Goal Setting in Writing

A topic that I see come up a lot but that maybe doesn’t get enough attention is setting goals. After all, we talk about it all the time, right? Life goals. That’s the goal. But when asked to define what our goals are, it gets a little murkier. There are of course the standard goals. I’m going to get an agent this year. I’m going to get a book deal this year.

I’m here to tell you, those are bad goals.

They’re good aspirations. It’s perfectly okay to want and pursue those things. But they’re bad goals because so much about them is beyond your control. When we set goals that we don’t control, they’re no longer goals. They’re outcomes.

They’re also huge. Big goals are great, but I find often that they can do more harm than good. Even something like ‘I’m going to write a novel’ can be too big. Because when you’re 10,000 words in to a 90,000 word book, that finish line is a LONG way away, and the task can look so daunting that hey, maybe I’ll just turn on Netflix and see what’s…oooh! The new season of Kimmy Schmidt!

So sure, you can have that as your big goal. But it might help to have some little goals along the way. Some people use daily word counts, but even that is kind of outcome based. Some days the words flow, some days they don’t. That might work for you. For me personally, weekly word counts are better, because that way the good and bad days average out. But if you’re somebody who gets frustrated when you don’t reach a daily goal, maybe there’s another way to look at it.

Set goals that you can control.

Goal: I’m going to turn off social media and do nothing but write for one hour today.
Goal: I’m going to have my butt in my chair at 6 AM today with my manuscript open.
Goal: I’m going to edit three times today for 30 minutes in each session.
Goal: I’m going to write one sentence today in a new manuscript.
Goal: I’m going to write four out of five days this week.

They can be as big or as small as you want, as long as it’s something you can control. Now sure, you can never completely control anything. Yesterday my writing time evaporated because somebody spoofed my phone number and I had to spend two hours getting that fixed. Then my car needed new brakes. Life happens. I didn’t make my goal of spending 90 minutes editing. But I had a reasonable chance when the day started.

Maybe you’re trying to get an agent. I’ve already said that’s not a good goal, because there’s too much you can’t control. So what parts of it *can* you control?

Goal: I’m going to spend an hour researching agents that fit my manuscript.
Goal: I’m going to read three successful queries from my genre to see what they did
Goal: I’m going to query five agents this week.

When you choose things that you control, you put yourself in charge. It naturally deters you away from making excuses, because you’re the one who has to do the thing. Yes, you have an outcome that you want. But you’re successful if you do the thing that you said you wanted to do.

With writing, it’s so easy to blame other things. They just didn’t get my story. The market just doesn’t appreciate what I write right now. Agents aren’t responding. And all of these things might be true. But they aren’t helpful. The only thing that’s going to help you is deciding what you’re going to do about it. What step are you going to actively take to change things?

I hear you, but I know I need to get better. I’ve done everything I know how to do on my own and I need help. Everybody says to get critique partners, but that’s not working for me. I’ve entered contests, but I’m not very lucky and I don’t get feedback. Okay. So set some goals. What can you do?

Goal: I’m going to contact at least one person today and ask about swapping first chapters.
Goal: I’m going to ask one person a question about something they’ve written, because I don’t understand it. Even if they don’t answer me.
Goal: I’m going to read one article about an area I know I’m weak as a writer.

So let’s apply this to something like Pitch Wars.

Bad Goal: I’m going to get into Pitch Wars. (Beyond your control)
Good Goal: I’m going to put myself in the best possible position to get into Pitch Wars (good, but not very specific.)
Better Goals:
Goal: I’m going to research every mentor in my age category to find the best fits.
Goal: I’m going to trade queries to get feedback
Goal: I’m going to put myself out there one time today, so that maybe I can make a lasting connection
Goal: I’m going to apply something I learned from a mentor post

Look at every goal on this page. What do they all have in common? The words ‘I’m going to.’ And that’s the key. Nobody else can do it for you. You’ve got to.

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I am a Soldier and a Science Fiction writer. Usually I write about Soldiers. Go figure. I'm represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. If you love my blog and want to turn it into a blockbuster movie featuring Chris Hemsworth as me, you should definitely contact her.

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