How to Set Writing Goals for 2023 and Beyond
Learn how to set specific goals to help achieve success with your writing ambitions.
As 2022 draws to a close, you might be taking stock of what you accomplished in the last year and looking forward to the next. Writing a book takes time and effort and setting out some clear goals at least once a year should be part of your writing process. With clear milestones identified, you may find it easier to cross the finish line and have a completed book.
The Benefit of Setting Goals
Studies have found that those that set a goal, write it down and monitor them are 10 times more likely to achieve those goals than those that didn’t document any.
Goals help you by identifying and defining what it is you want to create. Once you have the scope of what it is you want to write, it is easier to first build a plan and then execute on it. Yes, you can go on a road trip by hopping in your car and driving in any direction. This may be an exciting way to see the country, but if you eventually want to arrive in California, at some point, you might need to check some directions. Otherwise, you might drive down dead ends wasting time and effort and gas (or energy) or worse, never get there at all.
The same goes for writing a book. By taking the time to outline the steps you plan to take to complete your novel, you may find that not only do you achieve your goal, but the whole process might even be easier than you’d anticipated. The fact is, goal setting works.
10 Tips for Creating Writing Goals
#1 - Create Goals that are Realistic
Maybe you can write your epic ten book series in a year, but is that a sensible writing project? There are writers out there who could do this, and regularly write a million words a year. For most of us though, setting such a lofty goal beyond our current writing skills is a recipe for frustration and burnout, setting you up for failure. The same goes if you work a full-time job and have a goal of writing ten thousand words of your first draft every day. If you write two thousand words an hour (or 34 words a minute), that’s still an additional five hours of writing time you need to carve out of your day. That road leads quickly to burnout and can leave you without any words on the page. It’s important to learn your writing speed, so when you’re making goals, you have a realistic idea of the amount of time they’ll take to complete.
Rather than reaching for the impractical, focus on writing goals you can attain and fit into your life. Take things step by step, one day or week at a time.
#2 - Create Daily Habits
One simple way to become a better writer and make progress towards your goals is to put things on repeat until they become a habit in your writing process. Once you get into the routine of something, you may find that sticking to that task is more likely to turn into the standard rather than the exception.
Examples of daily goals are:
- Write 1,500 words every day
- Edit a chapter a day
- Write for an hour a day on your lunch break
Pro-tip. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges authors to write 1,667 words a day. By sticking to that minimum word count, at the end of thirty days, they have a 50,000 word book.
#3 - Create Small Goals
It’s important to have long-term goals for where you want your author career to go, but as Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” No one questions that writing a book is a long and arduous journey, and it can appear quite daunting at the beginning. Yet, by putting one foot in front of the other, or in an author’s perspective, by writing one word after another, eventually blank pages turn into paragraphs, paragraphs turn into chapters and chapters turn into a completed book.
By approaching the writing process through the lens of smaller, easier to attain goals, the larger aspects of writing don’t appear as intimidating. Start by taking the long-term book writing process and chunking it into 2 or 3 smaller goals. Perhaps you want to publish a book by the end of the year. Split that goal into writing, editing and formatting. Then take each of those goals and divide them into even smaller goals. For the writing portion, tackle the beginning, the middle, and the end. Keep slicing the work into smaller goals until you have a daily or weekly schedule.
Pro-Tip: Randy Ingermanson created The Snowflake Method to Writing A Book based on this very principle. Starting with a one-sentence summary of your novel, this writing method uses small increments to plot, then write a book.
#4 - Create Goals that are Measurable
While the statement “I want to write an epic sci-fi fantasy” is measurable in the long run, as discussed above, setting smaller, more achievable goals first is more likely to get you to the larger goals. Try setting a goal or set of goals you can identify the moment you achieve it. For example, “I want to write the opening chapter of my epic sci-fi fantasy novel.”
By choosing measurable goals that are clearly quantifiable, you will be able to easily recognize that you have achieved them, and celebrate that success. When you can identify an accomplished goal, there is a high or rush of motivation that follows as you check each one off the list, which may inspire you to keep writing.
Goals with numeric value, like writing one thousand words or one chapter, are easier to track when you check in on your accomplishments. Place these smaller, more feasible goals within a certain time frame to help you better assess if you are indeed accomplishing the goals you set out.
In the example above, with chapter one complete, you’ll have a better understanding of the time and effort it took to achieve the feat. This gives you data to use to determine what your next goals might be. Can you write a chapter a week? If so, by the end of the year, you will have written 50 chapters (everyone needs a vacation now and again) and may have a complete manuscript.
#5 - Create A Way to Track Progress
We all know that we can get in the flow of writing and the rest of the world falls away. As the words pile up and the chapters or scenes rush by, make sure to take some time to document and assess your progress. By knowing where you are with your goals, you have a sense of accomplishment and an idea of how far you are to finishing the book or what you might need to adjust to get there.
