The One About Precisely Defined Writing Goal


You know the drill. These books aren’t going to write themselves. You need a plan and a deadline. That’s where goals come in. Precisely defined goals yield precise results. Precisely refined goals are also SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound.)

Let’s break down SMART writing goals:

1) Specific writing goals:
Start by defining the end result. What type of writing do you intend to do? Book-length or shorter? Commercial or hobby? Fiction or non-fiction?

Start wide, and then narrow it down:

FICTION                           NON-FICTION
Literary                             Inspirational

Genre                                Personal Development

Short stories                    Text/Educational

Novellas                           Memoir/biography

Comics                             Essays

Graphic novels               Articles or blog posts

Add details. Define the topic, the audience, and projected length. Is your completed work part of a series or a stand-alone work?

Now formulate the front end of your goal statement. (The back end, or deadline will come after Step 5.)

For example:

  • I will write a 35,000 word, Middle Grade fantasy novel about a girl coming of age on Mars.
  • I will write a weekly 800 word blog post on dating for divorced adults to post on my counseling website.

2) Measurable writing goals:

When will you know it’s finished? How will you measure progress over time, distance, or quantity?

Start with the projects components. Steps for writing a book might include:

  • Outline
  • Research
  • First draft
  • Revisions
  • Edit/Polish
  • Submit/query

Now list the individual action steps for each component. For example, your outline follows the four act structure and includes character sketches and a complete scene list.

3) Achievable writing goals:

Look at Steps 1 and 2, and ask if you have what is needed to achieve this goal. What attitudes, abilities and skills are needed? What resources are required? How much effort is needed? What changes in current practices are needed to achieve this goal? How bad do you want it? Your writing goal should be inspiring; something you yearn to accomplish. If it feels like drudgery, you’ll have a difficult time following through.


4) Realistic writing goals:

I always thought this one should come after the next step, Timing, but then it would look like a typo: SMATR instead of SMART.

Realistic means looking at your desires with a critical eye. Are you willing and able to go for it? Can you make it a priority given other commitments? Play devil’s advocate. If your goal is to write an epic 300,000-word trilogy in one year, but you work full-time, have two children in school and are the main caregiver for an aged parent, is it realistic to think you can plan, draft, and revise over 5,700 words a week? There’s nothing wrong with stretch goals, but keep it within the realm of doable.

5) Time-bound writing goals:

Time-bound means your completion date is tied to a calendar. Time-bound goals must be reasonable and manageable. Look back at the components listed in Step 2. Pencil in the amount of time estimated to accomplish each component. For example:

Outline – 1 week

Research – 2 weeks

First draft – 3 months

With your time estimates done, write it down. Look at your calendar and assign projected finish date. Leave space to record the actual completion dates. If you miss a deadline, don’t beat yourself up, just record it. This becomes valuable data for planning future projects.

Now you can formulate the back end of the goal statement you began in Step 1. Restate your goal in an active voice:

  • I will write a 35,000 word, Middle Grade fantasy novel about a girl coming of age on Mars, starting March 15th and completing it by September 30th.

Step 1 and 5 help you create a precisely defined writing goal. Steps 2, 3 and 4 help you create a detailed action plan to achieve it.


Before you finalize your plan, I suggest adding one more item. Why. Why are you writing this? Why will be your fuel when the project feels overwhelming or you’re lost in the muddy middle of a first draft. You may choose to publicly state your goals, but the why is for your eyes only. So be candid. If you’ve got a hidden agenda, get it out, examine it and either incorporate it or jettison it. You can’t tell yourself you’re writing a how-to book to make the world a better place when you really just want a million dollars by whatever means possible.

Finalize your goal

Keep a written copy of your goals handy to track progress. Evaluate these goals regularly and adjust if needed. Account for changes to keep track for future planning. Because after you achieve this goal, you’ll be ready to formulate more.