How to Make Stronger Goals

As we come to the end of the year, I’ve been examining some of my writing goals, and I discovered a few interesting, if not alarming, things. First, somewhere along the way, I inadvertently changed my dreams into goals. I knew there was something amiss about my goals, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I’m discovering all the time, that many authors have similar goals. Many want to get published, they want to be successful, become best-selling authors, and make enough money to support themselves by doing what they love: to write. Granted, not every writer has these ideas, but I do, and I’m not alone.

I don’t think these are bad things to dream about, but that’s where the distinction should be made. They should be dreams, not goals.

I recently found myself fixating on this end goal for my writing, this successful career, and I realized it was so much pressure that it was hindering my current work.  I mentioned this to my husband, and he said I needed to work on making good goals. It was such a simple statement, but it made me realize that this idea of where I wanted to go with my writing wasn’t even a goal. It was a dream. And I suddenly realized there’s a definite distinction between the two.

What is the difference between a dream and a goal? Maybe you already know, but I let the line blur until they became one.

Here’s what I realized. A dream has very little to do with me other than I’d like to be involved in that outcome. But there’s nothing in the dream that I can control. I can’t control whether one of my books or stories is published. I can’t control whether people will read it once it is published. I can’t even control whether the people who read it will like it.

So, a good goal should be things that are within your power to accomplish. Here’s a brief list of some of the qualities a goal should have:

  1. Make it specific.
  2. Make it about something that’s within your power to control.
  3. Make it reasonable and achievable.
  4. Give yourself a timeframe to achieve it in.

I had a conversation with Sara Letourneau a few weeks ago that started with a question she posted on her blog, “Do you often worry or become emotional over things that are out of your control?” At that time I was aware that I worry about things outside of my control, but I hadn’t realized that the goals I had been creating were largely and more frequently becoming things that were outside of my control.

Here are some examples of goals that are within my control as a writer:

  • A set word count for the day or week.
  • The number of chapters I want to edit for that day.
  • Finishing a draft of a poem or chapter to have my writing group review during the next meeting.
  • The number of literary magazines or literary agents I want to submit my work and the timeframe within which to submit them.

These are all the start of goals that I can tweak to fit my day or week, and which I can add more specific information for the goals to fit my current project.

I often wish these realizations cured all the worry and doubt that this profession holds for me, but it doesn’t. I know it’s easier for some writers, and if it’s easier for you, be thankful. I know there are plenty of writers out there who have the same battle as I do. For me, I know it’s because of how important writing is and how much I want to succeed at it. I could be doing a different career and not dealing with all these doubts, because I wouldn’t feel so emotionally invested in it. But I also know that writing is worth the worry, the doubt, and the fear.


  1. // Reply

    I can only wish you all the best with your goals. I have to start looking at mine soon to see where I want to go writing wise.

      1. // Reply

        Most welcome, Mandie. 🙂

  2. // Reply

    I really appreciate the “within my control” part of what you say. Too often I see goal setting in terms of “I’ll sell X number of articles” or “I’ll have a book contract with a major publisher.” You can work toward those things, but you can’t control them. Writing is a fickle business

    I haven’t worked out my 2018 goals yet, but I will take your advice to heart. I know I want to create more time in my life for writing, but I need to outline some concrete steps to get there

    1. // Reply

      Thank you. I’ll be working on making better goals for myself this next year too. I think by having more achievable goals, it will give me a greater sense of accomplishment with my writing.
      Best of luck in setting your goals!

  3. // Reply

    I understand that goals shall also be possible to break down into achievable chunks… for instance writing 2000 words per day… edit one chapter. I read somewhere that even a successful writer like Stephen King works with very achievable goals each day.

    What you cannot know is that your goals will make dreams come true… so many other things need to happen for that.

    Personally I don’t set any other goals for my writing than to write my blog posts I’m assigned to do.. reading and commenting is also part of my goals. How that shall be turned into anything else than to be a better writer I do not know. 🙂

    1. // Reply

      It’s funny because I go through phases where I work really well with goals and I want to have them. And other times, I have a general goal of working on a project without specific deadlines, and that works really well for me. I think I get derailed when I start unintentionally chasing after things I call goals that are primarily things that are not within my control.

  4. // Reply

    That’s a good way to look at dreams and goals. When I look at my writing goals, they do seem like dreams, so I’m going to try and be more specific with my goals from now on.

    1. // Reply

      I found myself in a conversation about this very topic today. I think that putting in the work now and building a foundation for your writing may lead to a better outcome than your dreams anyway, but if you let the weight of your dreams hinder the progress of your current work by the sheer size and demand of them, you could stop your progress before you even begin. Sometimes what we think we want is not all we imagined, and there might be something different and better in store for us.

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