How to Be a Writer: Setting Long-Term Goals Part 1

Step to Follow for a Successful Writer

How to Be a Writer: Setting Long-Term Goals Part 1

How to Be a Writer: Setting Long-Term Goals Part 1

What do you mean to be a “professional” or “career” writer? A lot of full-time authors still have day jobs, since writing isn’t always the most lucrative career path. Even if you don’t plan on pursuing writing full-time, setting long-term goals can inspire you to improve your craft.

Let’s walk through one process for developing a writing goal plan.

That list might include introspection, entertainment, or creative freedom. My top three values are personal development, helping others, and enjoyment. I want to keep cultivating my writing skills while also benefiting others by sharing what I’ve learned, and I want to do things that inspire me to jump out of bed in the morning, excited to tackle a new creative project. These values should guide your goals and ensure you’re staying true to who you really are.

How to start?

Next, write a one-sentence mission statement. Your mission can be easy to loft and aspirational. Maybe you want to improve your craft and write like your idols or to become a respected author of sci-fi/fantasy short stories or to publish romance novels that bring joy to readers’ lives. I have two interrelated mission statements : I want “to become a better writer and help others become better writers” and “to inspire others to create through my videos and stories.”

Clarifying your mission can help you narrow down your focus to the achievements that are most important to you. With your values and mission statement in mind, think about what SMART goals would help you build a clear path toward achieving those. To design a SMART goal, you can ask yourself these five questions:

1. Specific: What actions will you take? 2. Measurable: What data will show you’re progressing toward this goal? 3. Achievable: Let’s know Do you have all the needed resources? 4. Relevant: How does this align with your larger mission? 5. Time-bound: What’s the time frame for achieving this?

Define your GOAL

A goal should be specific. “To improve my craft and write like my idols is good for a mission statement but too vague for a goal. What would improving your craft and writing like your idols actually mean? I could narrow it down to a specific skill and author: I want to write soulful science-fiction like Ted Chiang.

To make a goal measurable, you need to think about what action you can measure to determine if you’re making progress. It needs to be quantifiable. I could measure my example goal in terms of writing output and aspire to write ten soulful sci-fi short stories. I could also submit each story to at least five publications.

One way to measure the “soulful” aspect of my stories would be by assessing the type of feedback I receive from readers and editors. If most people talk about how they like the grit and action with no mention of the “soul” or “emotion” in the story, then I might not be achieving what I set out to do, and I could revisit my approach to this goal. You can never truly “master” writing, and no one can write like Ted Chiang, but the point is to target a specific skill, whether that’s writing a novel with a strong first-person voice or learning to craft a satisfying short story.

what next?

Now, is this goal achievable? This is a relatively attainable goal, as opposed to trying to win a Hugo Award. If you’ve already written a few short stories in the genre, the goal is closer to achievable, but if you haven’t written or submitted a short story anywhere before, this goal is likely too big to start with. Achievability is also about the resources you need to accomplish this goal.

You are Reading How to Be a Writer: Setting Long-Term Goals Part 1

For this task, I would need a knowledge of the sci-fi short story market—meaning that I should be reading stories in that genre, perhaps at least two per week. I also need the time and discipline to write, revise, and submit several short stories per year, which might require cutting back on certain hobbies, like drawing or watching TV shows. You can connect your goal back to your mission statement to make sure it’s relevant. If my mission is “to become a respected author of sci-fi short fiction,” then writing and publishing sci-fi stories likely signifies that I’ve reached “respected” status as an author.

On the other hand, if my mission is “to become a best-selling novelist,” then focusing too much on short stories might not help me achieve that. The point of this “relevance” metric is to weed out any goals that are tangential to your actual long-term goals.


I might really want to learn how to design my own book covers, but if I haven’t even written a novel yet and my ultimate goal is to become a published author, that goal seems like putting the cart before the horse. This is your reality check to test if you’re working toward what you really want or just practicing. It’s easier to start learning something new than it is to finish a difficult task.

We still need to address the “time-bound” aspect. How long should you give yourself to complete this goal? Well, given it takes time to write and revise stories for submission, and literary magazines are highly selective and can take over four months to respond, this goal will require much longer than a year. Perhaps writing ten sci-fi short stories and submitting them to fifty publications in two years would be feasible. But let’s be real here—people suck at estimating how long it will take them to reach a given goal. That’s just human nature.

In her book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, Claudia Hammond calls this the Planning Fallacy—the tendency to believe a task will take less time than it eventually does. November comes around and I go, “Sure, I can write a novel in a month!” But then November 15 rolls past, and I’m a measly 5,000 words in and not moving any faster.

This is the Part 1 of How to Be a Writer. Continue Reading for Part 2 Click here.

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