Monday, August 1, 2011

Make Specific Goals: Part One to Setting Successful Writing Goals

The Rolling Stones had a hit when they sang "Time is on my side." Mick Jagger sang "Yes, it is!" But as many times as Jagger said it (and yes, it was cool), truth is time is not on my side or yours. Time is against us. The sooner we understand that as writers, the better we'll be.

As a journalist for more than a dozen years, I learned to respect time. As a college educator, I am trying to teach students to respect it. When you're 20 years old, it may seem time is on your side. Before you know it, however, you'll look in the mirror at a 40-year-old staring back at you wondering, "Where'd you come from?"

OK, enough trying to establish the importance of time. If you're still reading, then you are the type of person who knows this. You're reading to get help with your writing goals. Right? Then keep reading.

So we're clear, time and goals go together. Let me explain.

In my classes, I tell students they should know what they want and how to get it. That is why Step One to making successful writing goals is so important.

Step One: Write Specific Goals.

Writing specific goals means you must know what you want. Sounds simple doesn't it? Fine. Who has a goal like the following:

I want to write a novel.


I want to be a published writer.

Sound familiar? It does to me. I've written down similar statements over the years. But the two goals above are not specific. They are examples of "vague goals."

They are vague because they lack the kinds of details that will force you as a writer to take daily actions to make them a reality. You see, a vague goal like "I want to write a novel" is easy to manipulate. A year goes by and you say, "I'll do it next year." You hear Mick Jagger singing? "Time is on my side!"

So how do you transform this vague goal into a specific goal? Try this:

I want to write a novel in 30 days.

"Hold your horses!" you say. "That's ridiculous." If you think so, then you should visit our friends over at the National Novel Writing Competition, better known as NaNoWriMo. True. It is a daunting goal to write a novel in a month, but many have done it (including myself). I will admit it was an excruciating exercise. Yet, I learned plenty about setting specific goals and meeting them (and somewhere in there I learned a little about novel writing, too). This is just one example. Instead, a specific goal might be "I will write a 300-word Micro Fiction story today." That was my specific writing goal two days ago.

Now let's recap...

Time is not on our side. Time and goals can't be separated. Vague goals are evil. Specific goals are good and make everyone smile. Changing a vague goal to a specific goal involves adding details that force you to take action (And that means making a deadline and/or word count, or other quantifiable result, and sticking to it). 

 So, this first step in Setting Successful Writing Goals begins with writing specific goals. Spend 10 minutes brainstorming as many writing goals as you can. Then examine them. Are they specific? Do they include details that force you to pull out pen and paper or your laptop and start writing RIGHT NOW!?

Give it a shot and message me your goals, your thoughts. Try it now. Don't believe you have time to do it tomorrow or the next day. Time is not on your side. Do it now. 

Maybe you want more guidance. Good! This is just the start. Over the month of August, I will outline the four parts to Setting Successful Writing Goals. The four parts are as follows:
  • Make specific writing goals
  • Plan writing goals in three time categories
  • Include goals in areas of your life (outside of writing)
  • Reflect often on your goals 
As I explain the strategy, you may recognize parts of it. Truth is I adapted it from general goal setting strategies I have taught to college students using the text, "From Master Student to Master Employee," edited by Doug Toft. So, if you are serious about setting successful writing goals, be sure to read my article series this month. For more immediate help, send an email or leave a comment. I will respond.



  1. Interesting post, Pedro, I enjoyed it! Will retweet!

    And I read it because precisely I'm trying to forget everyday that Time is NOT on my side: the very idea panics me and I freeze! Yes, freeze! I need to think Time is on my side so that I'll do what I need to do everyday without looking forward (to the Future) nor backwards (to the Past). Just tread on, step by step...

    Interesting, isn't it? I guess the difference is a matter of temperament...We really both agree that Time is of the essence. What varies is how you "grab" it!

    And I also agree with you on this: that goals are essential and they must be set as clearly and as specifically as possible. Why? Because they are markers on the road to the Future...

  2. Claude, thanks for reading and for the comment. Yes, I can see what you're saying. Indeed, one of the dangers of being conscious of time is that we may be so conscious of it that it makes us freeze. My early days as a news journalist were like this. I knew I had only 15 minutes to write an article, for example. The deadline was so overwhelming for me that I worried more about the deadline than the writing.
    Striking a balance, then, is crucial. I tell my students time is a resource. Time is a tool. Maybe it's a powertool we are at first uncomfortable with. But the more we use it, see it as a valuable tool to help us get our work done more efficiently, then little by little, we will come to embrace it, see it as useful.
    Thanks again for reading.

  3. Hi Pedro,
    Thanks for following me on Twitter...I'm following you back.:) I came to check out your blog...and am really glad that I did! What a great slant on writing and time-management...can't wait to read the other installments.
    My book for parents and teachers of preschoolers was published last September...but the lack of time to market and promote it can be overwhelming. I know reading your "time is NOT on your side" series will be really helpful!
    If you have the "time":)...please check out my parenting blog: and my website:
    And, if you think Show Me How! is of value, please spread the word. :)

  4. Thanks for reading and sharing. I will check out your blog. My next article does speak to writers who must balance family life with writing projects. It's a huge challenge. I wrestle with it daily.
    Thanks again!

  5. Hello Pedro,

    Thanks for your post, I read your post and also - not to forget - your Comments where you tell about that you worked with deadlines as a journalist.

    I also read that you teach college students. Teaching them to become Master Employees, and although that sounds somewhat 'Evil' to me, I am sure that your intentions with that are good :)

    Your Goalsetting looks a lot like the - SMART Way - that I know as Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and with a 'Time Path'. I do think that it indeed can be helpful to focus on achieving goals.

    Although my current daily goals have to do with writing posts for my own Blog(s) and things like that, today I was just dabbling with the idea to possibly write a Readers Letter or a Filler for a Magazine or something....,

    'Vague Goal...?'


    So I was happy to see your post about being
    - Specific -. It can be great to create more clarity, clarity is power, so although I am not sure if I really want it, since the goal seems to be somewhat insignificant, I would go by something as:

    I want to write a - Readers Letter -
    for an Interesting Popular Magazine,
    and get it Published before
    the end of this year'

    Only I realise that - besides it not being my only goal - it isn't really specific enough, and I need to determine an Interesting Popular Magazine to write for. So thanks again for your post because at least thinking about specifying my goals do seem to already have had a little power to get me into the action of at least - think about - being more specific.

  6. Hello van Duuren. Thanks for the comment. I absolutely agree with what you said about clarity. Alas, if only my students would all embrace the idea. Glad to see my post could help you in your writing.


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