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5 Reasons Why You Should NOT Set Writing Goals

We are fast approaching what I like to call goal season. We are on the verge of National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) and the new year is only 2 months away. Everyone is flush with anticipation, high hopes, and even higher goals.

So, what’s the danger in setting writing goals? What’s the big deal? You need a target to shoot at, right?

Contrary to what many people might say, writing goals can be dangerous and they ARE a big deal.

You should NOT set a writing goal if:

1. There is no way to measure whether or not you achieved the goal.

Is your goal something simple like I will write more. Well, how do you measure this? How do you know if you are successful? Is it based on writing time or word count? It is important to be specific and clear. Do not set writing goals without a finish line defined by a quantifiable or measurable element. This is why the NANOWRIMO goal of writing 50,000 words in 1 month works. No confusion or gray area here. Give yourself a quantifiable target to achieve within a defined timeframe.

2. You do not know what you are capable of.

I find many writers are unaware of their own limitations or constraints. I know the popular modo is the sky’s the limit! or I can do anything!. But, let’s bring reality back out from under the rug. Everyone has limitations of some form or another and you should know yours before setting goals. The following constraints are useful to know:

— How fast can you type (or hand write for you cave dwellers)? This an important metric when setting your daily or weekly writing goal. I am not referring to your ability to copy text from the page to your computer. How fast can you type while your story is poring out of your soul? How fast do you type when crafting your story? The best way to find this is to keep track (write it down!) of your word count and time spent each day. After a few weeks or months, you should have a pretty good idea of your word count per hour capacity. This is an extremely useful metric when setting goals.

— How much time can you devote to writing? Time is a factor for everyone! No one has unlimited time to achieve goals, so it’s critical to know yours. Do you have 5 hours per day? 10 hours per day? 1 day a week?

Knowing the combination of writing speed along with your time available will allow you to set a realistic writing goal. Do not set a goal if you have no clue if you are capable of achieving it.

3. You do not know where to start.

This may seem obvious, but it is a critical step often overlooked. How can you set a quantifiable and achievable goal without having any idea what to do? Do not set a goal without first having a general understanding of a roadmap of what needs to happen to achieve it. This map does not need to be set in stone and will change, but you will need to know what to do on day 1 to get started on the path. Do not set out on a quest to achieve a goal with no idea which direction to take your first step. Initial research and preparation prior to setting a goal is essential to success.

4. You already have unfinished goals.

Do you carry around “goal” baggage with you? Is there a whole rack of “goal” skeletons in your closet? If you said yes, do yourself a favor and do NOT set a new writing goal. Nothing can torpedo your dreams and aspirations faster than dead wood from the past dragging your down.

Prioritization of your writing goals is essential to success. If you want to set course on a new objective, it is best to make sure your old goals are resolved first. This may involve simply checking them off a list or, in some cases, gasoline and a match. Clean your mind of old goal baggage first so you can focus your efforts on achieving your new writing goal. Bring with you a little knowledge from your past success and a lot of knowledge from your past failures, close the door, and push forward.

5. Your goal is not relevant.

I think this may be the most important thing to consider when setting goals. Is your goal important to you? Do you have a burning passion, desire, or NEED to achieve the goal? This can be a bit of a soul-searching moment, and it should be. Don’t set a writing goal you have no deep-down desire to achieve. This needs to be your writing goal, not someone else’s. Knowing this will pull you through the tough times and keep you focused.



Think about these 5 things prior to setting your next writing goal. Resolve any questions posed prior setting your goal and you will have a better chance of success. Nothing is guaranteed in life and much is left to chance. For this reason, remember the quote by Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Prepare your mind before setting a writing goal and chance will favor you.



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    Join the Discussion on “5 Reasons Why You Should NOT Set Writing Goals”

    1. L. Thomas says:

      Just write. If it is a major chore to write a few pages I’m a bit concerned for you. I have all these stories that need to be told. A long time ago I learned to just write and write and write until you have a novel finished. NOW you have something to work with. You can go back and cut, edit, rewrite, change things but you have a story on paper.

      I guess I am blessed in that I can’t not write. One thing I do need to do though is after about two or three weeks it is not uncommon for me to take off 5-10 days and not write anything. I don’t even look at my work. Just like you need a day off from work you need time off from writing or it will grow stale.

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