Jenna Avery from Script Magazine expounds on the importance of goal setting and being kind to yourself when you achieve those goals. She delves into the psychology of productivity via task and reward.
One of the biggest myths about writing is that we should keep going when we get in the flow or on a roll.
Usually what this looks like is planning to write to a certain point — whether a word goal, page count, plot point, or time frame — but getting fired up, filled with ideas, bursting with creativity, and ending up writing in a big binge of time, often until the wee hours of the morning, and/or until we’re exhausted.
Turns out, it’s actually better to stop writing when you’re on a roll and end your writing session on a high note. It makes you more eager and productive when you return to your writing next session.
Here’s why continuing to write past your daily goal isn’t such a good idea:
1) YOU BREAK TRUST WITH YOURSELF
If you’ve made a commitment to work until a certain point and you don’t stop when you reach that goal, you’ve just broken the fragile relationship of trust you have with yourself. You made the Herculean effort to overcome the resistance to even writing in the first place, and then tricked yourself into writing more. Sure, you felt good doing it at the time, but how do you feel afterward? It’s very much akin to overindulging in chocolate cake.
So remember, when you push past your goal — even when you’re feeling inspired — you’ll have less trust with yourself when you sit down the next day to write.
2) YOU CREATE A PUNISHMENT PATTERN AROUND YOUR CRAFT
When you write to the point of exhaustion, you create a pattern of negative reinforcement about writing.
As Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. says, “This is actually bad for you psychologically. If you keep going until you’re tired out, then you’re stopping only when you start to feel bad. By definition that is negative reinforcement, or punishment. So it’s much better to do a little each day, and end on a high note, instead of ending on exhaustion. You’ll be more likely to come back to it.”
3) YOU SET THE BAR TOO HIGH FOR AN ONGOING HEALTHY WRITING HABIT
If you’re writing daily, once you exceed your daily goal, it’s easy to let the bar creep up for subsequent writing sessions. And what if you’re not “feeling it” when you sit back down to write the next day? You’ve just created a situation where you’re failing to meet your own expectations.
4) YOU WORK AGAINST YOUR OWN MOMENTUM
Robert Boice, author of How Writers Journey To Comfort and Fluency and a leader in academic writing research, finds that writing for hours (usually out of fear that we won’t be able to get going again or because we have a looming deadline) actually works against momentum. The target writing state we’re looking for — when it comes to sustaining our writing in the long term — is “mild pleasure,” and the hyper, exaggerated state that comes from manic and binge writing makes that hard to achieve — and maintain.
5) YOU DEVELOP AN AVERSION TO WRITING
In combination, these patterns lead you to develop an aversion to writing, and increase the likelihood of procrastination and negative self-talk, leading in turn to further paralysis and writer’s block.