If you struggle with setting and keeping your goals, you're definitely not alone. Goal setting is the bane of many writers' existence. But fear not, because I've come bearing my three step process to keep you on track.
First, let's identify the #1 goal every writer should have.
It's to finish the darn book.
That's it. That is the only goal most of you should focus on.
A quick Google search will show you that an estimated 75-95% (depending on who you talk to) of writers who start a book never finish it. They get part way, hit that sloggy middle, and never continue. The mass majority of people don't do it.
Couple that with the fact that many authorities in book marketing (including myself) and famous writers say the best thing you can do to grow your career is to write the next book. This is even more important when you realize that most successful authors have many books under their names, as well as processes to churn out lots of books in little time.
Is this just mastery or some secret caffeinated superpower juice? No, as it turns out, it's a dedication to creating acheivable goals to give you next-level success.
So even if you've already written a book, your most important goal should be to finish the next book. And the next, and the next.
Luckily, in this article, I'll show you exactly what those tactics and steps are with research and statistics that will prove these steps will help you to achieve your goals.
- Determining Your Writing Goals
- Avoiding Burnout by Setting Realistic Goals
- Creating Accountability
- Finding Your “Why”
- Daily Writing Goals
- Large, Project-Based Goals
Table of contents
Step 1: Determine Your Specific Project-Based Goals
If you are (or are aspiring to be) a professional writer, you'll have to wear a lot of hats over the course of your career. From writing to marketing to managing your finances, there's no shortage of factors to consider. But we want to get you to finish your manuscript.
Even under the heading of “writing goals,” there are several things to consider. In order for this big goal to be of any use, you'll want to do two things: get specific and break it down.
- Get Specific: Finishing the book is an essential goal, but without specifics, it won't be of any use. So it's imperative to figure out when you want to be finished with the book. In this instance, “finished” should mean completely written, edited, proofed, and ready for public consumption.
- Break it Down: Once you have a big goal set, you can reverse engineer it to determine how much you'll need to write on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis.
So now that we know what to do, let's talk about how to do it.
Getting Specific and Breaking it Down
You will want to break down your goals into smaller pieces as discussed above. When breaking down your goals, you're going to want to know the following:
- The estimated word count of your book
- A specific deadline date
- How many days of the week that you plan to write
From that you can calculate how many words you need to accomplish that day in order to finish. So let's look at an example:
Let's say your estimated word count for your books is 60,000 words, your deadline is in 12 weeks, and you plan on writing only on weekdays. Here's what that would look like:
- Estimated word count: 60,000
- Deadline: 12 weeks
- Writing days per week: 5
With that, you can calculate the word count you need to hit each writing day by dividing the word count by the number of weeks, and again by the number of writing days: 60,000 / 12 / 5 = 1000 words per day.
Now all that can get a little cumbersome, so if you want you could use a program like Atticus which does it for you. All you have to do is input your data and it will automatically calculate your daily requirement and adjust as write. See here:
Step 2: Create Accountability
Effective writing goals are all about staying accountable. There's not an author out there that hasn't experienced a lull in the writing process or felt like they just couldn't get their word count in, for whatever reason. This is normal.
But even if you don't believe in writer's block or you're confident in your writing action plan, it's important to create accountability. There are a few ways to do this.
Write Your Goal Down
Research suggests that you are 42% more likely to follow through with your goals when you write them down, and 76% more likely when you write action commitments and share weekly progress reports. Sharing with others is important. Additionally, if you want to achieve anything, I highly recommend putting your written accountability statement in a place where you will see it every day.
That extra reminder will work wonders in keeping you accountable.
Chances are you know another writer with similar personal goals. Whether you see this person on a regular basis or they live on the other side of the globe doesn't matter. You can still team up, share your long- and short-term writing goals with each other, and agree to keep one another accountable.
Sometimes the encouragement of a fellow author is not enough to keep your writing habit going. If you find that this is the case for you, try a monetary incentive. There are two main ways to do this:
- Make a “bet” with your accountability partner. Agree to pay them X amount of dollars if you don't meet your writing goal for the week or month.
- Pick an organization that stands for something you vehemently disagree with and vow to donate X amount of dollars to it if you don't meet your goals. You'll need to involve someone else in this — even going so far as to give them the money to hold in advance — because it's easy to just not pay up, especially if you feel strongly about the organization.
Join a Workshop
You can also join an online writer's workshop. There are plenty of these to choose from, or you can even start your own. Having a group of fellow authors you talk to regularly can help keep you on track and writing daily.
Step 3: Reward Yourself
I love seeing authors post a shot of “The End” on their computer while they toast with a glass of wine or scotch.
