How to Set Writing Goals

How to set goals that move your toward your writing dream.

It’s the time of year when people make resolutions or set goals. I have to be honest, I used to not care at all about the New Year and scoffed at resolutions. But as I’ve gotten older, I find the reflection of the past and the hopeful projection of the future inspiring and invigorating. Not one of us has to stay exactly where we are, nor should we. We grow, adapt, learn, and mature as our lives demand it. At least, I hope we all do.

Now, I still don’t set resolutions. They just don’t work for me. And I also don’t really care about the date. If I have a goal I want, I can set it at any time of the year. However, there is something fun and exciting about thinking and dreaming of the year ahead.

I’ve been setting goals for years. Physical, financial, relational, spiritual–in every area of my life. My writing career is no different. Setting goals gives me that laser-focused picture I’m working toward. Having that light at the end of the tunnel keeps me focused even when I feel like I’m wandering through the darkness.

So as you set your goals this year, I want to share with you steps to help set yourself for success and keep you focused and disciplined when the shiny New Year begins to fade away.

Reflect

Before you sit down and beginning looking to the future, take a moment to reflect on the past year. It’s easy to feel like you accomplished nothing or met none of your previous goals, but it’s important to appreciate what you did do and progress you did make.

Did you write this year? Perhaps your working on a novel or short story. If you dedicated time to that project, take a moment to appreciate the discipline it took to sit down and write. Did you make any submissions or queries? Did you hit any big milestones like acceptances or getting an agent? Maybe you didn’t make any progress in your writing, but did you read? Did you take in art and creativity ? Perhaps you went to a conference or signed up for a writing class. Maybe you finally found a critique partner. Whatever the case may be. Take a moment to reflect on this past year. What were you proud of and what are areas you like to improve upon?

Focus on What You Can Control

Certain goals are outside of our control. Goals like “getting an agent” or “getting a book published” are nice, but completely outside of your control. It’s setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. You can’t be responsible for other’s peoples actions and decisions, so don’t focus on external goals like that.

Instead, think about what you can control. Is this the year you finish your work in progress? Is this the year you finally start querying? Is this the year you sign up for the writer’s group? Think of areas you want to work on that are within your sphere of control and construct your goals around those things.

Keep them SMART

When making goals, keep them SMART– Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound. Here’s what I mean. Say you have a goal to “write a book.” That’s great, but leaving as is, means you will never meet that goal. Why? It’s not SMART.

S–Specific

Get specific with your goal: “I want to write a 70k spy novel.” That is specific. You have a word count, and a genre.

M–Measureable

In order for a goal to be acheive, you need to have some marker to measure it by. Just saying I want to write a book, is daunting. Break it down, so that you have marker by which to measure it. For example: “I want to write 1000 words/day, five days a week.” The word count goal is your marker. You can measure your progress by tracking the word count.

A–Achievable

Goals need to be attainable and realistic. Saying I want to write a 70k spy novel in a week probably isn’t going to happen, especially if you have never written anything before. It needs to be something within the realm of possibility that you have the potential to accomplish. For example: I’m not going to be a professional basketball player know matter how much I work, or how specific I get. I lack the skills, I’m too short, and I hate basketball. So as you make your goals, keep in mind what is realistic to you. Don’t make a goal to write a 150k epic fantasy novel if you hate the genre!

R–Relevant

It also needs to be relevant. Why exactly are you setting this particular goal? It helps to figure out why you want to write or why you want to be published. What is it that matters to you? What is it that will help keep you committed and disciplined when the shiny newness wears off and motivation lags.

T–Time bound

Your goal also needs to have a time limit. Give your self a timeframe in which to accomplish the goal. “I want to write a 70k spy novel. By writing 1000/ day, five days a week, I should have a completed draft in 3 1/2 months. Give yourself a time frame for your goal.

Leave Space for Adjustment

Inevitably, life will get in your way. It just will. Kids get sick, tragedies happen, pregnancies happen, job losses, busy seasons, etc. You cannot predict how life will unravel, so give yourself space for adjustment. Plan to reevaluate your goals. Maybe what you wanted in January isn’t the same in June after you’ve had a baby or a job change. That’s okay. You are allowed to change your mind, adjust your goals to meet where you are with whatever you’re working with.

Write Them Down

Finally, you need to write them down. I don’t care if its a sticky note stuck to your bathroom mirror or a journal entry or an EXCEL spreadsheet. Write them down and say them out loud. Take it from being a wish in your head to something tangible you can hold in your hand. There is power to seeing the words laid out in black and white in front of you. (We’re writers remember? Words have power!) Write them down.

Whatever your goals are this year, whether upping your freelance submissions, hitting a query goal, or just improving an aspect of your craft, use these tips to help you set your goals for this year!

What goals are you setting this year? I’d love to here about them!

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