Setting Goals as a Writer

Every writer has goals, whether they're clear or not.  Most of us probably want to be famous; we want to be the next Stephen King, or the next J.D. Salinger.  Some of us just want to make money.  Some of us don't care about money, we crave recognition.  Some of us just write because we don't know what else to do.

Whatever led you to writing, it's beneficial to have a very clear set of goals.  And there's an old saying that I think applies to writing as much as any other endeavor:

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

[If anyone knows who first said that, I'd really appreciate it if you'd comment below!]

Early in your career, I think it's a good idea to decide exactly what you want from writing.  Whether it's just to finish a novel, or whether it's to pen the next Harry Potter, having some clear idea of your endgame will help you set mile markers along the way.

And don't be afraid to aim high.  It's better to shoot for the stars and end up at the top of a mountain, than aim for the foothills and never get any higher.  So what if you fail to reach your ultimate goal?  You'll probably still get further than you would if you set "moderate" goals.  You can't win if you don't play.

Once you have your ultimate endgame in mind, figure out what it will take to get there.  Do you need a traditional publishing contract, or can you achieve your goals as a self-publisher?  Do you plan to write just a handful of novels, or do you want to be prolific?

I prefer to break by goals down into four time-related categories:

  1. Ongoing goals: These are goals I hope to achieve every day of my career.  Some of them are personal, like going to the gym every weekday.  Some of them are professional, like staying up to date on blogs and social media.
  2. Short-Term Goals: These are goals I envision myself completing within one month to one year.  Typically, this will include whatever project I'm currently working on, and whatever I have lined up next.  For me, freelance jobs will usually be under this category.
  3. Mid-Term Goals: These are goals I envision myself completing within the next five years.  These include larger projects that are still in development, as well as general publishing goals.  For example, I intend to publish the first Jim Frankenstein novel within this period.  In order to achieve that, I need to finish editing it (which is a short-term goal), query agents, and sign a publishing deal.
  4. Ultimate Goals: This is where I put the specific things that equal "success" to me; things I envision myself completing some time before the end of my career.  It's my way of taking a vague goal like "be a successful writer", and parsing out what that looks like to me.  For example, one of my ultimate goals is to publish an anthology of The Complete Jim Frankenstein, which, if all goes to plan, will consist of six novels, ten novellas, and numerous short stories, presented in chronological order.  Another ultimate goal of mine is to develop a body of work that takes place in a single, continuous story universe.
Thinking like this has kept me focused on what I want to do, and helped me set deadlines for myself.  It's another way that staying organized has helped keep me motivated.

It's easy to feel frustrated when your physical and mental writing desks are a cluttered mess.  But if you work on turning yourself and your writing process into a well-oiled machine, you never know what heights you can achieve.