Goal Setting: The Difference Between Push Goals and Pull Goals

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Earlier this week, I read an interesting piece at Make a Living Writing on motivation and goal setting. What? Why am I talking about goal setting in September? Couldn’t I just leave this alone until December 30th? I could, but Marcia egged me on when she wrote about rebooting your writing life.

A few days ago, I posted a message to my accountability group. (Hi, Ladies!) As I was doing this I noticed, I hadn’t even bothered to post about goals in months. I’ve just been toodling along, doing my own thing. 

Some of this toodling was very much writing related. I took Madeline Dyer’s class and learned about narrative structure. I wrote a new piece of auto fiction. I’ve drafted two new picture book manuscripts, one of which is so close to being finished. But I haven’t looked at my goals in months. 

You’ll find other posts here about writing goals. We’ve discussed how to set SMART goals and the need to periodically reevaluate our goals. As I read about push goals vs pull goals, I found myself evaluating my goals. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terms, push goals are external. If you have to push yourself to meet a goal, that’s most likely a push goal. They tend to be a lot of work and can feel forced. You set these goals because you feel that you should and many of them have to do with perfecting yourself. “If I could just lose weight, I would be the perfect size.” “If I wrote a NYT best selling novel, I would be the perfect writer.” Whatever. 

Pull goals are more internal. Think of these goals as the carrot vs the stick. These goals don’t feel like as much work because you are passionate about something. 

In the piece at Make a Living Writing, Carol Tice includes a potential list of pull goals. What are the carrots that will tempt you forward? There are all kinds of possibilities. You can reward yourself with time off work to spend with your family when you get something done. You can engage in retail therapy. A vacation might be in the cards if you earn enough to pay for it. Or you might simply reward yourself with a trip to your favorite bookstore. 

You can also use your writing as a pull goal. You want to work on your memoir or your novel or a group of poems. Setting a goal to work on items like these will pull you forward. This is the writing you are passionate about. 

You need to make a living. If you are lucky enough to do that with your writing, you may need to set some push goals. These might involve updating your website, finishing a contracted job, or querying. 

As with so many things in life, the key is balance. You’ll probably need a combination of push goals and pull goals. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be able to combine a few – signing a contract to write about something that fascinates you. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 35 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on September 4, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 4, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 4, 2022). 


Nicole Pyles said...

I never thought of this difference before! Thinking about it, I feel like revisions (and freelance work) are my push goals but then my pull goal is a story I'm looking forward to working on next! It's one that I'm excited to take shape but I'm telling myself to type others that I wrote before it so those don't get ignored. I like the idea of rewards too :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

It is definitely something I'm going to have to consider. Also that my push goal may be your pull goal. It isn't nearly as clear cut as SMART goals.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Hadn't heard the terms of push vs. pull goals but it makes sense--and I realized I've sort of been doing that for years. So I guess it works? :-)

Also toodling...is that like piddling? :-)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Toodling is very like piddling. Or puttering.

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