Setting writing goals can be super helpful for keeping you on track so you can consistently make progress towards finishing your book, but figuring out what those goals should be is a separate challenge altogether.
Do you find yourself struggling to stick to the ones you’ve set or to even figure out what your goals should be?
It can be very easy to set goals that are too vague, too rigid, or too unrealistic that they end up having the opposite of the intended effect.
If you’re looking for some structure to help you consistently move forward with your writing projects without burning out or losing motivation, then try out these tips for setting writing goals that will actually work for you.
Other posts you may like:
- How to Set Goals with Flow and Flexibility
- How to Stay Inspired and Grounded When Pursuing Goals
- How to Win at the Mental Game of Writing
Tips for Setting Writing Goals
Establish what you’re working towards
Start off by getting clear on what your main goal is. You may be thinking, “well to finish a book, duh!” But what do you want to do with that book? Are you planning to look for an agent or self-publish it? Are you only writing it for fun and don’t want to think beyond that? Will it be a part of a series or is it a standalone book?
These questions can help you determine your timeline and bring clarity to your vision. For example, if you’re writing a book that will be the first in a series, you may want to incorporate more time for outlining the arc of the series as a whole so you know where you’re going with it. If you’re planning to look for an agent for the traditional publishing route, something like Pitch Wars could serve as a deadline to give you a goal post that will propel you forward.
Of course, you don’t have to do either of those things. Finishing your book is enough of a goal. But, it’s helpful to think through your options so you know what your own personal desires are and what things could possibly help motivate you or give you a clearer direction.
Reverse engineer your primary goal
Once you are clear on your main goal when it comes to your writing, work backward and make a list of the steps that will lead you to it.
For example, say your primary goal is simply to finish all drafts of your novel and have a polished, completed manuscript to send off to agents. Some things to consider could be:
- Are you planning to hire a professional editor? If so, build in time to find one, interview them, budget out the price, and reserve a spot in their schedule.
- Are you planning to use critique partners and/or beta readers? If so, start networking now if you don’t already have people in your circle you want to work with and let them know what your timeline will be, or at least let them know when you’re getting closer to being ready for them to read for you.
- Research things like potential agents you could query, how to write cover letters, specific pitch opportunities and deadlines, etc.
- Break down the stages of developing, outlining, writing, and editing your book.
Now, you’ll have a map of all the major stages of your main writing goal chunked down into smaller steps. Then, you can break down those even further into actionable tasks with the system in the next section.
Use the SMART system
One of the most popular goal-setting systems is the SMART system. It’s my personal favorite because it makes it very easy to set goals that are focused, manageable, and achievable. This helps you avoid overwhelm in the process because the more specific you are with what you’re working toward, the easier it is to stay on track.
SMART stands for:
- SPECIFIC — Define a clear, tangible outcome you desire.
- MEASURABLE — Determine how you will measure your progress.
- ATTAINABLE — Make sure it is challenging but realistic to achieve.
- RELEVANT — Identify what value it will bring to your life.
- TIME-BOUND — Set a time frame in order to stay focused.
For your writing goals, you can use this system for each stage of the process. Here’s an example:
- SPECIFIC — Finish the first draft of my novel.
- MEASURABLE — I’ll track my daily word count.
- ATTAINABLE — The draft will be 80,000 words.
- RELEVANT — Finishing this first draft will be the first major step toward fulfilling my dream of becoming a published author.
- TIME-BOUND — I’ll finish it in five months.
Get clear on your “why”
Expanding on the “relevant” part of the SMART goals system is key to staying committed to your writing goals.
There will always be those days when you don’t feel like sitting down to write. In fact, there’s a good chance that will be what most days are like until you develop a habit. Whether it’s due to lack of inspiration, feeling stuck, self-doubt, or fear, it’s a common plight of writers to want to (ironically) avoid the thing we love to do: actually write!
Of course, it’s okay (and very necessary) to take breaks but there’s a difference between legitimately needing some downtime and avoiding your writing. When you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know the difference. That’s when reconnecting with your “why” will give you the push to keep going when procrastination sets in.
Why is writing a book important to you? Why is writing this book important to you? Dig deep and get clear on what it means to you so you can commit to your purpose and refer back to it whenever your motivation begins to waver.
Track your progress
When we write down our goals and then track our progress, we are much more likely to find and maintain momentum.
It is so satisfying to check things off a list, see the number of words you’ve logged for your project, and watch your progress grow right before your eyes. It makes it feel real. Whenever you start to feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything, you can look back and literally see exactly how far you’ve come. It’s powerful stuff.
If you haven’t been tracking your progress, I highly, highly recommend that you start. It can become addictive once you do because it feels so good to record your progress and create a routine around it. You won’t want to stop feeling the rush you get when you write it down, which means you won’t want to stop showing up for that goal!
TIP: Establish small milestones (like every 10k words you write) and set up a reward system for each one of them to celebrate your progress. The rewards can be anything that will excite you, such as a spa day, movie night, a special meal, or buying yourself something from your wishlist.
It’s safe to assume that your goals — even the most well-planned ones — will require some modifications along the journey. Both life and your project can (and usually will) throw you curveballs that can’t be forced to adhere to your schedule without sacrificing your sanity.
This is totally normal, so be willing to shift things around when needed. There is no reason to feel guilty about this; it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, it just means you’re human and life happens!
We all go through different seasons. Sometimes, we are able to hustle and push, and sometimes, we need more space to breathe. Same goes for each individual project. They won’t all be the same and require the same work ethic from you. You may need to tweak your process for each project, too, because no two will be exactly the same and creativity isn’t a rigid force.
Become attuned to the difference between positive and negative pressure to reach your goals. If you’re pushing yourself so hard that you’re burning out and sacrificing your creativity just to hit a target, then you probably should re-evaluate your plan.
Goals should give you clarity and a guiding light toward what you want, not become a toxic force that stresses you out and sucks the fun out of writing. Keep experimenting with your goal-setting process to figure out the balance that works best for you.
|Hopefully, these tips on setting writing goals help you cut down on overwhelm and remain clear and focused throughout the process. For an easy way to keep track of your writing goals, word count log, project details, and more grab my Writing Goals Printable Bundle that is available for instant download!