Setting goals for your characters is of monumental importance. So, why should goal setting for writers be any less important? The writing life takes focus and momentum, and the easiest way to achieve these is through setting (and tracking) goals. If you have a philosophical problem with the word “goal”—and as writers and artists, many of us do—think of the entire process not of setting goals, but building dream catchers. Every time you see the word goal slot in dream. Or, if you like both, do as I do. Catching dreams is definitely on my list of goals.
The goals you set (dreams you catch) and the way you track them are up to you. Scraps of paper, a document in an Excel program or a list for motivation, whatever you choose to do, be sure it fits into your way of thinking, your lifestyle (and writing style) and your system works for you. The more natural you make it for yourself, the more likely you are to keep the dream alive.
Tips – Goal Setting for Writers
Goal Setting for Writers – Mean It
Just like your work in progress, a goal (dream) needs to be something you truly care about, something from your heart. Make sure you really want the goal and that it’s not just something that you think you should accomplish. Check in with yourself to make sure that you’re striving for what you really want.
Goal Setting for Writers – Make it Possible
Don’t set goals that you can’t reach. Sure, the old adage goes “reach for the moon, if you miss you’ll still reach the stars, yadda, yadda, yadda…” The truth is, if you set goals that are impossible to make, at some point the reality of that will discourage you. Why give yourself an easy reason to give up?
Goal Setting for Writers – Let Go
You can’t control other people, events, or circumstances, but there are some things in your life that are entirely up to you. If something requires taking an action, you can do it. If you need to make an internal change, a habit change, or even an attitude shift, you can control that. So choose with care. Let go of things you can’t control. “Getting published” isn’t a recommended goal; too much of that is outside of your control. But finish and polish a manuscript? Send it out? That you can do!
Goal Setting for Writers – Make it Real
Write your goals down and post them where you can see them every day. See what you are working to achieve. It doesn’t hurt to remind yourself and rejuvenate your excitement to reach your dreams. Take the next step and make them more real by visualizing yourself reaching them. See yourself finishing that manuscript. Go ahead. It’s fun!
Goal Setting for Writers – Empower Yourself
Reaching for and achieving your goals should make you feel GREAT about your writing and your life. Make sure that when you see your goals (in whatever format you choose) they jazz your attitude and give you the feeling you can face the writing and the writer’s life and love every minute of it!
Goal Setting for Writers – Be Specific
Write your goals out in complete detail, no ambiguity allowed. When you make your goals specific (finish your manuscript, take that summer class, send your proposal to three agents a week) you can target your plan to get them done! Plus, you will know when you reach them.
Goal Setting for Writers – Prioritize and Focus
Assign a number to each goal. Make a 10 of highest importance down to 1, the least. Now list them in order, highest numbers first. Pick the top one or two. Ready…aim…start the work! Revisit your goals and priorities when you need to recharge and refocus yourself.
Goal Setting for Writers – Move it or Lose it
Always take at least one immediate action as quickly as possible (even a small one makes a big difference). Momentum is the way to go, so begin NOW.
Goal Setting for Writers – To Tell or Not To Tell
Be sure to only tell people who will be supportive towards your success that you are absolutely committed to reaching your goal. Don’t allow other people’s reactions to discourage you.
Goal Setting for Writers – Be Honest with Yourself
Look honestly at your progress and whether the goal is still appropriate, and if it’s not…
Goal Setting for Writers – Change Your Approach
Persistence is important but sometimes you find yourself doing the same thing over and over and you aren’t getting the results you want (I’ve read somewhere this is the definition of insanity). Don’t let this happen to you! Try something else. Goals might be a foundation but remember, they are dreams as well, and those can shift and change as needed.
Goal Setting for Writers – Celebrate Evolution
If you need to change a goal do not consider it a failure, consider it a victory. After all, you have the insight to realize something has to change and have the courage to evolve. Allow your goal to change and grow if need be. No need to stick to one if it’s not going to work for you. Dreams can change. Life is change. Goals can change.
Goal Setting for Writers – Don’t Give Up
Persistence is the key. After working hard to get your goal for a long period of time, it’s easy to get discouraged and you might find yourself wanting to give up. This is the time (if you decide to keep with the same approach) to keep the faith! Dig deep and keep yourself going.
When you hit a goal. Even the small daily ones. Celebrate every step. A little bit of reward goes a long way!
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing and speaks at writing programs across the country. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. Her books, FIRST THERE IS A RIVER, JASPER MOUNTAIN and THEATER OF ILLUSION are available online and at bookstores everywhere.
Great post. I agree that the whole dream vs goal argument is just a distraction. Whatever we call them: dreams, goals, aspirations, callings . . . they are important.
Here’s a few more tips that work for me:
Make it a Game: Come up with a point system and keep track. Download some cool pictures of badges, print them out, and work for them just like you would in a game. When you earn the badge proudly tape it where you can see it.
Get Accomplices: Find others who have the same or similar goals and hang out with them.
Competition: Some people like it, others don’t. If competition drives you then have a race with your accomplices to earn your badges and get points.
Rewards: I know you mentioned this, but at some point in accomplishing our dreams we’re going to have to do things we don’t want to do. It’s not all roses, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn them into roses. Hang cool prizes on the hard stuff. Then while your slaving away, keep your eye on the prize.
Thanks for the great article.
Hi John! Thanks for the wonderful tips and thoughts. I LOVE the game idea. I’m definitely going to try that one! :o)
I was thinking of making up a fake cover of my current WIP (not spending tons of time on creating it, of course) and then cutting it into puzzle pieces, enough for each 2000 words or each chapter. Then, as I finish each smaller goal, I can put one puzzle piece up on the back of my office door.
Another idea was to put up a reward (like when I bought a Kindle when the manuscript was done and accepted by the editor) in the same way. Cut a picture of a Kindle into puzzle pieces and put it together as the wip sections get done.
Stephenie, those are terrific ideas to keep track of making the smaller goals toward the larger. I’ve been wanting a prayer bench and I’m going to try it…make a puzzle of it and earn the pieces with smaller goals. Thanks for the fun suggestion! I plan to have badges and puzzle pieces soon :o)
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Great advice on goal setting.
You may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try.
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