Writing goals – are they always the answer?

If you’re an aspiring – or even established – author, setting writing goals is often cited as the only chance you have to succeed. But what if the ‘gurus’ are wrong? What if setting rigid writing goals actually hinders your chance of writing your book – or even puts you off altogether?

Confessions of a former goal-setter

I used to be a dedicated goal-setter.

Every December, I’d spend hours writing goals for the year ahead, breaking them down into quarterly, monthly and eventually weekly targets.

These included my writing goals – whether publishing my next non-fiction book or working on my children’s novel, writing always featured heavily. But these also included my business goals, as writing and my business are so heavily intertwined.

Every January, I’d have anticipation about the year ahead – excitement mixed with a tinge of overwhelm.

As the weeks and months went on, I did everything you’re supposed to do:

– Writing out my goals each day

– Weekly/monthly reflections on how I was progressing

– Breaking everything down into bitesize steps

But nothing seemed to be working. Yes, I’d be making incremental steps, but the bigger aspirations just never fell into place.

Whenever I didn’t reach a goal I’d set for myself, it crushed my self-esteem and belief in my business. It felt more like logging my failures than my successes.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar?

Time to change my approach to goal-setting

Last December, I decided I’d had enough. I didn’t want 2022 to be another year where I kept berating myself. Something had to change.

By chance, I had a wonderful conversation with Emma Jefferys from Action Woman and told her how I felt.

And we talked about something that ultimately changed everything.

Rather than setting harsh, prescriptive goals which made me feel rubbish, she suggested orienting myself to a destination, a sense of where I wanted to go with my business, and letting go of HOW I got there.

So I set no rigid goals. I simply set my intention and let things move in the right direction. Making decisions based on whether it would take me further towards the ultimate destination.

And I will tell you something, dear reader.

2022 was the best year of my life – both in my business and writing.

I achieved more in twelve months than in the last five years combined. And it’s not through more effort. It’s simply freeing myself from the constraints of controlling how things work out.

2022 saw:

  • A finished children’s novel

  • Publication of my non-fiction book, Dare to Write

  • Mentoring ten fantastic female writers on their book-writing journeys

  • Developmental editing and manuscript appraisals for self-published and traditionally published authors

  • Joining the team at Jessica Kate Brown as associate developmental editor and ghostwriter

  • Being part of a team that launched a Sunday Times Bestseller

  • Regular blog-writing work for a range of small businesses

  • Podcast interviews and guest blog posts

  • Delivering masterclasses about writing – including a paid masterclass of my own

And so much more!

It was a year of immense growth and, at times, discomfort. But it boosted both my business and my writing.

So what has this taught me – and how can it help you with your writing goals?

I don’t say any of this to brag. I say it to show you that if you struggle with goal-setting, why not try a different approach? Align yourself with where you want to go and say ‘yes’ to opportunities that move you in that direction.

But what does this look like in practice? Indeed if you have no writing goals, will anything ever get done?

Well – and to be perfectly frank – unless you sit your butt in the chair and write, you can have all the writing goals you’ll ever need, and you still won’t finish your book. But that’s another blog post.

However, when it comes to big goals, such as publication, it’s about relinquishing the ‘minutiae’ of exactly how it will all pan out for you. Other people’s timelines and objectives will be different to yours. Just because you want to find an agent immediately doesn’t mean an agent can look at your work right then and there. You may well be waiting a month or so.

Yes, be organised. Approach editors, cover designers, agents etc., within plenty of time of when you hope your book will be published, but let go of controlling the exact trajectory your writing will take. Avoid being demanding just because it’s not working out as you want it to.

And that goes for the demands you place on yourself too. We are often harsher on ourselves than we are on others. So be kind to yourself about this journey and relax into it. Believe this will happen when it’s meant to. As the famous quote says, You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Small goals are the best way forward

Now we’ve got the big writing goals out the way; it’s time to focus on the small ones. The ones that will move your writing forward and you have some control over.

The only way I finished my children’s novel this year and the six books I’ve previously written is to set small daily writing goals. You can learn more about tiny habits’ power in this blog post – including simple tips to help you be consistent. But in essence, it comes down to setting yourself small daily word count targets.

I’ve written all my books using this strategy. Either a daily word count target (from 500-1000 words) or a daily time slot – e.g. 30 mins from 7.00-7.30 am. Anything that feels manageable and allows me to make incremental progress. I log each session on a spreadsheet (see below) because it’s so motivating to see my progress each day.

If you’ve got an idea of when you want to complete your first draft, here’s a simple way to work out how many words you should try to do each day to achieve it.

Let’s assume you’re self-publishing and can write your book in ten weeks. For mathematical ease, it’s going to be 30,000 words long.

  • Find a date in ten weeks as a target to complete your draft – make a note of it. Put it up on a sticky note in your writing area, so you keep it in mind.

  • If the book is 30,000 words long and you have ten weeks, you’ll need to write 3,000 words weekly.

  • Decide how many days per week you’ll commit to writing. Let’s say it’s five days per week. You’ll therefore need to write 600 words per day.

  • Now things appear far more manageable – you could split your writing into two sprints per day, where you just need to write 300 words. Something easily done in thirty minutes.

Suddenly, this behemoth of a writing goal becomes far more manageable. It’s not a 30,000-word book you need to think about. It’s just writing 600 words per day, five days per week. When you do that consistently, your 30,000 words will get written in no time. Well, ten weeks … but you catch my drift.

But again, be kind to yourself. If your daily target is 500 words and you only write 373, it’s still a success. 373 words are better than 0. Or even 372 if you’re being pedantic. Log them on your spreadsheet, pat yourself on the back, and have a gin and tonic.

Your writing goals should be for you

It’s all too tempting to see everyone else’s goals, particularly at this time of year, and feel as though you should be doing things in the same way.

But setting goals, big or small, is a personal thing. You don’t have to do it in the way the gurus or the books tell you to. Find something that works for you and relax into the process.

It might just be the best thing you do!

If you want some accountability on your writing journey, why not get in touch about my monthly mentoring programme – 1:1 sessions each month to focus on your writing and get feedback along the way?

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