If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you already have some goals: fitness goals, goals for your family, maybe even a goal of writing a book or to become a better writer.
But how do you write goals that actually work, that actually help you accomplish the things that you set out to do?
In this guide, I’ll share the step-by-step goal writing process that I’ve used to finish fifteen books, publish over 2,000 blog posts, hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller’s list, and reach over twenty million people with my writing over the last nine years.
No matter what your goals are, I believe this process will help you get really clear on what you want to accomplish this year.
How I Set My Writing (and Other) Goals
Each year, around New Year’s Eve, I block off three days, get out my whiteboard markers and note taking app, and start to check in with myself. I start by reflecting on how the last year went and what I want to accomplish in the year ahead.
New Year’s resolutions sometimes get a bad rap, but research backs them up. In fact, you are ten times more likely to achieve your goals if you make resolutions than those who don’t.
This time of reflection and goal setting is the best part of my year.
More than Christmas candy and New Year’s champagne, it helps me relax and refocus. In just two or three days, it sustains my work for the following year by giving me the direction and motivation to accomplish meaningful work in the untouched months ahead.
But for you, you don’t have to save this kind of process for the New Year.
If you can carve out a few hours—or even a few minutes—to think about your goals, it will be worthwhile. I promise.
And this post will also give you the tool you need to make this planning process easy.
Let’s get into it!
Goal Setting Worksheet
To make your planning process easier, I’ve created a downloadable and printable goal setting worksheet for you to use as you go through this process.
You can download the goal setting worksheet here.
It’s free, it’s printable, and I believe it will help you make your goals happen over the next year.
But before we evaluate how the worksheet will help you organize your writing goals, it’s important to understand the four types of goals you might consider setting.
The Four Types of Goals
Before I get into the process I’ve found works best, what types of goals should you set?
I believe there are four main types of goals, and each of these goals builds on each other. After I explain each type, I’ll ask you questions that you can use to think about your goals.
1. Lifetime Goal
What is on your bucket list? What are the things that you want to accomplish before you die or else feel like you’ve missed something important? What will you regret if you never do?
Maybe it’s having a writing career and making writing your day job. Maybe it’s winning a coveted award. Maybe it’s flying first class or starting a family.
These goals are central to who you are and who you want to be.
If you’re not sure what your lifetime goals are, here’s an exercise to find them: Imagine yourself twenty years from now. You’re supremely happy. You’ve accomplished everything you wanted to and more.
What does your life look like? What have you accomplished?
Whatever they are, write them down.
Lifetime Goals Don’t Have to Be Attainable . . . Right Now
Give yourself time to dream.
Sure, creating SMART goals that are measurable and achievable is a good idea.
But if you really want an extraordinary life, you have to allow yourself to dream something extraordinary.
Only once you have an image of where you want to go, can you then work backward from there. Building smaller goals that you can actually accomplish is the way to move you up the ladder, as we’ll talk more below.
2. Project Goal
Project based goals are things you can accomplish in a year or two. While project goals are smaller than lifetime goals, you may have a few project based goals on your bucket list, including:
- Write the first draft of your book
- Get something you’ve written published
- Get 100 rejection letters from agents or publications (hat tip to Sarah Gribble)
- Go on a family vacation to a national park
- Make $1,000 off your side hustle
- Create a successful blog, podcast, or YouTube channel
- Get your first project as a freelance writer
- Write a new short story every week for a year
- Find a writing community that supports your work
- Learn how to give strong feedback to other writers
- Revise the first draft of your book
You can’t accomplish everything all at once.
Instead, break up your lifetime goals into smaller chunks so that you can think through the steps it will take to make your dreams actually happen.
When big goals are broken down into smaller, more manageable steps, the likelihood of succeeding all your goals becomes a reality.
Moving from Dreaming to Focusing On What Can You Control
As you’re thinking of your project goals, think of them in terms of what you can control and avoid goals that rely on things outside of your control.
For instance, what if we changed the above example goal from “Make $1,000 off your side hustle” to “Create a new product (e.g. a book) and pitch it to 100 people”?
You can’t affect whether people will buy your product and how much money you’ll make, but you can focus on how many hours you spend on it and how much hard work you put into something.
When you focus on what you can control, you not only set yourself up to actually accomplishing it, but you avoid feeling frustrated and resentful if that goal doesn’t come true.
Better yet, you design a goal that is likely to come true as long as you stay motivated.
And prioritize it.
3. Weekly Goals
Once you have your project goal, go one step further.
Think about what you can accomplish each week to make that goal happen.
Here are some smaller goals you might set to help you achieve your bigger writing goals:
- Write the premise of your book and pitch it to ten people
- Write 5,000 words per week on your book
- Publish one blog post per day
- Send five people pitches for guest posts or articles
- Email twenty people who would like to read your book
- Listen to an audiobook while exercising for one hour three times per week
- Finish one new writing project, like a short story
- Give feedback on the work of at least two writing partners
Here, you’re moving from grand dreams to simple, measurable goals that are within your control and that can be accomplished within a specific time frame with hard work.
