I hope you’re going strong with your resolutions and on the path to achieve your writing goals. I say this because, this is the time of year that I struggle the most with following through on my goals. I know the year just started and this sounds incredibly weak. Hear me out, when learning something new or developing a skill, it’s usually around this time that you haven’t developed a habit out of your goal yet. You follow a disciplined routine for two weeks and see minimal progress, and it’s so easy to quit. I say this because this is how it usually works out for me.
This year I did something different.
Last December, I realized I was going about completing my goals the wrong way. Instead of coming up with intricate and intense resolutions, I spent all month researching the best way to follow through on my goals. I needed some way to hold myself accountable. From the amount of resources I found, I realized I’m not alone in having good-intention-goals that fizzle out before they even take off. With that said, I complied a list of the best practices I found that will help you achieve your writing goals.
*This post contains affiliate links. Find out more about that here. The skinny: I earn a small commission if you decide to buy something through the link. If you make a purchase, there’s no extra cost to you. As always, know that if I share a writing app or product with you, it’s because I use it, love it, and think it could benefit you on your writing journey. Thanks, buddy!
How to achieve your writing goals
1. Make a chain
I found this method in a few places. Jerry Seinfeld introduced this practice as a way that he creates fresh content. It’s simple, but ingenious advice. Basically, you get a calendar and every day that you achieve your writing goals for that day, you write a big “X” in marker through that day. The goal is to create a chain of “Xs” all over the place. Seinfeld says that after a while, you get so into creating chains and seeing them get longer that you’ll do anything to not “break the chain.” Then, you get to the point where you cry blood if you break the chain. No. This whole process is painless. It’s all mental.
What makes this advice so effective is that, as you “X” out days, you reinforce the feeling of accomplishment because you are creating a chain. Visual learners will benefit most from this exercise, but if you aren’t that kind of learner, there’s still plenty of benefits to using this method. This exercise plays to the part of you that wants a reward when you achieve your writing goals. Like all habits need a trigger, they also need a reward. You do what you need to do to achieve your writing goals and then you get to cross off your calendar.
Second, this practice is useful because it gives you tangible evidence that you can track to learn about your creative process. Do you struggle to cross off your days on the weekend? Was there a holiday that month that made it difficult to cross off a day? This method is important because it forces you to question your habits, motivation, and why you may be procrastinating.
Jerry Seinfeld isn’t the only person who recognizes the importance of working a little towards your goals every day. Other writers and creators agree that a little work every day will help you achieve your writing goals. American poet, Kenneth Goldsmith, says,
“If you work on something a little bit every day, you end up with something that is massive.”
For example, if you write 250 words per day (that’s one page of typed writing), in 200 days you will have enough words for a novel. You could have the first draft of a novel completed in a little over half a year. I mean, a page a day is easy.
2. Make your goals bite-sized
You’ve decided. This is the year you write your novel. That’s awesome and good on you for your ambition. I mean it.
The thing is, a novel is a huge undertaking.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to have this as a goal. Rather, it would be more realistic to break your goal down so it’s manageable. The benefit to having manageable goals is that you are about 88% less likely to burn out. You achieve your writing goals because you set milestones and create a timeline. Here’s a real-life example of two people I made up:
- Billy wants to write a novel this year. He throws himself into it and writes every day for two months and then gets overwhelmed and quits.
- Vicky also wants to write a novel this year. However, before she throws herself into it, she creates a list of milestones she needs to tackle to finish a novel. Once she has her list, she creates a timeline for success. First, she decides that she will have finished the first draft of her novel by June. Next, she decides to spend a month building her characters and doing background research. Then, for the following month, she focuses on developing the plot. Finally, she starts writing.
I know this sounds like a classic argument of plotter vs pantser (someone who plots out their writing vs someone who writes “by the seat of their pants”), but it’s not. You can apply this to any writing goal you have, and pantsers could easily tweak their milestones to suit their writing styles.
If you don’t break your goals down into achievable milestones, your more likely to drown under your ambitions and give up. Breaking down your goals serves the dual purpose of keeping you motivated and crating a realistic timeline that makes your goals achievable.
