Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Writer's Mind: Setting Goals

This is a new series on the writing life and my own writing process. Take it as food for thought; what works for me might not work for you. As always, I'd love to hear your suggestions for new articles, your questions, and your thoughts!

Over the summer, I wrote a short series on writing a novel. This series will be a little bit different and will focus more on the how parts of writing, as well as aspects of the "writing life".

Why Set Goals?

I have a confession: I was one of those obnoxious people in high school who could do well in most subjects without trying very hard. (Math was the bane of my existence, and I seemed unable to go a semester in Honor's Chemistry without failing a test and/or a lab, but I skated by, otherwise). 

As a result, I didn't have to plan very much. Five page research paper? Give me one or two weeks to think it over and write. Literature test tomorrow? Let me skim through the notes the night (or class period) before. 

Goals and planning go hand-in-hand. I never really planned much, so I never set goals. Most projects had checkpoint deadlines set by teachers. If we had a paper, we would have a date our research note cards were due, a date our outline was due, a date for the rough draft, and a date for the final paper.

Then I entered my senior year and did an independent study in AP Biology. That was really my first experience having to set goals for myself. How many chapters would I read a week? How would I quiz myself? How would I ever do well enough on the test to earn the college credit I needed?

So, I started to set goals for myself. One chapter a week. Quiz yourself with the end of chapter quizzes. Get a four on the test. 

It worked out in the end, I went to college, and found...

Goals were really useful. I was less stressed, more organized, and could measure my progress. 

The goals changed: complete your online homework the day before it's due. Study one day a week with friends. Take one afternoon off for sanity's sake. 

Of course, some goals were better/more achievable/more practical than others. 

What Makes a Good Goal?

In my opinion, a goal is good if:
  • It's (realistically) achievable. If you keep setting goals for yourself that you'll never reach, you probably won't be setting goals for too long. If you're unsure if you can achieve a goal, ask a friend, parent, or mentor if they think you can do it and ask them why or why not. If you want to save 5,000 dollars for a trip to Hawaii in six months, but you don't have a job, they'll probably tell you "no" because you don't have a job. That's sound logic. If you tell them you want to run a mile a week over the summer and they tell you "no" because you've never run before, that doesn't make sense. 
  • It has multiple levels. Good goals answer two questions: "What?" and "How?". The best ones also answer "Why?". For one of my writing resolutions, I said I wanted to edit Fractures, my NaNo novel. The "why" is because I'd like to publish it one day. The "what" is to edit it. The "how" is by writing 5,000 words a week, then letting it rest a month, then going through my editing process (more on that at a later date). I can further break down the "how" of writing 5,000 words a week by setting up a daily writing time, not allowing myself to browse my Facebook feed until I've written, and setting up a small reward for myself if I meet my weekly goal. 
  • It takes into account the rest of your life. This goes back to it being realistically achievable. If you work a 40 hour a week job, a family, and your goal is to write five hours a day, you might need to re-think your goal. Could you realistically write 5 hours a day? Yes, but not without sacrificing your job or family time. You'll have to prioritize your goals. 
  • It's something you want to accomplish. This might go without saying, but I find myself frequently making goals that I don't care about all that much. Make sure you're committed to accomplishing a goal before you make it "official". 
For more on goal setting, click here. 

Any goals you'd like to share for the upcoming year? Does anyone else struggle to set goals? 


  1. I have no problem setting goals, but achieving them is another matter :)

    I'd like to finish editing "Zoe+Death, BFFs" as well as my fantasy and write the rough draft of another novel. I'm pretty sure I can make it because of my gap year. Your writing goals sound pretty good, and I'm sure you'll do well!

    1. That sounds like a lot of fun writing and (not quite so fun) editing. Best of luck and thanks for the encouragement!

  2. :P I never used to set goals for myself when I was younger, but when I started setting goals for my writing especially, I found that I got a lot more done. That's why I blog on specific days--because without the goal of blogging consistently, I might forget to blog entirely. So yeah, goals are very important to me, but I do have a tendency to set very high goals. It helps me to push myself harder than I would have liked to, but it also means that I don't always make those goals, which can be somewhat discouraging. So I do try to temper my goals a little so they seem just a little out of reach. :P Thanks for sharing!

    1. I think one of the hardest things about goal setting is to find a goal that will push me, but that also won't be unattainable. I find that I'm actually more likely to miss the "easier" goals because I don't have the incentive to really try to make them and I think it will be easy to make them. On the other hand, sometimes I make really lofty goals and actually achieve them, just to prove my doubtful self wrong. Thanks for the comment!


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