How to Set Your Writing Goals
"A goal is a dream with a deadline." Have you heard this saying before? Many writers dream of finishing their novel one day, but if you truly want to achieve it, you need to turn that dream into a goal. And a deadline is just one part of setting writing goals!
As with any big adventure, you need to know where you’re going and how you plan to get there. You wouldn’t begin a cross-country road trip without taking the time to map it out first. You would make a few decisions before hitting the road. How many miles will you travel per day? Where will you stop along the way? Just like a road trip, your writing journey needs to be mapped out with a daily plan and an end goal in mind.
This post outlines five simple steps for setting achievable writing goals so that you can write with confidence!
Start with a deadline
Start with the end in mind. Give yourself a deadline for completing the project. For example, if you are taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you will start your project on November 1st with the goal of completing it by November 30th. Maybe you’re entering your novel in a writing competition, and the deadline is May 31. If you start revising your draft on January 1st, you have four months before the manuscript is due.
In each of these scenarios, there is a starting date and an ending date. Now it’s your turn. Decide when you will begin and end your writing project. Add these dates to your calendar and commit to reaching this deadline.
Set a measurable goal and track your progress
Having a deadline is a good start, but you also need to have daily or weekly goals for completing your project, so that you know if you're on track. One way to do this is to come up with "SMART" goals: That is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. This means no more vague goals to "finish the book" or "get better at writing." Clearly define what those goals would look like— how long will your completed project be? How many words or pages will you write (or revise) each day?
For example, if your goal is to finish your book, how will you measure that? Maybe you decide that the goal is a 90,000-word draft (specific and measurable), and your deadline is in two months (time-bound). In this scenario, you would need to write about 1,500 words per day in order to reach your goal—if you're writing every single day.
But is it realistic for you to write every day? Is a word count goal of 1,500 words per day achievable for you, given your other daily obligations? You may not even know yet, which is why it's important to track your progress as you write. This could be on paper, or with a digital word count tracker. If you discover you’re falling short of your daily word count, you can adjust your goal so that it is more achievable or realistic. It's important to be honest with yourself here— setting a goal that's too difficult to reach can be demoralizing, and that can set you back from making any progress at all.
Get writing sessions on your calendar
Once you've defined your measurable goal, you need to commit to regular writing sessions to get from one point to the next. You might be a busy working parent with only an hour per day to write. You might be a small business owner who can squeeze in one hour every weekday and four hours on the weekend.
Determine how much time you can devote to your writing project every day in order to plan regular writing sessions. Be realistic about how much time you actually have, but also be willing to change up your daily routine, like skipping the morning news or your evening Netflix binge in exchange for consistent writing time. If you can’t find that extra thirty minutes in the same session, could you add a few hours on the weekend to make up the difference? Can you squeeze in a few extra writing sessions in the evenings or during your lunch break? Determine how many words you need to write per session and adjust your writing sessions if needed so that you can reach your writing goal.
Once you’ve found the time, put it on your calendar. If you don’t schedule it, it likely won’t happen! It’s easy to push aside writing time for all the other things that pop up throughout the day. Treat your writing goals with the same importance you would a deadline given to you by your boss. You wouldn’t blow off a work deadline, so don’t blow this off, either! Find time to write every day, if possible, and schedule it on your calendar.
Create a writing routine
Create a writing routine that lets your brain know it is time to write every day. This could include a quick meditation session, making a cup of coffee, or writing in a gratitude journal.
Try to write at the same time every day. If possible, write as soon as you wake up. Set your alarm clock an hour earlier and write before you look at your email, social media, or the news. By the end of the day, your brain is often like a computer with too many opened tabs: slow and in need of refreshing, or even a shutdown.
However, it isn’t always possible to write first thing in the morning, especially if you work an early shift or have to get kids ready for school. Maybe even the thought of the alarm clock going off fills you with dread, and it takes you an hour and an entire pot of coffee before you’re even ready to function. Establish what works for you, and just get started. Once you have established a routine, you can adjust it as you go.
Find a space where you can work without interruption. Let your family know that your writing sessions are a priority and that you need to stay focused with no distractions. Turn off the television, put away your phone, shut the door, and close out all the other browsers on your computer. This is a time to stay focused on your goals without distractions and actually do the work of putting words on paper!
Find an accountability partner or join a writing group
If you have trouble reaching your goals or staying motivated to show up and do the work, it might benefit you to find an accountability partner. This can be someone you know in real life, but it can also be in the form of an online group like the Writing Mastery Community (which is included in membership to the Writing Mastery Academy).
Another great option is to join a writing organization. For example, if you write picture books, middle-grade, or young-adult fiction, you might join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you write in the romance genre, you could join Romance Writers of America (RWA). These groups all have valuable online resources, as well as regional and national conferences you can attend to network, learn, and stay inspired to reach your writing goals.
Put these steps into action!
Now that you have five tips for setting writing goals, it’s time to put them into action. Identify the date you need to complete your project. Carve out time to write every day and get it on your calendar. Establish a measurable goal, and track your progress as you go. Create a writing routine that lets your brain know it’s time to focus on writing and get those words written! Finally, pair up with an accountability partner or join a group of writers within your genre to stay on track. With these steps in place, you will be able to set achievable writing goals for every project your start!