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How to Set Realistic Writing Goals

Have you ever set writing goals for yourself? I hadn’t until this past year.

This year my goals were to:

  • Post frequently and consistently on my blog. ✅
  • Set aside time to finish writing my short story collection. ✅
  • Publish a work of fiction. (I published a poem instead.) ✅
  • Grow my blog following to 500 people.

Aside from that last goal, I’ve nailed every one because I had something to work towards. I had a plan, and I executed it, and it has been my most productive year to date.

I wish I could tell you that goal setting is as simple as writing something on a piece of paper and then forgetting about it because it isn’t. Like everything else in the writing world, it involves significant effort to get what we want.

And that’s where I think many people get tripped up.

They think everything will magically fall into place because they have good intentions. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and I wish they taught this better in school.

Today I’d like to talk about writing goals. I want to go over why you need them if you’re going to take writing seriously as a profession, set realistic ones, and go over the goals you didn’t know you needed.

Why Should You Set Writing Goals?

I’m sure you’ve heard all about the reasons why you need to set goals before (and I want to rehash those here in case you haven’t).

The main reason you should set a goal is to give you long-term vision and short-term motivation. It helps you organize your time and resources so you can make the most of your life.

In simple speak, goals help you move closer to what you want by focusing your time, effort, and skills in the appropriate direction. And this has numerous benefits.

According to MindTools:

By setting sharp, clearly-defined goals, you can measure and take pride in achieving those goals and seeing progress. You will also raise your self-confidence, as you recognize your own ability and competence to achieve the goals you’ve set.

Additional Benefits

Writing and completing goals is a massive boost to your ego. It makes you feel like a god. However, there are some additional benefits:

  • Goals trigger actionable behavior. In other words, they motivate you to take specific steps to achieve your goal. And these steps weed out wasted effort and idle movement.
  • Goals help you sustain momentum. Seeing progress is addicting. Seriously, it’s true. I love watching views and likes wrack up on here and on social media because of what I’m creating. And it’s all thanks to this little thing called dopamine.
  • Goal setting promotes self-mastery. Achieving goals builds character because it builds self-efficacy.
  • Goals help you beat procrastination. We all have procrastinated at some point. However, goals help us understand that procrastination is dangerous because it’s wasted time. Pablo Picasso sums this sentiment up beautifully:

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” #picasso #procrastination #amwriting

There are many different reasons why goals are great, and I hope that these reasons are compelling enough to entice you to make a few of your own.

How to Set Realistic Writing Goals

Now that we know why goal setting is so important let’s look at how to set those realistic writing goals.

First, I want to introduce you to the SMART method of goal writing. First introduced in 1981, SMART is an acronym for goal setting that outlines the things you need to think about when writing a goal. Here’s what it stands for and how it works:

There is a lot of validity in the SMART method of setting specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-based goals for writing. Most writers find it challenging to create SMART goals. We like to look at the big picture and often forget to make an action plan to get to that dream.

I think it’s one of the reasons why I haven’t made enough of an effort to make my dreams come true. Now that I am putting in the effort to get those results, I’m kicking myself for being scared and unmotivated.

It wasn’t because I didn’t know what to do. I did and do. Now, I’m just giving myself the push to make my dreams a reality.

And you do that by outlining those small steps (goals) that you need to do.

Danielle’s Process for Writing Goals

I’m going to give you what I specifically do to get me into high gear. However, I know that this doesn’t work for everyone, so feel free to test other methods. Or let me know what you do. I’m always looking for new ways of doing things.

Write it Down

Every New Year’s Eve, my sister and I like to write out or goals for the upcoming year. We set a bunch of goals in various areas, but we’ll focus on the writing ones that I set for myself.

And we write them down. I like to write them down as if they’ve already happened. For example:

Grow my blog following to 500 people.

How it’s written down:

“I grow my blog following to 500 people.”

I like doing it this way because it makes it more immediate and tricks my brain into thinking it’s already happening. The logic behind that being, “if I’m already doing it, it’ll be easy to continue.” It’s also following the “laws of attraction” type vibe (it can’t hurt), so if I write it like it’s already true, then it’ll happen.

Regardless of how you phrase things, it would be best if you wrote it down because you won’t forget it, and it’s there for you to go back to for a reminder.

What this looks like in practice

Once you have that down, you can write out all of the additional steps you need to achieve the end goal. Let’s look at the same example.

To grow my following, I wrote down the following:

  • Research the best practices for growing an audience online.
  • Find the methods that work the best for you.
  • Implement them by doing x, y, and z. For me, this was to:
    • Update website to make it easier to find blog posts.
    • Implement SEO to expand my organic search.
    • Network with others to leverage other people’s platforms and hopefully make some friends.
    • Use social media to drive traffic to my website. (I.e., revamp Instagram page, create a Facebook page for the blog, etc.)
    • Start an email list.
    • Create great content (which lead to the creation of a content strategy)
    • Repurpose and republish old blog posts so they fit with my current content strategy.

