Hey writers: is there a writing goal that plagues your to-do list? Do you repetitively set it but can never seem to finish it?
I know I do. Good news: it may not be your fault! Flawed writing goals are always difficult to do, but you can fix this my making them S.M.A.R.T.E.R.
Note: While this post is centered on writing goals, it can be re-purposed for any goal type.
What does S.M.A.R.T.E.R mean?
S.M.A.R.T.E.R. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound, Evaluate, and Re-do (whew!). It’s a variant of “S.M.A.R.T.” which is a criteria that helps make your goals accomplishable. The “E.R.” (Evaluate and Re-do) is what you do after putting your goals into action.
To make a goal S.M.A.R.T.E.R., you need a general goal.
General goals get a bad rep for putting too much focus on the end result. They seem harder than they really are and we feel like crap when we haven’t completed them. They’re just too darn broad.
But…you need a general goal before you can make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R.. Just make sure that your general goal isn’t focused on the end result. How? Break it down into increments.
I want to be an author (too broad).
I want to finish a manuscript (better).
I want to write a 5k word short story (Great!).
A specifically stated goal mentions what you plan to do, how you’ll do it, and the due date. We can’t do much at this point since all we have is a general goal so the first order of business is to make it S.M.A.R.T.. Then we’ll make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R..
I promise this will all make sense.
How do you know when you’re done? How can you track your progress?
You can track the progress of your writing project by word count, page count, chapters, and so on. Just make sure you have a number in mind!
My goal: I want to write 5,000 words.
Do you have the resources necessary to achieve your goal?
A resource could be something tangible like a USB flash drive, notebook, or organizer. It can also be something non-tangible like a word processing software, commitment, or time.
Also, take into account every responsibility or distraction that could impact your goal (work, family obligations, school) and decide if it’s still achievable. If it’s not, you may need to adjust something.
My goal: I write in Scrivener, back up my work via a USB flashdrive, and use a planner to track my progress. That’s pretty much all I need for writing. I always write in the morning when I’m not too busy so time isn’t a problem. Writer’s block may wear down my commitment, but I can fight against it by outlining my short story ahead of time or relying on good ol’ fashioned grit.
Why did you make this goal? Is it relevant to the life you have or want?
There needs to be a point to your goal or else its just valuable time wasted.
My goal: I want to be an author and writing something, like a short story, will help me get there. Balancing cups on my head or chugging ten gallons of maple syrup won’t help me (unless it’s for the sake of research).
When do you want your goal to be completed?
Set a due date! This keeps you motivated and prevents procrastination (hopefully).
My goal: I want to write my novel during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s 161 words a day–easy! In case life decides to be a jerk, I can stick to my original plan of getting it done by the end of the summer but I’m aiming for July 31st.
Now you can specifically state your S.M.A.R.T. goal.
My General Goal: Write a 5k word short story.
My S.M.A.R.T. Goal: Write a 5,000 word rough draft during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m going to do this by writing 161 words a day and keep track of my progress via Scrivener and my planner. The due date is July 31st (or September 1st) at midnight.
Do you see the difference? The reason why I did the “Specific” step last is because I wanted to flesh out my original goal first.
This step only happens after you’ve tried your S.M.A.R.T. goal. Take some time to analyze what’s working and what’s not. Check your performance. What did you struggle with? Do you need to lower the stakes or increase them?
For example, you may want to decrease your word count goal or extend the due date if you’re having trouble keeping up. Or maybe the hours in your job has changed and you have to adjust something.
Detect a problem? Go back through the S.M.A.R.T. criteria and make a new goal. Put it into action and then evaluate how things are working for you. Going bad? Re-do it. Going good? You’re golden.
WARNING! You may be tempted to use the Evaluate and Re-do steps as excuses for procrastination. DO NOT DO THIS EVER! Only do it if you really really really need to. I suggest limiting yourself to one (OK, two) re-tries.