Writing is hard.
Never once have I denied this, nor have I made any effort to steer you away from the reality that this is a challenging, time-consuming hobby and/or [dream] job.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t set big goals and dare to dream — or that only a select few writers are capable of achieving their goals. Goal-achieving isn’t about a certain “type” of person. It’s about knowing to set goals that are appropriate for your experience and skill level and how they fit into your overarching plan for success.
Think your goals are too big? Are you overwhelmed — maybe even terrified? Here’s some advice that might help. If you can take your goals and break them down into their smaller parts, this all becomes, at the very least, a little bit easier to manage.
A writing goal needs to be something you can handle. When you’re setting writing goals, one of the parameters is almost always whether or not your goal is realistic. I’m not saying that your goal of becoming a bestselling author and making more money than J.K. Rowling isn’t possible. But is that a goal you’re actually capable of achieving in this lifetime? Honestly?
Listen, I believe in you, and you should believe in yourself just as much. You will accomplish great things as a writer if you commit to developing your skills and putting in the time and effort over many years. But marathon runners don’t decide to run their first marathon and immediately run 26.2 miles the next day. They start small. They can’t handle 26.2 miles yet. But they might be able to handle one, or two — maybe even three.
I’m not here to crush your dreams, though. You should never be afraid to dream big and go after what you truly want as a writer.
Along the way, though, make sure you set much smaller and more easily achievable milestones along the way so that you aren’t constantly reaching for something that’s too far away. Maybe one day you’ll publish a bestselling book. To start, though, perhaps a good goal would be to finish writing the first draft of a book from beginning to end (or whatever order you prefer). It’s not denying your bigger goal. You just need a stepping stone.
You need constant reminders that you’re writing for more than one reason. As we pursue goals and complete milestones and projects, our motivations often change, even if our end goals don’t. At different points throughout your writing career, it’s likely different things are going to drive you forward.
At some points, money will serve as your main motivator — and there’s nothing wrong with that; we all work to make money even if it isn’t always our first or only priority. At other points you might focus hard on your need to help people in some way. At other points still, your main motivator might be the “warm fuzzies” you get from interacting with readers. All these are perfectly acceptable reasons to continue writing … though not all on their own.
Because motivators aren’t necessarily a reliable constant, you really need more than one “driver” to keep you going. You can’t just write because you want to make money writing. That can be your ultimate goal (to make money as a full-time writer, for example), but that can’t be it. Because what happens when you don’t make money as quickly as you expected? Or what if you suddenly lose more than half your income in one week (which happened to me as a freelance writer several years ago — it does happen!)? You need more than one “reason” to fall back on.
So keep tabs on your reasons. Write them all down, if you have to. Why do you write? Why is writing important to you? Who are you trying to reach or inform or help? What do you hope to gain from your efforts? Be honest with yourself. You don’t have to share all your reasons if you don’t want to.
It’s also absolutely essential to make sure you’re “returning to your why” as often as possible — not just when you’re already heading into a downward spiral and doubting every choice you’ve ever made in your career. If you have a physical list, review it daily. Say your reasons out loud. Keep them in the front of your mind, especially on those days writing feels extremely difficult and overwhelming.
There is more than one way to achieve a goal. There’s a lot of debate among productivity experts about whether or not you should announce your goals, how thoroughly “planned out” your goals should be, how many goals you should pursue at any given time.
The reality of goal-setting is, even in creative fields like writing, everyone’s process is different, and the only “wrong” way is either not doing it at all or trying to do it in a way you already know doesn’t work for you personally.
For example, some people find it extremely helpful to announce they’re launching a specific project on a certain date … even though they haven’t even started the project yet! It’s a little extreme, but those who find they work better under pressure know that if they tell the world to expect their blog or video or book excerpt on a certain day, they’ll feel they have no choice but to do whatever it takes to get it done — and well — by that day.
Others will yell and flail their arms trying to convince you that you should NEVER announce a goal before you’ve achieved it. There’s research to back up this claim and they will not back down from any of it.
Is either of these viewpoints wrong? Nope! Because what works for one writer might not work for another, and that’s due to our total individuality as creators. You might have to try one way or the other in order to figure out which type of accountability-seeker you are, for instance, but it’s very likely there is one way that simply proves more effective for you than the other. You should stick with what works for you, whether it’s in line with what others claim to be the “right” way or not.
As long as your methods for getting writing done aren’t harming you or anyone else, you do you.
Anyone can achieve a writing goal if they set themselves up for success. Stay realistic, but don’t be afraid to dream big. Find ways to stay motivated and keep your “why” in mind. And once you find strategies that are effective for you, stick with them for as long as they’re helpful. Your success is dependent fully on you. You can do this.
So, if you feel comfortable: Tell the comment section your writing goal! Why do you want to achieve that goal? And as always: If there is any way I can help (time permitting), let me know!
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.