What Sort of Goals Do You Need? 10 Questions to Ask

Last week, I wrote about my non-standard resolutions for 2012—resolutions that are process-oriented rather than results-oriented. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only writer out there for whom “normal” writing goals aren’t always effective. But when you’re used to measuring your success in word counts or pages revised or dollars earned, it can be difficult to come up with other, less straightforward goals. At least, it was for me :).

Sean MacEntee

How do YOU want to grow in 2012? Here are some questions to help you figure out the answer.

What are your priorities—both as a writer and in the rest of your life?

  1. What things are most important to you? Does your time reflect those priorities?
  2. Where do you currently spend your time and energy? Does your time/energy usage reflect your priorities?
  3. Given the current season of your life, how many writing-related goals can you reasonably address? Which ones can wait?
  4. What do you love most about your writing? How can you focus more on the work that means the most to you?

What holds you back as a writer?

  1. Are there practical or physical constraints you can address, such as a lack of time or lack of a place to write?
  2. Do you lack necessary knowledge or skills? Maybe you need to improve your writing craft, learn about market needs, or increase your understanding of the publishing industry.
  3. Do you face personal limitations, such as a time-consuming family crisis or an illness?
  4. Do your emotions get in your way? Maybe you need time with a writing friend or a critique group for support and encouragement, or perhaps you need to practice disengaging from others’ needs long enough to focus on something else.
  5. Do you lack discipline? Perhaps you need an accountability partner or some other external motivator, such as those listed in “Keeping it Real: 8 Services to Make Your Resolutions Stick”.
  6. Is there a particular place you get stuck when writing? Can you identify the cause? Perfectionism and fear of failure can keep writers from finishing and submitting projects.

Creating the goals: How will you move forward?

The questions above can help you identify places in your life that may benefit from change. Now your job is to brainstorm ways to make those changes come about.

That might mean taking a class, joining a critique group, or working with a writing coach or mentor—but it might also mean:

  • Cutting back on volunteer work to create more time to write
  • Cutting back on writing time to create more time to rest/exercise/hang out with family
  • Adding a 20 minute walk to your day, to boost your mood and energy
  • Trimming your writing to-do list to a single project, and seeing that project to completion
  • Gifting yourself with more dark chocolate
  • Fill in the blank: ___________

The best path forward isn’t always the most obvious.

How do you plan to grow in 2012? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


  1. says

    This is really good advice. I know for my own goals, I’ve pretty much decided that apart from the first draft stage (where I need to binge write – damn OCD), as long as I balance everything else writing with free/relax time? I can keep my focus and not burn out.

    Right now I have torn ligaments in my ankle so the exercising portion is not working for me right now. I start physio today :(

    I think making your goals realistic and not overreaching is the best thing you can do.

    • says

      So sorry to hear about your ankle! That sounds painful–and like it might take a long time to heal. Hopefully you have plenty of helping hands to take care of you!

      I know what you mean about that first draft. That’s one reason word count goals don’t always work for me: if I’m in that stage, I’ll write nonstop anyway, but if I’m not, I might get just as obsessive about revision. And it’s hard to count words in a revision!

  2. says

    Great questions to ponder.I categorize. I have separate goals for writing and my personal goals. Once I establish what I want to do, I make it happen–or attempt too lol.

    • says

      Hi, Kerri! This is the first year I’ve combined writing and personal goals. I just felt like my personal goals would play a major role in whether or not I succeed in my writing goals, so it made sense to combine them. Now I have to go check out that book giveaway…. :)

  3. says

    Very helpful list, thanks! As for “Creating the Goals: How will you move forward? Fill in the blank_______,” my new goal is to practice write. Write a little each day without thought of publication. Practice, just like an athlete needs to practice, or a musician. The more we write, well…the more we’ll write! That’s what I tell myself anyway :-)

    • says

      I love that! I’m trying to make sure I write every day, too, although it’s not an official GOAL, if you know what I mean. How’s it going so far?

  4. says

    What excellent questions, Cheryl! Thank you! I am going to work through them one by one.

    I’m working on discipline and scheduling this year. I have a fairly extensive list of 12 goals for 2012 (love the number 12. I was born on 12/12 so it’s a “special” number for me.) To achieve those goals I have to (gasp!) work at them. Half way through January, I have already made progress. This was my post at the beginning of the year. http://www.bethstilborn.com/hello-world/

    Your list of questions will help me as I continue to work toward my year’s intentions.

    • says

      Hi, Beth :) What a great birthday! This will be a red letter year for you. Glad to hear you’re making progress on those goals. And congrats for putting them out there, too–I think it increases our chances of success when we share our goals with the rest of the world. I hate failing in public 😀

  5. says

    This is a thought-provoking post, Cheryl. I guess for me I have a list of specific goals — a new job, a finished first draft of my travel memoir, etc. — but I’m more focused right now on mindset. I’m trying to force myself to view the world more broadly, to open myself to possibilities not easily spotted from where I currently stand in my self-created hollow (not unlike the valleys of Appalachia). Thanks for the post.

    • says

      Thanks, Patrick. I know exactly what you mean about goals vs mindset. I have things I want to accomplish, but most of my real goals this year are focused on improving my mental and physical states, because I think those will make such a big difference in whether I achieve my other, more typical goals.

      I like the goal of viewing the world more broadly. It seems to fit quite well with writing a travel memoir!