Smart Goals for Writers: How to Make Them (& Stick to Them)

    goals for writers

    Editor’s note: Goals for writers are as essential  in 2019 as they were in 1919,  so why not set smart goals?

    Twice a year, in December and June, I work on my “life plan”: It’s like a business plan, but it encompasses career/finances, health, relationships, and volunteering. Each section includes a brief mission statement, a bullet-point list of goals, a bullet-point list of obstacles to those goals, and a paragraph or two where I brainstorm ways around or through those obstacles.

    I don’t check on the life plan regularly during the year — just when I feel inspired. And when I go to it again after six months, I often find that I had internalized and met many of my goals without even trying.

    Except the income goals. For years, every six months I’d write out an income goal, brainstorm ways to meet that goal — and do absolutely nothing different in my career to try to earn that extra income.

    Eventually I smartened up, and realized two key things about setting goals:

    1. Your goals need to be something you can control.

    As a freelancer, it’s difficult to control how many clients you gain, how many assignments you get, or much money you make (though you can always shoot for a range; after all, we need to eat). However, you can control how many queries and letters of intro you send out, how much marketing you do, and how many hours you work. Increase these, and you’re likely to increase your income as a side benefit.

    Why not try it yourself for 2011? Instead of saying you want to make X amount of money or garner five assignments from national magazines, set goals that you can control — like how much marketing you do. For example, my plan for 2011 is to conduct a direct mail campaign to 900 local businesses for my copywriting (100 down, 800 to go!).

    2. Your goals need to inspire you.

    Guess what? It turns out I’m just not inspired by income goals. As long as I can support my family and we can do (within reason) what we want, I’m okay. However, I am inspired by the appreciation I get from the writers I help through my e-courses and mentoring. This morning I had a client who told me she had a big grin on her face as I outlined a new idea for her. Now, that I like — I just eat it up!

    So my goal is to do more teaching and mentoring. (And of course, the more teaching and mentoring I do, the more money I make.) I also enjoy writing for magazine editors who treat me well, so another goal is to seek them out, hang onto them when I find them, and weed out PITA editors. As a byproduct, I make a good income because it takes me less time to do assignments from magazines with a low PITA factor.

    These goals keep me a lot happier than working my butt off to reach some magic number I don’t really care about.

    So — what do you really care about? Try to set goals that make sense for you, instead of caving under the pressure to set goals that you feel you should want to reach.

    Linda Formichelli has written for over 130 magazines since 1997, from Pizza Today to USA Weekend. She  runs the Renegade Writer, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2010/11. She is the co-author of “The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success”


    I’m amazed at the wealth of information in the A-List Blogger Club. I’ve been blogging for several years but was not very savvy about it, and I immediately made easy but high-impact changes to my blog based on the advice there. I’m already seeing an uptick in readers, students, and clients!
    Linda Formichelli, The Renegade Writer Blog

    About the author

      Linda Formichelli

      Linda Formichelli is the author of The Renegade WriterShe has written for more than 130 magazines and is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. She is also the author ofHow to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life - While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

    • What a simple yet important rule: set a goal that inspires you.

      As I move forward with my writing career I have your idea in mind. You are right, I learned this through writing my blog. The biggest thing people struggle with is motivation, and often that motivation can only be gained by being inspired by something bigger than them.

      Thank you for this. I’m taking it to heart.

    • Lisa, thanks for making the list short as it’s hard to set goals when you’re following items A-Z, if you know what I mean. I guess, having realistic goals is something that makes it easier to attain and inspiration is something I may still have to find as I’m pretty lost these days. I sometimes wonder if writing for various clients have robbed me of the very passion I have for something — and that something is what I have to discover yet. Cheers!

      • Thanks for your comment! I know it can be hard to stay passionate about a subject when you’re writing about it over and over for pay. Realistic goals can help — as can expanding your subject base so you can write about different topics.

    • Yong says:

      Good writing.
      It inspires me.

    • Linda says:

      Really enjoyed your post, Linda, which was retweeted on Writer’s Advice (I’mpretty sure). So refreshing to hear someone say in these greedy times that they aren’t motivated by money, but by teaching and mentoring. Right on. You have an awesome heart.

      • Thanks for your nice note, Linda! And it looks like my goal is already happening…my e-course is almost sold out and I have 3 mentoring clients just this week. Can’t wait to get started…

    • Thanks for this post! I’m starting the year as a full-time freelance writer, and so for me setting goals is more than just a welcoming of a new year. This is very helpful!

    • Charlie says:

      Thanks Linda for your wonderful article.

      Normally me and my wife make two sets of goals every year. One are goals we can control like you said. And the other we call it faith goals, these are goals that we know is quite impossible for us to have if we only look at our current capabilities and resources. These literally require some miracle for us to have. It’s amazing because it makes us exercise a little more faith.

      But we don’t feel bad when they don’t happen.

      Last year we made a Europe trip our faith goal. Until now we are still amazed at how it happened.

      Thanks and Happy New Year!

      • Charlie, love the idea of faith goals! They sound a little like the Someday/Maybe list in Getting Things Done — but with a little more, well, faith!

    • Contrarian says:

      One important distinction:

      Goal: Target
      Dream: Reward for hitting the target.

      The goal is the means to the end. Nobody is motivated by the means … only the ends.

      Nobody wants a million dollars (goal) … they want what a million will buy them (dream).
      Nobody wants to publish a book (goal) … they want the feelings they expect will come from being a published author (dream).

      Set goals …fine. But don’t forget the “why” or the reason you want to hit the goal.

