Three Simple Steps to Set Obtainable Goals


The modern writer (also known as the Working Writer) has a life full of obligations. There are 168 hours in a week, and we typically spend 40 of those hours at work. If you are getting a full 8 hours of rest (hah!) that’s another 56 hours. Right there, that’s 96 hours, or almost 60 percent of the time we have in a week.

Add in any time for eating (10 hours a week, if you assume half an hour three times a day), exercising (hah!), time to use the restroom (do we have time for that?), commuting (10 hours a week on average), other obligations (book club, writing group, school, kids, spending time with friends or family members, etc.), and things like paying bills or going grocery shopping…

Depressing, huh?

There’s a reason Working Writers have such a difficulty finding time to actually write. But as Franklin Field said, The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: ‘I did not have time.’ Well, guess what? We need to find the time if we want to be successful.

One of the first ways to do that, of course, is to set obtainable goals.

Step One: Evaluate

Before you even start day dreaming of what your goals should be, a Working Writer should evaluate three things – time, effort, and money. Looking at these three things will allow you to seriously and accurately assess your life and what you have the time, willpower, and money to do.

There’s no real formula for evaluating these items; just look at them honestly and through un-tinted glasses. This isn’t a guide to setting fluffy goals; it’s a guide to setting obtainable goals.

Evaluating Time

When you evaluate time, you are looking at both your time and the time of others and then comparing the two. As an example, Person A is married with children (poor unfortunate soul). In order for Person A to truly evaluate her time, she will need to also evaluate the time of her husband and compare it to how much time her kids need of the combined time.

In a different situation, Person B works for a busy company. If she takes a half an hour writing break, how does that affect her coworkers or her clients? Is her workload forgiving enough to take that time?

While many of us would love to say that our time is more important than the time of others, it isn’t that black and white.

Honestly evaluating your time means looking at all aspects of your time and the time of others and being realistic. If you can’t write for an hour a day, don’t. Do what your schedule will let you. Anything else will lead to Burn Out.

Evaluating Effort

Working Writers have a high tolerance for Burn Out, but it eventually happens. Have you ever slept through your alarm? Maybe you’ve called out on a day you weren’t really sick? Perhaps you went to work anyway, but drug your heels so hard that nothing actually got done?

That’s Burn Out.

Burn Out is the phenomenon when your brain and body just cannot keep up with the stress and deadlines. You lapse into a fugue state of not caring. Burn Out is dangerous for a Working Writer, because it usually wakes the Inner Critic. At a later date, I will provide ways to avoid Burn Out. For now, just be aware that you want to balance your stress with relief. If writing provides you with that relief, more power to you! The rest of us real people will be over here yelling at our characters – thank you.

So, if you evaluate your efforts and find that you have a lot on your plate, don’t set a goal to have your 90 k word novel finished in two months. Be honest with yourself on what you can and can’t handle.

Evaluating Money

Money is the hardest to evaluate. First of all, you need to look back at your time for this, since your time equals money. How much are you paid per hour at your day job? How much would you be paid if you were fired for poor work if you suffered from Burn Out? How much do you need to pay that babysitting so you get an hour of quiet? How much do you pay the kid to cut your lawn? Outgoing money is a big factor.

In addition, you need to honestly look at the incoming money. Are you writing on contract? Do you already have a book deal? Are you writing for a blog or magazine where there is a cash return? If you have incoming money, it makes the writing a little more important.

Step Two:  Prioritizing Life

By now you should have a snapshot of how things are. Do you extra time somewhere? Maybe you foresee the effort being low? Perhaps you are writing on spec and can afford to actually hire that babysitter.

Now you need to set your long-term goal. Just one. Focus is the key here.

Don’t write it down. Just think about it. Let it sit and breathe like you would a bottle of fine wine.

You want to set the smallest goal possible. Are you working on getting your first novel written? Instead of writing all 90 k words in two months, perhaps set a goal to have your outline written in two months. Or go for half – 45 k words in two months.

You need to keep your time, effort, and money in mind when you make this goal. If you know you only have half an hour a day to devote to writing, don’t make your long-term goal to have 6,000 words written a day for 14 weeks. You’ll just suffer from Burn Out after two days.

