What is the smartest way to become a better writer in 2022?
Set better goals.
This is one of my favorite parts of the year. When else do you get to DREAM about all your great ambitions for 2022? It's so tantalizing to think about what you might accomplish...
Over the last decade, I’ve worked out a very helpful (and forgiving) strategy for setting and finishing your writing goals. We’re about to cover:
- Why every pro writer sets goals
- The 4 most important writing goals
- How to build a REALISTIC writing plan, so you actually achieve your goals
Pull out a pen and some paper (or your note-taking app), because by the end of this guide you will have your own personal, iron-clad set of writing goals for 2022.
Why Should You Set Writing Goals?
Without goals, you will not become a better writer.
I am not exaggerating.
Even life-long professional authors need to set goals, lest they risk getting stuck in a rut.
Goals give you purpose. Nobody ever wrote anything worth reading until they choose to write something worth reading. No great novel, nor narrative of any kind, was ever written without intention.
Plus, achieving goals makes you happy. Even Albert Einstein believed this:
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”
Every time you complete a goal, even the small ones, the clouds part and a burst of glory shines upon you. There is no feeling like it, and without goals, you never get to feel it at all.
But most important of all…
Goals are Proven to Make You “Win”
It doesn’t matter how ambitious your goals are…
…there is an ever-growing body of evidence that says when you write down your goals, you become more likely to achieve them. The more specific you get, the better.
Get something to write with, because we're going to boost your chances for success right now.
The 4 Most Powerful Goals to Improve Your Writing
Your goals will shape your writing future. Best to set the right ones, then. But where to start?
I don’t believe there is a formula that works for everyone, but after over a decade of writing, I feel confident in my process.
The keys are:
- And an ambitious long-term vision
Try it out for yourself, and take or leave what you wish. Let me show you where I always start:
- Create Your 3-Year Vision
Before anything else, you must answer this question:
Why do you write?
In about five billion years, the Sun will run out of hydrogen, becoming increasingly unstable as it enters a new phase of its life. It will expand rapidly, becoming so huge that it will swallow all the inner planets, including Earth.
Of course, you and I will probably be dead long before that happens.
Relatively speaking, life is short. So, what do you want to do with yours?
Instead of focusing on planning out your entire life, I think you need a Grand Vision for the Near Future.
Your vision should be audacious enough to light a fire inside you... but realistic enough to accomplish in 3 years.
Why Only 3 Years?
3 years is near enough to focus and feel connected to a future version of yourself… yet far enough to give yourself room for great ambitions.
That’s what this grand vision is all about.
Any less time will limit you, and any longer will feel like a pipe dream with zero accountability.
Here are some ideas for your Grand Vision:
- In 3 years, I will have made X dollars from my writing
- In 3 years, I will write, edit, and publish my full-length novel
- I will write and finish that epic story I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid
Ignore what everyone else is doing, and tap into your own desires. Decide what really matters to you. This will help you craft goals that will create tangible progress towards your vision.
My 3-year vision? I want to make a full-time income from my self-published stories and writing advice.
So: Why do you write? What’s your three-year vision? Write it down.
- Plan Your 1-Year Mission
A year is a grisly beast. It is both huge and slippery.
Unwatched time has a mind of its own. If you don’t pay attention, one day you’ll wake up to find the year is almost gone.
We won’t let that happen. We’re going to take 2022 by the horns, and muscle its shaggy head in the direction that we want it to run.
Like I said, you will be amazed what you can accomplish in a year if you plan ahead. It’s time to state your yearly mission.
This must be something you have complete control over. Sales numbers or becoming traditionally published require outside influences.
Instead, choose something that requires you, and only you. It can be as small as “I’ll write two chapters a month,” or as large as “I’ll finish writing three novels, and I’ll commit to a full marketing launch for each one.”
Here are my goals for 2022:
- Final drafts of 2.5 books and 2 novellas
- Write and update 24 blog posts this year
- I also have a reading goal, but we’ll get there in a minute!
Will I get it all done? Maybe. I’ll have a more in-depth post on this soon, but for now I don’t want you to feel discouraged. Remember: I’m writing full-time, and then some.
