How to Set Wildly Ambitious Writing Goals—and Accomplish All of Them

P.S. Hoffman outlines the secrets to successfully accomplishing your biggest, hairiest writing goals in 2019—including setting them and creating a sustainable routine that will enable to you to realistically attain them.
Author:
Publish date:

What do my writing goals for 2019 look like?

Big.

Hairy.

… and wildly ambitious.

When I outlined my goals, my wife said: “Are you sure? That seems like too much.”

Any other year, she would have been right. But not this year… because I’ve got a plan.

I’ve been working on it for a long time now, and this year I’ve borrowed ideas from the world’s most productive (and successful) authors. This is the closest I’ve ever come to a “bullet-proof” writing plan—it’s both realistic and ambitious.

Image placeholder title

Read this and you’ll want to make your own writing goals bigger, and more wild.

And when your friends ask, “Are you sure you can do all that?” you’ll be able to say, “Just watch me.”

Here’s what it looks like:

What Writing Goals Should You Make?

The most basic question we need to ask ourselves: “What do I want to accomplish as a writer this year?

You are not allowed to be vague. You are not allowed to focus on things outside of your control. This is about what you can do in 2019.

As I see it, there are three main areas every writer should make goals for:

  • Writing goals
  • Reading goals
  • “Connection” goals

Writing Goals:

The objective is to be specific and granular. “Write a book” is far too large to measure by day.

I usually measure myself on one of these three:

  1. Word counts
  2. Minutes written
  3. Milestones reached (e.g. scenes written, pages edited, etc.)

Reading Goals:

What books should you choose? Start by understanding your intention.

For example, my driving motivation is to get published as a Science Fiction author.

Therefore, I need to focus on three different kinds of books:

  • Broadly popular books (so I can learn to write well)
  • Science fiction classics (so I don’t cover old ground)
  • New science fiction books (so I know what agents and publishers are interested in right now)

Of course, I will try to read books that I love. But reading with intent will help me generate fresh ideas that will nudge me closer to publication.

 Writer's Market Deluxe Edition 2019: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published

Writer's Market Deluxe Edition 2019: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published

Connection Goals?

Do you want to be a successful author? Unless you are ridiculously lucky, you’ll have to do more than just read and write.

Set a goal to become desirable, beyond your words:

  • Cultivate your social media skills
  • Network with more agents or publishers
  • Connect with people who want to read your stories

The idea is to grow as an author outside of text alone. It’s much harder to improve when you live in a vacuum.

For example: Last year, my goal was to find five beta readers for a short story.

It was surprisingly easy… and I can’t tell you how helpful they were. Not only do they help you fix massive problems with your stories, they make you want to work harder.

Daily vs. Weekly Writing Goals?

Daily goals are useful… until you fail one.

And another.

And then your momentum breaks. You’re dead in the water, with no will to write.

A single “off” day makes me feel like a failure the rest of the year, and I couldn’t stand that feeling. It was overwhelming, stressful, and it hurt my motivation to write.

Instead, I now aim for weekly goals:

Image placeholder title

With weekly goals, I have room to breathe. This lets me have bad days, without crushing my drive. When I’m just not feeling it, I get to rest.

Bonus: this routine yields me the occasional great day because I tend to build up an overload of creative energy on the days I don’t write.

What Do the Best Writing Goals have in Common?

“I want to write more” is a useless goal. Even “I want to write a book this year,” is too fuzzy to be a strong writing goal.

Why?

It’s not specific enough. The best goals, writing or otherwise, are specific, measurable, and keep you coming back at regular intervals.

  • “I’m going to write 1,000 words per day.”
  • “I’m going to edit fourteen scenes per week.”

You need something that will keep you accountable… because you will have “off” days…

  • Too many other pressing tasks
  • Unexpected time with family or friends
  • Emotions or thoughts that prevent you from writing

Off days do not make you a bad writer. Sometimes, you need a break. Unrealistic writing goals are destructive. You might be able to accomplish them once or twice…

… but you will wear yourself out. Your writing quality, and your quality of life, will suffer greatly.

That’s why I am very good friends with my Benchmarks.

Why You MUST Set Writing Benchmarks

Today, I can crack out 2000 words in a day, but two years ago, I could barely manage 500 without losing my mind.

