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The Writing Life: Writing Goals

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Marking the change of one year to the next often spurs us to reflect on the recent past and consider how we might change our lives for the better. For writers, this reflection inevitably includes looking at what we have accomplished in our writing life over the past year. For some, this means adding up their published projects. For others, it’s adding up a word count on a work in progress. In 2018, will you finish a book started years ago, learn to write a sonnet, land a set number of freelance magazine articles by a certain date, go for all of the above? Whatever our goals, January is a good time to organize and map out an approach to reaching them.

While there will always be the writer who meanders without worry through what moves them, the majority of us benefit from setting writing goals. Goals can be as big as starting and completing a novel or three by year’s end or as small as committing to writing one hundred words a day for five days every week for a month. The most important component of goal setting is that the goal be something you are in control of accomplishing. For example, completing a book or learning to write a creative non-fiction essay is in our individual control. Landing an agent or publisher is not. However, setting a goal in our control, such as sending out queries to three new agents every six weeks might get us there.

Accountability and deconstruction are the foundations of goal setting.

  • State your goals out loud to yourself.
  • Physically post your goals in writing somewhere you can see them every day. My major goals are on a master list in my office and the sticky notes detailing each smaller goal to reach them are on my laptop and the refrigerator door.
  • Commit to production by setting deadlines for yourself, submitting to your writer’s group for critique, or jotting down your progress on your master list on set dates.
  • Break large goals into smaller ones that make sense to you. For example, if your goal is to write a short story for publication, you might pencil in one writing period to idea generation, four or five to drafting, one to market research, two to re-writing, and one to submission. This, of course, depends on your process—you’ll need more periods devoted to each step if your writing time is in fifteen minutes versus an hour versus four hours, in which case you might accomplish two or three steps in a single session. If you’re writing a novel, your smaller goals might be a daily or weekly word count or a chapter a week.
  • Cross out each small goal you reach on your own version of a “sticky note.” Once you have accomplished a major goal, cross it out on your master list and set the next with a deadline, make an action plan of smaller goals with deadlines, execute, and repeat. For support, join a writer’s group or enlist your family to kick your butt or, after you’ve accomplished a goal, cheer you on.

Some tools or sites you might find useful are:

Word Trackers:

Scrivener: Trial copy or purchase: http://literatureandlatte.com/scrivener/overview

How to use Scrivener from one of FWA’s own: https://www.amazon.com/Unofficial-Scrivener-Workbook-M-Carlson/dp/1530582725/

Florida Writers Association:  find an FWA writing group where you live https://floridawriters.net/membership/writers-groups/

Florida Writers Association Network: an online writers forum with open discussion posts for FWA members only http://fwanetwork.ning.com

Please share your thoughts or what works for you! Join me on the first Friday of each month for exploration, discovery, and discussion of the writing life.

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Elle Andrews Patt's speculative and literary short fiction has appeared in markets such as The Rag, Saw Palm, and DarkFuse, among others. She has earned RPLA awards for her published short fiction, a published novella, Manteo, and an unpublished mystery novel. Her short story, "Prelude To A Murder Conviction" won an Honorable Mention from Writers Of The Future. She'd love to hear from you! Website

6 Responses

  1. Skip

    Very helpful information especially the references to additional help programs. I’m not a strong believer in detailed goals, but your approach is logical and I believe will help any writer striving to work to the best of their ability.
    Thanks and a Happy New Year

  2. Elle Andrews Patt

    Thanks for the feedback, Skip! Happy New Year 🙂

  3. Ken Pelham

    Elle, thanks for the sticky-note! I’ve been meaning to map out the literary year for myself, and now I think I must get it down this weekend.

  4. Wayne Haroutunian

    Great tips!

    Thank you very much for sharing.