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.


Writing After a Lengthy Hiatus


Are you someone who used to write regularly, maybe even had work published, but – for whatever reason – stopped writing?

The why and how doesn’t matter. Contracts go south. Readership wanes. Your interests and goals as an author shift. Then there are family matters that can’t be ignored. Health issues interfere. You didn’t mean to let it go, but…

Eventually it dawns on you that you haven’t written in days, weeks, months, years. And now you – for whatever reason – want to begin again.

Except when you sit at the keyboard, or pick up your pen, the results are discouraging. Our command over focus and discipline have fled. Our butts resist the chair. We feel impatient with rough drafts. The words and ideas that once flowed, barely trickle. You worry that your creativity will never return.

Don’t believe that.

Yes, your creative muscles have likely atrophied, but they can be rejuvenated. You wouldn’t expect to run five miles after months of couch surfing, right? So be fair and expect it to feel awkward and unnatural at first. With repetition and determination, you’ll regain lost ground.

Here’s seven tips to kickstart your creative engine after it’s been offline for a while.

1) Think on paper.
Not sure where to begin? Make lists. What projects could you work on? Pick one and brainstorm a list of benefits to doing it. Feel free to imagine a new career versus reviving the old one. Think of what’s possible, knowing what you know now.

2) Start small and build.
If you are feeling resistance, then set a timer for three minutes and write. Don’t worry about quality or even the topic. This is about getting accustomed to starting again. And yes, three minutes is nothing, but it’s more than you wrote the day before, right? Remember the power of compounding action. If you increase writing time by 3 minutes a day, you’ll be writing for a 90 minute stretch in a month.

3) Break it down.
Don’t think in terms of writing the whole book or the entire screenplay. Concentrate on a single scene. Or one character’s goals. Outline the story. Set small, achievable tasks, like: write 500 words, or one page.

4) Think in new places.
Go somewhere different to write. This is especially important if you’ve been avoiding the particular room where you used to create. If weather permits, sit outside. Go to the park, or a coffee shop, or the library. Heck, drive to the mall and sit in the food court. The point is to get away from the usual distractions and discouragements.

5) Fall back in love with your creativity.
Do you need to rekindle your passion for writing? Or for a specific story? If you made early notes, review those. Recall the elements that swept you away. At one time your desire to create burned as bright as a star. Remember that feeling, then write.

6) Read books on craft.
There’s something magical about reading (or rereading) Anne Lamott’s, Bird By Bird. Or Stephen King’s, On Writing. When was the last time you read magazines on writing – Writers Digest, RT Book Reviews, or The Writer? And yes, reading great fiction is a study of the craft. I’m always inspired to write when I read something magnificent.

7) Connect with other writers.
Having a group or tribe of like-minded writers can be inspiring while providing camaraderie and accountability. Can’t find a group? Start one. Check with your librarian or consider a post on

It can feel daunting to start writing after an extended period. Consider it more proof that once a writer, always a writer. Writers may pause for a while, but they can’t quit. So prime the pump and anticipate hiccups.

Cate Noble featured at Barnes & Noble’s Mystery Book Club!

All during February, Barnes & Noble’s Mystery Book Club is featuring romantic suspense.

I’m thrilled to be the featured author on Monday, February 21st.  I’d love to have you drop by, comment, or just look around.  Here’s the link:

The rest of the week features other Kensington Books’ authors.  Check out the special thread that’s all about Kensington:

Happy reading!





deadlygamesClose friends…a band of brothers…caught in a firestorm of betrayal and passion.

Two years ago, three CIA operatives perished in a horrific explosion that occurred at an undisclosed location outside the US. Or at least that’s what their families and friends were told.

Now it seems one of them survived. But what about the others? And what about the insidious rumors that one of their own sold them out?

First, there was DEAD RIGHT


And now comes…DEADLY GAMES

CIA operative Rocco Taylor always knew his enemies would come after him. And now the worst of them have come back with a vengeance, putting him at lethal odds with the Agency… by daring to go after the only woman he ever loved.

Except…Gena Armstrong doesn’t want a hero. She’s survived things Rocco can only imagine, which has left her even more capable and resourceful than when Rocco made the colossal mistake of letting her go. Keeping Gena safe now means facing the past, even as it reignites a passion more dangerous than the conspiracy they’re facing.

Two old Lauren Bach titles EXCLUSIVELY for Amazon’s Kindle!

I’m pleased to announce the Kindle release of my first two Lauren Bach novels, LONE RIDER  (Nov. 2001) and SLOW HANDS (Aug. 2002.)  Both of these novels have been out-of-print for a number of years and I’m delighted to re-release them in digital format.  Right now, these e-book are only available through Amazon, which —  thanks to all the Kindle widgets — are readable on virtually all devices.

As many of my readers know, I published four romantic suspense novels under the pseudonym Lauren Bach before switching to my current pseudonym, Cate Noble.  My Bach novels were all stand-alone books, whereas my Noble books are an ongoing series.

More soon!   But in the meantime…Happy reading!


The series continues…


Are you ready for book three?  DEADLY GAMES releases in February 2011 and is  available for pre-order at your favorite bookseller.

An excerpt of chapter one will be available soon.  Here’s a sneak peak at the back cover blurb:



FROM:  Rocco Taylor

October 3, 11:50 p.m.

It’s the waiting I can’t stand.  Let me belly crawl across a minefield into an enemy stronghold.  Or give me an MP5 and a load of clips and just let me shoot my way in.  Anything but this: playing along with the perps while an innocent woman pays the price.

I know the last thing Gena wants is a hero – or me.  I made the mistake of letting her go once, putting the assignment ahead of the heat between us.  Since then she’s survived things I can only imagine, but no one can escape a death agent alone. Now I’ve got one last chance to win her trust, to get it right.

