Writing is one of those pursuits where you’re pretty much in charge of your own schedule. There’s no employee manual, no time card, no boss breathing down your neck, pushing you to get that novel finished (unless you’re lucky enough to have a publisher waiting for book #2!). This makes the writing life attractive for many, but the lack of structure can be a challenge.
Setting writing goals is one way to create structure in the writing life. But it’s important that these goals are attainable, realistic, and authentic. Since it’s human nature to judge ourselves by our achievements, setting — and failing to meet — unrealistic objectives puts our self-esteem and our motivation at risk. (Just what writers need, right?)
So, if goal-setting helps you take charge of your writing, make sure the goals are good ones — specific and attainable and from your heart!
Five mistakes writers make when setting their writing goals:
Mistaking dreams for goals. “I will be a famous novelist” is a dream, not a measurable goal — although dreams do provide the impetus for goal-setting. Break this aspiration into concrete, time-sensitive steps, or it will probably stay just a dream.
Setting unrealistic goals. If your goal is to get rich and famous, you’re definitely in the wrong business. If your goal is to land a top-notch literary agent, it may be unrealistic if you’ve written only a handful of poems in your life. Aim high, but add a good dose of realism to your goals so you don’t derail yourself before you even get started.
Setting vague goals. If your goal is to “get published,” be more specific for better results. Vow to develop a detailed submission strategy with a time frame, and you’re far more likely to reach your publication goal.
Setting uncontrollable goals. Landing a literary agent is not entirely within your control, but doing careful research to identify the best agents for your work and creating a dynamite query letter are measurable things you can control.
Setting goals with vague time frames. You may vow to “write more this year,” but you’re more likely to follow through with time-specific goals like “Write for 30 minutes each morning” or “Journal four times per week.”
Management Review introduced the concept of S.M.A.R.T. goals — objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-based. The theory? People are more likely to achieve goals that are “smart” versus goals that are vague and undefined.
Here’s how creative writers can set SMART goals:
Weak goal: Be a better writer. Smart goal: Take two creative writing classes this year and join a critique group.
Weak goal: Leave a legacy. Smart goal: Self-publish a cookbook/memoir/ family history book by October.
Weak goal: Make a name for myself. Smart goal: Beef up my author platform through weekly social media updates and blog posts.
Weak goal: Become a poet. Smart goal: Submit “X” number of poems to literary magazines per month.
Weak goal: Make a living as a writer. Smart goal: Create a financial plan with specific income goals and ways to meet them.
Weak goal: Become a part of the writing community. Smart goal: Attend a writing conference and join a writers group.
Weak goal: Get published. Smart goal: Develop a killer submission plan.