7 Mistakes Writers Commonly Make With Goal Setting & Writing Resolutions

Since it’s the first day of the year, and like many writers you probably have goals and resolutions on your mind, I want to highlight a few common mistakes writers tend to make when setting goals for the year, to save you the trouble of possibly making them and stymying yourself or creating unnecessary frustration or disappointment. 

Know in advance that I *am* a fan of goal setting when it comes to writing (and that’s what we’ll be doing with our Make This Your Year to Write process), while at the same time I also know it benefits from forethought.

Here are some considerations to take into account as you plan your goals and resolutions.

7 Mistakes Writers Commonly Make With Goal Setting & Writing Resolutions

Mistake #1: Setting page count or word count goals in a vacuum.

It SOUNDS great to say you’ll write 250 or 1000 words or 3 script pages a day (I’ll write a book/3 scripts a year!), but is it really that great?

When you set a goal for the entire year’s worth of writing focused on a word or page count goal, you’ll most likely be neglecting the reality that writing projects typically also require all kinds of OTHER work that is critical for moving a writing project forward (and counts as writing), like research, development, editing, revising, plotting, structuring, character development, and more.

What happens when you set a word count goal but you’re at a place in your book where you need to edit and revise? Do you end up writing “new words” even when they aren’t relevant to your book… and end up feeling like you’re spinning your wheels? 

What happens when you set a page count goal but you need to restructure your script in order to move it forward? Do you work on two scripts at once… and thwart your forward progress as a result?

The issue I have with word and page count goals set in a vacuum is that they have the potential to create an inherent conflict with yourself; if you focus on meeting the goal, you’re not doing the work you actually need to be doing to move your book or script along. Or if you go ahead and ignore the goal and do the work you need to do, you create an uncomfortable tension within yourself and feel like you’ve let yourself down.

👉 Antidote #1: Design SMART goals that reflect what you’re currently working on and the stage you’re in.

Mistake #2: Focusing on don’t break the chain resolutions.

I gotta be honest, I’m not a fan of “don’t break the chain” resolutions and strategies. I’ve seen too many writers triggered into an obsessive, uncomfortable place trying to keep their streak going. These kinds of goals and resolutions don’t account for days when life goes sideways on us, like getting sick or even just needing to take a day off.

Plus I find that often writers using these streak maintaining methods can end up feeling rebellious and grouchy being locked into something, not to mention a horrible feeling of “losing” all their progress if they miss a day. If anything, breaking a streak, accidentally or otherwise, can quickly become a major deterrent to writing. Once the streak is broken, writers sometimes use it as an excuse to give up on themselves and their goals. 

👉 Antidote #2: Set goals that match your life, are flexible, and allow you to pick yourself up and get back to work if you miss a day here or there or get thrown off track for whatever reason.

(I focus my writing time on weekdays and take most holidays off, and take vacation time off as well.)

Mistake #3: Not setting realistic, achievable goals.

Another common mistake is not setting goals that are actually attainable. I love Jon Acuff’s advice in his book Finish, where he recommends either halving your goal or doubling the time you give yourself to accomplish it. 

All too often writers set “high” goals that don’t allow for real life to happen or put so much pressure on themselves that they more or less implode, giving up on their goals entirely and feeling discouraged and disappointed. 

Having said this, sometimes I see writers who only seem to be able to give themselves permission to write when they are under pressure or in special circumstances (think of binge writing to meet a deadline, only writing during a writing intensive, during NaNoWriMo, or on a writers’ retreat). If you’re wired this way, you might want to consider working with a coach to identify the underlying reasons you’re afraid to write the rest of the year. It’s extremely likely that some level of resistance is getting in your way and that designing a regular schedule with small increments of writing will be a bridge to a regular writing habit and a path to making writing happen more consistently and productively, without the associated burnout that binge writing usually produces. 

👉 Antidote #3: Make your goals so easy they’re pleasurable to fulfill. 

Mistake #4: Not studying your past lessons.

One of the greatest disservices we inflict on ourselves is not giving ourselves time and space to learn from what has worked for us and what hasn’t.

If you set writing goals, and didn’t achieve them, rather than chalking it up as failure and resolving to push through a second (or tenth) attempt, instead reflect on where things went awry.

It usually isn’t what you think it is.

You’re not lazy, or too busy, or don’t have enough time (common myths that stop people from writing).