You can’t control what other people do, but you can control how much time and effort you spend accomplishing your weekly goals.
When setting large writing goals like finishing a book, you can’t expect to achieve this over night. Instead, you need to break down your writing goals into smaller, weekly milestones. Think of these as the building blocks that eventually construct a sturdy pyramid.
Writing Planners can be a major way to organize your writing and publishing hopes.
If you want to write a book, but you don’t know the process, check out The Write Planner, our elite planner that walks you step-by-step through the book writing process, the same process we’ve used to help thousands of writers finish their books.
Use it to designate your smaller, weekly writing goals in addition to its other many organizing benefits.
And remember, you don’t need to know every weekly goal (or goals) for the entire year on the first of January. Knowing your project goals is your first step, and then breaking this down into manageable, smaller goals will give you a strategy on what you need to accomplish first.
If fifty-two weekly goals seems daunting, breathe, and then start small.
Start with the month of January. And then February.
And then March.
You can do this on a month-by-month basis, or all at once.
Just make sure your weekly goals are set before the week starts—knocking out a chunk of weekly goals at a time can give you a head start to accomplishing all of them.
4. Daily Goal
Having a daily goal is especially helpful for writers, but it’s good for anyone who has long term projects that require daily effort.
Whenever I’m working on a book, I create a daily word count goal, usually around 1,000 words, so that I can make my larger goals more manageable.
I also set aside writing time daily, usually in the morning for me, but sometimes in the afternoon or late at night. If you don’t set aside time, your writing won’t get done!
You have to prioritize your writing if it is important to you.
Five Steps That Will Help You Actually Meet Your Writing Goals
Now that we’ve explored the four types of goals, let’s talk about how to actually accomplish them.
In the past, what has worked for you as you’ve set goals and tried to do what you’ve set out to accomplish? At the same time, where did you struggle?
You reflect for two reasons:
- To learn how to make your future better. (By thinking about your writing successes and shortcomings, you refine your process and improve your chances at making your future efforts work.)
- To appreciate what you’ve accomplished.
Reflection is also an end in itself.
As Roy Bennet said:
Be grateful for what you already have while you pursue your goals. If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more?
Take time to reflect on your previous goals.
Evaluate any goals you set the year before, and if writing about these reflections helps you process them, write a few sentences about each event.
2. Reconnect With Your Desire
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions. Why would you want to create goals around things you don’t want to do?
Instead, I like to start the goal-setting process by reconnecting with my desire. What do I really want to do in the next year? What do I really want to accomplish?
Most importantly, how do I want to grow, and who do I want to become?
There isn’t time in life for half-hearted dreams. Instead, focus on your deepest desires.
Believe in them, and then make them manageable.
As You’re Doing This, Consider ALL Areas of Your Life
We often focus on one area of our lives when brainstorming goals in this way, especially when thinking about goals that govern our professional lives. (Day and night jobs.)
However, you are a whole person. Writing is probably a big part of what makes you, you, but neglecting those other parts will be damaging.
If you succeed in one area of life but fail in all the rest, you’ll be miserable. That’s why it’s so important to spend time dreaming about what you want in all areas of your life.
The four major areas of your (writer’s) life that you need to respect include:
- Work. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your work?
- Writing. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your writing?
- Relationships/Family. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your relationship with your spouse? With your children? With your friends?
- Self. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your personal life? This includes fitness, hobbies, and personal goals.
3. What Will You Quit?
There are always obstacles that keep us from living our best life, whether they’re a job, a bad habit, or a task. What if you could overcome them? How would that transform your life?
How would that turn our writing goals into writing accomplishments?
You can’t add more to your life without getting rid of something. We have to let some goals go in order to make room for new, manageable ones.
What will you quit this year?
Here are some examples of things you might want to quit or spend less time doing:
- Distracting App. Check your phone’s Screen Time history and delete your highest used, most distracting app (here’s how to check your screen time history on iOS and Android).
- Social media. Maybe you, like me, find that you’re easily distracted by social media when you should be writing your book or working on your goals. Take a break from social media, maybe even deactivate your accounts for a bit.
- Video games. If you don’t want to quit gaming completely, consider cutting out the game that distracts you most, or a different game that takes a lot of time each month.
- Television. This may or may not include YouTube videos. If you can’t cut it out completely, consider quitting certain streaming services, like Netflix or Hulu. Use that money saved on something to support your writing process!
- Late night hang-outs with friends. You can always spend time with them when you finish your writing goals. Designate days for friends, but save the others for finishing your writing endeavors.
You might not be able to responsibly quit these today or tomorrow, but figure out what you want to quit and then make a plan. (Maybe part of your weekly goals is cutting your choice out a little more at a time.)
