Writing Goals

There’s less than a week remaining in January, which, for me anyway, means it’s still the New Year. Which means we’re still within the 2018-goal-setting window, if there’s such a window at all. When speaking of goals here, I mean writing goals. (I’m a writer, so what other goals are there to ponder?)

As 2017 came to a close, I thought long and hard about my goals for 2018: a large writing project to revise, essays to complete and submit to literary journals, and agents/publishers to whom to pitch my memoir.

Ten days before the New Year, when I was thinking about how to hone in on manageable, realistic writing goals, an email from Brevity, a journal of concise literary nonfiction, popped-up in my inbox. I clicked open the email, and there it was, the post that could not have come at a better time. In “The Year of the Writer,” Allison Williams starts out by first encouraging us to celebrate even our tiniest 2017 writing accomplishments. Maybe it’s a sentence you’re proud of, the essay you finally sent to a dream literary journal, the positive feedback you received from your writing group, or the rejection letter from an editor who took the time to offer specific suggestions and asked you to re-submit in the future. Allison’s mindful nudge for us to recognize each of our writing accomplishments, while examining what worked and didn’t work, was grounding for me. It gave me permission to pause, to take my time to mine the ever-growing list of writing goals I continue to compile and house in a somewhat large file on my computer’s desktop.

So how did I hone in on my 2018 writing goals? I listened to Allison and focused on the classic SMART formula: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely. As Allison cautioned, I was careful to not set too many goals, and took into consideration my emotional/mental idiosyncrasies. (I become anxious when I have too much ahead of me, and end up spending more time thinking about how I wish I weren’t so anxious than getting as much work accomplished as I’d like.)

Here’s what I came up with (except for goal #1, the deadlines are self-imposed):

1) Apply for the 2018 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. Deadline February 15, 2018.

2) Submit fifty query letters to agents by the end of March, which is in addition to the 125 I sent in 2017.

3) Each week, revise two chapters of a draft of a novel I wrote two years ago.

4) Revise an essay rejected by a mainstream newspaper, then submit to other publications. Deadline February 10, 2018.

5) Complete an essay about processing forgiveness and submit to literary journals. Deadline: still thinking about it.

6) Collect ideas/thoughts/questions regarding the structure of my next memoir. Deadline: March 1 2018.

Since I do well with visual reminders of things I need/want to accomplish, I typed my writing-goal list, printed it out, and taped it to the inside front cover of my 2018 date book. That way, when my mind gets over-excited about other writing projects, I have that list readily available to remind me, “Melissa, stay focused. Of course, if something else comes up that’s worthy of veering off my writing-goal course, like an offer from an agent to represent my memoir, who then quickly sells it to, say, Random House, and I’m too busy traveling for my book tour to complete those two essays or work on my novel, then I’m all good, really, really good.

So far, I’m ahead when it comes to goal #1: I hit the send button on January 6. Now I just have to wait until May to hear back from Bread Loaf. I’ve taken a small bite out of goal #2: six queries sent – forty-six remaining. As for goal #3, I begin the revisions of my novel during a five-day retreat in Point Reyes, California – what I call the kickoff event to making my next large project the best that it can be. Goal #4: I’m happy to share that I’m deep into revisions of the essay, and feel good about meeting my February 10 deadline. Goal #5: Well, there’s a reason why I didn’t set a deadline: I only recently started the first draft of this essay, and still need to think about a realistic time frame. For some reason (one of my idiosyncrasies), once I set a date, I feel as if I can’t change it. So I need to be sure before putting it out there in black and white. Goal #6: I’ve come out ahead here too; I’ve already decided on the structure of my second memoir, and have even written the first and last sentences of the book!

What writing-life experiences from 2017 have helped you to formulate your 2018 goals? What are your writing goals for 2018? How do you navigate distractions, keep your butt in the chair, keep your eyes on the page and your fingers on the keyboard?










  1. Love this, Melissa! Gonna take some notes from your list of goals. I’m all over the place with goals, even though I have sat down daily to put them in some sort of order but then got distracted. I have pages of writing contests open on my computer as well as literary mags I want to submit to but I like your idea of giving goals numbers…number of queries to send, number of pages to revise, etc. I have done revisions of my memoir from class and retreat feedback and now I’m stuck, or maybe it’s just confidence issues that are plaguing me. You are a shining light Melissa! Thanks for this blog post…I’m gonna use some of your tips! 🙂

    • Virginia, i’m so glad this is helpful. If I have inspired, motivated, successfully guided my writing peers toward a constructive creative path, then my day has been made! Looking forward to hearing how your memoir comes along.

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