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  • Writer's pictureLaura L. Zimmerman

Goals for Writers: How to set them; How to keep them

We all have our bad writing days. You know, the ones where you spend twelve hours of the day thinking about what you might write when you actually sit down if those ideas come to mind? Yeah. But sometimes those days stretch past a single day. The next thing you know it’s been a week then maybe even a month, since you’ve written or edited any of your work. You’ve neglected your social media. And when was the last time you connected with another writer? Your confidence drops, which gives you no motivation to actually do that one thing you intended on doing in the first place: write. 

Don’t beat yourself up about it. It happens to everyone–not just writers–and it won’t be the last time it happens, either. Life happens. Stuff happens. Sometimes we just get sidetracked and need a good kick in the tush to get moving again.

Setting realistic goals–and having a system to keep yourself accountable–can really help get you motivated so you can finish that manuscript! There has never been a day where I’ve thought, “Man. Sure wish I hadn’t set those goals. What a waste of time!” But I have definitely reflected, “Wow. Look at all I accomplished today! I got so much more done than I thought I would!” If that’s not motivation enough for the next day, then I don’t know what is! 

So, how do you set goals and what’s the best way to stick with them? Well, let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is a goal? I’ll be honest. Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of fellow writers declare to the world that their goal for the year is to get an agent and get traditionally published. Heck, even I said that, a few years back. But once upon a time, a very wise writer friend put it plain and simple: Know the difference between a goal and aspiration. 

Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.

Did you see that last word? End. As in, you can actually make that end happen. But how can you make “getting an agent” a goal when you can’t control what another person does? There is no way someone can force an agent to take them on as a client. That is simply beyond a person’s control. Therefore, a goal must be something you can control, or achieve, without relying on someone else.

Aspiration: a strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition. 

This is what most writers want. They long for an agent, desire to be traditionally published by one of the big publishers. There is nothing wrong is aspiration. We all have dreams and we should shoot for the stars, so to say. Just keep in mind, aspirations aren’t necessarily goals.

But the good news is, you can attempt to attain your aspirations by keeping your goals!  

The first place you need to start is coming up with realistic goals for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll simply grow frustrated that you were never able to meet your daily/monthly/yearly goals. This shouldn’t be done lightly. Take time to really think on what you truly want to achieve this summer (or rest of the year). Reflect on what your most inner desires are and what you can do to help get you there, step by step. An example of this might be that you set a goal of querying at least five agents per month. You can’t control if an agent signs you, but you can control how many you contact–and the more you contact, the greater your chances are of finding one!

For me, I choose to set goals that I can see progress in every day–Write x3 blog posts per week; Tweet x2 times per day; Edit 5 pages per day; Write 1000 words per day. All achievable and encouraging to me, as I cross each item off my list. (Bonus.)

Now you’ve got your list of things that would make you happy to achieve. Good work. You can have one general goal list, or be more specific with Daily / Weekly / Monthly goals to achieve, the choice is yours.

If you’re anything like me, however, you might continually add to your daily goal sheet. This isn’t wrong in any way, but this can be overwhelming if you aren’t able to accomplish every item, every day. To help with that, I’d like to suggest a basic goal setter idea that I discovered just after college. It’s actually called the Time Management Matrix and was introduced in Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” (You can find a website with a more detailed description, here.)  It’s simple but effective and helps me see just how much I was able to accomplish each day, and not feel guilty over the things I didn’t.

Instead of writing a simple list of goals, you separate your sheet of paper into 4 quadrants. Label each quadrant as follows: Important/Urgent, Important/Not Urgent, Not Important/Urgent, Not Important/Not Urgent. This is your life, so you can decide which items on your goal list fall into each of these categories. The point is, if you can clear out everything in your I/U quadrant, and maybe a few things from the I/NU & NI/U quadrant, and then maybe one item from the NI/NU each day, then that is something to celebrate! You can visibly see that you are sticking to your goals–and that you’re accomplishing them! 

I know there are plenty of other goal helpers out there, but this one works for me. It keeps things nice and organized and helps reduce my stress level over the one thing that should be enjoyable to me–writing

What about you? Do you have any suggestions on how to set and keep goals? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Happy writing, friends!


Photo credit Unsplash by Glenn Carstens-Peters

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