      • Thanks for your comment! I guess my “why” is that I want the feelings of being a well-respected, well-paid writer. And while I don’t set income goals anymore, the goals I do have will lead to making more — and my “why” for that is freedom and security.

      • The benefit of the benefit — one of the keys to effective copywriting! Thanks for pointing that out, Contrarian. Those ultimate benefits are great motivators — I need to keep reminding myself of them when I’m feeling distracted.

    • Marci says:

      Linda, I too find that I internalize my goals even when I don’t look at them. To me, a goal is something I want to learn or do anyway. Goals help me focus. I keep them in a journal, and enjoy seeing how they have been tweaked each year. Maybe, I check them off or maybe I decided it wasn’t for me.

      • Isn’t it funny how that works? I once went back to my business plan from 2003 or 2004 and saw that I had reached most of the goals — even including the crazy-sounding ones like my goal to have a house with a sun porch and a big bathroom (we had no plans to move at that time).

    • Stuart says:

      Great post here! It’s tricky at times where we try and set goals, but so many other factors come into play and we don’t know what’s what.

      When it comes to that, it’s a matter of priority, of deciding what’s most important for you and your life.

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

      • You’re right…for me, fun, freedom, and peace are huge priorities. I make a full-time living working part-time hours (under 20 hours per week), and I know my income could skyrocket if I had my butt in chair 40 hours per week. but I just can’t make myself do it, income goals or no.

    • Thank you, Shannon! And I hope I don’t come off as not caring about money at all — heck, I would LOVE to make much more, and my goals do reflect that. It’s just that the numbers goal doesn’t inspire me like the idea of teaching more and upping my marketing.

    • Great article, Linda! I especially like the part about making your goals something that inspires you to achieve time. I hadn’t ever really thought of that…but it makes complete sense!

      Best wishes for the new year!

    • Linda,
      This is perfect timing. I’m getting ready to start a monthly plan; more of a list of specifics and some ideas about what the month holds. It will be an offshoot of my overall business plan. I am entering my second year as a freelancer; I have a new client as I head into January and have increased rates but I have far to go to stop worrying about buying groceries! So, this is great. Thank you.

      • Thanks for your comment! A monthly plan is a great idea.

        We freelancers ALWAYS worry about being able to buy groceries. Even if I’m flush this month — there’s no saying what will happen next month! But it all evens out in the end and it’s all worth it.

    • Marcia Layton Turner says:

      Great advice, Linda, as always!

      Your recommendation to focus on what we control reminded me of something I learned years ago from a PR researcher – to focus on outputs instead of outcomes. You can control how many direct mailers you distribute or how many emails you send, but you really can’t control what percent of people ultimately respond and give you assignments. That has always stuck with me.

      I love reading your posts.

      All the best,

      • Thanks, Marcia! “Focus on outputs instead of outcomes” is a nice, elegant way to say what I was trying to explain! Hope you don’t mind if I steal that. 🙂

    • I think it’s a good idea to have goals that stretch us. I always do that: have a few goals that feel a tiny bit out of reach. And I find that more often than not, I manage to accomplish them.

      Thanks for this awesome post. Perfect as I work on my 2011 resolutions!

      Have a spectacular new year!
      – Lynette

      • Lynette, that’s a really good point. If a goal is too easy — or too hard — you can lose motivation. I think that’s why my goal to do a 900-letter direct mail campaign works for me: It sounds outrageous but is really doable if I do a little at a time.

    • Nic Oliver says:


      First of all, season’s greetings!

      My problem as a freelancer is focus. It’s so easy to accept any work that comes along, fearful that the well could be dry in a couple of month’s time. But I’ve learned the hard way that this is a route to burnout as well as disatisfaction.

      Thanks for the timely reminders about “a low PITA factor.”

      Peace, Light and Love,


      • Nic, I had that same problem — I would take any crappy assignment and be sorry later. No more! I’ve found that when you make space in your life by ditching the bad assignments, better ones come flowing in to take their place.

    • Beautiful. My take on “set goals you can control” is: focus on process. It’s the lesson of the ancient Hindu story in the Bhagavad Gita (retold as “The Legend of Bagger Vance”). And I repeatedly need reminding of it, which you have done elegantly.

    • As usual, Linda has inspired me – I’m going to order postcards and get busy with direct marketing!

    • These are some excellent points, which I don’t always keep in mind when making out my action plan for the year. (I create a 1 year plan in December. This year I will be reviewing my progress every quarter, and am currently in the process of inputting it into my calendars so that I have a regular reminder of my goals.)

      Now that you mention it, I don’t really have a monetary goal set for next year (I do, but it’s a minimum number that I set last year and just left). My business goal is set around other criteria, as you suggested: products created and people I reach out to. I haven’t quite defined those metrics, though, and need to take a further look into my plan to define it a bit further.

      • I think setting goals around products and networking is a great idea. Of course you want to earn a living, but setting a money goal can be difficult. But the more products you create and get out there, the higher your income will (probably) be.

    • Steve says:


      Good post.

      As I head into my second year of full-time freelancing, I have a lot of consistent work, but many are low payers.

      BUT, I LOVE the work. It’s the most fullfilled I’ve been as a writer.

      What I do plan on doing this year, in addition to increasing my income goal, is targeting more high payers, and replacing some of the low payers.

      I think early on — especially the first year and maybe the second, it’s a true learning experience for newer freelancers. I know it has been for me.

      I thank you for being there with sound advice.



      • Thanks for your comment, Steve! It sounds like you’re doing great so far. When I was a couple of years in, I raised my rates and replaced all the low-paying pubs with higher-paying ones. (First I asked if they could give me a raise. If they couldn’t, out they went — but nicely of course!)

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