An easy way to track goals is to get a calendar which gives you a visual reference for what your expected accomplishments are, and when you plan to have them completed. Write your goals down alongside the appropriate day and then at the end of each day 1) write the achievement down (i.e., number or words written) and 2) mark of the goal as accomplished. While a paper calendar is an excellent vision board, a digital version allows you the option to adjust tasks as needed.
Consider creating a template or worksheet with fields for different types of writing work (drafting, editing, plotting, marketing, etc.), where you can set specific goals for each of defined time periods, such as weekly or monthly.
#6 - Create Accountability
Share your goals with someone else, such as a writing partner, coach, family member or a writing group By putting your goals into the world, you are taking ownership of your writing. These colleagues or friends can give you a good-natured prod if you’re slacking and falling behind on your targets, and in turn, you can do the same for them.
#7 - Create a Review Process
Reviewing your goals at regular intervals is an important step in the journey of a thousand miles. Set a date, and stop and assess your progress at that chosen time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’ve fallen behind your intended targets. Were your goals too easy, or too ambitious? Are the words coming more slowly than anticipated so daily word count goals need to be adjusted?
Did you achieve what you wanted? If so, what worked and is worth repeating? If not, what were the obstacles that stood in your way?
If you find you are constantly falling behind on your word count, these check-ins, along with the documentation from above, will show you where and why. Perhaps your original goal was unrealistic. This is the time to adjust, perhaps dropping to 1000 words a day instead of 1500.
On the other hand, if you are exceeding your goals—celebrate! But don’t stop. Is there an opportunity to up your goals, perhaps increasing your word count to 2000 from 1500? Make sure to modify your goals and continue tracking. If at the next review, you find you are behind again, you now know that 1500 words is your sweet spot.
#8 - Create a Reward System
As part of your goal setting process, remember to include something to motivate you, both when you have accomplished a goal and when you are in need of some inspiration to hit that next goal. Rewards should be linked to the measurable elements of your goals.
They can be as little as a cup of your favorite beverage in the five-minute break after a twenty-five minute writing sprint, to something larger, like buying yourself something nice with every twenty thousand words.
In moments of doubt, you’ll be able to look at that built in reward system and use the gifts to yourself as incentive to keep going. This is why they should be set out in advance, as part of your goal setting process. Try increasing the value of the rewards with every milestone achieved. Rewards don’t have to cost you anything. “I wrote 2,000 words, I can now play Xbox for the rest of the evening,” is a totally valid reward. If you hit your daily work quota, it’s now ok to go shopping on Amazon, listen to a podcast, or check your social media, guilt-free.
#9 - Create a Safe Space
Build leeway in your timelines with your goals to allow for bumps in the road. Part of keeping writing objectives realistic is the knowledge that you are not a machine and life will happen.
Give yourself space, both physically and mentally, to take a break if you’re having a bad day. Treat this time as a cooling-off period for your mind and body. Most likely you will find that by instituting these breaks into your writing schedule, you will return to your daily writing habits renewed and ready to write. Creative burnout happens, and in the long run, you’re better off taking a break to recharge your creative batteries than try to press on if you’re feeling bad about the writing.
#10 - Create Goals Specific to You
Writing a book is a personal experience. Everyone has their own process and what works for one person might not work for another. If you like to write in the morning, don’t sign up to work with a group doing writing sprints in the evenings. If you are a plotter, add that goal to your list of goals to achieve.
Set different types of goals based on the needs of the project. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, a goal might be to spend five hours a week on research, or attend a webinar related to the subject you’re writing about. Authors sharpening their craft may set aside time for writing practice on something unrelated to the main goal. For example, if you struggle with dialogue, a goal could be to spend one day a week specifically working on addressing that.
Tap into your passion, your reason for writing, and use that to help motivate you in those moments when you don’t feel like putting words on a page. Remember, as Jodi Picoult famously said. “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.”
In business, SMART goals are a framework used to keep employees accountable. This principle can be applied to any goal setting process and incorporates the ideas above in an easy to remember way.
S= Specific: Is the objective crystal clear?
M= Measurable: Can I identify when it has been accomplished?
A= Attainable Goal: Is there a way to achieve the goal?
R= Realistic Goal: Is the goal sensible?
T= Time-bound: Does the goal have a deadline or end date?
Sample SMART Writing Goals
Write the first draft of my book (target: 80k words) in four months (20k words / month, 1k words per day, 2 days per week off).
If querying, either sell the book, or get 25 rejection letters in 2023. Send out at least two queries every week.
Write a short story every week for a month. (1k-4k words each)
Review and give feedback on five books for my writer’s group before our next meeting.
Edit a chapter a day
Staying on Track
All Goals are not Created Equally
Everyone’s standards of productivity are personal and will change with time and experience. A daunting goal today may become an easy goal in a few months. By documenting your writing goals and completing periodic reviews, you’ll not only make progress towards your ultimate goal, you’ll learn what does and doesn’t work for you. New writing habits may emerge and soon you may find yourself with a completed manuscript on your hands and the urge to get started on the next book.