Goals are especially important for writers because writing is a "squishy" pursuit. Without goals, we lack a means to judge our performance. In setting goals, however, we must be careful to make “us-dependent” goals rather than “them-dependent” goals.
A goal that is us-dependent is a goal realized through our own effort. It does not involve anyone else’s response. For example:
- I will write one poem every week.
- I will keep a journal.
- I will attend the writer’s group and bring something to critique.
A goal that is them-dependent relies on others for its fulfillment.
- I will get my novel published this year.
- I will write a column for the newspaper.
Publication and contest wins are beyond your control. You can improve your odds of publication with market research and a sparkling query, but you cannot guarantee acceptance. The editor might not even read your query. Is that rejection truly a measure of your skill? The publisher might have just accepted a piece similar to yours. The newspaper may not have any funding. While important, this sort of goal is not an accurate gauge of progress.
A writer’s goals should combine the two types. If your ultimate goal is to be published, then use that…but add in others.
Just for example, my goals one year were:
- Get a novel published.
- Get 12 pieces accepted or get 100 rejections in the process.
The first was not dependent on me. I could submit all I liked, but if my genre wasn’t snapping, I wasn’t going to sell, and I didn’t.
For the second, though, I was guaranteed to achieve one part or the other if I submitted 111 pieces: two pieces per week, and some weeks three. Plus, every rejection letter, rather than being disheartening, carried me closer to my goal!
As it turned out, I did get 12 acceptances that year, so I made my second goal. I didn’t sell the novel until the next year.
Finally, is your goal achievable? If you’ve never written a short story before, publication in The New Yorker is less achievable than the goal of bringing one highly-polished story every month to your writing group. Also, the goal must be challenging. If it doesn’t involve enough effort, we’re more likely to let it slip, and achieving it would be meaningless.
Your take-away: Set goals, but make them reasonable, and make most of them dependent on your own effort. Then get the puck into the net.