Thursday, 3 April 2014

How to Stick with your Writing Goals (Or Any Other Goals)

Inspired by my recent post, Refresh: My Quarterly Review, I've been thinking a lot about how to achieve my goals, particularly those related to writing. How can you cope when goals change? Does a change of objective indicate failure? How can you stay motivated and committed to your goals? I don't claim to have all the answers, but this is what works for me...

1. Write down your goals and keep them where you can access them easily.

I use a notebook, but a phone or computer will also work well. The key point is that you can review your goals at frequent and regular intervals. This keeps your goals at the forefront of your mind, even when life, work and other distractions get in the way.

2. Divide and conquer.

Split your goals into mini-goals. It's essential that you do this for the first steps of your goals. It's preferable that you create mini-goals to lead you right from step one to completion. Don't worry about detours: it's important to have a map rather than nothing, even if it's not 100% accurate.

3. Embrace change!

Don't be afraid of changing your goals as you progress; just change them for the right reasons. If your original goals are no longer appropriate, it's better to jettison them than to waste time and effort trying to achieve something that's not important to you.

However, if you want to abandon a goal because it's harder than you anticipated or because you're procrastinating, remind yourself of why you chose the goal in the first place.

4. Blaze your own trail.

Choose goals that you want to achieve for your own reasons (i.e. not because everyone else has similar goals or someone said you should do it) and make adjustments as you see fit. 

Just because X famous writer self-published their first novel doesn't mean it's right for you. You may have heard that writing nonfiction is a sensible option for getting established as a writer, but if you find it soul-destroying and would rather focus on writing fiction, maybe you should  and good luck to you. 

There are plenty of mavericks who find success in their own way and there's no reason why you can't be one of them. In fact, a large proportion of successful people are successful precisely because they went off the beaten track.

5. Never strive for perfection. 

It doesn't exist and leaves you drained. Read my post Fighting Perfectionism for more on why being a perfectionist means you're constantly fighting a losing battle. Perfectionism sucks up your time and energy: you either spend too much time on unimportant things, or you're so paralyzed by perfectionism that you end up doing nothing. It's far better to focus on doing things as well as you can within a sensible time limit.

6. Make small, continuous adjustments.

I've posted about kaizen before: Kaizen in Writing and How Kaizen can Motivate Writers. It simply involves making tiny changes and making them often. These changes accumulate and turn into big changes with minimal effort.

As you review your goals and mini-goals, think of how you can adjust your actions in order to achieve them. It could be as simple as deciding to write a haiku every day (kaizen is Japanese, after all!). Once the habit becomes ingrained, you could then decide to write 20 words of a short story every day. 

These tiny pieces of writing are far better than writing nothing and you'll probably end up writing much more than you planned. Kaizen takes the pressure off, allowing you to progress without too much emotional turmoil.

7. Remember, you will fail.

Yep. And this is why failing is good. Writing involves many failures, big and small. Failing means you're trying. If this thought gets you down, read Positively Productive Writing. If a goal is important to you, keep working on it. So what if you fail hundreds, or even thousands, of times? At least you're trying  that's more than a lot of people manage.


  1. Loved your points. I too make mini-goals and try to achieve them. If I cant work on my MS, then I complete my other writing (features for newspapers).

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rachna. I'm a little evangelical about mini-goals!

  2. Fantastic post, Hayley. I love the thought of achievable mini goals - so much more positive than daunting lists full of colossal tasks.
    I am also very keen on the great art of failing. It's important to learn from it, then look ahead and see how much further - and sometimes down a different path - the experience can point you. x

  3. i love your list of helpful advice! and the last one is something we all have to face and the hardest lesson to learn. thanks for the encouragement!
    happy friday!

    1. Thanks, Tara! Learning to fail is something I struggle with :-)