Does Setting Writing Goals Really Work?

It’s that magical time again, writers. It’s the beginning of another year full of hopes, dreams, promises, and so much more, and already January is almost at an end. I’ve seen posts from most of the writers I know and follow to the tune of “Goals for 2013” or something indicating what they hope to achieve this year with their writing. Commonly it’s about finishing that WIP, or simply writing more this year, or it’s on the business side with social media and marketing goals.

We all do it. We come up with this list of New Year’s Writer Resolutions that we aspire to follow, and posting it to our writer blogs gives us a sense of accountability. We’ve put it out there in the world, and theoretically, others will hold us to our Writerly Resolutions.

But does writing out our Writerly Resolutions for the year help us get more writing done?

Rather than pontificate about how I never used to have to set writing goals when I was a fledgling writer in high school, or about how my writing just used to “flow” and my well never seemed to run dry, and cursing the high heavens for this ungodly writer’s dry spell that has affected me for the better part of a few years, I find myself wondering if setting these goals at the beginning of each year works.

I find myself wondering if I would get more done if I didn’t take the time to put down my goals. Would I get less done? Would I get the same amount done as I would without a goal list?

“Of course you have to have a list of goals,” you might say. “How will you be able to measure how much you accomplished at the end of the year? How will you be able to keep track of all the projects you want to work on?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a compulsive organizational freak. Not to the extent that I colour code binders or have a cross-referenced filing system, but I’m pretty strict when it comes to organizational methods and enforcing them for myself. I’m the first one who will tell you that setting goals and priorities is the best thing that a person can do to keep their tasks in order and to get things done.

But one could also argue that all of this organization and planning is just a form of procrastination. And we all know that writers have no trouble finding more and more ways to procrastinate. Surfing the net, Twitter/Facebook, online and video gaming, TVs and movie, getting drunk at bars, etc.—the list goes on.

“I’ll get to it tomorrow,” we promise ourselves. And the next day we say the same thing, and get perhaps a page or so done, and phone it in. And somehow, months pass by and then November comes along and we think, “NanoWrimo will be the perfect kick in the pants I need to get writing done!” And some writers really do! I don’t know how, but they make it work. Others make a valiant effort, but don’t quite get to the 80,000-word mark.

Another way we set ourselves up for disaster is by planning goals that are too lofty, goals that are unrealistic, or that we choose to think we “must” accomplish in an unfeasible timeline that just doesn’t work. Life happens. New commitments crop up. Things change. Schedules morph. Everything gets messy and/or messed up.

Sometimes, we just can’t connect to the writing well. It dries up. I seem to have forgotten that like our body’s muscles, we need to exercise our writing muscles to keep the engine going full steam ahead. I fear that I turned the writing switch off in my head one too many times to make room for other things in my life, and now my writing well has disappeared.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back. I feel like I’m grappling with a snickering demon who has hidden it from me, and I don’t know how to find it again.
Maybe I need to enlist in the help of an angel to send its ass back to Hell 😉

demon from hell cartoon

For this year, I have set my goals, managed my expectations a little bit, and am doing some breathing exercises to calm down 😉

Some of these other writers have written wonderful posts on “dry spells” and what they’ve done to overcome them, including:

So, I want to know from other writers—do you feel like setting goals helps you? Do you even set goals? If you don’t set goals, do you still get as much done as you would had you set goals?

4 Replies to “Does Setting Writing Goals Really Work?”

  1. There’s no surer way to make myself binge on junk food than to decide to go on a diet, and no surer way to make me avoid writing than to decide that I “must” write 1,500 words per day. Modest, achievable goals do work well for me, though, so I’ve learned to set the bar low. Then I get to feel good when I write 1,000 words instead of the 500 I was aiming for.

    So far, my 2013 goals are working out well for me. We’ve got a long way to go, though.


    1. Hi Sharon!
      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂 I totally agree. I’m going to start small until I can build myself up to my former output, which used to be like 1,000 words per writing session on a good day, if not more, and instead of looking for the “perfect” writing conditions, I’m going to take 15 minutes, then 30, etc, and focus on the output not the quantity of time spent on the writing 😉

      I’m glad to hear your 2013 goals are working out well so far! I’m currently re-evaluating my list and seeing if some of the points are, in fact, realistic, or if I’ve set the bar much too high as writers are wont to do 😉



  2. I like to make short-term goals – a month or less, and then post them publicly so I’m held accountable to them. Year-long goals are just too easy to procrastinate on (I’m a terrible putter-offer) and I end up either giving up, or reaching the end of the year and feeling like a failure. Even still, I find I often have to be forgiving with myself. Better for me is to track all my progress as I go, then look back at the end of the year and see how much I’ve accomplished. 🙂


    1. Hi Nicole!
      Thanks for stopping by!
      I think the concept of being held accountable by posting publicly is definitely a good one, and I agree that year-long goals are easy to procrastinate because they can be so lofty. I also agree that it’s important to track progress, and that not beating ourselves up is key. I’ve just finished a book called “Unstuck” about why writers procrastinate and how we can break that cycle, and the causes are more complex than we think!

      Thanks again for the note! 🙂


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