Goals That Work: Why Set Project Goals in the First Place?

This time last year, I was publishing at least one long-form article per month through Our Write Side with writing and editing tips. That site is down gone, which means it’s a chance to revisit these topics, update the info with my new experiences, and break them up into yummy, bite-sized pieces rather than the 15+ page behemoths they started as. For my first revamped series, I’ll be looking at goal-setting (and most importantly, goal-ACHIEVING). I am an experienced project manager for publishing projects, and I hope I can help you achieve your goals in 2020.

January is the season of goal-setting. The new year is a convenient place to begin new routines, though there really is no BAD time to start setting goals. I’ll wax poetic on the power of deadlines in a later post in the series, but there are plenty of articles about the “should” of goal-setting without much guidance on the how or why of it all. This series will aim to give you tips for coming up with goals that are catered to you.

Events like NaNoWriMo use word count as their metric to keep you laser focused on a goal. In truth, there are plenty of different ways to achieve “success” that fit with your individual work style and ultimate goals for your writing or publishing projects. Speed may not be the most important thing if you’re at a point in your writing journey where craft is key. But whether you want to make a living from your books or you just want to prove you have that novel in you, there are several ways to measure success and use goals to get you there.

This series will cover:

  • The power of individualized goal-setting to reach writing success
  • How to assess your motivations and how they should inform your goals
  • Managing your time and expectations
  • Case studies based on my personal writing journey to help you set reasonable goals

Why Bother with Goals in the First Place?

They say there are two ways to motivate people; be the carrot or be the stick. This means to either offer rewards (carrot) or offer punishment (the stick) for particular behaviors. But for the sake of your sanity and mine, I want to abandon this whole concept right off the bat. If you didn’t already find something about writing to be intrinsically rewarding, you wouldn’t be here right now. Making a living as a writer is waaaaaaaaaaaay too hard and time-consuming for the average Josephine to bother with the hassle, even if someone is threatening fustigation. So, I want you to leave that stick out of your planning process from the get-go, too.

Make Your Goals Make Sense for You

Broadly speaking, everyone wants to succeed. When we achieve success, we feel satisfaction. But what sorts of “wins” produce that sensation is determined by each person. Even in a group of people who may appear to have the same goals, they could be very different. Take a dance class, for instance. All of the dancers are there to put on a good show at the recital, but there are more layers than just the surface performance. One dancer may be focused on building strength through exercise. Another one is hoping to become more graceful in her everyday life. A third is living up to the expectations of her overbearing mother. All three dancers are performing the same movements, but their individual goals are what keep them spinning.

For writers, the final performance is often a polished piece of a sizable length. This could be a collection of stories (by just you or many authors working together), a memoir, or of course, a novel. Whether you want to put your finished piece of fiction in a drawer, self-publish immediately, or seek out a longer traditional route, there is some sort of concrete end (a quality piece of writing) to keep in your sights.

The length and structure of that project is determined by the individual writer. The subject, tone, setting—you name it. They all come down to each writer and what about the writing process gives them satisfaction at each step of the way. The steps between the blank page and the finished product can’t all be fun and games, but if you can figure out what helps you feel good about even the ickiest parts, it helps you stay motivated to reach your overarching goals.

At the same time, your goals are also the best way to see how far you’ve come. During those seemingly inevitable bouts of self-loathing we creative types are prone to, having something to look at and use to assess our progress can be the difference between giving up or getting it done. I know I’ll reach the end of a week sometimes and start to get down on myself for not having accomplished more. As often as not, this stems more from the fact I don’t have something tangible to point at and declare “I did that.” But if you have goals and steps in place for reaching those goals, there is always something to turn to and use a yardstick for measuring if these feelings are valid. And even better, to help you figure out the steps to take to keep from feeling that way again.

We’ll pick up here next time with info on setting goals based on your personal motivations and leveraging how your brain already works to help you achieve them.

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