Columns > Published on January 2nd, 2019

How to Set Writing Goals for 2019 — the Right Way

It’s December 31st and the clock is about to strike midnight.

Yep, raise your hand if you’re thinking what I’m thinking. Once it’s January 1st, you’ll have to actually make New Year’s resolutions — and if you’re a writer, this will probably involve writing a book.

So if you’ve made writing a goal in the past and failed every time, you might want to try approaching it differently this year. More specifically, try setting your writing goals the S.M.A.R.T. way:

  1. Specific: is the goal specific?
  2. Measurable: can you measure the goal?
  3. Achievable: is the goal realistic?
  4. Relevant: is the goal relevant to your larger ambitions?
  5. Time-bound: do you have deadlines in place?

Let’s take a closer look at what these five steps mean for your writing dreams in the new year.

1. Identify specific writing goals

Be specific about what you want to achieve this year. Go ahead, don’t be scared. If you haven’t said the words out loud yet, start with: “I want to write a book.”

Though the word “deadline” might send a shudder of fear throughout your whole frame, it’s important to set specific ones so that you hold yourself accountable throughout the entire writing process.

Then take a deep breath and go even further. The more precise the goal, the better. For example, you might say: “I will write this book by writing X number of pages per day” or “I will write this book by outlining X percent of it by March.” Avoid stating things that sound goal-like but really amount to a bunch of vague nothings: these will give you no tailwinds and get you nowhere. When you set your writing goals this year, specificity is your key.

2. Quantify your writing goals

The Pomodoro Technique is a proven time management technique that breaks work down into 25-minute increments. It’s one of the most famous productivity tricks out there, and there’s a good reason why it works: psychologically, it sparks a sense of urgency and reminds you of the limited amount of time that you have on your hands.

In much the same way, think of your book as the entire body of work that you have to complete — and then proceed to break it down into smaller, quantifiable increments. That’s the thrust of this step of S.M.A.R.T., which is that goals should be measurable. “I’d like to write 25 pages every month” is much more encouraging than “I want to write every day,” simply because the former gives you a tangible way to evaluate your progress. However, make sure that you’re grounded about it, which takes me to my next point.

3. Don’t be wildly over-optimistic

Starting 2019 with a lot of energy is great. Telling yourself that this is the year that you can probably churn out “ten novels, two scripts, and a couple of cookbooks, easy-peasy” is not as good — precisely because it’s not very realistic.

Having a goal in mind is useless unless you can attain it in the first place. That said, every writer is different, so give yourself a hard look and decide what’s sensible for you. If you’re gauging your progress by word count, for instance, your goal might range anywhere from 500 words a day (which was Ernest Hemingway’s average daily word count) or 2,000 words a day (which is actually what Stephen King claims is his sweet spot).

Ideally, you want to set a goal that will allow you to push yourself but isn't so out of reach that you get discouraged. Achievable is the password here. Remember: writing is a marathon, and you want to maintain the stamina to reach the finish line.

4. Align your goals with the big picture

What’s the big picture? How will this book fit into your vision of your future career?

In other words: the goals that you set in the beginning of the year should be directly related to your overall objective. If, for instance, you’re planning on becoming a self-publishing author, you should keep in mind that you’ll still need to find time to format the pages, build an author platform, and promote the book yourself. Most importantly, making sure that your goals are relevant will keep you from wandering too far away from the path that lays ahead of you.

5. Set definite writing deadlines

What’s the last flourish here, or the proverbial bow with which you can wrap this gift box up? Perhaps the most important writing strategy: writing deadlines. Though (I know, I know) the word “deadline” might send a shudder of fear throughout your whole frame, it’s important to set specific ones so that you hold yourself accountable throughout the entire writing process.

As the saying goes, no pain, no gain. Despite the grief that deadlines inevitably bring, they will make sure that you stay on schedule.

Now that you’ve set good goals for 2019, it’s not over, of course. It’s time to actually go out and do it. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and achieve your writing goals in order to keep your ultimate prize in mind: a big, beautiful, complete book. Starting on January 1, 2019, you have 365 days — use them wisely from now on!

About the author

Emmanuel Nataf is a Founder at Reedsy, a marketplace and set of tools that allows authors and publishers to find top editorial, design and marketing talent. Over 3,000 books have been published using Reedsy's services.

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