Thursday, October 4, 2012

Being Smart About My Writing Goals

If you follow my blog posts about my goals, you might have noticed that September was not my best month. I met some of my goals but whiffed badly on some others.

While I'm somewhat disappointed with my September results, I don't necessarily mind the idea that I'm not always going to hit 100% of my goals. I want to have goals that are aggressive enough that I'm accomplishing a lot rather than "just" meeting goals.

Put another way, all other things being equal, it's arguable that it would be better to have written 17,000 words and missed a 20,000 word goal than have written 15,500 words and met a 15,000 word goal. Of course, there are other factors, too. I might well be happier in the second scenario since I would have met the goal I'd set out for myself. This is why I try to recalibrate goals from month-to-month to give myself a set of targets for each month which I think I can achieve with sufficient effort.

There's an acronym out there for goals. When I first ran into this in the corporate world, a decade or more ago, I remember thinking it was cheesy. Maybe it was. Maybe it is. But it's one which I still think provides a good way of analyzing whether you're defining good goals for yourself.

The acronym is SMART and the letters stand for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.

Specific means that the goal is clear and not ambiguous. Measurable means that you have a way to quantify your results. Achievable means that it's something within your grasp, not something you have little reason to expect to be able to accomplish. (I also tend to think of this -- for personal goals -- as meaning that it's something which is essentially within my control whether I accomplish it or not.) Relevant means that the goal aligns to what matters to you. Time-based means that there's a specific point at which you can measure your progress and say that you met or did not meet the goal.

So, let's look at a few goals:
  • "Write better this year."
    • An easy one, I guess. Most people could probably identify this as not an especially well-defined goal. It meets Relevant and Time-Based but that's about it.
  • "Have three stories accepted by SFWA markets this year."
    • Specific? Absolutely. Measurable? Yep. Relevant? For a SF/F writer, most likely. Time-based? Yes. Achievable? Hmm... Well, certainly for someone who was heading in that direction (making progress with semi-pro sales, etc.) it would be within the realm of possibility. But, like I said above, I prefer defining goals so I either meet them or not solely based on my choices and actions. In this case, it would be up to me to write "good" stories but also up to editors to feel they fit their publications, etc. It's not a goal I would specifically define for myself.
  • "Write, revise, and submit one new story every month. Send each new story to at least five SFWA-qualifying markets before any non-qualifying markets."
    • To me, this is better than the previous goal. However, it's still a bit awkward in some regards because the second part of it isn't really Time-Based. Depending on where you send these stories, it could take months or years to go through five SFWA-qualifying markets.
  • "Make 100 submissions to SFWA-qualifying markets during this year."
    • To me, this would meet all five criteria. (Again, assuming it's Relevant to the individual defining the goal -- that's largely an individual criteria.)
Do you use this type of criteria when defining your own writing goals? If so, have you found any drawbacks to this approach? Or have success stories to share about it?


  1. It depends on a person's personality type, but for me, it's much better, in the long run, to meet lower productivity goal rather than struggling to meet a higher productivty goal.

    I think it's very important to have achievable productivity goals. In fact, I set goals that are, if anything, a bit lower than what I know I can do. My aim isn't to struggle to achieve the goal and to hit it sometimes: my aim is to hit it day after day, week after week, and to sometimes exceed it.

    For years, I set my productivity goals too high. They were achievable (and nowadays I routinely achieve the levels that once frustrated me), but they also required a level of effort that I didn't know how to give, at the time. What'd happen is that I'd see that I wasn't going to meet the goal, and then I'd give up. After I started setting more modest goals and achieving them, my productivity increased significantly.

  2. That's a good point -- about individuals' reactions to meeting or not meeting goals -- and one that I could have probably hit on harder in my post.

    I'm glad you've found a way of setting goals which works well for you!

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