Here’s What Happened When I Started Treating Writing Like a Game

Why so serious?

I am a completionist. Checklists are pretty much the only way I harness motivation to get things done. If going above and beyond means I get to check off more boxes, I’m going to do it.

This applies to both my personal and professional life. Gaming is a great example: If I can 100% a mission, I’m going to go back and do it a dozen times until I hit all the achievements. At work, I always have a very specific goal in mind at the start of each day, and as long as I can hit that minimum before 4 p.m., I’m good to go.

It doesn’t always work, of course. I’m human just like the rest of you. There are days I struggle to even write several hundred words between waking up and going to sleep. Sometimes I get sidetracked, falling into YouTube vortexes and Hulu spirals and sometimes, I EVEN READ BOOKS!

But even when I roam off course, I somehow always manage to find my way back on track. And I wouldn’t be able to do that if it weren’t for the “achievements” always hovering in the distance, there to remind me there are things I want to do, and they won’t get done if I don’t put in the work.

At the beginning of 2019, I pledged to write 1 million words between January 1 and December 31. It has proven to be about as challenging as I anticipated.

As much as we’d all love for our writing lives to exist in a bubble — one where time does not exist and interruptions are impossible — we do not live in a creator-centric world. Life will always continue happening around us, and it’s up to us to figure out how to make writing happen despite the disruptions and obstacles we encounter along the way.

At the time of writing this post, I am not on track to meet my goal. That’s discouraging and, if I’m being honest, quite frustrating. I have good weeks, and not so good weeks — weeks when I exceed my goals and weeks I fall far behind my own milestones. I am constantly learning along the way, which was the point of this personal challenge in the first place, but it’s definitely not an easy ride.

The only way I’ve managed to stay afloat four months into the year is by using my completionist mindset as an advantage — treating it as a strength and applying it to every writing session I ease into.

My process involves a spreadsheet, percentages, big and small writing goals. I’ve broken that 1 million word goal down by month, week, and day. For many, it might seem excessive and actually prove to be a distraction. But for me, it has become something like a game. Can I reach 100 percent of my writing goal today? This week? Even better, if I’m having a really good week, can I exceed that goal and get to 102 percent? 105?

I’ve been writing long enough that having these goals neither distracts me or diminishes the quality of my writing. The more you write, the faster you’re able to translate ideas into words, from brain to page, and even though I’m writing a lot, I’m generally doing work I’m proud of. That makes these “achievements” worth completing. I’m not just increasing a set of numbers. I’m also creating stories and settings and characters that matter to me.

As dedicated as I am to my goals, and as seriously as I tend to approach writing in a productivity and professional sense, I spend a lot of time treating writing like a game. Once I get my momentum going, it’s hard to stop, but it’s also extremely difficult for me to get going again once something does slow me down. Knowing this, I’ve created achievements in my writing life that motivate me to stay on course — or as close to that course as possible — even when things get rough.

This spreadsheet — I won’t show it to you yet, maybe once the year’s up — has changed everything for me. In 2018, I really struggled in my personal writing life. I constantly gave in to my excuses, put off my assignments, and kept my goals vague and distant. “I’ll get to it eventually” became my mantra, one that would lead to almost an entire year of never really finishing anything I started or enjoying what I did manage to create.

Now, writing feels a lot like fun to me. The more I write, the better I feel, and the closer I get to reaching my achievements, the more my confidence grows. It’s so important to take the time to figure out the kind of motivation you need to achieve your writing goals. For you, my strategy may not work at all — it might even make things worse. I’m not telling you that you have to do this. But I AM telling you that you have to figure SOMETHING out.

So what motivates you? Is it seeing a progress bar inch closer and closer to the end? A collection of boxes being checked off one by one? Is it being able to update a public audience on your progress, doing your work in front of people so they see your active creative time?

No one knows you better than yourself. You know exactly the kinds of things that are going to help you write your way to achievement. Apply them to your writing time, no matter how strange they might seem. It doesn’t matter how it gets done, after all, as long as it gets done — and as long as you do it well.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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2 thoughts on “Here’s What Happened When I Started Treating Writing Like a Game

  1. I decided last week that I wanted a project management tool for my writing, like I’ve used at my day job. Keeping track of blogging, beta-reading, and my own writing projects was all being juggled in my head and I knew I loved the completionist feel of being able to check stuff off. So, I asked the internet.

    I’m trying out Trello, and I’ll be reviewing it probably next week, so I’m not going to turn this comment into an ad or anything. But, I really should be tracking word count, too!

  2. Enjoyed reading this. I am a sucker for stats and spreadsheets and enjoy watching my progress bar move across the screen towards my word count. I’ve not thought of achievements, but like you, I would say I am a completionist when it comes to gaming. I’ll have to work that into my writing…

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