Game on.

DEAD RIGHT Nominated for RT Reviewer’s Choice Award

RT Book Reviews, the leading magazine for reviews of romance and popular fiction novels, has released their annual “best of the best” – a list of authors and books nominated for RT’s Career Achievement and Reviewers’  Choice Awards.  Picked by RT’s review staff and editors from among the more than 3,000 titles reviewed last year, the  complete list of nominees will appear in the February 2010 issue of RT Book Reviews.  The list is also available on their website at

I’m thrilled to share the news that my novel DEAD RIGHT – book one of my latest trilogy – has been nominated for Best Romantic Intrigue.  Winners will be announced just prior to the 27th annual Booklovers Convention in Columbus, Ohio, April 28 – May 2, 2010, and honored at a ceremony on Thursday, April 29.

I feel like a winner by virtue of having made the list, so thank you, RT!   And congratulations to all my fellow nominees.


Tears on paper: remembering Kate Duffy

Once upon a time, in the land of Manhattan, there lived a lovely editor named Kate Duffy.  Kate was so amazing, so brilliant, that the gods finally relented and decreed that henceforth the sun would rise each morning in her honor. (“Took ‘em long enough,” Kate muttered.)

Kate’s inimitable presence enriched the lives of everyone she encountered.  Crowds clamored to get closer; audiences hung on her every word.  Lions even snuggled up with lambs. (“Get real,” Kate said.)

To state it simply: Life with Kate Duffy in it was Good.  (“Agreed.”)

Then one day, last Monday, the sun didn’t rise.  The land was gripped in a cold, dark sadness.  (“Sounds cliched.  You can do better.”)

* * *

Kate Duffy was my editor, mentor, friend.  There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe her wonderfulness.  I will forever hear her voice in my head when I write.  I am a better storyteller for having worked with Kate; a better person for having known her.  I am also incredibly selfish and wish like hell she hadn’t left so soon.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Kate’s family and those who were closest to her.

My Writer’s Handbook

I have a LOT of books on the craft of writing.  (I’m currently packing for a move; a painful reminder of exactly how many books I own.)  Craft is a subject I never tire of, in part because I’m eternally seeking to grow.  I’m also guilty of eternally seeking the magic bullet; something to make the creative process easier.  Or at least less messy.  (I *know* it’s out there.  I BELIEVE it exists.  I bet Stephen King probably has it.)

At the beginning of each new writing project, I always find that the tools that worked the last time no longer function.  It’s just how my process works.  (Unrelated aside: Honor your writing process!  Yes, you can change it, but in the moment always love it.  It’s yours!)  Thankfully, I have a variety of methods for plotting, for fleshing out characters, for triangulating goal-motivation-conflict, etc.  Some methods are blessedly short and sweet; others are laborious.  If the story is crystal clear in my head, then a brief plotting system is perfect.  But when the story idea is hazy, a more detailed plotting technique helps flesh it out.

I store my rag tag collection of tried-and-true worksheets/forms in a tabbed, 3-ring binder. Sections include: CHARACTERS, GMC, PLOT, SCENE/SEQUEL, SETTING, REVISION.  Tried-and-true is a crucial differentiation.  Not just any/every form makes the cut.  A true handbook is not storage; it’s a distillation.  These are forms I’ve collected and used over a twenty year span. (Yes, I’ve been at this a loooong time.)   While many forms have come from books or conference handouts, a few are originals I’ve devised, then tweaked, to fit me.  (OK, I admit it; I’m a checklist junkie.)

I frequently refer to this handbook as my writer’s ‘bible’.  Just flipping through it inspires me; gets my creative sparks a sparkin’.  (Hmmm.  Maybe this is what a magic bullet looks like…)  In future blogs I’ll share more of what’s inside each specific section.

Your turn.  Go.  Write.  Make sparks. (And honor your process!)

Everyday Writing: On Perseverance

My writer friend Jenn and I are following a sixty day program from one of John Demartini’s books.  Today is Day 19: the Law of Perseverance.  As has been the case almost daily (I am so predictable.) when I glanced at today’s chapter heading, I thought, ‘oh, I know what perseverance is: hard work.’

But as I read Demartini’s upbeat account of how he regards perseverance, I realized my definition had a negative slant.  My definition of perseverance ran along the lines of ‘fighting the good fight.’  Or the bad fight.  Fight, fight, fight.  Why did I view it as a struggle?

Again – as has been the case almost daily (I hate being predictable.) when I completed the chapter’s reflection exercise I made an important distinction.  Somewhere along the way, probably while telling myself I was multi-tasking – ha ha ha – I tried to make perseverance a two-step procedure: a process and a conclusion.  No wonder it’s a struggle.

Perseverance is not about judgment.  Perseverance is simply forward motion.  It’s action, not analysis.  Action and analysis cannot simultaneously co-exist.  They are sequential events. You act, then – later! – you assess.  And if necessary, you take modified action.

My failure to remember this in my everyday writing trips me up.  Drafting and editing cannot co-exist.  If I form a sentence in my head and then immediately question its appropriateness, it takes for-freaking-ever to draft a paragraph.  It’s no better if I write the sentence, then stop and edit it.  Forward motion ceases when I analyze.

My big take away?  Perseverance is action.  Perseverance is flow uninterrupted.  All acts have beginnings and endings.  Creation is no exception.  Only after the act of perseverance has ended do I begin another action.  The editing/analyzing/trashing is simply another action.  Which likewise has an eventual ending.  Then it’s on to a new beginning.  A new action.  When I look at it this way, persevering is inherently more joyful.

Your turn.  Go.  Create joyfully.