Podcast Ep. #16: Setting Sustainable Goals

As I start to write this episode, I’m sitting in a coffee shop at the end of a truly exhausting week of adulting. There are plenty of valid reasons why I could not be writing anything right now, but I’m crazy (and mercifully caffeinated), so here we are. I want to talk about setting sustainable goals for yourself as a writer. There are plenty of motivating ways to describe your writing goals—and you can describe them in any way you want—but above all else, they should be sustainable for you in your current lifestyle. Every writer’s schedule is different; we all have varying responsibilities at school, at work, and at home; some writers have kids; some writers are in relationships; some writers take care of their parents or their siblings. And on top of that, usually, there are a host of obligations and unexpected events that threaten to derail any progress we could be making in our creative endeavors. It’s a mess. My week almost never goes how I expect it to, no matter how well I plan, and yours probably doesn’t either. So what do we do? How can we make magic out of this madness? Well, I don’t have any cure-alls, but there are a couple of things I do to make my goals as sustainable as possible and to motivate myself to keep up with those goals even when time is tight and life is tiring.

The first thing I do is acknowledge that, realistically, I do not have as much time to write as I want to have. I have a million ideas but only time to work on two or three. It’s a sad realization, but it’s a necessary one for me to accept. If you set wildly unachievable goals for yourself, when you don’t reach those, you will inevitably feel disappointed and lose your overall motivation to work on your projects. I would love to write and publish a new book every three months; I know independent authors who do just that. But guess what? I don’t have time for that, and I also don’t write that fast—at least, not yet. So I’m not going to make that my goal. Perhaps that can be my ten-year Big Scary Awesome Dream, but it can’t be part of my realistic goals for 2024. We all have big dreams. Places we’d like to go to. Things we’d like to accomplish. But sometimes those things don’t mesh well with our everyday circumstances. And what I’d like to suggest is not that you dream smaller but that you acknowledge that things might take a bit more time and maybe a bit more sacrifice than you wanted or anticipated.

Now that we’ve acknowledged our human limitations, let’s talk about goals. Some writers love to have daily writing goals, where they write a certain amount in a day or write for a certain amount of time. If that works for you, that is awesome—more power to you!—and keep at it. I do write every day, but having a daily goal has not worked for me in the past, so I tend to set monthly goals instead. I have an erratic schedule—some days I have more responsibilities than others—and I find that it’s much easier for me to write a set amount in a month instead of writing a consistent amount each day. Usually, within a month, there will be some variation on how much free time I have on a given day, so I write more on certain days to make up for the days I couldn’t write or couldn’t write much.

But regardless of whether you are a daily goal setter or a monthly goal setter, it is important to find and set your minimum goal. And what I mean by that is: what is the minimum amount of work you know you can accomplish on your creative project in a day or in a month? For example, I want to write a novel, but I can’t say to myself that my goal for this month is to write a novel. Instead, I say my goal for this month is to finish one chapter. I know a five thousand word chapter is very doable for me in a thirty-day period. And it’s not only doable, but it’s the minimum amount that I could expect myself to write in a month. Meaning, I know that in past months, regardless of anything that has happened, I have always been able to write at least that much. So I always set my goal at that minimum. If I find more time, and I write over that amount, that’s great, and I celebrate. But if I don’t find more time, I‘ve still met my goal. So, first, accept your limitations; write for a few months, and figure out what your minimum is; then set that minimum as your goal.

Your minimum does not have to be a word count. Your minimum can simply be what you think you would need to accomplish in a month to maintain momentum on your projects. If you were a company, you would need certain basic functions accomplished every day in order to keep your business running, right? Creative endeavors, I think, also need a basic level of attention and progress in order to stay viable. I’ve found that I’m more excited to come back and work on something when each time I come back to it, I’ve made a little more progress. I’ve discovered something new about it. I’ve solved a problem with it. I’ve checked something off of my list. Momentum and motivation are cyclical; the more you do, the more you want to do.

I’ve talked before about how it’s easier to write when you’re doing it on a consistent basis. It’s also easier to make progress on your projects when they’re staying fresh in your mind. Because then your mind will be working on them even when you don’t have time to. So at the beginning of each month, think about an issue that you want to work through or a certain stopping point you want to reach that will make you feel better about your project and make you want to spend more time on it. Sometimes, my goal for the month might simply be figuring out how to resolve a difficult plot hole. And that’s because I know once I resolve that issue, I’ll feel more confident moving forward with the story. So don’t feel like your goal needs to be quantitative; it can definitely be qualitative. Your goal should be whatever will help you move your project forward, even if that means writing a small amount of actual text.

Don’t worry about speed at the beginning. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time—really, I wasted a lot of time—agonizing over how slow of a writer I was compared to other writers I knew. But what I didn’t know then was that speed will come if you keep writing consistently. I don’t have nearly as much time to write as I did five years ago, but I’m able to maintain my goals because I am a faster writer and a better writer than I was five years ago. Through trial and error, I have learned the best ways to manage my time and maximize my output. I’ve learned how to write efficiently while still maintaining quality. And the types of things that I have been writing most frequently, I can write quickly. Even this podcast episode, which is only the sixteenth episode I’ve written, is far easier for me to write than the very first episode was when I wrote it over a year ago, and I know that’s because I’ve already written fifteen episodes, so now I have a better sense of my flow and direction. I’m more confident in what I want to say and how I want to present my ideas, so I’m writing my ideas down faster. If you practice, you will naturally get faster at what you are doing, so don’t worry too much if you’re not accomplishing things at the pace that you want to accomplish them in the beginning. As with anything, the more you acclimate to it, the more it will become like second nature, like routine, and you can do it with less time and effort.