And that is what I have been doing for this blog only. Most of these subgoals have goals of their own. But having all of this down on paper gives me a checklist of things that I need to do at any given point.

It makes it so easy to follow because there’s a blueprint to follow. You don’t sit around, scratching your head and trying to figure out what to do next.

(If you need help tracking all of your goals and to-do lists, sign up for a Trello account* and think about making yourself an editorial calendar. I use both to keep myself on track, and it’s a lifesaver.)

*Trello will give me credits at no extra cost to you.

Deadlines are Life

I’m the type of writer who needs to set deadlines for myself, or I’ll never get anything done. That is why I started setting deadlines for myself to get my creative writing done.

As I mentioned in my NaNoWriMo is Over: Now What? post, I just finished a project that I’ve been working on for nearly a decade. And it’s taken me so long to do because I never set any firm deadlines for myself.

It’s easy to do for the blog because you guys read it, and people email me to ask what’s up if I missed a post or two. I don’t have anyone to keep me accountable for my creative writing (so if you want a writing buddy, send me an email!). I have to rely on myself, and that’s not always a good thing.

One of the things I did differently this year was setting myself deadlines that I knew were not difficult for me to meet. It was a game-changer for me because I finished my short story collection within a month.

I’ve been trying to do the same thing with the editing process, but that’s not working the way I want, but the deadline approach has been useful once again. I went through my first round of edits in about a month and a half.

Deadlines work, and I love them for keeping me honest.

Evaluate Your Time and Energy

The biggest part of setting deadlines and being realistic with your writing goals is evaluating your time and energy. I can be as ambitious as I want, but it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t have the time or energy needed to realize my goals.

We may like to think we do nothing but sit around and write all day, but most of us have other obligations, interests, and people in our lives that also demand our attention. Because of this, we need to find the time and energy to get our writing done as Julia does at Julia’s Creative Corner. (She’s in high school, doing driver’s ed, and managed to come out of NaNoWriMo with a win because she planned for it. Way to go, Julia!)

Last week, I took a bit of time off because:

  1. I knew I needed a break due to personal reasons.
  2. I needed to take care of some Christmas-related tasks.
  3. December will be busy, and I’m trying something new.

I also know that I like to procrastinate, so I also schedule that into my calendar.

Once I get a feel for how my week or month will shape up, I’ll go and slot in the creative writing time. And if things don’t go well, I try not to beat myself up about it.

As for what will work for you, I don’t know. You’re going to have to dig deep and figure out what will work best for you.

Review Your Work

Whether you do it weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly, look back on your goals and adjust them as needed. I look at some of them monthly, others on a daily or yearly basis. It depends on how urgent the goals are and the importance you place on them.

Popular Advice for Writing Goals

So that was my goal-setting process, now to give you some other tips and tricks to try out:

Take baby steps.

This one is from Writer’s Digest:

You’re better off taking smaller, consistent steps than blowing off writing for days and then doing a massive word vomit to keep on track with your goals.

You don’t have to do everything at once. It’s probably not good if you do. There’s nothing wrong with taking things slow and steady, one step at a time. You’ll still reach those end goals.

Keep a positive attitude.

If you think you can’t succeed, you become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Find a positive mantra to draw from, or Google a list of inspirational writing quotes. Staying focused and positive is the best path for success.

(If you want some inspirational quotes, you can check out my Instagram. I do post them there from time to time. Also, K. M. Weiland has an excellent mantra that you can download and print off for free when you sign up for her email list. (I highly suggest signing up.)

Find an accountability buddy.

Surround yourself with people who genuinely want to see you succeed. Your support system doesn’t have to be other writers. However, it certainly helps to have people who understand a writer’s struggles to offer advice or give you some tough-love.

(I repeat, if you want a buddy, please email me.)

Keep your goals in sight.

By this ProWritingAid means, print your goals off and put them somewhere where you can see them all time. It could be a sticky note stuck to your monitor or be part of your screensaver on your phone or computer. Just make sure you can see those goals.

Sometimes all you need is a reminder of what you’re aiming for to keep you going.

Track your progress.

This is especially important when you’re feeling down. Looking over what you’ve accomplished is an excellent way to rekindle your motivation. It also gives you that extra push to keep going when things get rough, as it does at the end of NaNoWriMo.

How can you track your goals? MasterClass has a few suggestions:

The easiest way to track your goals is to use a calendar. You can write your goals each day and mark them off as you go. You may also want to keep a writing journal to document how you’re doing, or you may find that your goals were too ambitious or not ambitious enough. For example, you may find that you have less time to write in the day than you thought. You can modify and write new goals as you go to meet your needs best.

