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Do you set goals for your writing? How’s that working out for you?
Here’s what I’ve learned:
If my goals are vague, results are vague (or I never reach them). Clear goals = clear results. Simple as that.
Maybe you know a little about setting objectives and goals. You might have heard of SMART.
Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Specific means the goal is clear. You know exactly what it is, and you can get to work on it right away.
If you have a goal to “write more,” for example, that could mean almost anything. It’s broad, fuzzy, and open to interpretation. And it invites failure.
But an objective like “write at least 1000 words each day” is specific. Still more specific is “write at least 1000 words each day that are related to my blog” (blog posts, newsletters, landing pages, or guest blog posts, for example).
If you don’t set specific goals, you’re unlikely to reach them.
Measurable means you know when the goal is completed or how much of it remains to be done.
If, after a few weeks of trying to write 1000 words every day, you find you’re writing an average of only 500 words, you’ll need to put in more effort, schedule more time, or re-evaluate.
If you’re hitting the number, pat yourself on the back. But if those words aren’t related to your blog—another measurement tool—you’re off course.
If you can’t measure a goal, you won’t know when it’s completed or how much you have left to do.
Attainable means the goal is possible and you can do it.
You might come to the conclusion that 1000 words per day is just too much. Maybe you have a full-time job and three kids and very little free time.
A more attainable goal might be 750 or 500 words per day. Or you might need to rearrange your schedule, divvy up household chores differently, or put a “Do not disturb” sign on your work space door.
All things considered, there’s no point setting a goal that you can’t achieve without undue stress.
Relevant means the goal is important, worthwhile, and related to your larger vision.
Let’s say your vision or main goal is to create a website that serves as a money-making storefront for your artwork or crafts. You’ve heard that writing a blog post every day is the way to make your online business successful. You also figure 1000 words is an ideal post length.
You write and you write, but you sell very little, and you’re exhausted. You finally realize that writing long blog posts every day isn’t relevant to your success after all; therefore, the goal isn’t relevant.
So you choose, instead, a more relevant goal: a bi-weekly 500-word blog post and a monthly newsletter which amounts to a total of about 2000 words. With this in mind, you schedule a few hours for brainstorming and writing each day with specific, measurable goals for completion.
Time-bound means the goal must be reached within a certain time or by a certain date.
Goals like “write 1000 words each day” are ongoing and, except for the “each day” part, aren’t really time-bound. That’s because they’re about establishing a habit.
You can more clearly define a goal like this one by putting a time limit on it: “establish a daily habit by March 30, 2014 of writing at least 1000 words that are related to my blog.”
You might also decide on a date to re-evaluate the goal—is it specific enough? Measurable? Attainable? Relevant?
In this example, you’ll want to decide on a date to determine whether the goal has become a firmly entrenched habit or not. If it has, it’s a successfully completed goal (even though you continue doing it).
Let’s look at another example of creating a SMART goal.
In November, I wrote over 60,000 words which form the basic foundation for the novel I’m working on. I have my characters fleshed out. I know how the story opens and what disasters take place. I know the conflicts the characters have to work out, and I know how it ends. I even know what music plays at particular scenes in the movie version.
Yes, I dream big. Why not?
But publishing this novel—much less see it hit best-seller lists or become a movie—isn’t going to happen if I don’t finish it.
I’ve taken a few weeks off, and now I’m creating my plan of action.
Measurable goal: “Novel will be ready for publication by June 30, 2014.”
That’s a measurable goal, but I’m not likely to get anywhere with it. Why not?
The goal is too big, too vague, and too overwhelming—it’s not specific enough.
I don’t have a clear step to take or something in particular I should do to get going much less continue. Plus, I have a lot of other stuff going on that could easily make me lose sight of my priorities.
I need lists of short steps I can start and finish in reasonable periods of time. I need to create a situation in which I can feel rewarded on a regular basis for completed work.
If I break it down into SMART steps, reaching the goal will be easier.
Here are a few smaller, more specific chunks:
- Write a short-short story version
- Develop a more detailed outline
- Create a timeline
- Compare what’s already written to the outline and timeline
- Create detailed character profiles
- Research and decide on self-publish or traditional
- Evaluate progress March 1, 2014
That’s just a start, and I need to examine them more closely according to SMART guidelines, but you get the idea. The goals are more specific, and that makes them far more attainable.
Does it seem cold to put writing on a schedule like that?
Do you get the feeling that so much planning removes the joy and spontaneity from writing? I used to think that way. But I’ve learned that there’s really nothing that can take away my fun or creativity once I sit down and get to it.
Writing on a schedule or according to a plan is what makes consistently productive writing possible. If you let it go to chance or “when you feel moved,” you’ll get very little done because other stuff will “move” you.
And it’s actually just as nice to invite the Muse for tea and cakes as it is for her to appear on your shoulder.
Why not take charge of your Muse?
Do you have writing goals for 2014? If not, why not?
You might be the kind of person who can evaluate what needs to be done in your head and just get to it. Or you might have a long history of writing with goals in mind, and it’s just a habit. It works for you, and you’re happy with your progress.
Chances are good, though, that if you’re not reaching your writing goals it’s because they’re not SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Your turn: What are your writing goals for the coming year? Are you having trouble creating them? Comments are open for discussion!