3. Know your habits
We all go into situations with experiences and habits that color how we interact with the world around us. That’s cool. What this practice does is it allows you to judge which habits are holding you back and which habits you have that will help you achieve your writing goals. In short, it’s setting up a foundation where you can use your habits to help achieve your goals. It’s sort of like setting a table for a dinner party. You don’t put food out on the table and expect people to eat without plates.
For this, think honestly about what habits prevent you from achieving your writing goals. For example, say you want to journal everyday, and you feel most fresh and motivated in the morning. However, you started Stranger Things and it spiraled into a binge that ended at 4 am. It would be in your best interest to recognize that your lack of sleep prevents you from achieving your writing goals (if it’s your goal to write early in the morning).
Another example: say you buy a book of prompts because you want to journal everyday. You put it in your mind that you will complete all 400,000 prompts in chronological order without skipping a day. Unfortunately, that is when disaster strikes and your beloved cat, Snuffles, tries to kill you. Full of doubt, fear, and self-loathing, you limp over to your desk and open your prompt book.
The first prompt: Write about the cutest thing your pet ever did.
Even though you planned to write, in order, every prompt, you can’t do it. The near death experience with your cat made you feel like hiding from the world. So that’s what you do. You spend the day in bed scrolling through Instagram.
First of all, to achieve your writing goals you need to take steps to set yourself up for success. One way to set yourself up for success is to write about something you like. That means, if you have a prompt book, pick the ones that inspire you to write. If you don’t like any prompts in a book you already own, or you’re just starting out journaling, I created a Pinterest Board full of all kinds of writing prompts.
Whatever you do, don’t make arbitrary rules that will get in the way of your success. The whole purpose of a goal is that it’s already something you struggle with/need to work towards. Why would you want to make your work harder?
4. Write it down & tell someone
The best way to achieve your writing goals is to keep yourself accountable. Writing your goals down and telling someone you trust gives the goal more power than it would have if you kept it to yourself. First, doing this gives you a support system. In her book, Yes, Please, Amy Poehler says that “it’s easier to be brave when you’re not alone.” This is as true for keeping your goals as it is for trying new things. Having someone who has your back will make everything easier.
Also, if you tell a someone you trust about your plans, it’s likely that somewhere down the road they’ll ask how your coming along. No one wants to disappoint the people they trust. Telling someone motivates you into actually working at your goals. Unless you lie. I guess you could do that. But, why have that goal in the first place? You’d only hurt yourself—I mean, it’s not like your success determines your friend’s success…
5. Treat yo’ self
There are three essential aspects to forming a habit (and if you’ve been paying attention, you know that forming a habit helps you meet your goals).
- The Trigger: The thing that prompts you to begin practicing the habit or behavior (e.g., keeping your journal on the chair where you sit to watch tv—when you see the journal your brain remembers the habit).
- The Habit: The action or behavior itself.
- The Reward: What you get for doing the behavior.
I failed to realize my goals in the past because I never set a reward for working towards the goal. Or, if I did set a reward, it was inconsistent. When I was thinking up my goals for this year, I set up a rewards system that I wouldn’t mind working for. For example, one of my writing goals is to write a page in my journal everyday. I set rewards for myself based on how consistently I completed that task. When I write every day for 7 days straight, I add a few dollars to my book fund money. The rewards change every week. The more I complete, the bigger the rewards get. My reward for writing for 2 months straight is that I get to buy a new shirt from a store I like.
The trick is to personalize the rewards to fit something you really want or something you enjoy doing. I’m not about to reward myself with a plate of steamed cauliflower for writing for a year straight. That’s gross and obscene. So make sure you take some time to think about the things that make you happy, what you want to buy, and what you like to do.
If you’re stuck and need inspiration, here’s some of the rewards I set for myself this year (in no particular order):
- Money to the book fund (how much depends on what I can comfortably afford and how big the accomplishment was)
- Catch up on one episode of a TV show
- Free reading (I started a reading challenge in the new year, and all my daily reading contributes to that challenge. Free reading means I can pick and read anything outside of my reading resolution.)
- Money to the clothes fund (again, how much depends on what I can afford)
- Take a lazy day
- Play a video game for an hour
I hope you found some helpful practices to keep you working towards your goals! This is your year!
What do you do to achieve your writing goals? How do you stay motivated?