Writing goals: How to achieve your big writing dream in small steps

We’ve had over 3,000 people take our writing challenges so we know a thing or two about goal setting. We know that having a poorly thought through writing goal – one that’s vague or has no real stakes attached to it is just as bad as having no goal at all. And we also know that having a good goal – one that’s specific and personal to you – can make the difference between finishing and failing. Writing goals: Here’s all our best tips condensed.

Achieve your writing goal in small steps

Writing goals are super-important in the planning process. Having a goal gives you a sense of direction and something to work towards.

If you don’t have a goal then you don’t have anything to aim at and you can start off in the wrong direction.

Also, setting a goal helps you think about the future; this releases chemicals in the brain like dopamine and oxytocin and makes us feel happy and creative!

Writing goals: The 4 golden rules:

1. Your goal MUST have stakes

A good writing goal is personal to you and has stakes attached to it. There needs to be some consequences if you don’t reach your goal and there needs to be some benefits if you do. If there are no real consequences or benefits attached to your goal then you’ll struggle to care whether or not you reach it because… well, what’s the point?

2.You need to be excited by it

A goal without an interesting challenge is just boring old work! Always set a goal that energises you – something that fires you up and you’ll get a kick out of achieving. An indicator of a good goal is you want to achieve it – but you’re not 100% confident you can. Setting a goal that excites you is a good way to keep you motivated.

3. Your writing goal must stretch you (but not too much)

Your goal needs to energise you but it also needs to be winnable otherwise you’ll just lose motivation. So, don’t get carried away! Set a goal that stretches you in some way but is also realistic.  Saying that don’t make your goal too easy to achieve – otherwise you’ll just get bored. You’ll receive a far greater feeling of accomplishment and pride if you achieve a goal that (slightly) scares you and puts some fire in your belly!

4. It must be as specific and measurable as you can make it

Vague goals lead to vague outcomes. It could be that you want to finish a project or progress it by a certain amount. Or, you could just want to write for a certain amount of time or a certain number of words – whatever it is make it as specific as you can so you know when you’ve got there and can measure your progress.

> Take action

Thinking about the golden rules of goal setting, what’s your writing goal and what stakes are attached to it?

What are are the consequences of you not achieving it? What benefits will you see when you do achieve it?

Remember:

  • Vague goals lead to vague outcomes – your have to know when you’ve reached your goal.
  • It’s good to feel a little scared by your goal – you have to feel excited by it!
  • A goal without a challenge is just boring old work.
  • Make your goal winnable, but not a sinch to achieve.

What a good writing goal looks like

What a good writing goal looks like

Small is beautiful

But big goals can still be pretty scary and intimidating can’t they?

They can overwhelm you if you’re not careful – especially if you leap in with both feet and try to tackle it them at once. And if you feel overwhelmed – that’s when procrastination can take hold.

In the same way that thinking positive things about the future releases chemicals in the brain to make you happy, thinking about big scary goals can trigger part of the brain that makes you feel anxious and more prone to procrastination.

Thinking about a large and potentially difficult goal triggers our ancient biological fight or flight mechanism and sets off alarm bells in our brain’s amygdala which controls how we respond to threats.

And, the bigger and more important the goal – the more likely it will overwhelm you.

The solution is to kid to yourself that you’re not really taking on a large project at all – just taking the first step.

Read: Why ‘just get it written’ is rubbish advice and tiny steps work.

Writing steps: The 4 golden rules:

  1. Make it a quick win

The big difference between setting a step as opposed to a goal is that you need to feel it’s achievable quickly. Where you might not feel 100% confident you can meet your overall goal you need to be pretty sure that you can achieve a step in the time you’ve given yourself.

  1. Make it so small you cannot fail

If you’re not sure you can comfortably achieve your step then make it smaller and keep making it smaller until you’re sure you can do it – and don’t be embarrassed. Start off writing for a few minutes a day – or just sitting at your desk and organising your ideas.

  1. Make it as specific as possible

Similarly with goals, steps work the best when you know you’ve achieved them – and that means they need to be quantifiable in some way. ‘Write more today’ isn’t something you can measure. How many words or how long for – can be measured

  1. Make sure in contributes to your goal

Whilst at the beginning, you certainly don’t need to have every step nailed down, it’s always a good idea to see if your steps are heading in the right direction.

> Take action

What is the first small step you can take towards reaching your goal? Don’t think about the project as a whole – just think the single next thing that you can do to move your project forward.

Remember:

The importance of step setting for your writing

Read more secrets of writing productivity

Keeping focus: How to kill your procrastination gremlins for good >>

Accountability: How to keep writing using rewards and people pressure >>

Tracking: How to use reflection to optimize your writing routine >>

Scheduling: How to find the time to write in 5 easy steps >>

Routines: Why writing systems beat willpower – every time >>

Chris Smith About the author: Co-founder and writer in residence at Prolifiko | Ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.