How to set the perfect writing goal (and avoid approaches that fail)

It’s 2018 and this year, you’re determined to finally finish (or maybe start) that writing project. Great news! But with all those killjoy stats telling you how unlikely it is that you’ll still be writing this time next year (just 8% of resolutions make it) how do you kick off your writing goal in a way that means you’ll continue?

There are some methods that don’t work:

  1. hoping for inspiration to hit you
  2. buying expensive stationary/coffee and still hoping for inspiration to hit you
  3. using the ‘bull in the china shop method’ – pummelling the keyboard without any obvious sense of direction
  4. ‘trying to find the time to write’ – putting your writing below every other priority in your life
  5. “writing what’s in my heart” etc – being vague and generally, a bit flabby and flakey

However, there is one method that definitely does work – and that’s good goal setting.

And by ‘good’, I mean setting a writing goal that’s precise, measurable, quantifiable, stretches you in some way and has some stakes attached to it.

We’ve seen it work time and time again as we’ve helped thousands of people get started with our digital writing coach Prolifiko.

People who start off with a good goal are way more likely to succeed than those who don’t – simple as. So here’s how to get one:

How to find your perfect writing goal

1. Make your writing goal as specific as you can

The first step in achieving any writing ambition is to give yourself a target to hit.

You’ll need to make your writing goal measurable in some way. Think about how you’re going to achieve that goal – if it’s a large goal you need to break it down further into small steps. Do you want to write a certain number of blog posts over a period of time? Write a certain number of words each week or spend a certain length of time per month?

Make your goal as specific as you can. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: “How will I know that I’ve completed this goal?” If you don’t know, you’ll need to make your goal more precise.

2. Give it stakes (you have to give a damn)

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 consequences or benefits attached then you’ll struggle to give a damn whether or not you reach it because… well, what does it matter? And that means that you will lose motivation.

One way to give your goal stakes is to imagine yourself into the future and make a list of the benefits of meeting your goal – and the drawbacks of not meeting it. Neuroscience proves that when you imagine your future your brain releases chemicals like Oxytocin which improves your mood and keeps you going.

Think about your life in 2019. How will your life have changed after meeting your writing goal this coming year? Will you have increased your career chances, improved your business? Will you feel more fulfilled, creative and happy? You can read more about this approach in our blog how to visualize your writing dreams and goals.

3. Make it stretch you – but not too much

Your New Year writing goal needs to energise you but it also needs to be winnable otherwise you’ll just lose motivation. It’s good to be ambitious but if you’re too ambitious – you risk falling at the first hurdle.

So, don’t get carried away. Try to get the balance right. Set a goal that stretches you in some way but is also realistic.

Saying that, don’t make your goal too easy to achieve either. If you think your goal looks a cinch to complete then you’ll probably just get bored along the way.

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.

Read on: 8 common mistakes to avoid when setting your 2018 writing resolution >>

4. Plan it, schedule it

Our research among thousands of writers indicates that planning in the time to write matters far more than the amount of time you allocate to writing.

It doesn’t much matter so whether you write in daily chunks – or whether you binge write to a deadline or whether you block out a portion of your day, week or month for writing – the key is that your writing time must be identified in advance – in whatever way works for you.

The very worst type of routine comes when you ‘try to find the time’ to write at the last minute. Not only is this a waste of time, it’s also a psychologically and physically depleting approach that will grind you down!

5. Do you REALLY want to write it?

You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your writing project – so you’ve got to feel committed to it in some way. You have to feel an enthusiasm and passion for the project – or that you’ve just got to do it!

When you’re thinking about what you want to achieve in 2018, try to pick a goal that energises you in some way. Something that fires you up and you’ll get a kick out of achieving – or that if you don’t achieve you’ll be kicking yourself this time next year.

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

Remember this:

  • Vague writing goals only lead to vague outcomes. You have to know when you’ve reached your goal, so get specific.
  • It’s good to feel a little scared by your goal. Not 100% sure you can make it.
  • ‘Trying to find the time’ to write is depleting. Plan in the time in advance and prioritise your writing time.
  • A goal without a challenge is just like work. Stretch yourself. Make your goal winnable, but not a sinch to achieve.
  • You’ve got to want it. You have to really want to (or have to) write your project. Otherwise you’ll lose motivation.

Prolifiko - Your personal writing coach

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