Why And How to Set Writing Goals
Feeling stuck in your writing? Not sure where to go next or what to improve? It might be time to set some writing goals.
Now, in general goal setting can help you benchmark your progress so that you have something tangible to work towards.
But, when it comes specifically to writing goals, there’s a lot more you’ll have to deal with because like it or not you’ll be in a no holds barred race against… yourself! (read: your limiting beliefs.)
Do you want to learn what you need to do to get out of this tricky situation? Keep reading…
Why Set Writing Goals?
Like any other activity, a writing goal is more likely to be achieved if it has a clear purpose. When you clearly know what you want, you’re more likely to stay focused and motivated.
Unlike most activities, though, the writing process is deeply creative and demands not only physical endurance (sitting down at a computer for hours on end) but also mental acuity (coming up with original creative thoughts on command, rain or shine.)
Here’s the thing: in order to become a better writer, you need to put rubber to the road and practice, practice, practice to develop those writing skills. This is no different than learning to play an instrument.
But while you practice an instrument by interpreting someone else’s music, in order to practice writing you need to master both interpretation (using correct sentence structure, following rules of punctuation, etc.) and composition (coming up with your own creative input.)
Setting achievable writing goals will hold you accountable and help you break through your internal blocks so you can become the prolific writer you know you can be.
How to Set Effective Writing Goals
So, how do you set achievable writing goals? Here are three powerful steps that’ll make all the difference:
Step 1- Make your writing goals specific
The more specific your writing goals are, the easier it’ll be for you to hit your target. So instead of setting a goal like “write a chapter,” try “write 500 words every day.”
Now, here’s the trick to help you break through your internal blocks: commit to yourself as well as others you hold in high regard that you’ll be writing 500 words every day rain or shine, whether you feel like it or not, with the only exception being sickness.
See, writing when you feel like it is easy and doesn’t require much effort. Writing when you don’t, however, takes discipline and a strong work ethic.
If you come up with justifications like, “Well, I can’t write unless I’m inspired” then I’m afraid to tell you that the goal setting process is just not going to work for you.
Professional writers deliver whether they feel like writing or not. They set daily schedules for themselves and stick to them.
So, if you want to become a professional writer at some point, you’ll need to start behaving like one now, even though you’re not getting paid.
Step 2 – Make your writing goals attainable
Now, let’s switch gears to attainability. While you need to be specific in your writing goals, you have to make sure that you’re not shooting for the stars beyond your capacity to produce.
If it takes you 2-3 hours to create 500 words, then this goal may be attainable if you can easily accommodate 2-3 hours of uninterrupted time to your daily routine without disrupting your life.
Something will have to give and you have to be willing to give it up, because you need to carve out these hours from another activity.
But, if it takes you five hours to write 500 words, then it’ll be extremely difficult to accommodate this schedule on top of your day job and the needs of your family. In this case, you might need to adjust your goal perhaps to writing 200 words per day.
In short, make sure the specific writing goal you’ve set up to achieve is attainable based on your personal circumstances.
You never want to shoot for a goal that leads to creative exhaustion and burnout. If you do, that’ll be both the beginning and the end of your writing career.
Step 3 – Make your writing goals feasible
While attainable goals are about your ability to realistically achieve them (i.e. don’t bite more than you can chew), feasibility is about your ability to be disciplined in your pursuit.
What do I mean by that? Well, imagine if you set out to write three hours per day but within those hours you also check your email, respond to texts, welcome interruptions from others, take phone calls, etc. then your writing goal just won’t be feasible.
For your daily writing goal to be achievable, you’ll need to carve out those hours free of interruptions, both external and internal.
So, make sure you let those around you know that during those writing hours you’re not to be interrupted unless there’s an emergency. Also, eliminate distractions by turning off all notifications from your mobile devices, turning off your phone’s ringer, muting your laptop, etc.