Small chunks, folks. Easy does it.

As it is, step two is also about expectations and time management. If you really want to write 90 k words in 2 months, you need to figure out how much time a day you’ll need to write, and how you are going to make that time appear. A Working Writer who isn’t working is a Starving Writer.

While I’m always up for helping, I can’t tell you how to prioritize your life. That’s something only you can do. Semicolon however comma if you have evaluated your time, effort, and money correctly and honestly (do you see a theme yet?) you will have a lot of ease in prioritizing life.

Step Three: Drafting your Goals

Write that sucker down! Write it down on copy paper or index cards. Type it up and set it to your desktop image. Put it on the back of your business card and keep it in your wallet. Do anything you can to make sure that goal is always in your mind.

Make sure you’re always flexible, however. If something comes up that demands more of your time, effort, or money, go back to Step 1.

In addition to your long-term goal, make sure you think about the steps you need to get there. Make these your short term goals.

For example: after evaluating and prioritizing her life, Person C decides she can afford to take a week of vacation to write. She knows (as we all should) that a full week of no obligations is a dangerous place full of distractions. To make sure that she actually uses that week to write, she sets short-term goals of daily word counts and bookend partners that will help her stay on track. She also plots ahead of time (always a smart idea) and makes sure that if the kids need to stay home sick that there is a babysitter who can accommodate. Person C is ready to write when that vacation comes around.


Evaluating, Prioritizing, and Drafting can be applied to all goals, not just writing. Want that promotion at work? Evaluate, Prioritize, Draft. How about losing ten pounds? Getting a tattoo? Learning to salsa? Evaluate, Prioritize, Draft.

The major thing to keep in mind though is to focus. Don’t have three long-term goals floating around. Only focus on one at a time. Burn Out is a dangerous thing that leads to joblessness or worse. Remember, Starving Writers aren’t Working Writers!

On Thursday,  I will talk about ways you can accurately evaluate your life, including charts and the like.

Until then, how do you think you will be able to apply Evaluating, Prioritizing, and Drafting to your goals?


5 thoughts on “Three Simple Steps to Set Obtainable Goals

  1. Oh…I’ve gone a few rounds with Inner Critic. Ha!

    Great post. Taking a day off is so important to our overall wellness, yet we often steal from the pool of relaxation because we’re so driven! It’s hard to ‘put-down-the-pencil-and-step-away-from-the-story’. Setting clear and attainable goals is vital to being able to see sustained progress ; it gives us a sense of accomplishment in small doses to encourage us onward. And …allows us to give ourselves needed breaks.
    I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to taking a break. I’m fortuante in that writing is my ‘job’ well…that and cooking, laundry (Oh! The Laundry!), and cleaning up after three boys and a husband (Oh! The Cleaning Up!). Phew! Ha.

    Have a great week! :}

    • Hi Nadja! Thanks for stopping by!

      I have this really epic picture I keep meaning to draw… where my Inner Critic is a red-pen wielding Sith Master and my Muse is a pencil wielding Jedi, and they are locked in very deep battle.

      My husband keeps pointing out that George Lucas would somehow find out and sue me for it.


      Any time I’ve seen a Working Writer just step away from their writing, they don’t come back for weeks. It’s hard to pick up the motivation again.

      You are very lucky that you are able to stay home and write… and clean. Ugh. The cleaning. (longing look at her messy kitchen) I promise. Ten more pages and then I’ll clean you…

  2. Awesome post and I agree with you 100%! Ever since I started ROW80 I have been much better, and more successful, at attaining my goals. at the end of each round I evaluate how I’ve done, re-evaluate priorites and then write the new ones down at the start of the next round. I get so much more done when I have a clear set of goals!

    • Hi Kat! Thanks for stopping by!

      ROW80 really is a huge help towards making goals better. I’ve had to reevaluate my original goals so much more than I would like to admit… to the point that I’ve decided I’m going to stop posting about them. Well, I mean, I will, just not so predominantly. It’s a little depressing.

      Good luck on your goals for this week!

  3. Pingback: Evaluating the Time and Effort Required to Meet your Obtainable Goals « The Great Dividing Line – With Dahnya Och

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