SMART goals and writing. Update time

I thought my writing goal was pretty SMART. But, was I deliberately leaving myself some wriggle-room?

In August 2013, I signed up for Misha’s 5 year project. My goal was to finish writing a novel and to get it published. Today, I realised there is only one year and a few months left until my self-imposed deadline expires.

Now, I thought my goal was pretty SMART when I set it. (If you want to know the difference between a SMART goal and a not-SMART goal, I talk about this in the second half of this post. Scroll down.)

But, perhaps my goal wasn’t so SMART after all? Perhaps I was deliberately leaving myself some wriggle-room? Because, you see I didn’t define:

  1. Exactly which novel I would get published.
  2. Or how I would publish it.

As I see it, I have two options.

Ruth Livingstone, writer, author and bloggerThe Reluctant Scribe, my first novel, is still being considered by a handful of agents, but I received another rejection last week. After all this time I’m not hopeful of finding someone willing to take it on. I could, however, pay for professional editing and self publish the book. I think that’s a better option than leaving it languishing on my hard drive.

In the meantime, I have found another writer willing to read through the manuscript and give me some feedback.

Ruth Livingstone, writer, author and bloggerOrbital Contract, my second novel is a sci-fi adventure story for young adults, and has far more commercial potential. I’ve completed the third round of edits and the story is finished.

Of course, I’m never quite sure when you can tell if a book is actually finished, but I’m now just playing around with commas!

Now something really exciting has happened. After the Writing East Midlands conference in Nottingham last weekend, an agent has expressed an interest and is currently considering the full manuscript. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high,

Thinking kid, The Reluctant ScribeBeing SMART about goals.

Now, the thing about goals is that they can be SMART or not-SMART. Here’s the difference.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific, which means you set out exactly what it is you hope to accomplish.
  • Measurable, so that you can tell you’re on track and know when you reach the end.
  • Achievable, because reaching the goal is under your own control and not too reliant on other people’s goodwill, and certainly not reliant on magic, or on luck.
  • Realistic or Relevant to your life, so that you feel there’s some point to pursuing your goals despite competing priorities.
  • Time limited, by setting yourself firm milestones and deadlines.

Here are some examples of SMART goals:

  • I will earn more money, by volunteering for overtime every week this month and will apply for a promotion before the end of  the year.
  • I will improve my relationship with my mother, by phoning her twice a week.
  • I will become a better writer, by entering a short story contest every month until I win.

DreamsNot-SMART goals are:

Huge and beautiful. They’re your favourite dreams. Your secret wishes.

Not-smart goals are often ambitious and enticing, but lack detail. They’re fuzzy. Why? Because you know you want your life to be better, but it’s actually quite hard to pin down exactly what you hope to achieve and when you hope to achieve it.

Not-smart goals often rely on extraordinary good luck arriving, and may be far removed from your everyday life and ordinary experience.  In fact, they could represent some wonderful and heavenly vision you have for the future.

Here are some examples of not-SMART goals:

  • I will win the lottery and become a multi-millionaire.

Great, but how likely is this to really happen? Do you know what the odds are? Can you influence them? Do you actually buy any lottery tickets?

  • I will try harder to be a nicer person.

That’s nice, but what do you mean by ‘try harder’ and what do you mean by ‘nicer’? You could substitute ‘healthier’ or ‘fitter’ in place of nicer, but you still need to decide where to start and how you measure your progress.

  • I will become the best writer in the world.

Wonderful. Great ambition. But how will you start improving as a writer, and how will you know when you’re really better than everyone else?

DreamingLet me make it clear, there is nothing wrong with not-SMART goals.

They are often the best and most hopeful thoughts of our lives, the things we dream about, the passions that get out of bed in the morning. And there is nothing wrong with having hopes, dreams and passions.

In fact, many of my fellow authors on the Five Year Project have non-SMART goals with great aspirations. They’re shooting for the stars, flying high, and that’s great.

I just prefer something a bit more concrete under my own feet.

Yes. I’ll hang onto my crazy dreams and wild ambitions. But I must make sure to give myself some sensible goals too, and I know I’m more likely to succeed if I keep them SMART.


Author: Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.

7 thoughts on “SMART goals and writing. Update time”

  1. Perhaps procrastination & coming up against deadlines both defines us as humans & leads to the best outcomes if your a writer – I’m not.
    The only lines of poetry that pop into my mind regularly were crystallised by being interrupted during an opium dream by a man from Porlock.


    1. Indeed. A bit of deadline-induced adrenaline is good for creativity, I think. I’m not sure whether the Kubla Khan poem was improved by the interruption, though. It always felt like two poems mashed into one to me. But, also, it is one of the few poems that I can remember almost off by heart.


  2. Excellent post. I encourage you to check out my post on Operation Awesome on April 20. It’s about self-publishing. It’ll maybe help, and hopefully make you laugh. 😉

    “Reaching the goal is under your own control” — This is the part of SMART where I hit a gray area. With certain goals, I’d have to add an extra 30 or so words just to flesh it out so it sounds more like I have control. For example, the goal I have written on the 5 year project is “Publish two decent-selling book series.” That’s shorthand. Publish meaning I’ll send out query letters (actually, that’s part of my other goal, of writing an accepted query letter at least once), and decent-selling… I have almost a whole blog post defining that, but it’s also about my commitment to self-promotion and social media. Still, even if I do every marketing thing right, and hit every social media milestone, and have the best stories ever… I still don’t control sales. Which is something that all sales people debate. There’s even a movie (Boiler Room) that has some strong thoughts on the subject of how even a broke person actually has a magic pile of money they’re just waiting to spend (I’d like to know where that pile is, because I’m certain a team of doctors took mine). So I guess my goal has to be more about doing all I can to influence those sales.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments. It’s interesting how we use different definitions when we set ourselves goals. I’m certainly going to have a look at the blog post you mention about self publishing.


  3. I like your SMART goals! I won’t accomplish the goal listed for my name for the hop this year, but I did last year so I’m okay with this year being an “off” year of mulling through draft work and getting my health back in order. That’s become my base for this year. My “upper level” goals for my writing would include: getting two healthy drafts ready for query and finishing a long-term writing prompt book (I have a full draft but it needs revision) by the end of the year. However … I don’t think those upper goals are reasonable – my time limits are too constrained.
    Way to go with your queries!!! I hope one of your two books is accepted soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s easy to set unrealistic goals, isn’t it, I’m very good at doing that! We all need down time too, and sometimes just drifting is good for us. You’re right about health, it should always be a number one priority.


  4. I do a bit of both. I have big goals, but then I try to figure out measurable ways to go about achieving them.

    Fingers crossed for the agent!


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