Resist all temptation to answer calls and reply to texts during this time, and also — and this is key — resist the temptation to do online searches because they can easily become rabbit holes that’ll consume your entire writing block.
If you need to do research for your writing project, you have to do it outside of your writing window.
Finally, try to schedule your writing blocks at the same time each day to create a healthy writing habit. Don’t keep bumping them up or down your schedule willy nilly.
You need to exercise your writing muscle by creating a consistent routine, day in and day out (this is no different than going to the gym to exercise your real muscles.)
Time to Take action!
Now, for your writing goals to work out, you need to set the right expectations. My advice here is: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
When you sit down to write your 500 daily words, sometimes you’ll feel inspired and produce content you’re really proud of. Some other days when you don’t feel so inspired, you’ll think that everything you write is below par (at least compared to your “brilliant” days) — but this is okay!
Don’t expect to be amazing every single time. Your measurable goal is to write every day, not to write “brilliantly” every day. Expecting the latter will only lead to disappointment and wanting to give up.
Case in point: John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote 300 songs while playing together for The Beatles. Yet, they were not all hits — far from it.
In fact, the Beatles placed 50 songs in the top 40 and 62 in the top 100 lifetime (a spectacular achievement, mind you, but nowhere near 300, and a third of those hits were written by Ringo and George.)
Remember that reaching your writing goals with consistency will take hard work and dedication, but also it’ll take a lot of trial and error.
Examples of Writing Goals
Now, a book has many moving parks and many possible goals to choose from. So, here’s a list of writing goals you can use as a reference:
- Write 500 words a day
- Write for 2 hours each day
- Edit a chapter per week
- Proofread a chapter per week
- Mind map the contents of your upcoming book by Friday
- Write your book’s introduction by Wednesday (pro tip: wait until your book manuscript is completed before writing your introduction)
Remember to make your writing goals specific, attainable and feasible in accordance with your daily life constraints.
Tips for Staying Motivated
Finally, here are three tips to help you stay motivated and focused when writing:
- Always write in your favorite spot. This could be a nook in your house with a small desk and a window overlooking your garden, it could be your favorite coffee shop, perhaps the large bright atrium in your public library, or weather permitting, a park bench with a beautiful view of a lake. Just make sure that your writing spot is a little oasis you look forward to escaping to every day
- If you’re dealing with a large writing project, like a nonfiction book, enlist the help of a group of advanced readers you trust, so you can, for example, hand out copies of your chapters one at a time as you complete them. This will provide you with a valuable source of feedback but also with a measure of accountability since your reading group will be expecting to see your work on a regular basis
- Along the lines of accountability, set a tentative publishing date that gives you sufficient time to produce a final manuscript, and then inform your colleagues and business associates of your plans. Your desire to not let them down will act as a powerful motivator to stay the course (even when the going gets tough!)
The key to writing goals is to make them specific, attainable and feasible based on your life situation.
Establish a writing routine that works for you, and make sure you don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to your creative output.
Also, choose a writing environment that you find motivating in order to stay the course.
By writing every day, even if it’s a relatively small amount, you’ll slowly but surely reach your writing goals and go on to create a product you’re really proud of!
Harry Wallett is the Managing Director of Cascadia Author Services. He has a decade of experience as the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing, which has sold over 3 million copies of books in all genres for its authors, and looks after a team of 50+ industry professionals working across the world.
Harry is inspired by the process of book creation and is passionate about the stories and characters behind the prose. He loves working with the writers and has shepherded 1000s of titles to publication over the years. He knows first-hand what it takes to not only create an unputdownable book, but also how to get it into the hands of the right readers for success.
Books are still one of the most powerful mediums to communicate ideas and establish indisputable authority in a field, boosting your reach and stature. But publishing isn’t a quick and easy process—nor should it be, or everyone would do it!
A professional grade book takes 250+ individual tasks to complete. Cascadia is an expert in every single one of them. Do you want to harness our expertise to launch your book into the stratosphere? Chat with us!