Make Your Writing Goals S.M.A.R.T.E.R.!

I have this goal that plagues my to do list, but I NEVER get around to completing it. It’s my fault and not because of laziness, but because it wasn’t properly set. The SMART technique is a realistic goal setting system that can benefit writers or anyone. BUT there’s an awesome variant that you may not be aware of. It’s called SMARTER!

Let’s discuss.

All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.

– Orson Swett Marden

What does S.M.A.R.T.E.R mean?

S.M.A.R.T.E.R. stands for Specific Measurable, Achievable Realistic, Time-bound, Evaluate, and Re-do (whew!). It’s a variant of “S.M.A.R.T.” which is a criteria that helps make your goals accomplishable. The “E.R.” (Evaluate and Re-do) is what you do after putting your goals into action.

To make a goal S.M.A.R.T.E.R., you need a general goal.

General goals get a bad rep for putting too much focus on the result. They seem harder than they really are, and we feel like crap when we haven’t completed them. They’re just too darn broad.

But… you need a general goal before you can make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R.. Also, break your goal down into smaller steps so it’s not result focused.

My goal:

I want to be an author (too broad).

I want to write a short story (better).

Specific

A specifically stated goal mentions what you plan to do, how you’ll do it, and the due date. We can’t do much at this point since all we have is a general goal, so the first order of business is to make it S.M.A.R.T.. Then we’ll make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R..

I promise this will all make sense.

Measurable

How do you know when you’re done? How can you track your progress?

You can track the progress of your writing project by word count, page count, chapters, and so on. Just make sure you have a number in mind!

My goal: I want to write a 5,000 word short story.

Achievable

Do you have the resources necessary to achieve your goal?

A resource could be something tangible, like a USB flash drive, notebook, or organizer. It can also be something intangible, like a word processing software, commitment, or time.

Also, take into account every responsibility or distraction that could affect your goal (work, family obligations, school) and decide if it’s still achievable. If it’s not, you may need to adjust something.

My goal: I write in Scrivener (not affiliated), back up my work via a USB flash drive, and use a planner to track my progress. That’s pretty much all I need for writing. I always write in the morning when I’m not too busy, so time isn’t a problem. Writer’s block may wear down my commitment, but I can fight against it by outlining my short story ahead of time or relying on good ol’ fashioned grit and filling my creative well with reading.

Realistic

Why did you make this goal? Is it relevant to the life you have or want?

There needs to be a point to your goal or else it’s just valuable time wasted.

My goal: I want to be an author and writing something, like a short story, will help me get there.

Time-bound

When do you want to complete your goal?

Set a due date! This keeps you motivated and prevents procrastination (hopefully).

My goal: I want to write my novel during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s 161 words a day–easy! In case life is a jerk, I can stick to my original plan of getting it done by the end of the summer, but I’m aiming for July 31st.

Revisit Specific

Now you can specifically state your S.M.A.R.T. goal.

My General Goal: Write a short story.

My S.M.A.R.T. Goal: Write a 5,000 word rough draft during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m going to do this by writing 161 words a day and keep track of my progress via Scrivener and my planner. The due date is July 31st (or September 1st) at midnight.

Do you see the difference? The reason I did the “Specific” step last is because I wanted to flesh out my original goal first.

Evaluate

This step only happens after you’ve tried your S.M.A.R.T. goal. Take some time to analyze what’s working and what’s not. Check your performance. What did you struggle with? Do you need to lower the stakes or increase them?

For example, you may want to decrease your word count goal or extend the due date if you’re having trouble keeping up. Or maybe the hours in your job have changed and you have to adjust something.

Re-do

Detect a problem? Go back through the S.M.A.R.T. criteria and make a new goal. Put it into action and then evaluate how things are working for you. Going bad? Re-do it. Going good? You’re golden.

WARNING! It may tempt you to use the Evaluate and Re-do steps as excuses for procrastination. DO NOT DO THIS EVER! I suggest limiting yourself to one (OK, two) re-tries.

The SMARTER system takes into account that we’re human. Sometimes we stretch ourselves thin or we discover that we’re capable of more than what we thought. Whatever the case, it’s an adaptable oopsie button that prevents us from throwing in the towel.

Good luck!

Additional Reading Material

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