To improve, I had to:

  • “Feel out” my writing patterns
  • Track my most and least productive times
  • Look for areas where I was kicking ass… or, more frequently, where I needed to improve

Peter Drucker, an old business consultant once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Is that true? Don’t know, but measuring definitely makes improvement easier.

For example, when I started tracking my writing time, I started to realize that while I love writing at night—it’s hard for me to stick to it. Some nights I feel like a a virtuoso…

... but more than half of the time, I would write a few sentences and … get distracted.

I moved my creative time to first thing in the morning, and now—after a cup of coffee—I can pretty easily enter “writing nirvana,” that place where words seem to just flow out of you.

Who knows? Maybe it’s just the coffee. Either way, it works, and I doubt I would have figured it out if I hadn’t started tracking.

How to Accomplish 100% of Your Goals (without Dying)

We’re writers. We are smart people. And we know how to eat an elephant (...one bite at a time).

… but, if you’re anything like me, you also have mammoth-sized dreams. So you want to push yourself.

How do you get what you want, without working yourself to death?

Schedule. It may be the least sexy word in the English dictionary... but it works. Even the world’s most renowned writers agree: Schedules are key to serious writerdom.

Image placeholder title

How to Create a Challenging (but Healthy) Writing Schedule

It’s a relatively simple process, but it’s also pretty eye-opening. I’ll show you my schedule in a moment.

First, here’s the three steps I used to build my own schedule:

  1. Map out all of your immovable obligations.
  2. Find all of your free time (and be sure to reserve some for resting and socialization).
  3. Build your schedule around your top priority (the REAL Secret).

I’m not saying you MUST write in the mornings, (but most professional writers do). I’m saying you should plan your entire day around a single focal point.

For me, that’s writing.

I know I have to go to work. I have to eat and sleep. But I’m most focused on getting my writing hours in. So I plan everyday in advance, and make sure my writing is always the first chunk that gets scheduled.

Everything else falls into place after writing.

Do this a couple times (or for a few weeks), and you’ll have a strong idea of what you can reasonably accomplish.

Here’s what my writing schedule looks like:

Image placeholder title

The Hidden Power of Schedules

Motivation and discipline are vital. How do great writers create brilliant work? All you see is the final product—not the sweat, the dedication, the routine that unfurls the pages, day after day.

Schedules tie you down to your goals. You never need to ask, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” Because you already know.

This is not my advice. This is the advice I’ve stolen from hundreds of famous authors, great writers, and truly productive individuals.

Last year, I scheduled most of my writing time, and I wrote 450,000 words. That’s almost five times more than what I accomplished in 2017.

One final warning!

Do not let your pride get in the way. A healthy writing goal that allows you to grow steadily over the long-term is infinitely more useful than a too-ambitious one that will crush your soul.

Do not be afraid to change your goals at any point in the year. Usually, it will only take you a couple days or weeks to realize, “Okay, this is too much.”

Calibrating yours goals is smart, not shameful.

Conclusion | What are your 2019 writing goals?

Here are my goals:

Will I accomplish all this?

No idea. In fact, there’s a high chance I’ll fail… but that’s the whole idea.

Make a reasonable writing goal, then inflate it until you think you can achieve it, but you’re not 100% certain.

Succeed? You win.

Fail? You’ll have a great benchmark for next year.

Either way, you’re bound to get some great writing done this 2019.

What are your writing goals? Tell me in the comments below!

Image placeholder title
20_most_popular_writing_posts_of_2020_robert_lee_brewer

20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.

Malden_1:16

Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.

writing_mistakes_writers_make_talking_about_the_work_in_progress_robert_lee_brewer

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.

Kelly_1:15

Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.

capital_vs_capitol_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Capital vs. Capitol (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use capital vs. capitol with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Dulan_1:14

On Writing to Give Grief Meaning and Write Out of Challenging Situations

Author Lily Dulan explains why writers have to be willing to go to difficult places inside themselves for their writing to make a positive impact on ourselves, others, and the world.

Brandt_1:14

Gerald Brandt: Toeing the Line Between Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Science fiction author Gerald Brandt explains how this new series explores the genre boundary and how he came to find his newest book's focus.

plot_twist_story_prompts_moment_of_doubt_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Moment of Doubt

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character experience a moment of doubt.