December 15, 2020
When it comes to writing goals, we need not always think in lofty terms. Along with big goals such as “write a 70,000-word novel” or “complete five magazine submissions each week,” we can set simpler goals that are easier to achieve and less time-consuming than our longer term goals. In fact, some of these “small” goals take only a few minutes a day. Yet they can help us improve our craft, complete larger projects, boost our sales, and gain personal satisfaction.
Sound good? Here are ideas to get you started.…
One New Word a Day
Writing is about words and word choices, so a rich vocabulary serves us well. How about learning one new word a day? In an article for ThoughtCo, Richard Nordquist writes, “… we were all little geniuses in childhood, learning hundreds of new words every year.” As adults, however, we need to make an effort to keep expanding our vocabularies. Otherwise, says Nordquist, “…we’re lucky to pick up even 50 or 60 new words a year.” Years ago, writers relied on sets of vocabulary cards and books designed to teach people new words. And, of course, there was always the dictionary. Today, we have myriad choices on the Web as well and can even sign up for emails that feature a “word of the day.” Type “learn new word a day” in your search engine and find something that appeals to you.
To this goal, we can add another relatively simple but important step: Use the new word in your writing and/or a conversation.
A Daily Poem
Most writers strive for a style that is smooth, concise, and vivid, with a tone and mood that suit the topic or scene. We aim to create word pictures that draw readers into our story world or nonfiction material. Try reading a poem each day. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, poetry has much to offer. You can keep a book of poems by your bedside and read one each night. Or, read a poem on your phone or tablet while you wait at the dentist’s office or service station. Authors who have set this goal note the benefits. “I saw my style improve over the months,” says an author of short fiction and articles. “This practice made me more aware of the rhythm in my writing as well as ways to do more ‘showing’ and less ‘telling.’”
Read for Your Writing.
Reading is part of our writing education and can be enjoyable, too. Many writers set a goal of reading their way through one or more lists of great books. Such lists are readily available online. They include old standards like the Harvard Classics and lists of newer award winners and bestsellers. Reading one book a month means you’ll finish a dozen by year’s end. If you write for magazines or newspapers, you can study pieces that have won a Pulitzer Prize, National Magazine Award, or other honors. Back in 2010, I decided that every year I would immerse myself in the works of one or more authors I admire, studying their techniques in the process. I usually cover at least three authors each year, and find this is a flexible goal I can comfortably achieve.
Are books about the craft and process of writing on your list of goals? Again, you can break that goal into smaller “bits” by reading a few pages a day or maybe a chapter each week. Look for recommendations online by searching for “books every writer should read,” “best books about writing,” “best books for writers,” and the like.
Improve your writing life.
Some writing goals make it easier to work. You might want to set aside some time during your week for goals like these:
- Clean out work emails.
- Prioritize current writing projects.
- Organize business records for tax preparation.
- Replace needed writing supplies, e.g. printing supplies, pens, paper, mailing supplies, postage, business cards.
Target the Markets
Most writers also want to sell and share their work with readers. These goals can help you achieve that larger objective:
- Find a good market directory that relates to your writing and/or read publishers’ submission guidelines on the Web.
- Check out one new market a day or a few new listings each week. Keep track of those that look suitable for your writing.
- Review manuscripts you haven’t submitted recently and make a submission plan for each.
- List at least three markets for completed manuscripts, works in progress, and new ideas.
- Start new spreadsheets for a new year of submissions.
Connections Spark Your Writing.
Would you like more contact with other writers? Join a writer’s organization. Attend a writing workshop or event, in person or virtually. Does your local library hold events for writers? Sign up for email notices, if you are not on their list already. Do you want more feedback? You might pair up with another author for a manuscript exchange, or join a critique group that suits your schedule.
Suppose you are between projects and looking for ideas? A simple goal might include one or more brainstorming sessions, using techniques designed to generate ideas. Writing exercises can also produce ideas. Magazines and websites for writers offer writing exercises on a regular basis—and for free! Doing such exercises weekly or monthly can improve our writing skills as well.
When you make your writing plans, don’t forget the “small stuff.” What simple goals could make your work more productive and fulfilling? By setting and meeting those goals, you can take big steps toward writing success.
Other posts in this goal setting series:
Victoria Sherrow has published short stories, articles and books (fiction and nonfiction) for readers aged preschool through adult. Her books have received starred reviews and been honored by the American Library Association, Parents Choice Gold Award, National Association for the Advancement of Science, and NYPL Best Books for the Teenage, among others. Victoria has taught at The Institute of Children’s Literature for more than 25 years and has also been an assistant editor and writing contest judge.
Are you ready to start writing your book? Let us help! Show the Institute for Writers a sample of your work here.