What Not to Do

As good as this advice is, there are some things you should avoid when writing your goals down. Here’s Writer’s Relief with a list of the top five mistakes to avoid when jotting down your 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 for a better shot at making it a reality.
  • Setting unrealistic goals. If your goal is to get rich and famous, you’re 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.
  • Setting vague goals. If your goal is to “get published,” be more specific for better results. Instead, develop a detailed submission strategy with a time frame to make it 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 things you can.
  • 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.”

The Writing Goals You Need But Didn’t Know About

I know many of you may have an idea of what you want to work on in the upcoming year. However, I don’t think a lot of those goals are deviating much from “I” m going to start or finish my novel this year” or “I’m going to write x many words per day.”

And there is nothing wrong with those goals. Keep them and work towards them. But I do think that you should also add a few things to that list. Some of these won’t apply to you depending on where you’re at in your writing journey.

Here are some things you may not have considered:

  • Writing poetry, short stories, or flash fiction. Many literary journals are looking for materials for their magazines (including my magazine, The Sunshine Review). Take advantage of that. There is a lot of competition, but it’s also an excellent opportunity for you to figure out the industry’s publishing side.
  • Work on your author platform. Create a website if you don’t have one or learn about growing a social media presence. This stuff will help you so much when you get to the publishing stage.
  • Look into marketing strategies. You will need to know how to market your books, whether you traditionally publish or self-publish.
  • Read. This is a must if you are a writer. It’s the only way you will know what editors are publishing. Plus, it’s a great place to gain inspiration and knowledge. This also includes reading literary magazines, especially if you’re pursuing goal number one.
  • Create an email list. Email lists are the only thing on the internet that you solely own. It may be a bit of extra work, but the payoff is so much better.
  • Get better at writing. Whether this is through free articles, like this one, or a paid class, do it. Your investment into yourself will always make you a better writer in the end. Oh, and reading is another way to get better at writing. (Two goals, one book.)

I’m trying to say you shouldn’t just limit yourself to one type of writing goal or story format. Branch out and work on all aspects of your writing career in equal measure.

But don’t go overboard either. You need to take care of yourself too. So the most important goal for all of us is to take care of ourselves because nothing will get done if we’re not the best we can be.

Speaking of Goals, I Need Your Help

Speaking of goals, I need your help. Seriously, I do. I was hoping that you guys could give me some feedback regarding what you want to see on the blog and me. That way, I can start the new year with the stuff you want to see.

So if you could either comment down below, shoot me an email, or fill out a quick survey, I’d greatly appreciate it. Here are my questions:

  • Why do you visit my website?
  • How many publishing opportunities do you want to see, and of what type?
  • What writing topics do you want me to cover next year?
  • Is there anything that I need to work on or offer that I haven’t?

If there’s anything else you want to tell me aside from those for things, please let me know!


We need goals to help us make the most of our writing dreams. Without them, you have many writers spinning their tires and getting frustrated with how things are working out.

And we don’t want that.

We want to see everyone realizing their dreams of becoming a writer because everyone’s voice matters. And I want to see the worlds that each of us is creating in our heads.

In the New Year, consider writing a few SMART goals for yourself. Whether they’re conventional writing goals or not, these goals should help push you to be the best writer that you can be.

And thank you to all of you in advance for taking the time to answer those questions. I seriously appreciate it!

Have you set writing goals for yourself? Did you achieve them, or did you have to adjust them? What types of goals do you set for yourself? What are you thinking about doing next year?

Stay safe, everyone.

Until next time.

Cheers,

Danielle

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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.

Comments

10 Responses

  1. I absolutely love your blog. I have slacking in my goals area of writing. This pandemic has gotten me down. But I’m determined to bounce back. I have written down my goals for next year. I’m even doing a month by month goal to keep me focused. A topic I would love for you cover next year is realistic goals and advice for writing your first book. Also how you can edit on your own along with how to find an accountability partner. Thank you so much for all you do and all the advice you give. I need your blog. It helps so much.

    1. Hey cfoster, sorry about not getting to your comment sooner! It ended up in my spam folder for some stupid reason! 🙁

      Awe! Thank you! I’m glad that you find the blog so useful and helpful!

      Thanks for the topic info. I can definitely work that into my editorial calendar. I do have an in-depth guide to self-editing already. You can find it here: https://danielle-adams.com/2020/05/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-self-editing-for-fiction-writers/

      If you have any questions about it, please let me know!

      And if you’re looking for an accountability buddy, I would be more than willing to help you with that if you’d like. I’ve been looking for a writing partner/accountability partner for a while now. 🙂 And I will most certainly be touching on that subject in the future.

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