writer and contributing editor at www.TemplatesAssistant.com. With a great interest in education, career development, and productivity, she hopes to help as many as she can to develop great habits of discipline and success.