You need to celebrate when you accomplish your goals!
This is especially true if your goal is what I recommend: finishing your WIP. When you can do that, you've accomplished a lot and it's time to recognize that!
Plus, there are TONS of scientific data that shows that rewarding yourself makes you more likely to continue that behavior. In other words, if you want to write more books, you need to reward yourself each time you finish one.
So open that bottle that you've been saving for a special occasion (please drink responsibly), dress up and go out for a night, or stay in an let yourself binge Netflix for a day.
You finished a book. You deserve it.
1. Avoid Burnout — Set Realistic Writing Goals
Take a hard look at your schedule and your writing abilities and set an attainable goal. If you don't think you'll be able to write every day, take that into account. Many writers need a day or two off from writing per week to replenish their creative juices.
Depending on how busy you are and how much you're willing to sacrifice to write your book, the example above of 90,000 words in six months may not be realistic for you. Conversely, if you're a faster writer, this goal may be too easy.
Overly ambitious goals can sap your motivation and cause burnout. And if there's one thing that can kill a book in its tracks, it's a lack of motivation.
2. Finding Your “Why”
Finding your “why” is all about keeping motivated. Whether you want to write a book to prove to yourself that you can, you want to quit your day job and create full time, or you're after accolades and awards and movie deals, your “why” is important.
Regularly reminding yourself of why you're writing your book is a big part of returning to the keyboard every day for months at a time. So identify your writing dreams and keep them in mind to stay motivated.
3. Daily Writing Goals
We discussed daily writing habits in another post, but they're important enough to mention here. Without a daily goal to solidify your writing practice, it will be hard to create a solid foundation for your writing career.
Writing five to seven days per week is what you should shoot for, as this will turn writing into a habit, make you a stronger writer, and allow you to write faster (eventually). Even if you're only sitting down to write 300 words per daily writing session, it's better than trying to cram all that writing into two or three days a week.
The writing life can be a bit dull and lonely on occasion. But gamification of your writing project can be a great way to keep you motivated and on track. It can also help you overcome procrastination, which is a common affliction affecting writers everywhere.
By turning your writing into a game, you make it more engaging, interesting, and fun. And if you're having trouble getting or staying on track and meeting your smaller goals, this could be the ticket. Here are just a few fun gamification tools you can use:
- Atticus – Use this writing tool to not only track your writing habits each day, but to see your overall progress towards your goals.
- Write or Die – Choose from three modes: Consequence, reward, or stimulus. Each mode has different ways to keep you writing. Try them all out to see which one works best for you.
- Habitica – This tool turns writing into a role-playing game. You defeat dragons and unlock new levels as you meet your goals. If you fall behind, your health suffers.
- Written? Kitten – Love pictures of cuddly little kittens? This tool rewards you with adorable felines when you hit a certain word count. Adjust the word count from 100 up to 500 or 1000 words per kitten!
Using Atticus for Goal Tracking
All of the tips I've given so far require some extensive tracking to do. If you're a wiz with spreadsheets, you can maybe do it there. But it can be difficult and not worth all the effort it would take to import your word counts every. Single. Day.
Furthermore, a goal tracking software isn't always what authors want, and can be just as clumsy to use. Plus who wants yet another software for authors.
But thankfully, there is a writing tool that comes with all those writing goals built in so you don't need any additional software. That tool is Atticus.
Atticus is primarily a word processor and formatting tool, but it's built with writing habits in mind. To unlock these tools, go to the upper right corner and click on the button that says “More Tools”.
Next, you can input the book goal, aka the overall word count goal for your book, the due date you need it by, and the number of days you expect to write each week. For your writing habit goal, you can input how many words you want to write per day, and which days you intend to write.
Once that's all done, the program will do the tracking for you. As you write in Atticus, those numbers will adjust accordingly so you know exactly how far you are away from your book and daily writing goals. It's super simple!
If you want to know more about Atticus, check out this full overview article. Its a tool that will save you tons of time and money when writing and formatting your book. And it's over $100 cheaper than the leading alternative.
Measurable goals are essential for building the life you want. Long- and short-term goals are equally important for any writing career. And while setting goals is easier than sticking to them, you have plenty of options to keep you meeting your writing goals. Set up a system of accountability, mark your progress, and turn writing into a game. These factors can keep you motivated.
The good news is a daily writing goal, when met consistently, becomes a habit. It gets easier to sit down and write. You increase your word count. You get better and faster. You release more books. You grow your audience. You become a full-time author!
So set goals and stick to them. Each goal is a step toward the mountaintop where you can bask in the glory of accomplishment. From there, you can enjoy the view while you work on your next book! 😉