This is an exercise intended to get you to, or back to, the roots of what inspired you to try your hand at writing a novel in the first place. Believe me, it can be very easy to get away from that original impetus, to get caught up in other peoples' motivations for writing and away from what writing was all about for you in the beginning.
And that, my friends, can lead you to the path of burn-out and frustration, and perhaps even quitting writing entirely. You veer away from what inspired you to write, the thing that brought that first gleam of an idea to you, the elements that made writing exciting. When it was all about what thrilled you, not what somebody told you was supposed to thrill you and what targets you ought to aim for.
So let's get back to the beginning, the origins of you the writer. What made you decide to try your hand at writing a book in the first place? What are your general goals as an author?
Here's how my list would have looked back when I began:
I want to write a romance because:
1. I think it'll be fun. I like "battle of the sexes" stories.
2. I love reading; I've read a lot. I have a degree in English. I think I know enough about books to have a shot at succeeding.
3. At this point, I don't want to work outside the home, so if I can be successful (ie. sell this book), it could turn into a great job I can do it at home and therefore be with my kids when necessary (if they're ill, for instance). The best of both worlds!
To be honest, I think that's about as far as I got. However, you'll note that I did not think about getting on any bestseller lists, or winning contests. At one time, I did get caught up with those goals -- which were never mine to begin with. That should have been a clue that they were the wrong goals for me.
If getting on bestseller lists and winning contests are your goals? Go for it. I don't know what motivates you as a person or a writer. I can only know what motivates me, just as you can never know what is motivating another writer. So why adopt their goals? If they work for you, great. But if not? March to your own drummer. Because trying to achieve goals that aren't really related to your core reasons for writing? Is, I believe, a really good way to stress yourself out.
Also -- and this is a good thing to do if you're finding it difficult to get or keep going with a story -- think about why you want to tell that particular story. What got you excited about the idea in the first place?
I can tell you why I want to write my current work-in-progress, KNAVE'S HONOR.
1. The hero was a secondary character in a previous book. I really like him, so I want to tell his story.
2. I've introduced the heroine in two previous books by name only. I think it's time readers met her.
3. I've never written an Irish hero before.
4. I've never written a character quite like Lizette before, either. I think she'll be fun.
5. I like the plot, which hinges on a ruse. I've done ruses before, but this time, several people are involved. It's different for me, and it's definitely a challenge.
You'll note there's nothing here about increasing sales, although I hope readers are as interested to learn about the hero and heroine as I am, so the book will sell well. There's nothing here about getting on a bestseller list, or winning a contest.
Because here's the thing: those aren't my goals. They aren't the reason I write. They're the icing on the cake, and I'm much more concerned about making a really good cake and having fun doing it. If my cake also gets frosted, believe me, I'll be thrilled. But if not? As long as I achieve my own goals, I'm pleased.
And a whole lot less stressed out.