January 2020: Setting Goals and Keeping Them

By Ekta R. Garg

I spent 2019 setting some pretty big goals for myself and also achieving them. I want to share with you what worked for me in the hopes that you can make it work for you too.

Here’s a quote that sits on my desk from the book The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The character, Mr. A.H., is speaking about what it means to tell stories.

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

Writing moves people. It makes them think about their own lives or reconsider their opinions. Every writer has the capacity to make a reader experience this, so don’t doubt yourself. You just need to put in the hard work and time.

Most of us who write want to be read widely. We want to do what Mr. A.H. said: move readers and reach them in their hearts and souls. If we want people to engage with our work, and if we want to have long, sustained careers as writers, we need a plan that will bring us readers.

I’ve taped another quote to my computer screen that I see every single day; the more I re-read it, the more convinced I become that reaching readers really is as easy as three steps.

A dream written down with a date becomes a GOAL.

A goal broken down into steps becomes a PLAN.

A plan backed by action becomes REALITY.

 This quote gives concrete guidelines that are simple to understand and simple to follow. I’ve seen these guidelines come to fruition in my own life in the last year, and I believe that anyone who follows these three easy steps has a head start on becoming a widely-read, successful author.

How do we accomplish this?

A dream written down with a date becomes a GOAL.

First, you need to make your dream a goal. To do that, think carefully about what that dream is. Make it as concrete as possible.

Several of my short stories and articles have been published in print, but my ultimate goal is to be an author of books. I want my stories—my novels—to have an impact on people. So instead of saying, “I want to be a published author,” I state my goal to be, “I want to be a novelist with books in wide circulation.”

So how do we achieve that goal? We make it concrete. We give it parameters. We define it in a way that’s easy to manage but also a necessary part of our day. And we do this by turning it into a plan with steps.

A goal broken down into steps becomes a PLAN.

In April of 2019, I enrolled in the Pathway to Publication program offered to attendees of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writers’ Institute conference. The program is designed to help writers set and meet significant goals toward publication.

My mentor asked me when I would finish the next draft of my novel. We had a family vacation coming in July, so I made a commitment to my mentor and myself to finish the draft by July 4. I even signed a pledge stating this.

That pledge on paper and my commitment to my dream—to be a published novelist—made me sit down day after day and write. By the Fourth of July I had a complete draft almost 140,000 words long. After our vacation, life obligations prevented me from revising the novel until late September. At that time I set a new goal for myself: sending the book to beta readers in the second week of January.

To keep myself honest, I contacted people during revisions and asked them if they’d read for me. Every single person said yes, so I knew I’d have to send them an actual revised draft. I set my next deadline for the end of the year. On December 31, at 11:40 p.m., I finished the next draft for the beta readers, and on January 10, just like I promised them, I emailed it to everyone.

It isn’t enough just to state your dream and set a goal. By forcing yourself to stick to a specific date, you get the work done. I took my two really big goals of writing those two drafts, put dates on them, and then I broke those goals apart into steps. Really small ones that were easy to take and achieve.

A plan backed by action becomes REALITY.

In order to finish the novel by our family vacation in July, I pledged to write 500 words a day, five days a week, for a total minimum of 2500 words a week. When I started, I had no idea how long the book would be, but based on my track record for my blogging I knew I could spend time writing an extra 2500 words a week on top of my other writing and writing-related commitments.

At the start of the next draft in the fall, I decided to let my alpha reader read the revisions as I wrote. We had a long conversation about what was feasible for her to read as well as what I thought was feasible for me to write. We agreed that two chapters a week was a good goal.

These deadlines were totally manageable. They were small enough so that they didn’t overwhelm me, but they were challenging enough that I felt like I was getting the work done.

I put my goals in my day planner. It sits on my desk, open, and is only for writing and editing-related tasks. I look at it often throughout the day.

Some people prefer sticky notes or have space for a white board or a cork board in your writing area. Do what works for you, but make sure it’s written down and posted in a place where you can see it every single day. When you’re faced with your dreams in written form, you’ll be more motivated to work toward them.

Despite how organized or even regimented all this sounds, I don’t stick to a specific writing or editing schedule for my day. There are days when I might not get more than two hours at my keyboard, but I make those hours count even when I’m driving the kids around. No one said you had to be sitting at a perfect little desk to be a successful author. A coffee shop or even the front of the car where I stretch my legs across the passenger seat count too.

I’m flexible about how the work gets done, and putting down goals that are within a longer time frame—a week, for instance, instead of a day—is key to that. My planner keeps me on task on what I need to finish in what weeks—essentially the “when” of my goals—but I leave it completely open when it comes to how.

Small deadlines, put into writing, and with a lot of grace and flexibility are all helping me complete my plan every single day. They’re helping me make my dream into a reality.

A dream written down with a date becomes a GOAL.

A goal broken down into steps becomes a PLAN.

A plan backed by action becomes REALITY.

Experts say time and time again that often it isn’t the most talented individuals who are the most successful; it’s the ones who persevere, who don’t give up, who set a routine, and discipline themselves to stick to it. It sounds like some mystical concept, but it really isn’t. Sticking to a routine can be as easy as tying your shoes, if you just practice it enough.

The biggest benefit of all this comes when you get that book deal or you sell that story to your favorite outlet. Chances are, editors and publishers will come to you with revisions or suggestions for changes. Then they’ll give you a deadline, and the deadlines they give are often tight. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by those deadlines, you’ll just sit down and do the work. You’ll already have a method in place to help you meet that deadline, complete your plan, and achieve your dream.