You may not accomplish everything you want to, but I find that when I connect my desire and consider what I want to quit, I am much more successful at accomplishing my goals.
Stop focusing on what you should be doing this year.
Instead, spend time thinking about what you want to be doing.
You may learn something new about yourself, and you will definitely have a fuller, more meaningful year.
4. Pick Four Goals (NO MORE)
After brainstorming all the things you want to accomplish over the next year, you will likely have many things you want in one or two areas of your life and just a few in others.
Keep brainstorming until you have at least three things you want in each area of work, writing, relationships, and self. Then do this:
Pick your top four goals—e.g. the four things you want most out of this year.
You pick just four because you don’t have time for mediocre goals and aspirations. A year really isn’t very long, especially when it comes to achieving your deepest desires. The more you focus on the few things you most want, the more of a chance you have at achieving them.
When I first tried this exercise in 2012, I tracked each of these four things carefully for a few months. Then I got busy with other things and got out of the habit.
However, a year later I found my list again, and I was shocked to discover that I had accomplished all of them.
They didn’t look exactly how I planned, but each one was an important part of my life. Knowing I met them all felt great.
So choose carefully! What you choose will change your life!
Also, when a goal is important to you, you are more likely to find a way to prioritize it.
5. Set a Deadline and Create a Consequence
Now that you know what you want to do, here’s how to actually do it.
Start by setting a deadline. When do you want to accomplish this by?
Hint: Always set your deadline a little shorter than you think you can accomplish.
As Leonard Bernstein said:
To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.
If your goal is writing a book, for example, I recommend setting your deadline no longer than four months.
If it’s longer than that, you’ll procrastinate. A good length of time to write a book is something that makes you a little nervous, but not outright terrified. Writing a book in about 100 days is not only possible, it’s preferable.
Tons of writers have benefited from our 100 Day Book Program and will testify to it.
But setting a deadline alone isn’t enough.
You also have to create a consequence.
What is a consequence?
A consequence is a bad thing that will happen if you don’t accomplish your goal by your deadline.
For example, in 2016, I wrote a $1,000 check to the U.S. presidential candidate I most disliked, gave it to a friend, and told them to send it if I didn’t finish my book by my deadline. I was the most focused I’d ever been and finished my book in time!
Big Deadlines = Big Consequences
Little Deadlines = Little Consequences.
And get someone you trust to hold you accountable.
It’s that simple.
This will lead to fulfilled writing goals and other success.
As you’re setting your goals, remember the four types we talked about earlier. Personally, I like to create one big consequence for your project goal and a few smaller consequences for weekly goals.
For example, if my goal is to write a book in 100 days, then my big consequence will be the $100 check—but my smaller deadlines might be deleting my favorite game on my phone or buying ice cream for the people working with me.
This is especially important when you’re getting started with a new goal.
After all, getting started is the hardest part, but if you know that you’re going to have to delete your favorite game on your phone until you finish your writing project, that might be enough to scare you into focus. (This is also why having someone hold you accountable to your consequence is super important.)
Accomplishing your goals is hard. You need to make it harder to not accomplish your goals if you’re going to achieve them.
I believe this free goal setting worksheet will help.
How to ACTUALLY Accomplish Your Dreams: Find Your Team
To sum up, here are a few final questions to spur your dreaming:
- What do you want, really want, over the next year?
- What do you need in order to accomplish that want this year?
- Who do you want to become?
- How will meeting your goals help you become this person?
- Why is it important for you to accomplish your goals?
- This time next year, when you look back at what you did, what stories do you want to be able to tell?
- And how will it feel once you accomplish your goals?
Imagining how you’ll feel after accomplishing your goals, and using that to motivate your actions as you plan and begin to tackle them, matters! This might be enough to push you forward.
The process I’ve outlined above will get you started. It’s worked for me!
But one aspect of this that most people neglect is having a team, a group of other people who can encourage you and hold you accountable to accomplishing your writing goals.
One of the biggest reasons I see people fail to improve their writing skills and finish their books is that they don’t have a team.
This is the exact reason I built 100 Day Book, the only writing program that will give you a $100 if you finish your book in 100 days.
Whether you want to write a novel, a non-fiction book, or a memoir, I know 100 Day Book would help you finish it, just as it’s helped thousands of other writers.
If you want to write a book, but you don’t have a team, we would love to pair you with a mentor, surround you with a group of encouraging writers all experiencing the same process, and help you finally finish.
You can learn more about 100 Day Book here.
I hope you accomplish all your goals and dreams. Most of all, I hope you enjoy the journey.
Good luck, and happy writing!
What are your four goals for the next year? Leave a comment and let me know!
Let’s practice setting your goals for the next year.
When your time is up, take a break and let us know the four goals you picked by leaving a comment below.
If you want to continue planning your writing goals, you can do that, or continue at another time.
Good luck, and let this be the start to a great (and successful) year!