How to Be a Writer: Setting Long-Term Goals Part 2

Step to Follow for a Successful Writer

How to Be a Writer: Setting Long-Term Goals Part 2

How to Be a Writer: Setting Long-Term Goals Part 2

As Hammond says, the problem is that “The further into our own future we look, the more we ignore the details.” However, “we do consider the details when contemplating someone else’s future.

Or, if you want to decide for yourself, Hammond suggests listing every concrete step in the process and “deliberately thinking back to all similar past occasions and comparing them with the present circumstances before you make your estimate.” She also advises, “Then add on some time for the types of disruptions you’ve encountered in the past and a little more for the fact that unfortunately you are not suddenly going to be transformed into a super-organized person who doesn’t need to sleep.”


As a rule of thumb, it might help to take your original estimate and double it. So, the final version of my hypothetical SMART goal, with some added time cushioning, becomes “Write ten sci-fi short stories similar in feeling to Ted Chiang’s work and submit them to fifty magazines within four years.”

You can have multiple goals going on at once, but keep in mind that the more you add, the harder it will be to achieve all of them, so try to focus on what matters most to you. We can break up this larger goal into smaller“ milestones.” If a goal is the destination, then milestones are the signposts guiding our path.

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For my example goal, the milestones don’t need to be performed in a particular order. I’d need to study Ted Chiang’s work and perhaps that of other sci-fi short fiction writers who have a similar vibe. That might entail annotating those stories or writing craft essays that analyze the author’s storytelling techniques. What makes their writing “soulful”? What sci-fi ideas do they explore?

How might my own writing be in conversation with theirs, building upon or challenging their thoughts? I’ll also have to come up with interesting sci-fi ideas. I might try brainstorming exercises, like listing “what if” questions about humanity that interest me, or I might research a controversial type of technology and build a story around that. I could find ways to experiment with form, structure, and style: one story might be told in the collective “they,” and another might feature an unreliable narrator.

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Most importantly, I need to draft the short stories—and I likely can’t depend on the first few I write being total gems. Then I’ll need to revise my stories based on feedback from critique partners. It’d probably help to research magazines ahead of time and read their submission guidelines. If I write an 8,000-word short story, I might struggle to find it a good home if most markets want stories under 5,000 words.

Being aware of all these milestones makes me glad I went with a four-year window for my goal rather than two, because when I break it down, there are a lot more time-intensive steps involved. Some writers set quarterly goals for the year, which are three-month increments. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, you can break those goals into weekly and daily milestones.

This type of time division is a good way to create “check-in” points for yourself at the end of each quarter to celebrate the goals you’ve met and reassess your goals for the next quarter. It’s perfectly normal to have a dozen milestone for one quarter and only achieve two of them, but make sure you’re prioritizing the one or two goals that are most valuable to you.

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Check-ins are also opportunities for you to reflect on what obstacles prevented you from meeting your quarterly goals, what mistakes you made, and how you can go about conquering those problems in the next quarter. What kind of goals should I set for that?It depends on your typing speed, your target word count, the complexity of the novel, the amount of free time you have, and a thousand other factors. You can set a word count or duration goal(“I will write 10,000 words,” or “I will write for one hour”) and specify the time period (every month or five times per week).

But the problem is avoiding that habit of overestimating how much we can achieve in a given time—and especially how much we can write. Sometimes slow and steady is the only way you can finish the race, and that’s okay, so long as you actually finish.” Dr. Burkley also advises writing down your goal on a Post-It or a notecard and sticking it in a location you’ll see every day, like the bathroom mirror or your laptop. You’ll be more likely to achieve your goals when you’re reminded daily of their importance to you.

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