The only way to become a better author is to set writing goals that are both realistic and meaningful. Without the right goals, you will write in circles, endlessly starting stories and never finishing anything.
Don’t let your potential fade. Take command. Grab control of your destiny as an author.
The right goals allow you to:
Get a pen (or open a new doc). This guide will help you set writing goals and gain control over your destiny as an author. You’ll see a few real-world examples and strategies for actually winning your writing goals in 2023.
What kind of writing life do you want?
Who do you want to become?
This is your chance to dream about your destiny. We want to find the powerful meaning for your life as an author, the reason that fuels your writing.
This vision cannot be vague: you must have clarity of your goals. Do not say, “I want to become a bestselling author” or “I want to change the world with my stories.” That is far too vague. How will you know if you’re successful? How will you know what your next steps are?
Be specific. For example:
“I want to write the kind of romance books that make thousands of readers weep joyful tears. I want to build an audience that will buy enough books to comfortably support myself and my family by writing full time.”
The more specific you can get with your grand vision, the better. This clarity will help you outline the exact steps you need to take, and give you a much more realistic view of what it means to be an author.
When I started writing, I told myself that I wanted to write stories to change the world. Too vague. Change which part of it? Toward which direction?
Now, I’ve clarified my vision:
“I write science fiction and fantasy stories to inspire people of all ages to embrace their shortcomings and failures, and to recognize that nothing is over as long as we act on our hope. I write stories to show people how much potential even the smallest person can have, and how to cultivate strengths into world-changing powers. And I want to make a living writing these stories full-time, so I can spend as much of my waking life as possible (while still getting to live as a human being) to craft these stories and polish them into their best forms.”
This dream is forever a work in progress, but it’s supercharged by my beliefs and desires, which, in return, supercharges my writing with tangible purpose.
Who do you want to become? What is your greater purpose for writing?
Write it down. If you can include numbers, all the better. Be specific about why your grand vision matters to you. This should be the beacon that shines through, bright and clear, even on the darkest days.
You are ridiculously talented. You have an immense depth of creativity and an ingenuity unique to you.
It’s amazing what you—specifically, you—can get done in a year … as long as you have a burning mission. To succeed at your goal, you cannot rely on motivation alone, for motivation is a flame that burns out faster than a roman candle drenched in gasoline.
How do you predict, with 100% accuracy, what you will accomplish 52 weeks from now? You can’t. But you can get pretty close, especially if your goals are:
We’ll start with setting a consistent goal first. The other two elements will follow. Let me show you how:
If you want to write a novel, or two, or five this year… you must become a consistent writer. You must write toward a specific goal on a consistent basis. Doing this trains your mind, your muse, your inspiration—or whatever you want to call it—to show up at your command.
Don’t let your emotions dictate when you write. All great writers are consistent writers, even if they don’t write every day. They get ready to write at the same time, in the same way, each time. It becomes a habit, a routine, and instead of sapping their creativity, this routine gives them power over it.
You must have a consistent plan to write, even if some days that plan gets cornered in a seedy bar and riddled with bullets and thrown into the bay wearing a fresh pair of concrete boots. Bad days happen. Your goal is not to be perfect—it’s to take responsibility. This is your writing destiny, after all. Nobody else can go there for you.
It doesn’t matter if you plan to write every day, or if you plan to write one chapter a week, or whatever. You must set a consistent, recurring goal to empower your writing habit.
As of 2023, my writing schedule looks something like this:
Plan based on your own abilities. Not what you think you should be able to do. Not what you did one time, 6 months ago. Not what other authors are doing (trust me, that way lies madness). Be realistic and be humble. How much can you write per week, for 52 weeks in a row?
If you don’t know, start small, and delight in your recurring success. Grow your goal slowly over time. Years ago, I started by writing micro stories, some that were as short as 250 words. Now, I write thousands. It took years to get to this point.
Write it down. Then, answer these questions:
Specify how much or how long you plan to write on your writing days. I prefer to use word count goals, but you can use hours or chapters written as your goals. Whatever works best for you.
This is the step most new writers skip, but I think it makes a huge impact. Monthly milestones 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 making real progress versus just writing as many words as possible.
Basically, I ask myself, “How far will I get by the end of each month?”
… and so on …
At first, it will feel like you’re simply guessing, but as you cross off a few milestones, you’ll have a better understand of how much progress you’re able to make in a month. You can always change your milestones, even halfway through the year. The writing police are not going to break down your door and confiscate your author license.
Want to see my monthly writing benchmarks for 2023?
Jan: Finish second and third draft of Pacifist, Book 1
Feb: 60% with first draft for the final book in my Human Gods series
Mar: Finish first and maybe second draft of Human Gods, Book 4
Apr: Finish final draft of Human Gods, Book 2
May: Publish HG, Book 2. Start final draft of HG, Book 3
Jun: Finish HG, Book 3
Jul: Publish HG, Book 3. Start final draft of HG, Book 4
Aug: Finish HG, Book 4
Sep: Publish HG, Book 4
After this quarter, the milestones become a little less clear, given that I don’t know yet how successful Pacifist will be, and I’m not sure if I’ll put more effort into it as a series, or work on another idea.
Now updated: see my 2023 author goals here.
Write at least one for each month in 2023. Don’t be afraid to guess. 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.
By now, you should have 3 specific goals clearly outlined:
"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
A few years ago, I set a goal to write 21 hours a week. At the time, I was writing maybe a few hundred words a week (over 4-5 hours). I didn’t realize how unrealistic this goal was. I started off strong, but by August, I was so far behind I gave up. One bad day turned into a bad week into another … until I woke up and realized I hadn’t written anything in a month.
Unrealistic goals will kill your drive. Over ambition will crush your spirit, especially if you keep telling yourself, “I should be able to do this!”
With a lot of brutal honesty and help from family, I realized i had to start fresh, from zero. It was an uncomfortable, even humiliating process—and I would do it again in a heartbeat. When I started anew with 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 felt so damn proud of my writing again. Paradoxically, the easier goal helped me write more, because I felt like I was good at it.
Now? I’m writing tens of thousands of words per week—all because I took a huge step backward, and increased my goals a fraction at a time.
If you feel the pressure building… If it feels like an insurmountable, oceanic wall of death is bearing down on you … Stop. Breathe. Let failure wash over you. It’s not so bad. Then, start over, and start smaller. Your sanity will thank you. And once you win a few days or weeks in a row, increase your goals a little bit.
Be patient. Show up on a consistent basis. And you will grow into the author you always dreamed of becoming.
Good luck, dear writer. You are going to write great things.
- P. S. Hoffman