Setting SMART Writing Goals

Okay, writer friends. It’s gut check time. How are you feeling about your work in progress? Do you spend hours at your desk writing away but still don’t feel like you’re making progress on your novel?

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate your goals.

A few months ago--my writing goals was to write for an hour a day.

Some days were productive. But more often than not, here’s how that hour went.

Me: Okay, Sarah. You can do this. You have a whole hour. Focus.

*Writes. Writes. Writes.* Pause to read. *Deletes. Writes* Go back and reread other sections of the chapter.

Me: How much have I written? 64 words? How is that possible? I only have 15 minutes left!

Even though I spent an uninterrupted hour with my novel, I wasn’t actually getting much writing done. I was tripping over details and perfection. But a first draft isn’t the place for perfection. Often, you have to get all the pieces out on the page so that you can properly figure out how they fit together. If you stop to fuss over each sentence, the project and creative energy quickly loose steam.

I realized, with some support from my creative coach Heather Demetrios, that my goals weren’t effective because they weren’t SMART. SMART is an acronym that outlines five key components of an effective goal. Each objective should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Specific

Define the goal as much as possible. Hone in on the who, what, when, where and why. The key is to avoid ambiguity. “Write for an hour a day” didn’t work for me because it wasn’t specific enough. Not only was I failing to identify the specific scenes or chapters needed my attention, I wasn’t clear on the “why” behind my writing session. When I centered my thoughts and remind myself how this scene moved the plot forward, my writing sessions became more productive.

Measurable

This component of goal setting is all about tracking your progress. How will you know if you’ve accomplished your goal if you can’t effectively measure results?

The measurement you use may vary depending on your work in progress and where you are in the writing process. For example: If you’re in the character development stage, a measurement you could track may be to complete two character interviews a day. Or, if you’re in the revision stage, you could set a measurable goal of editing 20 pages a day.

Attainable

Can you actually achieve the goal? Be realistic. If you’re a moonlight writer with a full-time job plus a consultant, like me, it may be unrealistic to think you can write 1,000 words every day. Don’t set yourself up for failure. At the same time, though, don’t sell yourself short.Here’s a hint, if you’re crushing your goal every single day, it’s not challenging enough.

Relevant

Is this goal consistent with your other goals? Does it move you forward in your short-term and your long-term plans. This is another area where my “write for an hour a day” strategy fell short. I was completely lacking an overarching goal. I guess I figured I would write and write and write--and eventually, I’d know when the first draft felt done.

To help me create a relevant strategy, I started using a Passion Planner to help me learn how to break my projects down into smaller and manageable goals that all connected to the bigger picture. (Side note: Passion Planners will give you a free download to try their materials.)

Timely

The final component is to set a deadline. This will help build a sense of urgency that prompts you to use your time more effectively and efficiently. Writers use this timely concept so often with our characters--Cinderella must be home by midnight--but we forget it can be useful in our own lives, too.

After doing this exercise, I set S.M.A.R.T. goals myself. I found it helpful to start with the timely component and work backward from there.

I set a deadline: Finish a first draft of my novel in three months (i.e. by February 5, 2017). Then, I assessed my chapters and highlighted the seven chapters and scenes and estimated I had somewhere around 30,000 words to write.

I divided those 30,000 words by the 90 days until the deadline. Voila, there’s my magic daily goal: 333 words. The exercise also provided me with a roadmap of the seven specific areas within my novel that I needed to focus my energy on.

February 5 (deadline day!) is tomorrow. And in case you’re curious, I finished a complete first draft earlier today! 

What are your writing goals? What tools have you used to stay on track?