Jennifer Dinsmore Editorial
Free Your Words
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Search the blog for posts on grammar, storytelling, and the publishing process.


Setting (and Reaching) Your Goals

In my last post, I talked about the importance of ritual in helping to (re)create an effective and lasting writing habit. But once you’ve formed a regular routine, one that works uniquely for you, what’s next?

You set some goals.

Now, many people’s first reaction may be to say, “My goal is to get published!” That’s great, but getting published shouldn’t be your first and only goal. If you’re only writing for fame and fortune I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to be plugging away for a very long time. Tours and book signings and award lists come with time. (Yes, even for those “overnight” successes!)

So, even if one day your dream is to be published, you also need to decide what “success” looks like to you—at every step of the way.

Breaking It Down

Remember what I said about how doing too much too soon simply sets you up for failure? The goals you set, no matter where you are in your writing career, should be small and manageable. If you’re just starting out, perhaps your first goal was simply to get into a routine and now you want to focus on finishing some pieces. If you’ve been writing for a while, maybe your next goal is to query a dream publication or agent.

Either way, you will be more likely to achieve your dreams if you break these goals into actionable steps. (Learn from my mistakes. Too many times have I not done so, only to find my self-imposed deadline staring me in the face—and I’ve done nothing.) This may seem an obvious thing to do, but the reason for breaking down your goals is to account for life’s little interruptions. To make yourself accountable even when the going gets tough.

Setting some vague goal, such as submitting short stories to two journals in a given year, is all well and good, but without setting actionable steps to do so it’s easy to make excuses and let the deadlines slide past. After all, you need to write the stories (or take some time polishing old ones) and research journals to which you would like to submit. If your goal is to start on that novel you’ve been dreaming about, make a writing plan. This is all about dividing and conquering. Ask yourself: What’s the very first step?

To help yourself stay on track, set a deadline for when you want to be done that first step. And then a deadline for the second step, the third, the fourth, and so on. Alternatively, you can set an end date for your big-picture goal and then work backward, asking what needs to be completed in order to achieve said goal. When will you have your outline done, your characters sketched, your first chapter written?

Share Your Dreams

This goes back to what I said in my last post about finding a community. Seeking out a group of like-minded individuals (either in-person or online) can go a long way to help you achieve your writing goals. They will be there to support and encourage you, and will offer feedback in order for you to grow.

If that still terrifies you, try telling a trusted friend or loved one that you are going to send them a piece on such and such a date … and stick to it! Ask them to send you reminders to keep you on track. Adding an external element to your goal, with someone you feel comfortable sharing your work, will help encourage you to keep going.

Celebrate Any Success

As mentioned at the start of this post, publication should not be your initial end goal. If you put in the time and the work, publication will (in time) follow. Whether you publish traditionally or go the self-publishing route, don’t expect to become the next Stephen King or Zadie Smith overnight. The hard truth? Most books never achieve best-seller status.

So, what do you do instead? Celebrate the small milestones. Treat yourself when you finish that first draft (or chapter!). Throw a party when you get a five-star review on Goodreads.

In the end, every writer must define what success means to them—not anyone else. What does success mean to you? How has setting goals helped your writing? Share below!

Go for it, friends!