The 2 Types of Writing Goals and How to Achieve Them

It’s time to talk about writing goals … again.

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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.


Completion goals

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?


Improvement goals

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

How to Be a More Disciplined Writer

Have you been prioritizing all wrong?

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever been asked, “How do you write so much?” In the past, you may not have been able to come up with an answer that made sense. Here it is, for future reference: discipline. Lots and lots of discipline.

Discipline, as a writer, is the long-term version of focus. It’s about training yourself, over time, to prioritize your writing, work toward the goals you set and figure out what gets you sitting down to write on a consistent schedule. It’s something you have to learn and develop. Here are a few ways to start.


Establish your priorities

The confusing thing about the advice to “make writing a priority” is that, in reality, you can’t. You can’t always put writing on your own time before a job, or before your family, or before school, or before whatever else you have going on. Writing isn’t always consistent. So always trying to put it first ahead of everything else doesn’t really make sense. That’s because prioritizing isn’t exactly what many of us have always been told it is.

Prioritization isn’t necessarily always about putting one thing before everything else. In some cases, it’s about learning how to shift your priorities according to a preset schedule. (Some of you are now hyperventilating; breathe! It’s not that bad.) For example, every morning, the first two hours of my day are spent on me and my health – working out, journaling, eating breakfast, etc. At nine my shift focuses. Writing becomes my priority. During that time, I focus only on writing. That’s the only way it gets done. Otherwise I’d get too distracted by … you know. Everything else.


Schedule and follow through

Discipline and consistency go hand in hand. If you want to be a more disciplined writer, if you want to be able to count on yourself to sit down every day and write, you have to train yourself to do so on a regular basis. Routine is everything. It helps a lot of writers to create a writing schedule, complete with word count goals and time slots, at least in the beginning, to help them form a pre-planned outline of what they are going to write (or how much), and when.

But it’s not enough to sit down and create a nice, neat schedule on paper and tape it to your wall. You actually have to do it, consistently, over and over and over again. This is pretty much just a subtle way of drilling a very specific set of habits into your brain. I used to (sigh) have the luxury of waking up, grabbing coffee and writing as soon as I got up. I did that for a LONG time, because I pretty much ended up conditioning myself to automatically go from waking up to coffee to writing. That’s why not just creating schedules, but sticking to them, is so effective.


Commit

This is probably the toughest part of this whole discipline thing. You can set aside time for writing, and make it an important part of your intended daily or weekly schedule … but there’s only one thing that determines how long those things will last, and whether or not you continue trying at all: commitment. It’s not enough to just say you’re going to write a novel, for example. You actually have to make a promise that you’re going to do it … and then, slowly, but steadily, DO IT.

Do what you need to do to make that commitment stick. Make it public. Write it down. Promise yourself a reward. Whatever you think might be the kind of long-term motivation you’ll need to keep your goals at the front of your mind. This might take some time – what you thought might work, might not actually work. This is why developing discipline doesn’t happen in a day. Only you can figure out what it’s going to take to convince yourself keeping your commitment is worth the effort.

Having an end goal in mind is hard, because that’s where many writers settle for the vague, “I want to be published someday.” Don’t be afraid to be specific. Don’t be afraid to set schedules that make your friends roll your eyes. It’s all worth it – or it will be, once you realize you’re much closer to finishing that novel, or starting that blog, or getting that story published, than you ever thought possible.


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.

How to Actually Meet the Writing Goals You’ve Set for Yourself This Year

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We’ve talked general writing goals. We’ve talked SMART writing goals. Now how in the world are we supposed to actually meet the writing goals we set, anyway?

Looking at the big picture, it’s pretty easy to set goals. You can set as many goals as you want to so you can improve a multitude of things in your life over a certain period of time.

But to promote change, to make things happen, you actually have to work toward achieving those goals. Following through is the hard part.

To conclude this mini-series, here are a few tips on how to overcome this roadblock.

Make sure it’s what you really want

Don’t set a goal just because you think it’s a good idea. If you’re going to work toward a goal, you have to really, really want to achieve it. Do you really want to write a book this year, or is that just what everyone around you is expecting you to do? Do you really want to spend all your time and energy focusing on a cast of characters that doesn’t actually exist?

If you do, then you’re much more likely to write, finish, maybe even edit that book this year. And that’s great. You will get there in large part because you really want to. If your heart’s not in it, you are going to struggle. The nice thing about personal goals like these? It’s all up to you. If you don’t want to do something, and no one is requiring or paying you to do it, don’t.

Wanting to do it is only one piece of the puzzle, though. There’s a little more to it than that.

Understand what you need to give up and make time to make it happen

The key to failing is not trying. If you want to write a book this year, and you REALLY want to write a book this year, it might seem like on the surface that’s all you need to motivate yourself to sit down and do it. But a big project like that requires discipline. It requires a deeper understanding of time and how you need to spend it in order to achieve your larger writing goals.

Instead of watching every new episode of Scandal on Thursdays, you might have to spend an hour writing instead. Some days you might feel overwhelmed and try to convince yourself you’ll just double up on work tomorrow. Don’t do that! Get it done. Take a deep breath and just get it done. You can watch the episode you missed online after you’ve gotten your work done.

Here’s a list of everything you have to give up to write a good book.

Find someone to hold you accountable

Sometimes, goals are a team effort. You might need someone to push you, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If that’s what it takes to get some serious writing done this year, DO IT!

Whether it’s just one person or the whole world, find accountability somewhere other than inside your head or on a piece of paper. If you announce to all your social media followers that you’re writing a book, you are committing – and if that’s not enough motivation for you, what is?

We set goals to motivate ourselves. Even if you don’t meet any of your writing goals this year, what’s most important is that you tried. You made progress. These tips, in addition to everything we’ve gone over this week, should be able to help you move forward. If in the middle you realize you reached a little too far, adjust. Make it work for you.

You CAN do this. Deep down, you WANT to do this. If you need someone to hold you accountable, reach out here.

This year, make writing one of many priorities in your life. Make it count. Make it work by finding balance. Enjoy it. You are a writer. It’s what you were born to do.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.