Inspired Goal Setting Tips for Writers
One of the best ways to have a productive year ahead is to set writing goals and develop a plan based on them. Many times we approach this writing journey as a seat-of-our-pants experience, and that can work, depending upon your natural productivity and personality, but an adult so dependent on serendipity can also be sidetracked by the busy side of life, which often leaves us a little sad at the end of each year, when we wonder why we didn’t accomplish more. Goals may be the solution! Inspired goal setting tips for writers can help you develop a plan of action. The best writing goals are inspiring, flexible, and clear. So let’s look at those three elements as we build our new year writing goals.
Although writing can be done even when the writer is less than inspired (I can attest to that for a number of projects I’ve done), the best writing is usually crafted with some kind of inspiration supporting it and keeping you motivated. Goals for writers can be similar. The goals that will keep you going and keep you hopeful, often have some sort of inspiration for you to focus on, something that helps you get back on track when distractions happen.
One starting point is to choose an inspirational theme for the year, something that can be summed up as simply as possible. Some people like to have a single word. I’ve known authors who chose words like “Courage” (when they know their biggest obstacle is their own fears) or “Respect” (when they know they let others drain their motivation by disrespecting their efforts.) Whatever word or words you choose for your inspirational theme, they will probably be connected in some way to your weaknesses. Goal themes are usually about overcoming. So what do you need to overcome to be proud of your writing accomplishments at the end of next year?
For me, my biggest weakness is a tendency to lean heavily on the sure thing and not do enough experimentation. I do love those projects that are sure to see print and sure to be received well. Trying something that might fail is scary. So my word for this year will be “Daring.” How about you? What’s yours?
Once you have your inspiration theme, then it’s time to begin making a list of those things that need to happen for you to be happy with your writing journey next year. It might be tempting to list things like “get an agent” or “get my book published” or even “get my family to take my writing seriously.” The problem with those kinds of things on your list is that they depend upon the actions of someone who isn’t you. You can take steps to make these things more likely to happen, but they’ll always hit a wall where the goal can only be met if someone else does what you want. That kind of uncertainty is scary and can leave you feeling like you failed when you actually accomplished a lot. So don’t consider something a goal if you can’t do it on your own. Inspired goal setting is about what you will do, not what other people will do. Still, you can ponder these kinds of hopes and ask yourself, “What part can I play in those things? What can I do to make them more likely to occur?”
For example, to get an agent, you need to get to know what agents are out there looking for writers. So, “learn how to research agents effectively” followed by “get to know which agents are looking for the sort of things I write.” All agents aren’t created equal. I might meet a lovely agent at a conference and even become friends, but if she specializes in historical novels or literary novels, then she’s unlikely to ever be my agent, even if we eventually become besties. I actually have friends who are agents and friends who are acquiring editors. That doesn’t mean I have any kind of secret “in” since often there is no overlap between the kind of writing I do and the kind of writing they deal with.
So, you need to come to know which people in the industry are likely to be working in an area where your writing and their interests overlap, then research to know how the people prefer to be contacted and find out their submission guidelines. Then make sure whatever you have to offer is the very best thing you can possibly make it. And learning is a part of nearly every successful set of goal steps. So a dream like “get an agent” or “get my book published” breaks down into workable steps for you to do. Sadly publishing isn’t magic and only a small bit of it is even serendipity. Most of it is simply a willingness to do the work. So as you plan your writing goal steps, they will include a lot of work. Some of it will be challenging and enjoyable, and some will simply be a grind. But being willing to do the work is key to successful goals.
Though writing goals that push you to work are essential, be careful of rigid goals that set you up for failure. Nothing can derail a plan quicker than giving up when hitting points of failure. Failure often comes from inflexible, overly optimistic goals. For example, I’ve known people who set a goal of producing one publishable piece of writing every week. That’s a lot. And to meet it, you’re going to need to stick with easily written work with little research and limited revision. That will tend to mean you get bored with the pieces you’re choosing to do. Boredom is not a motivating emotion. So beware of goals that either tend toward failure or pressure you to work in ways that don’t help you grow or stretch.
