5 Bad Writing Goals and How to Make Them Better

Filed in Finding & Following Your Voice by on January 1, 2018 2 Comments • views: 648

Did you set good writing goals for 2018, or did you set goals that will only discourage and delay your progress?

I talk a lot about goals in the Writing and Wellness “Start the Year off Right” bundle, which you can download for free here, but I thought it might help to look at some concrete examples of “good” and “bad” goals for writers.

It can be difficult to know when you’re setting a goal whether it will serve you well or not. You need goals to help inspire you to action, but the wrong goals can do just the opposite, so you have to be careful.

With that in mind, here are five bad goals for writers, and how you can turn them into good ones. Do any of these look familiar to you?

Bad Goal #1: Publish a bestselling novel by the end of the year.

Okay, there are so many things wrong with this goal. First, whether the book sells enough to become a bestseller is largely out of your control. Yes, you can market and get the word out to the best of your ability, but it’s still up to the book buyers to determine how many copies you’ll sell.

Second, this goal is simply too big, and around about February, you’ll start to realize that. Goals that are too lofty or that put too much pressure on you are likely to be abandoned first.

Third, this goal doesn’t identify how you’re going to publish the book. Are you going to self-publish or traditionally publish? Do you already have a publisher ready to go? If not, it’s going to be near impossible to write and publish and reach the bestseller’s list in a year’s time.

Finally, this goal inspires no immediate action. Okay, you want to write a bestseller, but what do you do now, today, to make that happen?

Better Goal #1: Write 500 words per day five days a week.

This is one way you could reword this goal to make it more actionable. If you’re already reaching a daily or weekly writing goal, then maybe you need to take a marketing class, attend two writing conferences this year where you can meet editors and agents, or commit to a weekly blog to start building your online platform.

Take your big, lofty goal and break it down, down, down until you have something reasonable and something manageable that you can start working toward today.

Bad Goal #2: Create a healthier writing routine.

Let’s face it: writing is not the healthiest of occupations. (Read more about just how dangerous it is here.) We sit for too many hours in the day. We snack on unhealthy stuff. We don’t get enough exercise. So creating a healthier writing routine is a great goal to have.

But this goal is too vague. What does it mean to create a “healthier writing routine?” Goals need to be specific.

Better Goal #2: Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day five days a week.

This gives you a much more specific goal to go for. You can make it even better by scheduling that 30 minutes in your daily routine for each of the five days. Maybe on Monday you can take a walk first thing in the morning, but on Wednesday you have to be at work early, so a lunchtime series of passes up and down the stairs or a game of racquetball after work with a colleague would be a better choice.

(Remember that exercise is important to your creativity and productivity too—read more about that in the post, “Writers and Exercise: the Rewards that Lie Beyond the Excuses.”)

If healthy eating is your goal, then be more specific. Maybe you’ll have a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast at least three mornings a week, or perhaps you can commit to making a healthy lunch for yourself on certain days. Maybe you’ll eat at least two servings of fruit each day, and ensure that every dinner comes with veggies. Choose healthier foods when eating out, or stack your cupboards with smarter snacks to munch on when writing. (Find some good options here.)

If you’re suffering from back pain, change from sitting all the time to standing part of the time, and adjust your office setup to make that easier. Get as specific as you can so you can take meaningful steps toward your goal.

Bad Goal #3: Build my email list.

Great goal—bad approach. How are you going to build that list? What specific actions are you going to take? How many subscribers are you shooting for?

Your answers to these questions will help determine a better goal. Otherwise you may continue to want to build your email list, but fail to do so because you haven’t given yourself specific actions through which you can accomplish that.

Better Goal #3: Create at least three new freebies to attract subscribers this year.

It would be even better if you give yourself deadlines: the first freebie by March, the second by July, and the third by October, for example. Then you can break it down even further by giving yourself deadlines.

  • By January 15th, I’ll have brainstormed a list of at least ten freebies I could offer my subscribers. On that day, I’ll choose my top three.
  • By February 15, I’ll have completed the draft of my first freebie and will deliver it to a beta reader for feedback.
  • By March 1, I will have received feedback and edited my freebie, after which I’ll format it and get it ready for release on March 20th.

You get the idea. Give yourself small tasks to accomplish every couple weeks, and you’ll be much more likely to reach your goal by the end of the year. Don’t forget to give it a number—how many subscribers do you want? 100? 500? 1,000? 10,000? Base your number on where you are now, so that it doesn’t seem too difficult to accomplish.

Bad Goal #4: Become a better writer.

We all want to do this, right? But it will remain out of reach if you don’t set a more specific goal for yourself.

What do you mean by “better” writer? Where is your writing lacking? Where are your weaknesses? What have you learned from critiques and from editors? It’s best to evaluate and answer these questions before setting this goal.

“We can become overwhelmed when we think of all the weak aspects of our writing,” says author and writing guru Joanna Penn. “Make it a point to focus on just one element of your writing that you are weakest in and see how you can improve that this year.”

Better Goal #4: Work on characterization this year (or setting, or plot, or pacing, or whatever you need).

Once you make a decision on what facet of your writing you want to work on, get more specific. Just how are you going to work on it? Here are some options:

  • Buy some craft books that deal specifically with this aspect of writing.
  • Work with an editor or book doctor to improve this area.
  • Apply for and attend a writing workshop that focuses on craft.
  • Ask a writing partner, beta reader, or writer’s group to focus specifically on this element when reading my writing.

Brainstorm ways to improve, then set deadlines for yourself. When will you have new writing ready for your writer’s group to review? What workshops will you apply to and when? Etc.

Bad Goal #5: Stress out less.

Many writers are feeling overworked and overwhelmed these days. (For more help with that, see Overwhelmed Writer Rescue.) With all the responsibilities on a writer’s plate, it’s way too easy to feel frazzled and out of sorts trying to keep up.

But again, this goal is too vague. We all want to stress out less, but just how are you going to reduce the stress in your life?

Better Goal #5: Attend a yoga class at least twice a week.

This is a small step forward, but small steps are the easiest to take. Keep in mind when you’re setting your goals that the smallest ones are the ones you’re most likely to accomplish, and therefore are the ones that will move you forward.

You can do many things with this goal. Maybe you can set one day a week where you don’t work on anything related to your writing or marketing—a real day off. Maybe you can commit to letting some things go in favor of your health and well-being. Maybe there are some other tasks you can delegate, or some activities you can sacrifice to relieve your schedule a bit.

You are in control of your writing life and your writing career. What’s the sense in doing it if you’re wearing yourself ragged instead of enjoying yourself? Let this goal reflect a specific action you can take toward increasing your overall wellness as a writer.

Do you have other examples of good writing goals?

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Comments (2)

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  1. Laura Mahal says:

    Colleen,
    Your articles are ever-useful! Thank you for helping to make the profession of writing more enjoyable and attainable for those of us who are “daring to dream,” as well as willing to put in the work. 🙂

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks, Laura!! Kind of you to say–and so cool that you put dreaming and working in the same sentence. Happy New Year. :O)

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