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Kickstart Your Writing With a New Goal Setting System That Works

3 goal setting upgrades for writers that remove lesser goals, reduce self-doubt, and help you write faster, and easier

How do you go from stuck and overwhelmed to writing productively in 2024?

As 2023 draws to a close, you might feel frustrated.

Maybe you had too many goals on your plate — getting in the way of writing what matters. Or maybe you had so much self-doubt that it was hard to finish projects. Or maybe you wasted your writing slots because you took too long to get into flow.

Now is a perfect time to reflect, reset and recommit to a new strategy in 2024.

And I don’t mean you should try out new apps, tricks or hacks. Their novelty effect will soon wear off.

Instead, upgrade your goal setting system.

With a new goal setting system, you will wake up in the morning and know exactly what to do.

Your goals will feel ambitious, relevant, but doable.

In this article, you will find three essential upgrades to do just that.

I’ve published a writer’s planner and taught this strategy to hundreds of non-fiction authors, novelists, poets, and academics. Those upgrades will work for you if you:

  • Are stuck with too many writing goals
  • Lack focus and flow and waste your precious writing time
  • Can’t find the time to write

Upgrade 1: Plan from your Future Self and pick the right goals

Your Future Self is an older, wiser version of you. A published author. A daily blogger. Perhaps a podcast host with a series of scripts ready to record. Your Future Self knows exactly which writing goals are worth your time, and which are clogging the pipeline.

Most writers are trying to ‘finish it all’.

They have long lists of article and projects on their plate and think they have to plough through.

But have you ever noticed that something that seems extremely important today is soon forgotten in a few weeks? It really was urgent, and not important.

Many writing goals won’t matter to become your Future Self. Only some goals will tip the needle.

Let’s do this for 2024 as an example:

Take pen and paper and journal about these questions:

  • Who do you want to be at the end of this year?
  • What publications and activities are absolutely non-essential?
  • Which publications are nice to have, and feel urgent, but they won’t really help you become your Future Self?
  • What skills, people or habits will support you in prioritising your future self writing goals — and which collaborators or friends will keep pushing towards the urgent (wasting your time)?

Your Future Self vision helps you clarify your big goals, get motivated, and connect deeply with your writing. It’s used by athletes and entrepreneurs and it works extremely well for writers and creatives. As organisational psychologist Dr Benjamin Hardy has shownone of the biggest mindset upgrades you can make is to start with your Future Self when you set goals, not with what’s on your plate right now.

If you’re being honest, the tasks on your list today are likely not the tasks of your Future Self. (If you’re unsure about a goal and if it belongs to your Future Self vision, apply the Goal Filter tool to figure it out.)

How can you turn that into a goal setting system beyond annual planning? Easy!

Whenever you set your writing goals, start with your Future Self vision first, e.g. for the

  • year
  • quarter
  • month
  • week or day

Envision and write down what kind of writer you want to be in the future, and then start planning only the most important goals.

Your can’t change your writing habits unless you remove unnecessary goals from your list. And that clarity comes when you focus on your Future Self.

Upgrade 2: Plan your “3 hats” to create new focus

The second upgrade will help you stop the scatterbrain that hinders your focus. Most writers suffer from critical voices, questioning themselves, and jumping between planning, editing, drafting and other writing related tasks. And then they find themselves having lost all focus and flow — wasting precious writing time.

Here’s a metaphor I use when I work with writers. Imagine you have a selection of hats on your desk, and you are only allowed to wear one at a time. For example, the hat of the ‘planner’. The hat of the ‘drafter’. The hat of the ‘editor’.

Here what they mean:

  • Planning hat: Prepare, read, plan, mind map, research…, no need to write it all up, just work through the sticky stuff and let it sink in
  • Drafting hat: Draft new text — no matter how shitty the quality — and allow yourself to be a beginner
  • Editing hat: revise or proofread your piece, be critical and analytical (with some distance to your text)

Putting a metaphorical ‘hat’ on your head for 60–90minutes forces you to be intentional about your writing session.

You avoid trying to “write” when you haven’t planned your outline yet. You also avoid revising while you’re still in draft stage.

Let me show you what happens when you ignore the “3 hat method”.

Imagine you sit at your desk trying to write new words. But you keep getting distracted by that voice in your head that says, “you’ve not researched this enough”, “you don’t know your argument”, or “you haven’t thought this through”.

Sound familiar? The “planner” is distracting you. You can’t be in “writing” mode when you haven’t done your planning.

Another scenario.

Imagine you hear this while you’re trying to write new words: “this isn’t good enough”, “better go back to that sentence and rewrite”, or “it sounds clunky, delete and rewrite.”

That’s the critical “editor” talking. That voice is hindering you from being a writer and kills all creativity, and the willingness to be risky and try out new things in your writing.

Wouldn’t it be better to intentionally wear the “hat” of the drafter, and tell those voices (the planner, the editor) that their turn will come when you put that hat on?

If you want to embed this idea into your new goal setting system, change how you plan your writing and dedicate specific slots to:

  • plan
  • draft,
  • edit

Why is this upgrade is important for your 2024 goal setting system?

The idea of compartmentalising your tasks will reduce criticism and self-doubt while you write, and help you find focus and flow.

Upgrade 3: Plan micro steps before you even start

As a writer, it’s easy to walk into the ‘big mountain trap.’ Here’s what productivity expert and researcher Rowena Murray says: “Do less. Do much less than you think you ‘should achieve’.”

We all know we should break down the mountain and do fewer, smaller steps. But are you actually doing it?

A recap of how you should feel each morning:

  • “I know I can focus on tiny steps.”
  • “I know where to start, so I’ll get right to it.”
  • “I can see myself taking those steps, one at a time.”

Here’s your upgrade: Whenever you write down your weekly goal, break it down immediately.

For example, one of my goals this week was to make progress on my novel.

My micro steps to break that down were:

(1) write 500 words on what my characters do in New York,

(2) email those to my mentor,

(3) debrief myself for next week when I have time for this again.

If I had just written “write novel”, my brain would have gone into ‘freeze’ state.

You can even move this into micro goals: Open word document, scroll down, write a headline.

I love what Julia Cameron says: “It is daunting to think of finding time to write an entire novel, but it is not so daunting to think of finding time to write a paragraph, even a sentence. And paragraphs, made of sentences, are what novels are really made of.”

The trick is not to know that you should break down your goals in your planning process.

The trick is to routinely do it and make it a habit.

Every single morning. For example, three goals, broken down into three sub-goals for each. No excuses. Do it. I promise, it will become a habit that makes your day so much easier!

By routinely breaking down your goals, you achieve a sense of accomplishment sooner because each tiny step is a win to tick off fast. Plus, it’s easier to start.

Why these upgrades of your goal setting will change your life

What I’ve described is part of a new and improved goal setting system.

The key is to keep returning to being selective about your goals, being intentional about your tasks, and making it easy for yourself.

The trick is not to do it once.

The trick is to use this goal setting strategy as integral part of your writing habit.

And I’m not saying that every day will be perfect.

You might start, then stop again, then try again.

And before you know it, you’ll grow into your Future Self — a successful writer.

Download the free The Write Habit planner for productive writing here.

Photo: Nicole Janz

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