It's easy to set lofty writing goals.
The hard part...
The true test of a master writer...
...is accomplishing your goals.
Good thing you came to the right place. Here, I'm going to show you how to become a more productive writer. By the time you finish this guide, you will own a new set of writing goals that are both realistic and ambitious.
Why waste time? Let's start:
Why You MUST Set Writing Goals This Year
Without writing goals, you will not become a better writer.
I am not exaggerating.
Even life-long writers need to set goals, or they risk getting stuck in a rut.
Goals give you purpose. Nobody ever wrote anything worth reading until they set their intention to write something worth reading.
Good goals also make you happy. This is something even the renowned scientist, Albert Einstein believed:
“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, you get to feel that little cloudburst of glory.
Set a Goal to Improve Your Chance of Success.
There are plenty of studies that prove when you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them. Get something to write with, because we're going to do that right now.
The 4 Goals All Writers Need
The right goals can shape your writing future.
The right goals, at the very least, are guaranteed to make you a better writer.
It all starts with a plan.
Goal 1. Create Your 3-Year Vision
First, you must answer one crucial question:
Why do you write?
Maybe the more tangible way to present it to you like this...
In about five billion years, the Sun will experience the start of its heat death. Assuming Earth is still around, our planet will become irrevocably frozen.
You and I will die before that happens. Relatively speaking, you and I do not have a very long time to live.
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 of you... but realistic enough to accomplish in 3 years.
Why 3 Years?
Three years is close enough to grant you focus and connection to a real goal... yet far enough to yield room for ambition.
Anything shorter is too small, too narrow. Anything longer is too airy and will net you zero accountability.
Here are some ideas for your Grand Vision:
- In 3 years, I will get paid a salary to write
- In 3 years, I will finally be a published author
- I will become a self-publishing expert and make $30,000 in book sales
- I will finish that glorious, epic Saga I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid
You want to 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 become a traditionally published author and make a part-time salary from my writing.
What’s your three-year vision? Write it down.
Goal 2. Plan Your 1-Year Mission
It’s time to focus on 2020.
We’re going to take it by the horns. We will turn its grisly head, and force it to run where you want it to run.
A one-year goal gives you the power to say, “Here’s what I will absolutely accomplish this year.”
Your one-year mission must be something you alone have control over. It can be as small as...
- "I will finish the first draft of my first novel.”
Or as large as...
- "I will outline, write, edit, and self-publish four books in the next 12 months."
Here is my 1-year writing mission for 2020:
- Final drafts of 2.5 books (one is halfway done)
- Self-publish one book
- Update this blog on a regular schedule
- Read 76 books. More on that in a future post.
What’s yours? Put it on a piece of paper in BOLD, CAPITAL LETTERS, and hang it on your wall.
Goal 3. Set 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: complete act 3 of book 1
- Feb: revise act 1
- Mar: revise act 2
- Apr: revise act 3
- Jun: polish and complete final draft of book 1
- Jul: Submit to at least 25 publishers. Begin book 2
- Aug: Finish first draft of book 2 (it’s a much shorter book)
- Sep: Finish revising draft of book 2
- Oct: Plot, outline, and start on book 3
- Nov: Write first draft of book 3 (NaNoWriMo certainly helps me push)
- Dec: begin the revision process of book 3
Goal 4. How to Turn Your Writing Goals into HABITS
Daily writing goals do not work for me.
Last year, I started with a 20-day writing streak. But one day, my day job was weighing too heavily on my mind. I was spent. No energy for writing.
This happened again and again. I would build up a streak... have one bad day... and feel like a huge failure.
This used to demoralize the hell out of me. I enjoyed writing daily, but I couldn’t keep the chain unbroken.
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
Set a goal to write at least once every 48 hours. Every time you write, 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 10 hours a week
- Write for 2 hours every 2 days
- Read 10 hours a week
Write down your goals.
Pros & Cons: The 3 Kinds of Writing Goals
Word counts vs. page counts vs. time spent writing.
Each of these is a single unit that will measure your overall writing progress. Let's cover the pros and cons in detail:
Word Count Goals
- It 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.
- Can't measure the revision process
Word count goals are perfect for new writers, and writers working on epic-length pieces.
But to quote Hemingway: "The only kind of writing is rewriting." Most of my writing these days is rewriting, so I only set word count goals when I’m running writing sprints.
Page Count Goals
- It creates writing momentum.
- Works for writing ... and rewriting.
- Inconsistent. Some days, rewriting one page can take hours. Some days, you crash through 10 pages in 30 minutes.
If you move through pages at a consistent rate, or you're not afraid to spend a relatively unknown amount of time writing, page counts may be the perfect type of goal for you.
Timed Writing Goals (My Preference)
- It creates writing momentum.
- Promotes consistency.
- Works for writing and rewriting.
- Requires more discipline. If you have poor focus... if you can't resist the siren song of the internet... you may develop a bad habit of running out the clock.
Time-based goals are the most versatile and my preferred way to set goals, but there is one thing to watch out for…
Distractions will slaughter your productivity.
Your writing time must be sacred. If you have problems staying focused, this book will save you: Deep Work by Cal Newport.
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.
What weekly writing goal will you choose? Why? Write it down.
How to Achieve Your Writing Goals
By now, you should have 4 separate levels of goals clearly outlined:
- a 3-year vision
- a 1-year mission
- 12 monthly goals
- And a weekly (or daily, if you can manage it) writing goal
But a goal alone will not make you productive. 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."
I want to tell you a personal story about how my writing system failed last year...
What Happens When You Fail Your Writing Goals?
Last year, 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 week, and eventually, I stopped writing.
You can actually see in my blog schedule where the writing stopped.
Too much ambition will kill your drive. It will crush your spirit. The problem is: how do you know when you’re being too ambitious?
In many cases, you can’t tell. So here’s what I did in November
I took a step back. I ripped my goal charts off the walls and started fresh. This took a lot of brutal honesty. It was an uncomfortable, almost humiliating process.
I would do it again in a heartbeat... Setting reasonable, easy goals lifted the weight from my shoulders. I could breathe. And every day I hit that easy goal, I became lighter - until I felt good about my writing again.
I owe a huge amount of this relief to Atomic Habits by James Clear:
Atomic Habits showed me how to set SMALL goals that yield large results. This has been crucial to my writing (and my mental health) over the last two months. I highly recommend this book.
If you notice the pressure building… and your goals begin to feel like an insurmountable, terrifying cliff … do not be afraid to walk around the mountain.
Stop. Breathe. Let the failure ride. Start over, and start smaller. Your sanity will thank you.
When you set your writing goals in stone - from your grand vision all the way down to your bite-sized writing habits - you drastically increase your chances of achieving them.
But stating a goal is only the first step. Follow this system. Build room into your life, so you have the time and the incentive to hit your goals.
Track your progress, and you will become a more disciplined, and happy writer.
Good luck, dear writer. You will do great.
More Resources to Inspire Your Goal Setting:
My favorite video on 2020 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.
Thanks for reading! Was this helpful? Tell me about it in the comments below.