Goal Setting for Writers for 2012

Ahh, all those New Year’s resolutions.  Writers are notorious for setting goals.  And failing to achieve them.

This is often because all those goals we set don’t have a strategic goal, which they support.  The #1 key to success in any endeavor is to set a strategic, overall goal and do whatever it takes to accomplish.  I’m gearing up to teach a Write It Forward workshop on-line for the next two months (registration closes Thursday night) and the first thing we work on is goals.  The excerpt below is from our Guide to Writers’ Conference: How to Get the Most Out of Your Time & Money, but it’s also a version of what’s in Write It Forward.

Strategy First: Know Your Goals

Understand Why You’re Going

We’re opening this book about conferences with an adapted excerpt from Bob’s book Write It Forward:  From Writer to Published Author. In this section we discuss goal setting, because the first thing you have to do, even before you look for a writing conference, is know what you want to achieve both with your writing and with your conference experience.  Every decision you make before, during and after the conference depends on what goals you set.

Let’s talk first about your strategic writing goal. It can be anything, but it’s important that you lock it down in one sentence. Here are some broad examples:

  • I will be a NY Times best-selling thriller author in five years.
  • I will write my memoir for my grandchildren in the next three months.
  • I write part-time simply because it is a hobby and spend an hour a day on it.
  • I want to be published within 2 years by a major, traditional press.
  • I will have my book in print within 2 months via self-publishing.
  • I will write a book that will help people with —– and spend the next three years using it to bolster and complement my speaking career.

The Importance of Your Strategic Goal:

  • It starts your creative and practical process.
  • It determines your supporting goals.
  • Remembering it keeps you focused.
  • It is the core of your work regime.
  • It is the core of your marketing campaign.
  • It determines what conference(s) you will attend and how you will plan for them.
  • All supporting goals must align with it in the hierarchy.

Supporting Goals

Your supporting goals are designed to help you achieve your overall strategic goal. Thus, everyone’s path will be different based on having different strategic goals. What conference you pick to attend, what workshops you will go to, how you will socialize and network, who and how you will pitch, etc. all will be shaped by your goals.  Each of those decisions are based on the supporting goals for each one.

Everything that you are getting in this book is filtered through your specific strategic goal. When you go to a writers’ conference, everything you hear is also filtered through your strategic goal.  So two people attending the same session are going to walk out with two different impressions, each filtered through their point of view, which is shaped by their strategic goal.

When you state your goals, they should be done in one sentence. The sentence should have a positive verb that indicates the action you’ll want to use to achieve your goal. The verb must indicate an action you control—to an extent. In publishing, you control the writing and the way you approach the business. Beyond that, the publishing gods are fickle. I will become a NY Times Bestselling author in five years seems a bit lofty. But here’s the bottom line: if that’s what you want to achieve, then state it. And then develop a plan to do it. This greatly increases your odds of achieving the goal than the hit-or-miss method.  Studies have shown the #1 key to success is setting a long-term strategic goal and doing whatever it takes in order to achieve it.  Once you have that strategic goal, it determines everything you do, because everything you do has to support that goal.

Your goal should have an external, visible outcome. Just as in your novel your character’s goal should be something concrete and external, so should yours.

You should have a time lock for achieving the goal, unless time is of no consequence to you. For most of us, time is the most valuable asset we have.

Keep It Positive- A Negative Goal Accepts Defeat

Here’s another thing about stating your goal: Putting it out there, verbally and in writing, is a form of making a commitment.  We know many writers get some static from those around them about all the time and money they invest in writing when they are unpublished and there seems to be no payback.  The expense of a conference might be hard to justify.  If people just see you sitting in front of a computer staring into space and then going off to conferences, they might start to question what you are doing.  Letting others know your goal is committing to trying to achieve it and also lets others know you’re serious about it.  Then showing your supporting goals such as how much time you allocate each day to writing, attending conferences, taking workshops, etc. will make sense in terms of the framework of the larger, long-term goal.

It also puts pressure on you to stick to your goals. We know many people who are afraid to clearly state their goals because by not doing so, they can slack off day after day. Also, some are afraid to state goals because they fear ridicule.

In 1987 Jim Carrey was 25 years old and a struggling comic. He drove his Toyota up Mulholland Drive in LA. Overlooking the city he wrote himself a check for $10 million. He dated it 1995 and noted it was “for acting services rendered”.

He was wrong. In 1995, his price for a movie was $20 million.

We can guarantee you one thing:  if you don’t state your goal and strive for it, you are guaranteed never to achieve it.

Write goals out.  Post them where you can see them every day.  Put your conference goal on the inside of your notebook where you can see it every time you open it up to take notes.

What do you fear doing? (Often this is exactly what we must do). We have often found that many writers are afraid of writing about the things closest to them. Which means they are afraid to write their passion. Most writers are introverts, so going to a conference is against our instincts. Socializing is difficult for us and we don’t like crowds.  We know many writers who go to conferences and hide in their rooms, rather than attending sessions.

Questions to ask Yourself

They key to answering these questions is the ability to do so in one sentence. This is important because it forces you to focus on what you really want.

  • What do I want to do?
  • Why do I want to do it?
  • Why should anyone else want to do it? (History & Research)
  • What is the most important thing I want to achieve?
  • How will I know when I have achieved my goal? What will have happened?
  • How have others defined it?
  • How long did it take others to achieve this goal?
  • What was your original goal when you began writing?  The good news is you had one. The bad news is you might well have forgotten it.  That original goal is key. It’s usually the spark of inspiration.  It is the foundation of you as a writer, the seed, from which all else comes. It is your Strategic Goal.

