Writing Goals that Work

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Writers want a lot of things. We want better tools, more time to write, better concentration, and prose that drips effortlessly onto the page. Goals help us achieve our ambitions, but not all goals are created equal. Some may hinder or frustrate your development as a writer. If you have a vision, and you’re ready to chase it, here are some tips for setting goals that actually succeed.

Action Over Result

It’s far too easy to envision the ending of your hard work and make that your goal. Maybe that means becoming a bestselling author, supporting yourself by writing fiction, or simply publishing a book. The problem is that – while these are wonderful ambitions – they aren’t practical goals.

That doesn’t mean give up! It means you can’t sit down and become a bestselling author today.

Writing goals need immediately-actionable elements. Shooting for an ideal outcome of your hard work doesn’t equate to the actual hard work itself. Goals built on action are goals you can start today. You should be able to achieve some today, too.

An actionable goal is writing today, building an author website this month, or getting back in touch with your writing Discord friends. Focus on the doing, not what that doing will eventually lead to. A lot of ambitions depend in part on other people. If you have a manuscript ready, and you want to work with a literary agent, your goal shouldn’t be finding an agent. Your goal should be creating a list of agents you like and then sending query letters.

Slow Habits

Great writers make writing a habit. This doesn’t mean you have to turn into Stephen King and farm out thousands of words a day. He does that for a living, and you probably don’t. You can make writing five words a day a goal, though. The simple habit of opening your WIP every evening and adding a sentence or two lays the foundation of a regular writing habit.

This applies to other writerly habits as well. Finding time to read begins with a page at a time. Make sure you move the bookmark a page forward every night before going to bed, or start taking your e-reader to work so you can read during lunch. Those are small actions that develop habits.

Don’t fall into the all-or-nothing trap. You don’t have to write a novel in a month – or even a year. Just keep writing and growing your habits. Even small steps can take you surprising places.

Progress Over Perfection

We all wish we were better writers. If your goals are full of self-flagellation (write BETTER, produce MORE), take a step back and assess where you are as a writer. Improvement comes with time. You can’t just decide you will be better and magically craft the next great American novel because it’s your goal.

Goals that work suit your immediate needs and circumstances. I’d love to have a massive garden, but apartment living does make that possible. The same is true of writing, and they don’t use guilt as motivation. Let’s say you’ve gotten feedback about your dialogue, and it’s… mixed. Working on dialogue is a worthy goal, and there are lots of practical ways to approach it. Eavesdrop at a coffee shop, watch some of your favorite television shows and take notes, or find some dialogue-writing exercises online. Focus on learning, on progressing through practice, rather than demanding perfection.

What goals work for you? Have you found any strategies that make it harder to progress? Share your thoughts and ideas with other writers below.

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