How to Create Effective Writing Goals

We may be so excited by our writing vision that we want to jump right in and get going without ever creating writing goals that help push us along and keep us on track. In my book, Becoming a Productive Writer, we break down how you can create effective writing goals that help you accomplish more.

And that is fine. I strongly believe in writing every single day to build competency, and in the beginning, it doesn’t matter what level, quality, or use that writing exercise has. Even if nobody ever sees it, it counts as useful practice.

It is way more important to simply get writing. But getting and keeping that habit going is often tricky.

Once you have writing habituated, then extras like more time, more words, and better quality can be fine-tuned. But we need to get there first.

More than a great talent and love of words and writing, we also have to organize our thoughts and our time, to turn our dreams into reality.

Creating Writing Goals

Have you taken some time to create a vision and mission for yourself as a writer? Did you get clear on what it is you want?

If not, please go back and do so.

You can’t plan a journey without knowing where it is that you are going.

Where many writers lose the plot, is by not fully defining what they want, and creating proper writing goals for themselves.

It’s a bit like wanting to have a party. You can walk around declaring that one day you will have that party, but the goal remains elusive. You can’t pin it down.

If, however, you say that you will have a party—it will be a fancy-dress, at 7 pm on Thursday evening at The Cotton Club, and you generate a guest list, invites, decor and food, there is a much greater likelihood that you will indeed have that party.

This is where SMART goals come into play.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-framed.

The more specific you are about your writing goals, and the more detail you include, the more likely they are to be completed.

The achievable and realistic criteria also play a part.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take over the world, but then you need to break it down into smaller, more achievable goals as well or you might just overwhelm yourself and never make it out the front door.

Practical Exercise: Writer Goal-setting

Take your vision and mission you created earlier and think about what will need to happen for you to achieve these things.

  1. What will you need to learn?
  2. What resources will you need—time, money, mentors, editors, publishers? List it all.
  3. How long might these things take?
  4. How will you know if you have succeeded at any of these things?

With all this information, see if you can define a few goals that will move you closer toward your vision.

Take each goal and pop it into a plan. Here is an example of a simple plan.

My writing goal is . . . to improve my basic writing skills and style.

Steps to achieve the goal (list them)Resources NeededBy when (will this step be complete)Completed (date)
Install a spell and grammar checker.   
Note what problems it finds that repeat.   
Research those issues and practice correcting them without the app.   
Research common writing style errors and check my work for these.   

My success for this goal will be measured by an 80% reduction in errors found by the writing app.

You may have 10 or even 20 smaller goals all supporting your main vision and mission. Be careful you don’t overwhelm yourself.

Make Sure Your Writing Goals Have Measurable Successes

Measuring your success is crucial in this process. Decide at which points in each goal you will review your progress, and stick to this. A reasonable way to measure things is upfront, right after starting, about midway through, and again after completion.

Regular reviews help you to pick up on problems. Perhaps you aren’t making progress like you wanted to? What are the bottlenecks and what needs to change to get you back on track?

Regular mini-reviews make sure that goals don’t sit moldering away in file 13. It helps to have a mentor or colleague who can check in with you on your goals, and who can review them with you to make sure progress is being made.

And when you do meet a goal—or even a smaller step—on time, take a moment to reward yourself and celebrate this success.

A journey starts with one step, but is made up of many small steps.

Important vs Urgent

Before you set time-frames to everything, consider your priorities and what is important vs what is urgent.

Important tasks need to be done—they either move you forward toward your goals or contribute to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Things like family time, exercise, healthy eating, learning or studying, and personal care all fall under the important banner.

Urgent tasks are things you need to do now, and if you don’t do them there will be some sort of harm or unpleasant repercussion as a result. Like rescuing a drowning person, putting out a fire, completing that report for the executive meeting at 8 am tomorrow morning or fetching your kid from school on time when you’re already 10 minutes late.

Sometimes an urgent task is not important—like that ringing phone when you are on a deadline. Or any of the many interruptions, meetings or activities others force on us which are time-based, but in reality do very little to support us in achieving our goals. Where you can identify urgencies which are indeed unimportant, let these go as soon as possible. They are time wasters and energy drainers you can certainly do without.

People love to confuse the two. I used to have a boss who would try to shuffle his wants to the top of the work pile all the time until, eventually, I created a whiteboard where tasks had to be listed as either important, or urgent or both. He soon realized that not everything could possibly fit under urgent, and some stuff could be scheduled for later.

The important and urgent things come first. Put those burning buildings out as soon as you can.

The important, yet not urgent stuff, you need to make a part of your weekly schedule. If you spend some time on them every day, or every week, it is unlikely that they will become urgent. Things like spending time building relationships, planning your next goal, and relaxation are important to maintain a life balance. It may need some deep thought to decide what is actually important to you. Spend some time on this one to get clear on what falls into this category.

The stuff that is not important or urgent—like scrolling through every comment on a Facebook post, or watching an entire series on Netflix—should really come last. If you choose to spend valuable time on these things let it be from a conscious standpoint, and not as a distraction, avoidance or mindless action.

Although we tend to focus on what seems most pressing right now, taking a bit of time to look at how you are spending your time may free up a bunch of it. Then you begin to get some perspective on how many time wasters and unimportant urgencies you are allowing to rule your life.

This blog post article has been an excerpt from my book How to Become a More Productive Writer.

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