How to Set Writing Goals If You’re Bad at Setting Writing Goals

Hello, fellow writer. I have some tips that might change your life.

Is there a writing project you really want to start and finish this year?

Are you really, really bad at setting goals you can actually achieve?

Hello, fellow writer. I have some tips that might change your life.

Only set and work toward one goal at a time. I know you’re excited to get going on multiple projects, and you know that as a writer, doing more increases your chances of “getting noticed.” But whether you’re a beginner or you’ve been in this life for a long time, committing yourself to too much at once is more likely to end in disaster than aid you on your quest to writing success.

In my experience, the more goals I set, the more overwhelmed I feel … and the harder it is to focus on what I want to accomplish. You’re looking at someone who, for some reason, decided that setting 30 goals in 2019 was a good idea. (Spoiler alert: It was not a good idea.) See? Even I’m still learning from my mistakes.

One goal might not seem like enough, especially if you have your mind and heart set on writing a book, and starting a blog … and a newsletter, and another book, and a second blog …

First, don’t give into the temptation to stretch yourself in a dozen different directions all at once. In all this talk about “the hustle” and working ourselves to exhaustion to get the results we want, we often forget that humans really aren’t meant to work that way. You’re not supposed to wear yourself down to the point of snapping just to increase your chances of scoring a book deal or winning over yet another client.

Start with one goal — one thing you really, really want to do. Narrowing it down, if you have a list of goals, is extremely challenging. I highly recommend making a list of all (yes all) of the things you want to work on as a writer and picking the one (just one! For now!) that either feels the most exciting or appears the most doable based on your current circumstances.

Some writers can handle juggling multiple projects at once without breaking a sweat. Many cannot. Start slow and start small. Train yourself to focus and follow through on just one commitment at a time before you even think about adding on another one. (It’s hard. I know. You can do it.)

Make sure your goal is something you really, really want to do. Interests change, and there are going to be things you’re excited about learning and accomplishing that you won’t end up sticking with in the long-term. And that’s okay. But one way to increase your chances of sticking with a writing project is to make sure a goal you set to accomplish is something you’re truly passionate about.

Example: A lot of people want to write a book at some point in their lives. I don’t know what it is about the idea of “having written a book” that sticks in so many people’s minds seemingly more than so many other creative ambitions — maybe because books are so widely circulated and available? But at least half the people who learn you’re a writer will tell you how much they want to publish a book too.

But the thing is, most of the people who say they want to write a book someday never will. Not because they’re bad at writing or anything like that, but because they’re not nearly as passionate about writing a book as you need to be in order to write one. It’s not their fault. They’re just so focused on the idea of writing a book that they often miss out on other creative projects that simply might suit their skills and interests better.

Don’t set a goal to write a book or start a blog or become a freelancer because it sounds cool or because you’ve heard it’s possible to do it full-time from your couch. These are cool perks for a lot of people, sure. But they’re not sustainable reasons that keep your motivation grounded when the task at hand becomes challenging.

Find a subject or a project that really means a lot to you, regardless of the job opportunities or monetary benefits it does or doesn’t have the potential to present in the future. If you’re going to set a goal — and you really want to stick to it — it has to align with your deeper “why,” what you truly want to accomplish as a writer.

Take a big goal and make it easier to swallow. One of the biggest mistakes writers still make when they’re setting and even trying to achieve their goals is trying to tackle a giant project in one go. Let’s return to our book example. Setting a goal to write a book in 2020 is a totally manageable goal for some people. But what happens when it’s suddenly July 2020 and you haven’t even put a dent in your goal to write a book? That’s how goals die.

It’s much easier to start right away on a goal and work toward achieving it gradually in small pieces. You can’t write an entire novel in one sitting, and even if you technically can … why? But do you know what you can do? You can write 10,000 words in a month. That’s less than 500 words a day. And if you do that, and do it consistently, you’ll probably reach the end of your book before the end of the year.

We get so excited about new projects we want to start that all we want to do is dive right in and get as much of it done as quickly as possible. This is a great way to burn out, go on hiatus, and never return to finish what you started. I’ve seen it happen way too many times in my own personal writing journey alone.

Break big tasks into small pieces. Do it a little bit at a time. Slow down. If writing a book is something you want to do but it seems too hard, tackle the challenge a little bit at a time. Less than 500 words at a time. It seems so much simpler when you look at it that way, doesn’t it?

Setting goals isn’t as complicated as it might seem. You just have to focus on one thing at a time, make sure it’s something you truly want to do (be honest with yourself), make it easier to digest, and take it one day at a time.


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.


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