Setting Goals: The Roadmap that Keeps You On Track


As writers we have lots of things that we want to accomplish in any given year. Creating effective goals and getting them down on paper is a great way to stay in touch with them. When you consider the fact that there are so many things jockeying for our attention, you can understand why it’s not always easy to stay focused on what we want. We have to make choices about where to use our time and energy. For me, that means I need a roadmap to keep me on track.

Let me be clear that it is absolutely fine to write for writing’s sake. I did it for many years. But if you dream of writing a book or starting a blog to share your stories or what you’ve learned, it’s helpful to set clear intentions.

The process I outline below is one that I’ve been using for several years. I’ve taken different parts of it from many sources, including Your Best Year Yet by Jinny S. Ditzler, Pick Four by Seth Godin, and The Energy of Money by Maria Nemeth.

Know where you are

The first thing you want to do is take stock of where you are. Make a list of all of your writing accomplishments from the last year. We seldom do this and we often forget how much we do accomplish, and thus, what we’re capable of doing in the future. I like to set a timer (writing practice style) and list as many as I can. Include anything related to your writing that you did in the last year.

Next take that list and ask yourself, “How did I get all of this done?” Did you form regular habits? Did you make things a priority by scheduling them in rather than leaving them to chance? Did you get help from a friend? Did you take a course? It’s okay to not know for sure, just think of what supported you in accomplishing things over the last year.

Now, list your disappointments from the last year. What had you hoped for that didn’t work out? Where did you fall short of expectations? Your aim in this process is to choose attainable goals. As a result, you want to see what didn’t work and where you need help. We learn as much (or more) from our disappointments as from the things that go well.

After you’ve made your list, ask yourself, “Why didn’t these things work out?” Did you set goals that were unrealistic given your current commitments? Did you procrastinate? Did you fail to set boundaries with others? Did you fail to make your writing goals a priority? What got in the way and prevented your success in the past?

The intent here is not to beat yourself up because that is not useful or helpful. You want to see as clearly as you can what worked and what didn’t so that you know where to put your focus and attention going forward. Now, set those lessons aside for a moment; you are about to enter Dreamtime.


Make a list of all your big writing dreams. Assume that money, time, and the present state of your skills are no object. If you want to quit your day job and write three bestsellers, put it down. This process is designed to uncover the deep dreams that even you don't know you possess. So get after it and write anything down that occurs to you. One crazy idea might lead to another crazy idea until you zero in on the one true thing you've always wanted to do with you life. You can dial it back a little later in the process if need be. For now, the only limit is your imagination and your heart’s desire.

Weeding Out

Now it’s time to whittle down that list into a manageable size. Get rid of anything that is illegal, physically impossible, or was there because someone else thinks you should be doing it. But don’t cross off anything just because it’s really hard and will require you to learn new skills.

For everything that is left, ask yourself “Why do I want this?” and “How would I feel if I achieved this?” Write the answer next to each entry that remains. If you can’t think of why you want something, or if achieving it wouldn’t feel very good, take it off.

Honing In

Once you have a clear list of goals you truly want to achieve, pick three or four that you are willing to commit to over the next year. By commit, I mean that you are willing to put in the work and learn new skills to accomplish it.

The final step in this process is to craft goal statements that support your success. Your goals should possess these qualities.

Specific: Be clear about what it is you want to accomplish.

Measurable: How will you know you’ve completed your goal?

Attainable: Given your other commitments and what you have control over, is this goal attainable?

Relevant: You need motivation to carry you through. Make sure your goals are aligned with your values and your big dreams.

Time-frame: When do you plan to have this goal completed? Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be this year.

Some help along the way

Here are some suggestions to make the most of your shiny new goals.

Write them down and keep them visible. You want a regular reminder of where you want to go. If there is a visual image that reminds you, display it prominently.

Make a plan. Break big goals into smaller chunks and tasks. Schedule these tasks in so that they get done. Always know what your next step is. Look back at your lessons learned. What do you need to do to be successful?

Figure out what skills and resources you will need to complete your goals. Make a plan to get these.

Stick with it. If you get distracted for a time, jump back in. Keep working toward each goal unless you find that you were truly mistaken about wanting it.

Get an accountability partner or support team. These are people to whom you can report your progress, who will ask you about how things are going, and who will remind you of why you are doing it.

When you set writing goals using this process, you will be well on your way to achieving them. If one of your goals this year is to write a book and you need help, consider signing up for Writership. We have the tools, resources, and support to help you on your way.