Goal setting for writers (and how to stick to them)

January 19, 2021

Is this the year you’re going to write a novel? Or did you say that last year, and ahh, it’s a new year and you still haven’t done it… eep.

Goal setting is one of the most important things you can do at the start of the year. Not only does this help you commit to the goal, but also to break it down into achievable parts. This is especially true for writers – writing a novel or a series of short stories is a hard task and setting deadlines and goals to achieve these has always helped me to get there (rather than just talk about it).  

While goal setting might seem like a bit of a corporate thing to do, if you’re a writer, you are essentially running a small business. You want to get paid for your writing.

I’m going to get into how you can set goals as a writer and how to stick to them.

We can all set goals. But if we don’t do them, what’s the point?

Use a planner

One thing I buy every year is a MiGoals planner. It’s a great goal setting journal. You can use a notebook or any sort of planner, but I particularly like this one. Writing things down on paper makes it real, rather than keeping your goals stuck in your head. If you’ve ever wanted to achieve something big, it’s helpful to articulate it on paper.

But first, why you’re not sticking to your goals

There are three fundamental things that stop writers from getting to their goals.

We plan way too much.

We decide to do too much, and that can be overwhelming. Which is why the goal-setting process is helpful, because it clarifies the big goals and then it breaks it down into smaller, more achievable goals.

Non-specific goals

So, you want to write a book. Well, that’s good. But what sort of book? How long is your book going to be? Is it fiction or non-fiction? Traditional or self-publishing? These are all questions you need to dig into before you start the project. Be specific about what you want to do. Vague goals aren’t helpful.

You don’t actually want to do it

A lot of us set goals we should do, not what we want to do. But you need to be passionate about the goals you set. If you’re not that passionate about it, it won’t keep you going when things get tough.

Writing a book is a huge undertaking. If you are not excited about it, then don’t do it. It takes a long time, it’s really hard to do, and it will grind your soul a little. You need that passion to get you over the line.

How to set goals for writers

2018 planner

Go broad, then specific

First up, brainstorm all the things you’ve always wanted to do. Write them on a piece of paper. After that, start breaking it down into smaller parts. Group the goals together by common threads. I call these my umbrellas. I have ones for marketing, writing, photography, health, and life.

Once you’ve done that, pick your top three goals of that big piece of paper. These should be the three that you really want to achieve. You don’t need to have fifty goals. They’re your key goals for the year, and everything should flow from there.

Pick goals you can control

The goals you set should also be things that you can achieve. You could set a goal to become a New York Times bestselling author. But a bunch of that process is out of your control.

You don’t control who buys your book. You can produce a brilliant book, but you can’t control every aspect of the publishing process. So try to keep your goals contained to things that you can actually achieve and you have control over.

Break the big goals into small goals

From there, break down these goals into specific parts. For example:

Goal

To write a novel

Sub-goals

  • Research novel by x date
  • Plot novel
  • Write 4000 words per week for six months
  • Edit novel – 12 pages per day
  • Send the novel to beta readers
  • Collect feedback
  • Revise novel
  • Send novel to agent

From this, you can do the math and work out how long each segment should take, then break it down into a timeline.

Make timelines

If you know you have a certain number of hours in the week to write, then you need to allocate how long you take to do that. If you don’t know how long you take to do something, use a time tracking app like Toggl for a week or two. That should give you a good idea of how long writing a story, blog post, or editing a video takes.

Make the allocated time for your project sacred – no interruptions, no rescheduling. Put it in the calendar so you’re not accidentally booking lunch at your in-laws during your writing time.

How to stick to your goals

Motivation quote paper in a drawer

The carrot and the stick

Ahh motivation. When satisfaction alone won’t motivate you to do work, try a carrot on a stick. Me personally, I get motivated by food. So when I write my novels, I write from eight to one and I’m not allowed to stop and have lunch until I’m finished my word count. For you, it might be something completely different.

When you finish your book, you could get a new pair of shoes. Or you could go for a nice day out with your family. All those kinds of things can be rewards for achieving your goals.

Stay accountable

It’s really important that you tell people your goals. I have a couple of accountability partners, friends who are trying to achieve similar things. Write a list of people who could be your accountability partner – it could be someone from a writing group or a friend. Tell them what you’re planning. Catch up with them regularly to share your progress.

Reflect on your goals

Every month I sit back and take an hour to review all the things I’ve done towards my goals. I also write what I’ve achieved every week. It’s so helpful to look back on through the year, because my immediate response is to say I haven’t achieved anything this year. And that’s crap.

Conclusion

So they’re my top tips for goal setting for writers. I highly recommend putting all your plans in a journal or diary. You plan out your month, your weeks, your times to write and you stick to them. You stay accountable with your friends and also the promise that you’ve made to yourself.

If you’re setting goals this year, why not share them with me in the comments below! I’d love to hear about your projects.

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