Setting writing goals – and sticking to them

Me finishing the 2011 Chicago Triathlon

I just spent the weekend at an iPEC training session with my wife (she’s going into coaching and she was allowed to bring a guest). A big part of the training was how to set goals and then attain them. Now, I’m sure I’d get slapped with all sorts of copyright and trademark infringements if I spelled everything out about the process, but the key concepts behind the methods apply directly to issues writers have. Specifically, how can I set a goal and actually achieve it?

If you’re a writer like me, you have a full time job and write on the side. And you probably have a lot of other stuff going on as well (social life, education, family, working out, managing your collection of celebrity hair samples, etc.)

So what are some things that we can do as writers to set goals that we can then achieve?

Create a manageable goal

Think about what you want to do. Is it writing a book? Writing a blog post? Writing one page of a story? Now ask yourself, “Is this a maintainable goal, given everything in my life right now?” Write out what things could stand in your way. Be honest with yourself. Is this a goal that you can do by yourself? Will you be relying on anyone to help you? If there are things in your way or dependencies, know that up front and create back-up plans to continue toward your goal even if something gets in the way.

Break up your goal into steps

Goals are usually really big things. Writing a book is a huge undertaking, and trying to bite off the entire thing in one chunk is what often leads to people giving up, or leaving chapter 1 in a file on their desktop for years. What reasonable steps could be taken to accomplish this goal?

I’m currently writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is huge, a 50,000 word novel written in 30 days. That’s a lot to swallow. So I’ve broken it down into manageable steps. First, I broke it down by week. Each week I want to write 12,500 words. That’s my goal each week. However, I created a minimum goal for each week of 5,000 words. Why create a minimum goal? So I don’t get discouraged if I don’t reach 12,500 words, that’s why.

Many of us aim high, and if we don’t succeed that first time, we beat ourselves up. Then we forget about the goal and move onto something else. This is exactly what we DON’T want to do. Goals are simply things we strive for. Sometimes we don’t reach them right away, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up. Create a minimum that you’d like to shoot for. That gives you some wiggle room and allows you to enjoy the process instead of stressing out that you might fail.

Since I broke down my goals into steps, with a minimum (5,000 words) and a desired (12,500) goal, when I only wrote 6,000 words last week (because I had the iPEC conference over the weekend so I didn’t get in a lot of my normal writing time), I still met my minimum. Hope is not lost and I’m completely ready to rock it out this week.

Prioritize your time

What do you need to do to your life to make this goal become reality? You may have to make some tough decisions here. Maybe you need to get some time away from work – leaving early one day. Perhaps you’ll need to move your schedule around or even cancel something you had planned. Look at your values and your calendar and determine where your writing goal fits in there. For me, I took two vacation days from work this week so I could focus on writing. Attaining my goal is my priority, so I’m taking action to make that goal happen. You can too.

Set a timeline for those steps

Break up things over time. The statement, “I will finish a novel” is amazing. When will you do it? By breaking that goal up into steps, you can now narrow your timeline. For me it was by weeks, but many people break their timeline down even further. This helps them stay on task. They go to days, or even specific times during the day. For example, you may say that you’re going to spend 1 hour every day writing before you go to work. Or you’re going to write 1,000 words while your significant other is at yoga. Use what works best for you.

Share your goal with someone else

It’s great to hold yourself accountable, but having someone else hold you accountable will mean the excuses that you give to yourself won’t fly anymore. Tell a friend or spouse what your goal is. Ask them to follow up with you. You can also make a goal public. For me, my goal is to write 20,000 words this week. It’s a big goal, but I’ve taken the steps that I feel are necessary to do it. My minimum goal is 10,000 words. And I’m sharing it with you. Hold me accountable…please. 🙂