Every writer has a goal or two or three: Get the first draft done. Find an agent. Publish an article in a national magazine. Get a poem accepted by The New Yorker. Sometimes these goals are realistic, other times they are so fantastical you may as well be writing your novel with the horn of a unicorn.
Having been involved with writing critique groups in North Carolina for about five years, I meet writers of all levels who are so immersed in their work they are not familiar with the real possibilities of their publication abilities. Some don’t realize their talent. Many have tunnel vision. One writer I talked with last year was expecting to be laid off. He had many large goals for himself – ones that I would even find intimidating with my bubbling freelance life – but when I asked him how much time per day he was planning to devote to growing his writing business he said four. (He had not started yet!) I asked if he had four free hours in a day. What about exercise, commuting, your current full-time job, family, eating, etc.? I asked. What will you be sacrificing in the short-term?
Oh, he said. I’m not sure. I’ll try it for a week and see what happens.
Everyone works differently, but my suggestion was to try scheduling 30 minutes per day, then after at least a week or two, increase it to an hour, and so on. Some days may require more, and others less, but that will help you get into the mindset of the unpredictable nature of freelancing. Not meeting goals can be paralyzing. Having small achievements helps fuel you for new challenges.
As with any lifestyle change, it’s not something you’ll “try” and then switch back to your old ways. If a life of writing is what you desire, you need to say au revoir to the life you live. When your new routine doesn’t work for you (and eventually it will not – you will either have too much work or not enough), you will need to evolve and change your ways once again. Read about how my writing business evolved.
Whether you aspire to be a novelist, a freelance journalist, or a poet, here are three tips for each genre to help you make writing goals that work for you:
Writing Goals for Novelists
- Numbers. What makes you feel best: Writing for 30 minutes straight or writing 500 new words? See which one makes you feel more accomplished and then structure your goals this way. Depending on the demands in your life, make your goals daily, weekly or monthly. Something so simple you know you will achieve, then incrementally increase.
- Query. When your book’s first draft is done, edited over and over, and ready for the eyes of an agent, it is time to send your query letter! Not any sooner! I have known writers with just the first chapter done and they start querying. Agents need a finished product to pitch to publishers. And your query? The only job of a query letter is to pique the interest of an agent. Your manuscript will sell itself. If the query is not hooking an agent, it needs to be revised. Here are a few tips for query letters.
- Publish short stories. Wait, you’re a novelist, right? Right. Agents want to see publication credits in journals, which you should be including in your query letter. If you focus all your energy on your novel, you will have a complete manuscript and no credits to your name. What would be more attractive to an agent: A query letter of an author who has never had work published or a query letter of an author who has short stories in multiple literary journals?
Writing Goals for Freelance Journalists
- Money or markets? How you want to start to grow your freelance business will help you create goals. Do you want to publish in magazines that pay $500+ per feature? Or is it more important to you to initially publish topics that are important to you regardless of the fee? If money is essential, as it is for most serious freelancers, only query markets that pay a minimum that you’re comfortable with. Writer’s Market is a good starting point for finding market rates, but eventually you can join ASJA and members will post inside information in their Market Rate forum.
- Choosing a magazine. I would love to be published in Vogue, but I have very few relevant clips. Pick smaller markets that are similar and work your way up over time.
- Queries vs. clips. Say you want to publish 5 magazine articles this year. This means you need to send at least 5 query letters, but most likely you will send many more in order to get 5 acceptances. Take a look at my shelf life of a query – your letter may result in an article over a year from now. Make goals for query letters instead and your clips will follow.
Writing Goals for Poets
- Personal or published? Do you want to challenge yourself like the April Poem-a-Day Challenge or do you want your poems published in journals? Or both? Quantity does not mean quality, but many writers discover that writing frequently helps to uncover a gem or two that may not have happened in the first place. Depending on the time you have available, think of an achievable balance between submissions for journals and writing new work.
- Contests or journals? More choices! Not only is it great to have poems published in journals, but a few awards will draw more attention to your work too. Structure your time to include submissions for poetry contests in addition to journals.
- Attend events. Make time to attend workshops and writers conferences. Look for open mics at these events and in your community. If you plan to develop your poetry over time and get published, you will need polished public speaking skills. We’ve all been to terrible poetry readings – make goals now to attend X number of open mics and develop your reading abilities.