Setting and Meeting Goals

Many have thought about writing a book--thought about it for weeks, then months, and then years but never wrote it. What is the difference between those who think and those who do? Mainly planning and obstinate doggedness. One way to get that story idea into a finished manuscript and then a published book is to get organized: Set and Meet goals.

This can be trickier than it seems. How many of us have said, “Later today I will outline the first half of the book” or “Tomorrow I will write five pages” and never got close to doing either. I’d have to raise my hand as doing so. To dodge this problem you need to craft a carefully thought out plan that you know you will commit to. Commitment is perhaps the most important ingredient in meeting your goals, so think long and hard about what is important to you as a writer and your writing career.

Here are a few points that may help you get started.

1. Set Priorities: Be it for the next book you mean to write or what you hope to accomplish in the next year you have to break down the tasks involved into manageable “bites” so that you don’t get sidetracked or overwhelmed. Decide what is most important be it writing a book, getting an agent, selling to a publisher (often it is all of these) and then set goals to achieve success.

2. Break goals into yearly, monthly, and weekly parameters.
Think of your goals for the year or a particular manuscript as a color by number book cover. Each time you achieve a goal in the plan you can color in that part of the design. When you’ve finished them all you have the book that goes with the cover.

Let’s say you’ve one manuscript ready to be submitted and you have a story idea for your next book. Your yearly goals could be:
• Get manuscript accepted by agent or publisher
• Write the new book

Now you need to break these down into steps. I sometimes have to sketch these out and then put them into monthly and weekly goals. The weekly goals should be small and incremental, that is they are parts that you build on to reach the monthly and yearly goals. They are part of the larger project broken into steps.
To get a manuscript accepted by an agent/publisher you have to
• Write a synopsis
• Do research to chose an agent or publisher
• Write a query letter
• Do all those things again if you get a rejection

To get that next book written you have to:
• Sketch basic plot
• Develop main characters
• Determine setting
• Write rough outline
• Research as necessary
• Set writing schedule

Take the above goals and determine which you want to meet the first month, etc. and which will be ongoing. Divide them into a workable timetable. Some are going to be reoccurring, like the writing schedule.

3. Have achievable realistic goals. Take a hard look at your slate of goals. Have you taken on too much in each time category? Have you allowed room for inevitable distractions? Are these goals what you truly want to accomplish and in the order that will help you achieve the most success at meeting them?

Meeting small goals builds confidence and enables you to take on larger ones. A single goal of “I will write a book” will doom it. It takes from two months to a year or more to write a book. Most people need the satisfaction of meeting goals in much shorter spans of time. A goal of “I will write a paragraph or two about the heroine’s goal, motivation, and conflict” is much more attainable and leads to the next step--doing the same for the hero.

4. Make your goals concise. A goal that is a broad generalizations makes it difficult to meet and easy to avoid. Stating exactly what is to be done is more likely to result in your doing it. “I will determine the setting--the dates and place of my story. ” It’s easy to know when you have met this goal.

5. Write goals down. Goals that aren’t written down are more easily forgotten, more easily escape our memories. I not only write them down but put them by the computer to keep me on task. It’s easy to put them out of mind with out a reminder. Not so easy if you see them all day, every day.

6. Accept Failure. Murphy’s Law is like Newton’s law on gravity, it happens to all of us. Murphy’s Law states “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” There will always be something that will interfere with your goals--little and big problems; short and long delays. If you learn to shrug it off, put your fingers to the keyboard, and get back on track you will reach the goal. Attitude is key and a positive one will always accomplish more than a negative one. “I can’t” usually means “I won’t” Vent your frustration and then get those fingers moving on the keyboard.

7. Persist. Success with goals, with anything, is 90% or more persistence. BICHOK--Butt in chair, Hands on keyboard. There are many twists and turns, even back tracking on the way to finishing that manuscript and publication. The old Frank Sinatra song “High Hopes” says it all. In part “Just what makes that little old ant; Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant? Anyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant. So any time your gettin’ low stead of lettin’ go, Just remember that ant. Oops there goes another rubber tree plant!”

8. Celebrate. Put a line through each goal as you meet it. Put stars by it--whatever works for you. Have a glass of wine. I was going to say play a Free Cell game but we all know where that leads and it’s not to meeting goals. Wine is safer. Chocolate is even better.

9. Stay focused. Stick to your goals. Adjust them, redistribute them over your time line when it’s necessary but don’t loose sight of the end goal. Work your way through the obstacles you confront on your way to it and you WILL reach it!

Everyone works in their own way. What works for me may not work for you. Take the ideas that will help you and please, share yours for setting and meeting goals.

