Are You Achieving Your Writing Goals?
Copyright: Mridu Khullar
All rights reserved
At the start of this
new year, like at the start of every other new year, I
came across dozens of articles about the importance of
setting achievable goals, challenging myself to do new
things and fixing measurable standards and working
But what happens when you mess up the goals from last
year? Wheres the real advice about missed deadlines
and lost goals that all but kill the inspiration to come
up with new ones? I didnt achieve three out of the
ten goals I had set for myself last year, even though I
was obsessive-compulsive about looking at them each day
and measuring my performance regularly. Im tempted
to say that life got in the way or blame the shift in
priorities that happened mid-year. But these are things
that can and will happen each year. Instead of putting
your life on hold the year when the strains and stresses
get too much, plan your goals accordingly right at the
If you didnt meet some of your goals last year,
here are some questions that you need to answer honestly,
so that you do this time around.
Are you actively pursuing your targets?
It doesnt work just to look at your goals each
morning and then do nothing about them. Sure, thats
a good start and it means youre conscious of where
you are in your career, but if you want to move further,
you need to create an action plan. Instead of just making
yearly goals, make monthly, weekly, even daily ones and
then try and meet them.
Also important is to work towards what you want to
achieve step by step. One of my goals last year was to
get published in Readers Digest. Guess how many
query letters I sent them?
Youre laughing, arent you? Im cringing.
Thats because I know that two queries just
doesnt hack it if youre targeting such a
high-level publication. Two queries wasnt even
enough to get into my local newspaper; hows it
going to land me a national assignment? If I had been
serious about getting into RD, I would have read every
issue, sent a query each month and built a personal
relationship with the editor. Yet, I did none of those
things. Not surprisingly, my goal remained unfinished at
the end of the year.
Are you being honest with yourself?
In my first year of freelancing, I earned over a 100
published credits. Thats because my aim was to
reach this number, without caring about the money that
came in. That meant that I wrote for low-paying
publications, publications that paid in kind instead of
cash, and on topics that I had absolutely no interest in.
The next year, I shifted my focus to cracking the
nationals and making a decent income from my work. But
heres where I went wrong: I assumed that since I
had already proven that I could write a 100 articles in a
year, Id be able to do a repeat performance. But
national magazines require much more research, very
specialized queries, and a great deal of more effort per
article. So while my goals of getting into national
magazines and increasing my income were met, my goal of
getting another 100 credits wasnt.
Are the goals really yours?
I think almost all of us get sucked into aping the
tactics of someone we admire at one point or the other.
The thought process then works something like this: If
she could write two childrens books, pen twenty
greeting cards, author three non-fiction titles and
syndicate a humor column in her third year of
freelancing, why cant I? Never mind that
Im not really that into childrens writing and
I havent said anything remotely funny since I was
Im ashamed to admit that Ive been guilty of
doing the above. Its easy to look at goals of other
writers and think, "Shes got so many goals for
the year and Ive got only five. Let me increase
mine, too." But "she" doesnt have
your life, and you dont have hers. So set goals
that are appropriate for your career and your ambitions,
Whats your life like?
If youre a new mom, dont expect to be able to
work 80-hour weeks like you did before you gave birth. If
you have a full-time job, dont try to take on
same-day deadline assignments. You need to set goals that
are suitable to your life, your speed and your talent, no
matter what anyone else may do or say.
Its also important to incorporate life changes into
your goal-setting. I lost two grandparents this year,
which not only forced me to take a physical vacation from
work, but an emotional one as well. I needed to give
myself time to heal in order to get back to work
refreshed and with new vigor. If youre going
through stressful times, dont expect yourself to be
as productive as say, when youre having a great
year. Cut down on your goal list a little and be easy on
yourself. Making yourself work too hard when youre
not physically or emotionally ready to, will not help you
meet your goals; instead itll detract you from
Are you confusing your long-term and short-term goals?
Writing a novel is my long-term goal. A
"someday." But Im not there yet.
And I know Im not going to be able to work on my
dream novel this year, next year or maybe even the one
after that. If I do, Ill be taking time away from
the non-fiction work that pays the bills and for the next
couple of years, I cant afford to do that. Putting
"write a novel" on my list of goals for the
year isnt going to make me feel too good about
myself, especially as this goal gets carried forward year
after year. Instead, Im putting it on my "to
do before Im 30" list. That way, its not
too near, and its not so far away that it becomes a
distant dream instead of reality.
Once Ive cracked a good number of national
magazines, finished and published a couple of non-fiction
books and can afford to take time away from non-fiction,
I can consider taking a risk with fiction.
Are you keeping track?
The biggest problem I face right now is keeping track of
where all the time went. While to an outsider it may seem
like Im working almost all the time, the truth is,
I waste a lot of time on e-mail, reading newsletters,
networking with fellow writers and well, checking e-mail.
To counter this problem, I started keeping a daily
journal to keep track of where my writing time was really
going. My productivitys almost doubled since I
started doing this. Keeping an hour-to-hour or even a
daily tab of what Id achieved for that day kept me
accountable and ready to tackle the next important task
on my list, rather than checking e-mail one more time.
And if an entry for a particular day reads, "Revised
article for Wedding Dresses, conducted research on a new
idea," Id immediately know that I needed to
increase my productivity, and by how much. Sure, checking
e-mail is work too, but its not bringing in any
money. So I make it secondary work and answer incoming
mails only once a day, unless they need urgent attention.
Are your priorities straight?
Which brings me to my next point. Set your priorities
right and work top to bottom. A technique that works for
many people is to make a daily list of things that need
to be done. Then, in the order of priority, tackle them
one by one, striking them off the list. At the end of the
day, even if you have some work unattended to, it can
easily be transferred to the next days list, since
itll be at the lowest priority.
Do you have a fixed schedule?
I still struggle with this one, but each time Im
able to set a schedule for myself, I find that Im
happier, more energetic and much more productive. Getting
up at six in the morning one day, not sleeping for
another two days and then getting a whole lot of slumber
on and off for the next three days eats into your energy
and taxes your brain much more than it should. It also
becomes a cause for unnecessary delays and interruptions.
Instead of surrendering to your muse whenever it shows
up, program your body to work for a fixed time each day.
Your brain will automatically recognize that as time to
work and get on the job. Make your routine consistent.
When our body gets used to doing something at a
particular time, were able to do with ease. So if
youve decided to write five pages each morning
before the kids get up, make sure to do it.
Answer these questions honestly and get to work on these
techniques. Youll find all your goals ticked off
your list by the end of this year.
author: Mridu Khullar and the author of
Their Socks Off! A Freelance Writer's Guide to Query
Letters That Sell and the editor-in-chief of WritersCrossing.com
- a free online magazine for writers