Your goals need to fit you. Ignore everyone else, and put your yearly mission on a piece of paper in BOLD, CAPITAL LETTERS. Then, hang it on your wall where you will see it every time you sit down to write.
- Commit to Your Monthly Benchmarks
Monthly benchmarks are the ultimate calibration tool.
Without a scheduled check-in, you might wake up one June morning and realize you haven’t made an inch of progress on your goals.
These benchmarks can be a simple word count goal, but I prefer to tie mine to milestones. This forces me to prioritize progress over motion. Let me show you...
My monthly writing benchmarks for 2020:
- Jan: Second-round edits for book #3 of The Last Human
- Feb: Write first draft of non-fiction book (to be announced soon)
- Mar: Revise non-fiction book
- Apr: First draft of novella #1 (I already have extensive outlines)
- Jun: Revise novella #1
- Jul: First draft of novella #2
- Aug: Revise novella #2
- Sep: Final edits for book #2 of The Last Human
- Oct: Outlines and prep for book #4 of The Last Human
- Nov: Write first draft of book 4 (NaNoWriMo is a great motivator)
- Dec: Final edits for book #3 of The Last Human
Let me say this again: do not be afraid to adjust your goals as the year goes on.
Failure is a wonderful thing when you look at it the right way. You will learn more from failure than you ever will from success.
Last year, I had to cut 3 of my monthly goals back, and my writing (and mental health) is so much better for it. I discovered new strategies, and solidified my novel writing process. For me, at least, the key is extensive outlines.
- How to Turn Your Writing Goals into Life-Changing Habits
Daily writing goals don’t work for me.
Frankly, I’m not sure if they’re healthy for anyone. Aside from burnout, there’s another invisible problem with forcing yourself to write every single day…
A few years ago, I started January with a 20-day writing streak. But one day, my day job weighed too heavily on my mind. I was spent. No energy for writing.
One bad day, and I felt like a huge failure. And then it kept happening.
This used to demoralize the hell out of me. The harder I tried to keep the chain unbroken, the worse I felt when it did - inevitably - break.
So, after months of this self-defeating cycle, I went back to the drawing board. It took a lot of humility and it hurt my ego, but I finally worked out a solution in two parts.
First: Weekly Writing Goals
Instead of 1000 words a day, why not write 7000 words a week?
This is such a simple fix, I can't believe it didn't come to me sooner. Weekly writing goals still promote a regular writing schedule, while giving you a cushion to "let life happen" without making you feel like a failure.
Second: the 48-hour Rule for Writers
If, for some reason, you’re convinced you need to write all the time to call yourself a writer, then try the 48-hour rule:
Set a goal to write at least once every 48 hours. Every time you write, even a single word, the clock resets (I'm resetting my clock by writing this right now).
Buy a wall calendar, and put an X on every day you read/write. Don’t let two days go blank in a row. This tactic incentivizes me to focus on writing every day, without losing my head on the off days.
My Weekly Writing Goals for 2020
- Write 13,000 words a week
- Write or revise at least 3700 words every 2 days
- Read 12 hours a week (reading a lot is critical for writers)
Remember, these are examples. NOT meant for you to compare yourself, but to give you an idea of how you could start.
If you haven’t set weekly writing goals, start small. No, smaller than that. Build up your confidence first, and don’t be afraid to change anything if you discover it’s too much.
Your goals are for you. Now, go write them down.
And if you’re not sure what works best for you, keep reading.
The Pros and Cons of Word Counts, Time, and Milestone Goals
I use a variation of all three to keep track of my progress. If you’re not sure where to start, try a word count goal first.
Word Count Goals
Word count goals are perfect for new writers, and writers working on epic-length pieces or who work with extensive outlines, because they know pretty well how long each chapter will be.
Writing sprints are a powerful way to win your word count goals. Plus, if you can find others to sprint with, they’re ridiculously fun.
- Creates writing momentum. This is HUGE for new writers or writers in a rut.
- Promotes consistency. Because it’s a small unit, you can use this to easily build healthy writing habits.
- May encourage over-verbose writing that goes nowhere
I’ve found this potential pitfall disappears as you gain experience. Eventually, you will find your voice and instead of writing excessive words, you might find yourself ramping up the pace of your story to quickly reach your goal.
Timed Writing Goals
Distractions destroy your writing productivity. Time-based goals are designed to combat that.
