There are two types of writers: those who set goals and end up achieving them, and those who struggle with figuring out what they really want and how to get there.
Similarly, there are two types of writing goals: those that are easy to set and measure and those that aren’t. This post will teach you the difference between the two, how they feed into each other and how to set and accomplish each type.
Since you are most likely more familiar and comfortable with completion goals, we will cover those first.
What are they?
In terms of writing, completion goals are the goals you set, as the name suggests, to help you complete specific projects. These kinds of writing goals are easier to set because the endpoint and the steps to get to that endpoint are simple to outline. For example, if you want to publish a novel, you already know you’re going to have to spend a certain amount of hours and effort writing a draft. Then you will have to edit and revise, and then go through the process of either self-publishing or drafting and sending out query letters to agents. Where you begin and end are both very clear. People understand that when you say, “I want to publish a novel,” that’s exactly what where you eventually want to end up.
How do you set them?
You already know that setting SMART writing goals is one of many subsequent keys to success as an aspiring writer. We’ll run with the “I want to publish a novel.” Great start, but if you leave it at that, you’re much less likely to actually follow through with it.
You are much better off setting a completion goal like this: “I want to finish writing the first draft of my novel by the end of 2016.” This is a much smaller and more achievable goal that can eventually feed into your larger long-term goal of getting published. Probably the most important piece here is that you give yourself a deadline. This will be important when setting the second type of writing goal as well, but when you’re busy and overwhelmed and you want to write something, deadlines really do matter.
How do you achieve them?
- Create a schedule and figure out how to stick to it
- Hold yourself accountable
- Create a writing-focused vision board
- Get your procrastination under control
- If you want it … work for it
- Erase your excuses
- Celebrate your small accomplishments.
Examples of completion goals that don’t work: I want to write a book someday; I want my favorite author to read my book when it gets published; I want to be a professional writer. What’s missing from these goals and how would you improve them?
What are they?
Unlike completion goals, writing improvement goals are more difficult to set and extremely challenging to accomplish. The reason there’s so much material out there trying to teach you how to set goals is because, in general, we’re not good at setting goals. Especially when there isn’t an endpoint, at least not in the same way there is to mark the finish line of a completion goal. Let’s say your goal is to “improve character development in your stories.” The catch with improvement goals is that they are often tied to smaller fragments of completion goals. You don’t just want to level up your character development skills … you want to level up those skills for a very specific reason.
How do you set them?
As you are identifying and setting improvement goals, always keep your completion goals in mind. This is why there are two different kinds of writing goals of equal importance. Staying vague and failing to set deadlines is not going to get you where you want to be.
There’s really nothing wrong with a goal to “improve character development,” at least as a starting point. But there’s a pretty specific set of steps you are going to have to take here in order to set improvement goals you can actually achieve.
- Identify your “I am here” point. Analyze where you are in terms of character development at this moment, for example, by reading through recent character sketches or analyzing character arcs in your most recent work. This will serve as your starting point and your synthetic method for measuring progress throughout.
- Identify your destination. This will probably involve doing some deeper research into what the experts consider to be optimal examples of character development. Get an idea of what level you eventually want to arrive at. This will serve as your endpoint, even though, technically, there really isn’t one.
- Start small and work your way up. Going along with our example, you would probably want to sketch out a character’s specific arc in a story you may or may not end up writing. Practice developing that character. You might do this with several sketches. Then you might try writing a short story, focusing primarily on character development. The more you practice, the more skilled you will become, until you reach whatever metric you are using as your endpoint (e.g., “write a story with a well-developed main character.”
And always remember to tie your improvement goals back into your completion goal(s). You want to write a story with a well-developed character so you can improve character development in your stories so you can write a good draft of a book so you can publish a novel before you’re 25. See how that works?
How do you achieve them?
- Work toward them little by little, consistently
- Keep your completion goals in mind (your answer to “why am I doing this?”)
- Don’t compare yourself to other writers – compete against yourself
- Remember that small improvements are still progress
- Don’t give up until you have the results you want, or the results you can more realistically achieve.
Examples of improvement goals that don’t work: I want to be a better writer; I want to blog more; I want to be more successful; I want to spend more time writing. What’s missing from these goals and how would you improve them?
If you’re someone who has a hard time setting and sticking to your writing goals, start here. Accomplishing goals is all about making sure you’re setting out to do what you really want to do. If you don’t want to write a full-length novel, don’t waste your creative energy trying to write a full-length novel. Every writer’s goals are different. Even if no one else respects your goals, treat them well. Take them seriously and get back to writing.
What’s your current completion goal? Your current improvement goal? Try combining them into one (long but ambitious) sentence as shown above.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.