5 Goal Systems to Improve Your Writing


Fun fact about me: I started learning to play the piano after making a goal to do so during a preschool lesson. I’d just finished learning to tie my shoes, and apparently playing the piano was the next thing on my list.

And I have never stopped making goals, because they are awesome. Like, seriously, I make too many goals sometimes. I have to stop myself.

Goals are great at any time of year, but since it’s resolution season, today I’m going to share some goal-setting ideas so you can reach your writing dreams.

  1. Traditional Goals

Alright, let’s start out by talking about traditional goals so we’re all on the same page.

You can make one goal for the whole year, or you can make multiple goals. The number you choose really depends on your personality.

For example, you could make one goal for your writing, another for your relationships, and a third for your health. Or you could just make one goal for your top priority.

Standard advice says that you need to set SMART goals, which are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. That way you hold yourself accountable instead of forgetting your good intentions.

One example of a traditional goal for writers is the yearly reading goal that Goodreads facilitates.

  1. Yearly Intentions

One problem with setting goals for an entire year — whether you start in January or June or September — is that your metric for success might not still be relevant in a year.

For example, I once made a goal to improve my social skills. My SMART specifications outlined activities like hosting and attending parties each month. After several months of agony, I realized that my idea of “being more social” really was “being more extroverted,” and I’m an introvert.

My goal was obsolete once I realized that I needed to figure out what relational skills suited my personality and then hone those rather than beat myself up for not enjoying large gatherings. I didn’t know myself well enough to know what metric to use, and I just abandoned the goal.

Enter the intention. Or you can call it a resolution. I like intention because I find the connotative meaning to be more accurate and because my New Year’s resolutions have traditionally been long-term SMART goals.

While yearly intentions are exactly what you’re not supposed to set accordingly to advocates of SMART goals, some people like them best.

Yearly intentions work well when you don’t know how to get what you want. Intentions don’t require you to guess and then try to meet a standard that may be stupid. A yearly intention is just a vague statement about your priorities.

For example, if you set a yearly intention to “overcome writer’s block,” then you can try various ideas and strategies without expecting to see results from any particular strategy. If one idea doesn’t work for you, you can ditch it and try a different one. If something does work for you, you can do it regularly for the rest of the year.

Intentions give you flexibility and help you avoid frustration and burnout, but they’re also easy to ignore because they come with zero accountability.

  1. Yearly Themes

One popular way of setting intentions is to pick a word for each year. For example, you could choose become, focus, enjoy, engage, meditate, or any other word that captures how you want to feel and be.

Theme words can be comforting, inspiring, low-pressure reminders of how you want to act and what you want your priorities to be. Also you can make cute word art and stick the image on your mirror or Instagram.

But like intentions in general, yearly themes are vague and don’t include action items.

  1. Monthly Goals

Monthly goals pair well with yearly intentions and themes because they give you specificity and structure without locking you into a metric of success that may not make sense for you in a few months.

With monthly goals, you can make up your goal as each month comes or set a tentative goal for each month at the beginning of the year.

These monthly goals can all relate to a yearly intention or theme, or they can be a fairly random collection of things you want to try, like with Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project.

For example, let’s say you want to write every day but haven’t been able to stick to a schedule. If telling yourself you want to write five times a week hasn’t worked before, then just making another yearly SMART goal probably won’t help.

Look at your methodology and hang-ups, not your alleged lack of willpower.

If you’re not doing something you love and want to do, then there’s a reason. Find it, and figure out how to work around it.

You might spend one or more months figuring out what you want to write. Maybe you’re not passionate about what you’re writing. Maybe you have a hard time finding time for the things you want to do because you have a kid to take care of. How can you make time for your goals without neglecting your responsibilities?

  1. X Goals Before X Age or Year

Finally, you can make a yearly bucket list that’s as fun or serious as you’d like. You can go birthday to birthday, New Year to New Year, or whatever other period you pick.

The trick is to make the goals small enough that you don’t get overwhelmed. I made a “27 Before 27” list last year, and I loved it. But many of my 27 goals were big projects or had like five individual parts, so my list was a bit much. Don’t do that.

The bucket list helped me most when it listed writing projects I wanted to do but had never gotten around to or didn’t feel “ready for.” For example, last year I set up this website and several professional social media pages, and I started blogging again. I made a goal to go to one writing conference and ended up going to two.

A yearly bucket list can help you figure out what kinds of things make you happiest and where you want to put your energy. This kind of goal setup is helpful for people who are jaded about making goals but still want to do so, who don’t know what they want out of life, or who need to remind themselves to have fun and make memories.

What other goal structures do you find helpful? What worries do you have about your goals for the coming year? Let me know in the comments section!


2 Comments Add yours

    1. McKenna Johnson says:

      Thank you!


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