Jack Messenger | Feed the Monkey

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Writing Goals

Like many people, I take the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to make plans and outline some goals for myself. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I go about doing this and why I sometimes succeed and why I sometimes fail to achieve my goals.

LabyrinthIt’s always dangerous to generalize from one’s own experience and say that what works for one person will also work for everyone else. However, I’ve found certain things useful and you might too – perhaps you’ve already found these things out for yourselves.

Big Goals

The big goals I set myself are the major ones for the year. Usually, I set about five or six. This year, for example, I’ve set the goals of publishing a small collection of short stories by the end of June, finishing writing a novel I discarded last year and finishing a brand new novel by the end of December. There are a couple more as well. I make a list of these goals and I write beneath them why it is I want to attain them – it’s important to know why we do the things we do, otherwise we can lose sight of ourselves in the doing of them. And when things get tough (as they surely will do from time to time), looking at our reasons reminds us why our goals are important and helps us persevere. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.

In addition to my reasons, I also write down what I need to do to achieve my goals – all the steps I need to take along the way. This helps break down daunting goals into achievable steps. So, for instance, publishing my short stories entails such things as uploading a front cover and putting a book page on my blog and website. As these tasks are completed, it feels good to be able to cross them off the list.

Little Goals

Little goals are all about the micro-management of my working day. As opposed to my big goals, my little daily goals are often ridiculously easy to achieve. I do this deliberately. I learned long ago that it feels much better to achieve something each day, no matter how humble, rather than fail at something too ambitious. Often, one or two little goals can be achieved quite quickly, leaving time to achieve a few more. When that happens it feels really good. It gives me permission to relax afterwards or even knock off early – I’ve done more than I set out to do, so why not? Rest is vital if we are to continue in our work.

This system really works for me. It’s amazing how quickly I can get things done. As a writer, for example, I do not set myself a huge word count each day. Ideally, I’d love to write a thousand or two thousand words each day, and sometimes I do. However, I set a target of around four hundred or five hundred words. That’s the number of words I believe I can reach reasonably easily. After that, if I’m still writing, every additional word is a bonus, so I finish my writing day feeling really good about myself: I haven’t failed to achieve my goals; I haven’t just achieved them. I’ve surpassed them! This is a simple trick I play on myself and I fall for it each time.

How do you plan your work? How successful are you in setting and achieving your goals? Do you have any good ideas the rest of us can try?

Basketball hoop


  1. Jack, I’ve tried setting a goal of five hundred words a day and it worked for me as well. So far, I’ve managed to meet the goal every day, and more. Thanks for the tip. Liz

    • Thank you, Liz, I am pleased. It’s good to set attainable goals like this, as it means we don’t become discouraged over the long haul. When our goals for the day are vague and/or ambitious, they set us up for disappointment. For example, when I’ve said to myself ‘I’ll write a short story today’, it’s usually ended in disaster. That’s not what writing should be about. Writing is hard enough as it is without the needless and counterproductive pressure we sometimes put on ourselves.

  2. Great post to start the New Year and a good reminder for me. I like your strategy of ensuring small rewards to spur motivation. Thanks!

  3. Thank you, Ginger. I hope you enjoy a productive year for your writing.

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