S.M.A.R.T Goals

I know this is the sort of article you see in January when everyone is setting goals for the New Year. I could suggest that, if you wait until January to set your goals for 2013, you have waited too late, but that would be disingenuous because that's usually when I start setting them. The reason I'm thinking about goal setting now is that I am involved in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). Like thousands of other writers around the world I'm striving to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Actually, my goal is two novels for 100,000.

Now, this goal isn't practical for every writer, however, one can learn a lot from the experience. Mostly, what one learns is the power of a deadline and support in increasing productivity. Also, one learns something about goal setting, and, more importantly, goal keeping.

Many people treat goals like wishes. A goal is something they hope will somehow happen if they work real hard and have good luck and the stars align properly. In reality, a goal is the first part of an action plan. That means you have to think through your goals carefully. I just read this acronym and loved it. S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S - pecific

Your goal needs to be specific enough that you will know instantly if you achieved it or not. Take a look at Nanowrimo. The goal is to write 50,000 words as the first draft of a novel. I know exactly when to crack open my bottle of Classic Coke ( I don't drink alcohol ) and celebrate. Too many people will tell me their goal for the coming year is to "write more," "get to work on my novel," or "build up my business." With goals like that, not only will you not achieve them, you won't even know when you did achieve them.

Some examples of specific goals include:

  • Write an average of 1000 words a day on non-holiday weekdays. 
  • Edit and put in the mail the following novels/short stories/nonfiction books/articles
  • Complete two novels. 
  • Write and send out 25 magazine articles.
  • Send out at least two query letters per week/month
M - easurable

Being specific means your goals need to be measurable. As mentioned before, "doing more writing" is not only a vague goal, there is no way to measure it. Some types of things that can be measured in writing are:

  • Word Counts
  • Pages Edited
  • Projects Completed
  • Projects Submitted to Editors/Publishers
  • Projects Self-Published
  • Number of local clients contacted
  • Number of blog posts written
  • Number of social media connections made
A - ctionable

 Too many people set goals they have no direct control over. For instance, they will set a goal like "Publish three novels." Now, unless you plan to self-publish, that is not an actionable goal. There is nothing you can do to ensure it will happen. Much of that goal is outside your control. First, an assistant editor has to pass along your proposal to an editor. That editor has to meet with an editorial committee. They have to consider budget, market trends, the composition of their fall catalog and a dozen more factors before deciding whether or not to publish your work.

So, what is  under your control? Writing the novel. Editing your novel. Sending out proposals or meeting with editors at writers conferences. So, frame your goal in terms of the actions you will take. like: "I will complete three novels and submit them to at least five publishers each."

R - ealistic

Now, this is one where people fail by either overestimating or underestimating. Your goals should challenge you, but not to the extent that they are virtually impossible to attain. For instance, Nanowrimo's 50,000 word challenge is doable for most people if they can put in an hour or two a day on the project. That's 1650 words a day or about seven double spaced type written pages a day. Now, to determine if this is reasonable for you or not, you need to know some things. First, you need to know how fast your write, rough draft speed. You can find this out by writing for fifteen minutes three times, counting the number of words and creating an average for an hour of writing and reducing it by 25 percent. So, if you average 1200 words an hour, call it 900 so you have some wiggle room for slower days.

You can do the same with other writing activities like editing, preparing the final manuscript, formatting an ebook for publication, even writing your blog. That way when you say you want to be able to write 10,000 words a month on your novel, you will know approximately how much time that will take and be able to decide whether or not that is realistic.

T - imed

There is nothing like a deadline, even a self-imposed one, to motivate completion of your goals. One of the values of Nanowrimo is the fact that by the end of the month, you either have written your 50,000 words and you get your badge to put on your website, or you didn't. As those last days of November tick down, you feel the pressure of the deadline to either keep up the pace or increase it.

When setting your goals, make them time sensitive. For instance, don't just say you want to complete such-and-such a novel, say, "I will complete such-and-such a novel by the end of March." That sets a specific time frame for completion.

So, as you begin to think about your goals for next week, next month or next year just how S.M.A.R.T. are they.

If you enjoy these articles, you might enjoy my series of writing essentials books on Amazon including Time Management for Writers, Elements of Plot: A Personalized Approach and The Road to Success in Nanowrimo with more coming later this year.

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