Because I have deadlines to meet, I do have weekly and even daily goals. I write a chapter each day on whatever book I’m working on (unless we are in the revision stage, then the goals change but are still specific daily goals). And I create the ICL Newsletter weekly, which means I’m working on specific things related to it every day. These writing goals help me meet my deadlines, but they can be a little grueling and I have to be careful of burnout. I also have to give myself ease in meeting deadlines so when things come up that keep me from meeting my goals, I have room to get back on track without panicking. Plus, I don’t want all of my writing-related time to be spent grinding on these projects. I also want to learn and grow as a writer. Without growth, my future can never look different from my present. So I have to have room in my goal steps for more than simply meeting milestones.
A certain amount of ease in your writing goals will be essential to meeting them. If you decide you want to write something on a regular basis, consider a goal like “write at least three days a week” so that you have the ease of meeting all the other demands in your life. And if you exceed the goal, if you wrote for four days or five or even seven, give yourself a reward, something small you’ve wanted. I’ll give myself a trip to my local arts and crafts store or buy a new art supply or maybe a new writing book if there’s one I’ve been wanting. Rewards for times you’re exceeded the goals will keep laziness at bay because you’re always motivated to keep moving ahead.
Though writing goals need flexibility and some ease, you also need to avoid the trap of making them be so vague that they don’t lend themselves to a plan. A vague goal like “write more” or “be more creative” or “get more done” will tend to turn into nothing but noise without any clear action plan. Inspiration can be big and global, but it needs to immediately be followed by clear, specific goals. You want to write more, but what kind of writing will make you feel like you’ve met your goal? Would you feel successful if you managed to fill one of the gorgeous blank journals from the bookstore with poems? Would you feel successful if your writing was a mix of letters to friends, poetry and a few children’s short stories? Picture the end of the year with the “more writing” done. What does it look like? Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be able to create clear goals.
For me, I often like to think ahead to the end of the year and try to see myself looking back on the year with a sense of contentment. What would I need to have done? For me, I’ll have met every deadline with work that I’m pleased with and proud of. I’ll have done at least one in-person speaking event about writing and one online speaking event about writing (because I find such things personally inspiring). I’ll have done something to improve my craft: taken a workshop, taken a class, even read a good writing book cover to cover. I always want to be able to see something I did to make myself a better writer. Simply writing improves my craft, but I always want to take one intentional step further. For me, forward motion on my craft is as important as forward motion on my career.
When I look at these things that I know would make me feel like my year was successful, I can then backtrack and figure out what part of the year these things need to happen. Do I have time in my year to attend a workshop? If not, I’m probably going to make a different choice, one more flexible to my schedule. I also schedule the writing of all my projects that already have a deadline, building in enough ease that I don’t feel rushed. Rushed writing is rarely great writing. Scheduling this side of my writing life helps me spot the open spaces where I can fit in the other things. That means I can look into when I might do a workshop or when I might fit in a writing class. And always, I make sure I’m not filling up every day, every moment, because failure will become a sure thing if I do that.
How About You?
What’s your theme for the year and when you imagine the end of next year, what will you need to see in order to have that warm feeling of a successful year? Are you making time for learning and growth as a writer? Maybe your writings goals include “write my own book.”
Once you know what a successful year would look like, you’ll be able to do one of two things: (1) look realistically at how you’re evaluating success and whether it’s even possible. It could be that you need to adjust your definition of “success” so that it’s within your grasp. And maybe be a little kinder to yourself. Once you’re sure your success meter is reasonable, (2) you can begin planning the steps that will bring that success about with enough flexibility that you won’t be setting yourself up for failure. Inspired goal setting is about motivation and joy, not drudgery. So be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Sometimes, that’s the best goal of all.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.