Essentially, you make a promise to do nothing else but write during your Sacred Writing Time. When the clock starts, you start. And you don’t stop until the clock goes off.
- Creates writing momentum.
- Promotes focus
- Requires extra discipline. If you have poor focus... if the siren call of the internet sings to you... you may develop a bad habit of running out the clock.
If you have problems staying focused, this book will save you: Deep Work by Cal Newport. This book is the sole reason that I’m still sane after working from home for more than a year. I never realized how badly I needed a daily “hard stop” until I read this book.
It completely transformed the way I use my productive time, and I firmly believe it will only become more relevant in our social-media addicted future.
Milestone goals are for the people who run faster when they can see the finish line. For people who live and die by the deadline.
Whether it’s “I’ll write X pages a day” or “I’ll write a chapter a week,” this is a great way to push yourself, climb a mountain, and bask in the daylight glow of the sun.
- Creates writing momentum (do you see the pattern yet?)
- Promotes getting things done
- You feel great after you reach the end of a goal
- Inconsistent. Some days, rewriting one page can take hours. Some days, you crash through 10 pages in an hour.
- Can be stressful if you’re a career procrastinator and find yourself staying up late to meet your goals
Some people love this method. Some people can only write with deadlines hanging over their heads.
If the thought of writing “The End” sends delicious shivers down your spine, this might be the perfect goal for you.
Personally, I only use milestones as a guideline. If procrastination was a profession, I’d be the CEO. Or I would be, once I got around to applying for the position…
How to Actually Achieve Your Writing Goals
By now, you should have 4 specific goals clearly outlined:
- 3-year vision
- 1-year mission
- 12 monthly goals
- And a weekly (or daily, if you’re a more consistent person than me) writing goal
But a goal without action is only an idea… And we all know how much ideas are worth.
As James Clear put it in his book, Atomic Habits:
"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
This book spent a full year at the top of the charts for a good reason. It will empower your writing, help you achieve all your goals, and will give your a new way of looking at your everyday life.
There isn’t enough room in this post to explain how much you’ll get from this book.
So, instead, I want to tell you a personal story...
What Happens When You Fail Your Writing Goals?
A few years ago, I set a goal to write 21 hours a week.
It killed my writing. I started off strong, but by August, I was so far behind I gave up. One missed day turned into a missed week until I woke up and realized I hadn’t written anything in months.
Unrealistic goals will kill your drive. Over ambition will crush your spirit.
The problem is: how do you know when you’re being too ambitious?
If you’re too close to the problem, like I was, it’s hard to tell. As they say: you can’t read the label from inside the jar.
So I decided to shatter the jar.
I took a step back. I burned my goals to the ground, and started fresh. This took a lot of brutal honesty, and it was an uncomfortable, even humiliating process.
And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Why? Because when I set reasonable, easy goals for myself, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I could breathe again. And every week I hit that easy goal, I became lighter - until I felt so damn proud of my writing again.
If this sounds anything like something you need, please go read Atomic Habits by James Clear:
Atomic Habits will show you how to set SMALL goals that lead to MASSIVE results. This has been crucial to my writing (and my mental health) over the last two months.
Here’s something huge I took from the book:
If you feel the pressure building… If it feels like an insurmountable, oceanic wall of death is bearing down on you… Side step it.
Stop. Breathe. Let failure wash over you. It’s not so bad.
Then, start over, and start smaller. Your sanity will thank you.
To achieve your writing destiny, you need to set goals.
And once you set them, you need to focus on building a reasonable system that will give you the ability and space to hit your goals.
Write down your goals, from your grand vision all the way down to your bite-sized writing habits.
Track these goals, and you will immediately become a more disciplined, and happy writer.
Good luck, dear writer. You will do great
- P. S. Hoffman
Oh! And I promise to talk more about my 2022 writing system in the next post. Subscribe to get a notification.
It’s going to be weird 🙂
More Resources to Inspire Your 2022 Writing Goals:
- A good video on New Year’s Resolutions:
- Daily Writing Tips on improving your productivity.
- Joe Bunting on why weekly deadlines work best.
- The Writing Cooperative on renewing your passion for writing.
- Want to write a book this year? Read this.