Having free time as an adult is such a blessing, so if you have free time, take advantage of it. It won’t always be that way. When I have extra time and motivation to write, I write. I don’t do anything else. If I catch a break, I make sure to utilize that break as much as I can. Sometimes this means that, after not writing more than a page for two weeks, I write four pages in one morning. I could sleep in, of course. I have nothing else to do. But it’s precisely because I don’t have anything else to do that I take advantage of that time to work on my creative projects. I know that something will come up later—because something always comes up later—and I won’t be able to get to it. Basically, never assume that you will have time to do something later. If you have time now, do it now.

Don’t think of having limitations as a bad thing. Think of that as a very normal human thing. You know, people like to say ‘don’t limit yourself,’ but the truth is, we all have limits, and we all need limits to preserve our physical, mental, and emotional health. So don’t feel bad about needing breaks or needing more time to complete something. Don’t compare your writing goals to another writer’s goals and accomplishments. That writer does not have your life, and they cannot write your project for you, so that comparison accomplishes nothing. Instead, just focus on setting the goals that will make finishing your project obtainable for you. Also, celebrate your accomplishments even when you don’t reach your goals. Sometimes, life happens, and you just can’t prioritize your writing, and you don’t need to feel guilty about that. Some months, you’ll just have to give yourself a little grace and celebrate if you’ve made any progress at all, and that’s okay.

Sometimes, you might have to reevaluate your goals in the context of a new life situation. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Just reevaluate, make those shiny new goals, and keep going. If what was previously sustainable for you isn’t sustainable for you anymore, don’t waste time trying to make it work; instead, figure out how you can shift things around to make your goals manageable again. What could you take off your plate? Or what goal do you need to break down into smaller components to make it feasible? Do you need to write half a chapter instead of a whole chapter? Do you need to work on one project instead of three? If you are struggling to juggle too many projects, it will make it difficult for you to give any of them proper attention, so it’s best to decide what is most important to you to keep on the table while you are in your current situation. With any luck, you’ll be able to put more back on your plate at a later time.

When I was working in e-commerce, my company got cyber attacked, and a bunch of our files got held for ransom. Afterwards, for several weeks while we tried to get better cyber security set up and figure out our new internet policies—what sites we could access on our work computers and so forth—all of our daily processes slowed to a crawl. I was in charge of processing all the orders for our website every morning, and usually that would take me thirty minutes, maybe an hour tops. Suddenly, it was taking me four to five hours because I was having to do everything manually. For example, I had to type customer addresses one by one into our shipping database instead of just printing batches of labels directly from our website. During that time, my supervisor told my team we had to shut down everything extra that we had been working on. She gave us a list of basic tasks that we needed to do every day to keep the business running while we sorted everything out, and all of our other tasks were put on hold.

Obviously, that wasn’t ideal; we had just begun a few new marketing projects that as a team we’d been really excited about; we had expected to be able to focus on those and bring in more traffic to our website—and gain more customers—but instead we were scrambling to keep our current customers taken care of. It was a stressful, disheartening time, but by simply working through it and keeping the essentials taken care of, all of our orders were still shipped out on time and we were able to keep our customer base happy despite running at less than half our normal capacity. Sometimes, a strip-down to the essentials is needed just to get you through to the next phase of your project; it’s part of life; it happens; it’ll be okay.

The reason I am all about sustainable goals as opposed to Big Scary Awesome goals is because we as writers have to internally motivate ourselves so much. And it is much easier to motivate yourself when you feel like you are actually accomplishing something on a consistent and measurable basis. Not meeting goals is depressing, and there are enough things out there ready to suck out all your creative energy without you doing it too, so set your goals up in a way that will give you an endorphin boost and make you proud of yourself, not disappointed. This will motivate you to fly past those goals and achieve even more.

Setting sustainable goals will also give you a realistic blueprint for how quickly you can expect yourself to finish projects. And this will affect how successfully you are able to market your projects. When you know approximately how long it should take you to complete something, you can share that information with your readers (or perhaps with your editors or your agent) with the confidence that you will have it completed around that date. And when you complete a project when you say you will, that will inspire confidence in your readers that they can expect new material from you and trust that you will deliver that material in a timely manner. As the saying goes, it is much better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to over-promise and under-deliver.

So what type of goals have you set for yourself recently? Have you met them? If not, how could you prioritize them more in your normal routine? Or, if that doesn’t work, how could you modify them to meet your specific set of circumstances in a way that will help you accomplish them while still allowing room for your real life to unfold? Think about the answers to those questions, and I will chat with you next time!

So I’ve decided to let this be the last episode in my first season of podcast episodes. We’re at sixteen episodes, and you know what that means! This is officially a Kdrama! Just kidding. But, for real, I have loved writing and recording these episodes for you, and I am excited to write a second season. Not sure when that will be released, but I will post up on my Instagram page once it happens, so be sure to follow me there @jodimariemeyer. I am currently finishing up the second draft of my novel, and I can’t wait to get that out to you guys as well. Thanks for tuning in, please take care, and happy writing!

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About Me

JodiMarie Meyer enjoys toeing the line between the mundane and the magical and exploring the dichotomies of good and evil; she primarily writes love stories, but not always. Definitely someone who got in trouble for daydreaming in class. Definitely someone who scribbles frantic story notes while stirring pasta. She makes her home in the Maryland countryside with her husband, dog, and rabbit. She is the author of one short story collection: magic/madness. Currently, she is writing her debut novel, Luc & Lila.