Strategic and Supporting Goals Worksheet

My strategic writing goal is:

My tactical writing goal regarding mode of publication is:

My tactical business goal/priority regarding agents is:

My tactical business goal/priority regarding editors is:

My tactical business goal/priority of attending conference is:

My tactical goal regarding priority of workshops is:

List all the things you intend to do to help ensure your goals are met:

Write It Forward!


(PS:  We’ll be doing a bunch more blog posts this month about Writers’ Conferences because many of you are planning on attending at least one in 2012)

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on January 2, 2012, in Write It forward and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. The way I approach conferences has changed a lot since working with Bob, partly because my professional goals have shifted, and that’s good, but also because I’ve learned that there is so much more I can get out of a conference if I take my time to write out why I’m going and plan out the workshops and the people I want to meet. Getting out of my comfort zone (just hanging with people I know) and getting to know other people in the business has really changed a lot of things for me. I enjoy conferences a lot more.

  2. It’s also important to make sure you break those goals into measurable sub-goals you can track. “I will finish a book in 2012” is nice, but you should also figure out HOW you’re going to do it on a daily basis. “I will write 1000 words a day” is measurable. And don’t be afraid to modify those goals.

  3. Great article. My specific goal helped me. It was very simple: I will write 10 double spaced pages per day. It also helped if I ended each day with a question: What will happen to Katie tomorrow?

    Happy New Year of Successful Writing!

  4. That’s a very good blog with some definite advice for setting and achieving our goals. My problem is, I know my strategic goal (I want on the NYT Bestseller’s list in seven years (and, yes, I have a reason for pushing it out to seven years), but I don’t know what supporting goals I need to make in order to achieve that — aside, of course, from doing the writing, revising and editing. So, the first short-term goal I have is to do more research and find out what it takes to achieve that strategic goal.

    There is one thing you forgot, though. When I talk to people about goal-setting, be it in their career or their personal life, I always stress the importance of being willing to modify, change or abandon some goals all together. We never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. For instance, once I do all the research, I may realize I don’t want to be that big afterall, and I’ll need to modify my goals to something that suits me better. Only time will tell.

  5. Joy Held's Writer Wellness Blog

    Wow and thank you for the convenient list! I just printed it out and wrote the answers in my journal.

    Love conferences. I’m getting booked now for spring as I write-Ohio River Festival of Books, Huntington, WV in April; Lori Foster’s Reader/Writer Get Together, Cincinnati, OH in June; West Virginia Writers, June and several more in negotiation. Your tips for attending conferences will definitely help anyone who wants to get the most “band for the buck” at a con. It takes going to several to be comfortable with them especially if you don’t like crowds.

    Which part of the goals list would you recommend “Selling the movie rights to my historical romance novel?” Yeah, that one will take a day or two.

    Happy New Year writing hugs!

  6. Joy Held's Writer Wellness Blog

    shoot…I meant “banG for the buck.”

  7. Marie St Juste

    Thanks much for the questions and the worksheet. Very timely, as I’m setting goals now.
    My 2 cents (or with inflation…):
    For setting and keeping goals, I think it’s important to keep in mind both the overall goal for something, like writing, and its subgoal (such as writing a certain number of pages per day)–checks and balances.
    But I’m not the expert here…Bob is.
    Happy New Year!!

  8. I’ve always been a proponent of goal setting and Bob’s simple and common-sense recommendations make it simple.

  9. A couple of days ago, I came up with an intention for the New Year: Create. As in create revisions to existing manuscripts, write query letters, and decide whether to go the traditional route or self-pub.
    Today your post inspired me to whip out an index card and reword my intention as a goal, along with the supporting goals. It’s up on my bulletin board now, right behind my laptop. Thanks for a very helpful post.

  10. I agree being willing to adjust goals is needed, but one has to be careful not to take the easy way out. What I’ve found in indie publishing is that one never knows when the tipping point will come. When sales will explode. Sometimes we have to just keep slogging away even though we’re not certain we’re seeing results– as long as we have a solid plan.
    But I’ve adjusted my business plan at least half a dozen times in the last two years in the face of changes in the business.

  11. Love this post, Bob. It’s so important to see the big picture. I’ve had an epiphany in that regard in the last few months. Between your last course and Kristen Lamb’s I feel like I’ve found my way again – after being lost in the desert for a long time.

    Everyone will enjoy the class, I’m sure,

  12. Great advice on goal setting.

    You may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try.

  13. That’s an excellent point about examining our reasons for our goals. Sometimes we set a goal because we think it’s the right thing to do to get something done. But the goal needs to have intrinsic value for us if we’re going to be successful in meeting it. Your example of Jim Carey is a good one.

  14. Hi Bob,

    Happy new year to you.

    I love this post. I always have a list of goals I want to achieve written out somewhere, I think casting your eyes over them helps make them more of a reality.

    I also agree with you that it’s very important to make sure you can achieve these goals and to have goals you can control. I remember reading one of your posts in Kindleboards last year stating the importance of this: it’s no good having goals if you have no control over them.

  15. Great post Bob,

    Definitely a necessary component of those who are serious about making writing a career.

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