Goals That Work for Writers

Do you feel stuck in your writing life?  Do weeks go by without you devoting any time to writing? Maybe there’s a half-finished manuscript for a novel in the bottom drawer of your filing cabinet; one that’s been there for over two years? What about those poems that are “somewhere” on your computer?  If you took the time to find and edit them, you might have the makings of a chapbook.  Would committing to writing just twenty minutes a day get you started on that memoir you’ve always wanted to write? If these scenarios resonate, it might be time for you to step back and take a look at the “big picture” of your life, and set some writing goals.

Arrow and TargetBut what is it about the term “goal setting” that makes creative types (like writers) cringe?  Is it because the term sounds too corporate, too prescriptive, too restrictive? Goal setting is used extensively in organizational settings and often conjures up unpleasant visions of key performance indicators and performance reviews. But it can be an invaluable tool to help you achieve your writing dreams.

“Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” asks Mary Oliver in her poem “The Summer Day”.  Let that question sink in, and let some of those deep desires that may have gotten buried begin to rise to the surface.  Before setting any writing goals, spend some time getting in touch with those whispers.

Here are some suggestions for getting started. You can begin to make your writing dreams a reality.

Take Time Away for Reflection

  • to get away from distractions and look inward, schedule some time when you can be alone for at least a few hours.  Turn off your cell phone.  You may wish to start with a walk, letting go of any thoughts that may be racing through your mind. Just focus on your surroundings. Finish your walk in a park or other quiet outdoor setting, or a library in colder weather.  Bring a pen, a notebook and coloured markers.

WHEEL OF LIFEWheel of Life Exercise

  • draw a large circle on a page in your notebook, then draw four straight lines through it, dividing the circle into eight pieces as though it were a pie.  Label each section with the aspects of your life you believe to be most important.  Some examples are: health, finances, work/career, significant other/romance, fun/recreation, friends/family, spirituality, home/environment, and of course, writing. You can add more segments as needed
  • imagine that the centre point of the wheel is 0 on a scale and the outer edge is 10.  Rank your level of satisfaction by drawing a line through each “piece of pie” at the point that corresponds to your satisfaction level. When you’re finished, hold the wheel out in front of you
  • what do you see?  In a so-called perfect life, the lines would all be drawn at the #10 position. The wheel would be perfectly balanced, and look like a colourful beach ball. In real life, people`s drawings look somewhat irregular
  • you now have a snapshot of your current life.  Were there any surprises? Seeing the big picture of your life will help you better understand how you might make more room for your writing. If a score in one or more of the sections falls in the very low low 0 – 2 satisfaction range, you may need to focus on resolving issues in those areas, before creating demanding goals on the writing front
  • This Wheel of Life exercise is one life coaches often ask their clients to complete.  It’s described in well in Co-Active Coaching – New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House and Phil Sandahl


Pull out your pen and notebook and spend at least 20 minutes writing freely about your “wild and precious life.” For this exercise, focus on your writing. You can repeat this writing exercise later for the other priority areas in your life. Where would you like to go with your writing if there were no restrictions such as family commitments or financial considerations? Dream big. “Write fast. Do not linger over the page. If you find yourself dismissing a goal because it sounds grandiose or far-fetched, write it anyway and put a star next to it.  It’s a live one,” says Henriette Anne Klauser, author of Write it Down, Make It Happen.

When you have finished, take a coloured marker and highlight all of the writing goals you see.  Then number the goals in order of priority.

Make your Goals S.M.A.R.T.

It’s time to give your goals some “oomph”. No doubt you’ve heard of the S.M.A.R.T. goals process first referenced in the 1980’s by George T. Doran[i], and elaborated upon by Paul J. Meyer[ii].  The acronym stands for:

  • S – specific
  • M – measurable
  • A – attainable
  • R – realistic
  • T – time-bound

If your major goal is a big one such as writing a novel, break it down into manageable chunks and run each sub-goal through the S.M.A.R.T. goal process. One sub-goal might relate to your commitment to write.

A not-so-smart sub-goal would be:  I’ll work frequently on my novel every chance I get.

A S.M.A.R.T. sub-goal would be: I will write a minimum of x# of words a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, from 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., and will have a minimum x# of words of first draft material ready by _____(date).

Write down your S.M.A.R.T. writing goals and post them where you can see them every day.


  • consider finding an accountability partner. This could be a fellow writer who wants to achieve their own goals.  Hold each other accountable, and report in to each other on a weekly basis about the status of that week’s goals
  • hire a life coach, preferably one who specializes in working with creative types, to help you fine tune what you want to achieve and provide additional accountability
  • give yourself small rewards for reaching sub-goals

The World is Hungry for Your Gifts

HeartAs a writer, you have a unique voice; a voice the world needs to hear.  It would be a shame if your novel was never read by another soul, and no one was moved by your poetry, or touched by your memoir. What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Until next time,



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All drawings in this post were created by Janis McCallen

[i] Doran, G.T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review, Volume 70, Issue 11 (AMA FORUM), pp 35 – 36.

[ii] Meyer, Paul J (2003). “What would you  do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals”. Attitude is EverythingIf You Want to Succeed Above and Beyond. Meyer Resource Group, Incorporated.

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