Odds are you instead set goals that weren’t achievable or didn’t have a workable action plan to help you write all year round or didn’t know how to handle the natural and common resistance that emerges when you’re pursuing a big dream like writing. Or maybe you hadn’t actually picked a clear project to work on yet! There are many, many reasons why writers don’t follow through on their goals, and taking time to learn from those experiences helps you set goals that actually work this time around. 

👉 Antidote #4: Review what worked and what didn’t this year and see what you can learn from it (and yes, you get something of a pass because of the pandemic — and — I’m sure there’s still something to be learned.)

Mistake #5: Setting goals you can’t control. 

Another common mistake writers run into with goal setting is choosing goals they don’t have control over. “I’m going to sell my book (or script) this year!” isn’t an outcome you can control or predict. You can, however, set a goal to send out 50 query letters. Or to make a list of 100 possible publishers for your book. Or vow to submit your script to a specific contest deadline or make 50 pitches. These are goals you can set and control. 

👉 Antidote #5: Put your focus on goals and outcomes you can take action on by yourself. 

Mistake #6: Not reverse engineering your goals to create an action plan. 

Related to mistake #3, not setting realistic, achievable goals, many writers neglect to reverse engineer their goals and make sure they actually work. Often this involves a fair amount of fantasy thinking around how long it actually takes to fully develop a story, do a read through of a script while taking notes, design a full revision plan, or assess how much work there actually is to revise a draft.

So if a writer says, for example, “I’m going to revise my NaNoWriMo draft by the end of January!” when they haven’t read through their November draft yet and don’t really know what they have, or what it’s going to take to get through a revision, it can be pretty discouraging to realize that revising the draft chronologically isn’t going to get them very far, and almost certainly not by the end of January. 

Plus, if you don’t have a plan, you may find yourself procrastinating well into your completion timeline because you haven’t properly assessed all the steps required to get you from A to Z. 

Want to finish a book revision by September 1st? Or write two screenplays by December 1st? Work backward from your intended deadline and map each stage of work to a calendar and writing schedule to see what seems doable. Adjust the goal as needed. Then pad the heck out of that schedule so you’ve got some flexibility for real life to happen along the way. 

👉 Antidote #6: Map your goals to your calendar so you know what to do when, and are motivated to see them through. 

Mistake #7: Not setting goals that align with your bigger vision.

From my Make This Your Year to Write course: “It’s important to start with a long-term vision before setting goals, because [you] want to make sure that your shorter-term, year-long goals are in alignment with your long-term vision.

“Think about it. If you set goals for the coming year that have nothing to do with where you want to ultimately end up, you can end up in an entirely different place than you intended. That may sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve worked with who set goals that take them to the wrong place, often because what they think they should be doing or what someone else wants for them isn’t necessarily a match with what they want for themselves.”

Antidote #7: Design your overarching career vision first, then create your goals. (Hint: we’ll be doing this in my Make This Your Year to Write course.)


It’s super important to me to help writers set goals that work so we can make regular, consistent progress toward finishing all our writing projects and getting them out into the world where they belong. 


It’s a New Year to Write!

Let’s design our 2021 writing vision and goals together.

Even if you haven’t had the successes you wanted in 2020, it’s the perfect time to think ahead to what comes next and how you’ll get there. 

When you join Called to Write, you’ll have access to the Make This Your Year to Write course materials and our live course events, including two Zoom gatherings and one live chat event to help you work through the steps and refine and share your writing vision and goals. You’ll have all the support, camaraderie, and accountability you need to help you work through the course materials and design an actionable vision and goal plan for your writing in 2021. 

Our events start on January 5th!

Here are the steps we’ll be working through together:

  • Step One: Reflect On Your Writing Life & Career So Far (this lesson today, which we’ll review and discuss together on January 5th)
  • Step Two: Notice Your Writing Patterns, Challenges, & Lessons
  • Step Three: Tune Into Your Vision For Your Writing Career and Life
  • Step Four: Tap Into What You Want For Your Daily Writing Life
  • Step Five: Examine the Gap In Your Writing Life
  • Step Six: Set Goals for Your Writing Year
  • Step Seven: Design Your Writing Plan
  • Step Eight: Create Your Support System

Ready to join us? Find out more and register here: https://calledtowrite.mn.co/


Stay tuned

for the next article in our New Year to Write series, coming on Sunday, January 3rd, about setting yourself up to write all year long (even in the middle of a pandemic!). 

First photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels
Second photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash