Effective Goal Setting for Writers

by Cat Rambo

Something I work on with my coaching clients is goal setting, which is made up of several parts:

  • figuring out where they want to be in six months to a year
  • figuring out what the milestones of that goal are and mapping them against the schedule
  • figuring out the monthly goals they need to hit in order to achieve that schedule
  • figuring out the weekly goals necessary to achieve those monthly goals

For example, if someone wants to have the first draft of a novel ready for beta readers by year’s end, we might break it down into this rough list.

  1. Figuring out what they want to write
  2. Outlining the book
  3. Writing a rough draft
  4. Editing the rough draft

Milestones are markers that show you’ve reached the end of one of these steps. Just as physical road markers tell you how far you’ve journeyed, these milestones help you mark progress. Here the four milestones are:

  1. Having a description of the book, one that sets out enough information to create an outline, such as main action, setting, and protagonist. Some writers may want to have more than this, along the lines of thorough character workups detailing preferences and past history or setting maps, but this is something that should be figured out beforehand. I would ask the goal setter: what do you need to have created in order to be able to move to the next step, the outline?
  2. Having a complete outline. Here again, length and thoroughness are a matter of personal preference, though I can say as someone who has moved from pantser to outliner, the more thorough the outline, the faster the writing part will go.
  3. Having a rough draft. Establish what rough means, For example, are missing scenes that just have notes about what they will contain? That sort of definition might prompt me to insert another step, along the lines of Having a complete draft.
  4. Having a rough draft that has been edited to the point where it is ready to go out to beta readers.

Once you know the milestones, you can figure out the schedule, which is, unfortunately, more complicated than just dividing the number of months by the number of milestones. Some milestones will take longer to achieve than others. With the above milestones and a time period of a year, I might map things out like this, depending on the person’s writing speed.

  1. Figure out what you want to write = two weeks. That’s a good bit of time for thinking about it and even doing some pre-writing stuff like describing characters, places, and things.
  2. Outline the book = one month. That’s a pretty generous amount of time, and so I’d expect it to be a pretty thorough outline of at least 5-10k, depending on one’s process.
  3. Write a rough draft = six months. For me, this is again a generous amount of time, but I write faster than many other writers do. If someone is an incredibly slow writer, in fact, this might be unrealistic, in which case we might adjust the overall goal in order to be realistic. This lets you set a weekly word count target as well. Set an arbitrary overall target that fits your chosen genre and divide by the number of weeks. I usually go with 90k for SF, 100k for fantasy. With the former, that means 15,000 words per month, which is a little under 4k each week, which seems super-doable to me but again, mileage will vary. If you only write 100 words on a good day, this will probably not work well for you.
  4. Personally, I feel a long piece needs to sit without you thinking about it for at least a month, so I would build a month off into the timeline, and perhaps figure out something productive to do during it. If you absolutely must continue focusing on it, then try writing a short story set in the world that you can use for publicity purposes, either by selling it to a short fiction market or releasing it on your website or elsewhere as a teaser.
  5. So we’ve used up two weeks (figuring out what to write) + one month (outline) + six months (draft) + one month (time off). That’s eight and a half months, which leaves another generous three and a half months for editing. Here I might figure out some sub-editing passes, because my revising process splits itself into three parts.

Now we’ve got a timeline and can start figuring out monthly and weekly goals. With monthly goals, make sure there’s a point each month where you check progress and see if you need to readjust your schedule.

With both kinds, have a point at the beginning where you formally say to yourself in some fashion, “These are my priorities for this week/month.” I am lucky enough to have a lovely community of fellows via my Patreon and chat server, and so I post my goals for the week each Monday on both and invite others to do the same.

You also want to check back. On Friday I look at my goals and say how I did. A goal that didn’t get hit is either going to get discarded or it becomes top priority for the next week. For example, the novel edit I’ve been working on has been a slow slog for various reasons. But this week, I’ll finish it, I swear….

Be generous with your timeline. Shit happens in a variety of forms, and having a little buffer built-in for illness, grieving, or changes in life circumstances is good. If you come in ahead of schedule, good for you! (Though if you’re doing that every time, you might be a little more aggressive in your next round of goal setting).

Figure out ahead of time the celebrations to mark each milestone. I personally feel such celebrations should be something that is actually special and that you wouldn’t do for yourself normally. I indulge myself in a particular kind of collectible (Breyer horses) and I have a number of them that are special to me because of the target that they represent, such as completing the first draft of the book I later sold to Tor Macmillan. Indulgences, however, do not have to be financial. Letting yourself take time off to enjoy something is just as valid.

Build in rewards — but don’t build in punishments. Chastising yourself for not writing is one of the best ways to make yourself hate writing. Learn to be joyful about your successes as you blossom, and use the failures as mulch, so you can bloom ever stronger.


A two-term President of SFWA, Cat Rambo’s most recent novel is Hearts of Tabat from Wordfire Press, while space opera You Sexy Thing appears in January 2021 from Tor Macmillan. Her novelette Carpe Glitter is a 2019 Nebula Award finalist in the Novelette category. Her 200+ publications include stories in Clarkesworld MagazineAsimov’s SF, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Check her website for links to her fiction and info on her online school, the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which features live and online classes from writers such as Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, and Fran Wilde.

The post Effective Goal Setting for Writers appeared first on SFWA.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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