All you right-brained, go-with-the-flow, write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type people—stop reading now. This post will just frustrate you and you'll feel like you have to leave nasty anonymous comments pointing out that I don't know what I'm talking about.
But for writers who are a little more left-brained and especially those who are working on their first novels. . .
Setting writing goals is a good way to work through a writing project. Sometimes, you know where you are and where you want to be, but the task is so big and overwhelming that you don't know how you're going to get from here to there. It's easy to get frustrated, discouraged, and then give up. Setting specific and measurable writing goals can keep you on task and help you get to where you want to be.
1. Set a long-term goal.
Do you want to start and finish a novel? (or two?) Do you want to get your WIP polished and submitted? Do you want to write for contests? Or try something in a different genre? Or maybe you do okay with the big stuff, but you need to set a goal for blogging. Whatever it is, decide what your specific focus is going to be for the next 6 to 12 months.
When I say specific, I mean measurable and achievable. Don't set a goal that says, "I want to be published." First, it's too vague. Second, getting published isn't under your direct control.
A solid goal might be, "I will complete my 90,000 word Young Adult novel by December 1st." This is clear and measurable, and you have the ability to achieve it.
2. Break your long-term goal into smaller, short-term goals.
Look at your schedule and decide how you want to chunk things down. Will you write every day? Three days a week? Or all day on Saturdays? Block out the time in your schedule, then create realistic mini goals.
Using the 90,000 word novel in six months as an example, that would mean your smaller goals would be to write 15,000 words each month; 3,750 words each week; and, if you write 5 days a week, that's only 750 words a day. That is reasonable.
Remember, your goals need to be specific and measurable as to what (750 words a day) and when (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.).
If your goal is to build your writing creds, your smaller goal might be to write and submit one magazine article each month.
3. Track your progress.
I believe in the power of tangible, visual progress charts. You can use a wall calendar, giving yourself a sticker for each day you reach your goal. You can make a graph that shows how many words you've written. There are some good online goal trackers like Joe's Goals and LifeTick (this one has an iPhone app). If you're motivated by sharing your goals with others, you can put a word count ticker on your blog to show your progress, like these from Writertopia.
4. Assess your goals.
After you've been completing your smaller, short-term goals for awhile, take a look at them and make sure they are supporting your larger goal. Sometimes what you think will help you reach your goal might be slightly off target. Or perhaps you've set your goals too high, or too low. Assess and readjust your goals, if needed. I like to do a quick assessment once a month, to review the progress I've made and what's still ahead.
What types of things do you do to make and meet your writing goals?