Goals That Work: Many Roads to Success

In another post, I touched on determining your motivations in order to set the right kind of goal for yourself. Here are a few more ideas for different ways to measure your success, which can lead to lots of different kinds of goals. The more often you can check in on your progress (ie tracking it) and the more ways you have to assess it, the more often you get the satisfaction of scratching something off your to-do list.

(If you missed the previous posts in this series, you may want to check them out first.)

Using Concrete Units of Measurement

Many writers will report their book didn’t “feel real” until they held a copy in their hands. A printed book has dimensions, it has a measurable weight. It has a presence that can’t be matched by looking at the same words on a screen. That’s because your abstract concept has manifested and become concrete.

Word count is the most commonly espoused way to achieve this transition from ideas in your head into something on the page, but it certainly isn’t the only way to apply a numerical value to your achievements. When you set your goals for whatever unit of time you see fit, you can provide yourself with a variety of measurements, which means a greater chance to succeed. In addition to wordcount and our meta-goal of a finished novel, you could also track numbers related to:

  • Completed scenes or chapters
  • Frequency of submissions, acceptances, and/or rejections (link to article)
  • Creation of new characters, settings, species, vehicles, etc. 
  • Reading books/articles to research your subject matter
  • Reading books/articles on the craft of writing
  • Trying new approaches to pantsing or plotting on a regular basis
  • Story ideas (whether or not you develop them)
  • Stages of development, such as storyboarding, finished drafts, beta-reader feedback, etc.
  • Editing note bullet points
  • Words cut or replaced with more interesting or appropriate words

Using Abstractions as a Unit of Measurement

If you found yourself with a longer list of abstract motivations than concrete ones, traditional goal-setting with a focus on the numbers isn’t going to work for you. Or even if you do like charting your progress to the exact number of words, there is a lot to gain from also tracking your abstract progress as well. 

I have personally found that the longer I write fiction, the more important it is for me take notes about my process. At first, I’d start with something like a bulleted list of what I wanted to achieve and then delete the bullets as I completed them. I’ve now learned this is a terrible way to think about these notes to myself. Once they’ve been deleted, it is so easy to forget that I ever had the ideas, let alone acted on them. I have also had times where I have made, unmade, and remade the same decisions simply because I didn’t have my decision-making process documented! Now, I never delete old notes, I simply use the strikethrough function. I may move finished tasks to another part of the document, but I never delete them anymore. I also have whole documents just devoted to brainstorming about scenes or chapters, and I can see those documents piling up as I get farther into my draft.

For others, this sort of note-taking could look more like a journal. Especially for people with motivations involving working through a tough subject, a writing journal can be even more important than the finished draft. When the abstract goal is to work through grief, a journal of how you feel at the end of your writing day is a way to give you “credit” for your confronting the negative emotions. 

And on those days when the writer’s funk sets in, imagine how helpful it would be to have a chronicle of all the times writing made you feel good. These notes can act as an invaluable, concrete reminder of your abstract journey as a writer. 

I’ll be back next time with more tips and strategies for seeing your projects through to the end, and I hope you’ll join me! In the meantime, you can also catch up on the previous posts in the series.

Until next time, stay splendid, my friends!

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