Writing Life

Write Smart, Part II: How to Set Goals

So, after weighing the pros and cons, you’ve decided to start a writing project. You’ve read Write Smart, Part I, and you’ve asked yourself the hard questions. Why do you want to write? What does writing bring to your life? Or, what do you want it to bring? Now that you’ve examined those motivations, you can begin setting goals.

Some writers will simply open a blank document and start typing. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. I often think of Natalie Goldberg and her essential¬†Writing Down the Bones¬†– writing “hot,” as she calls it, flexes our creative muscles. It’s a great way to tap into your core, that primal place of emotion, which can really help to drive your writing. But without a plan, without any sort of map to find your way, this type of writing can get frustrating fast.

There’s a lot to learn at the beginning, and it’s easy for new writers to decide this pursuit is hopeless and unworthy. Having a plan will also help keep you moving forward. Even in the hardest times, when your kids are crying and there are mountains of laundry, and you are questioning your idea to do this at all, you will know that achieving a small goal will make you feel good. Dopamine, the brain chemical that drives our actions, will kick in.

So how do we set those goals?

You’ve probably heard of SMART goals – they’re all the rage in business, and they apply here too. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

I’m going to focus on Achievable here – that’s the most important for beginning writers. Choose a goal you can reasonably achieve. You won’t be able to write a novel overnight. Heck, I’m still rewriting the novel I started almost two years ago.

Let’s imagine we want to write a novel. We have to break that down into its component parts:

-Studying plot and structure




-Line editing

And that’s before you include everything a publisher or agent might ask for, if your novel makes it that far – meaning you might have to revisit these steps second, third, and fourth times. An important note about goal-setting – be prepared to revise those goals as many times as necessary.

So let’s break it down even further. Maybe you’re an absolute¬†beginner. You know you want to write a mystery novel. What kind? A cozy, a thriller, a police procedural? Go to the library and check out five of your favorite type of mystery. Check out five books on craft, too. Assign yourself the goal of reading for half an hour a day and making notes. Or you can choose a writing conference or writers’ group to attend.

As you become more advanced, you can adjust your goals to specific word counts or actions to complete within appropriate time frames. I use Kanban Flow to monitor my tasks. It’s free and customizable – I personally have different to-do lists for each day, color-coded based on the type of task. But you can use any software, bullet journal, or even just loose paper to track your progress.

Got some ideas? Great! Join us next time for an overview of the publishing industry, so you can get even more information on how to move your career forward!

Please share!

By Cari Dubiel

Cari Dubiel is the Head of Editing for Writing Bloc. She juggles writing, librarian-ing, mom-ing, and bassooning in Northeast Ohio. Her novel, How to Remember, is now available in serial format via Pressbooks. Represented by agent Lynnette Novak, she is a past Library Liaison to Sisters in Crime and a co-host of the Indie Writer Podcast.