I’ve now meet my goal to blog on Setting and Meeting Goals. Pass those M&M’s!


Roxann Delaney said...

(passing Joan a bag of M&Ms)

You nailed it, Joan. Goals are done in bite-sized pieces, one at a time.

BTW, I can remember seeing A Hole in the Head in the theater where Sinatra and little Eddie Hodges sang the song. 1959. (gasp) I love that song!

Roxann Delaney said...

One thing about setting goals I caution about is choosing the ones the writer can control. In other words, "I will sell a book this year" or even "I will get an agent this year" isn't something we can control. We can't make them offer a buy or representation. SUBMITTING to an editor or agent is proactive and something a writer DOES control.

The key is in not giving up. Goals sometimes need refreshing if they aren't working or not getting done.

Joan Vincent said...

Rox, Thanks for the M&M's :) I love the song too--this youtube will give you a flashback and a chuckle--
I agree completely with the control aspect. I should have said something like "work toward getting an agent or publisher." Submitting over and over is often--usually--necessary. When I get a rejection I readjust the goal to resubmit to the next agent or publisher on the list I've made. Of course, I've had to remake that list a time or too. Not giving up is the key.

Starla Kaye said...

Perfect, Joan! I'm a huge believer in setting goals...sometimes I have trouble meeeting them at a specific time, but I'm getting better.

With the way I publish in chapters, I have to set a lot of deadlines. And each chapter has specific structural goals as well.

My current goal is to finish these three book deadlines without going insane. More particularly I'm hoping to finish the weekly-chapter publication. It has been a really long 12 weeks for that book. I always swear I won't do another one of those for a while...but I'm already toying around with a new idea. Hmmm

Roxann Delaney said...

When it comes to page goals while on deadline, I like to get ahead whenever possible. Why? As Joan said, things come along that can't be ignored.

The husband of my best writing friend died two years ago. He was also a good friend of mine, and I offered to help with contacting other friends and business associates. That took all my time for two weeks. It was somewhat the same last year when my mom died. Both times I was on deadline, but luckily well ahead of the goals I set.

I'm two weeks ahead of schedule right now. If everything stays calm, I'll be finished with the book well ahead of time. If not, I have that safety net of two weeks and don't have to worry.

Joan Vincent said...

There's no one more disciplined and productive than you. Discipline and practice do make it easier to meet goals and with both we get better at setting them. I'm certain those three books will be done on time and with you more sane than most of us.

Joan Vincent said...

You are so right about trying to get ahead of your goals. It's always comforting to have a cushion because you never know what is around the corner. I don't know how you get sooo much done--for yourself but also for others. May your generosity be well rewarded--may finish your book well ahead of contract time!

Roxann Delaney said...

Thanks, Joan! You won't be saying that if you feel the crack of my whip though. LOL

And thanks for the video link! I downloaded it. (grin) Gee, ain't technology great?

Reese Mobley said...

Great post, Joan. I set goals and try to make them, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. I don't beat myself up if it doesn't happen. I just reset the goals and keep going. The have them as a motivater is the key to success. It also helps to be held accountable--either by our critique groups or WARA. So, pass the M & M's, I could really use them!

Roxann Delaney said...


I'm out of bags, but lots left in the giant-size bag I buy, so passing you some of those much needed M&Ms. Adding a hug to go with them.

Joan Vincent said...

Good point. Never has, never will pay to beat yourself up over anything. Huge waste of time. That's why we adjust goals to fit new circumstances. Begin each day as a new start and go on.
One day you're going to get to sing "Oops, there goes another published book!"
Hugs are even better than chocolate! Better yet, we never run out of them. Here's hugs all around for all the support all you gals give. Except maybe Rox who got me hung up on watching "We are the World" on youtube instead of meeting my goals!
What the heck Rox, you're sharing M&M's and helping me smile. After all it's MY choice to watch and rewatch that dang video. I love the Japanese one where they put the names of each artist up when they sing. See, I am wasting way too much time. Off to editing before Rox cracks her whip.

Pat Davids said...

Great post. Setting manageable goals is so important in this business. Thinking you need to write a 250 page book in three months is overwhelming unless you break it down to pages per day. Write three pages a day and you’ll be done with it with days to spare. Okay, I never have days left to spare because I know how to procrastinate!
If we ever blog on that topic, I’ll go first.

Joan Vincent said...

Thanks for stopping by. You may procrastinate but you are sooo reliable! Keep those books coming!

Penny Rader said...

Great break down of goals, Joan! I love to make lists and then cross stuff off. Makes me feel like I accomplished something.

Loved the rubber tree plant video, btw! Thanks for sharing.