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Goals for Writing: Your current state

27 December, 2009

This is the second of three posts on setting goals for your writing:

Goals for writing: What and why

Goals for writing: Your current state

Goals for writing: Creating your goals & strategies

The writer you become

Writer Holly Lisle suggests that your ‘good’ goals move you ‘from the person you are to the person you want to become.’ To make this move, it can help if you assess activities and issues that currently affect your writing, or have recently done so. This assessment could be called a pre-goal activity because you can then use this information to establish writing goals that are realistic and attuned to your individual needs as a writer.


The following exercise enables you to assess both your current and future writing life.

Using paper and pen or an electronic spreadsheet, create three columns:

  1. Categories: Areas affecting your writing.
  2. Your current state: Questions in each category, based on recent or current activity.
  3. Your future state: Your ideas about what you wish to change in your writing life.

1. Categories (Column 1)

I came up with 11 categories, all facets of writing: directions, knowledge and skills, process, reading, outcomes, self, time, money, non-writing activities, supports, and obstacles and limitations. Write these in Column 1, leaving enough space to answer questions when you get to Column 2.  Depending on your answers and interpretations some of these categories may overlap. You can include your own categories as well.

2. Your current writing life (Column 2)

Your aim is to identify you present state by assessing recent activities and influences that have affected you as a writer. In answering the questions below, draw on the last 6-12 months.

  • Directions. What are you currently writing, in terms of genres, themes, or forms (e.g. poetry, drama)?
  • Knowledge and skills. Knowledge: Have you sought more information about writing in the last year? If so, what kind of information? What was most helpful? Are you generally satisfied with what you now know about writing? Are there areas you think you need to know more about?  Skills: Are you generally satisfied with your writing skill? If not, can you pinpoint particular areas needing attention?
  • Process. How would you describe your usual writing process—planning, drafting, rewriting, getting feedback, etc.?  What is involved in your usual way of writing? What are your writing habits? What about your process is working? What is not?
  • Reading. What do you like reading? How much and how often do you read? To what extent does what and how you read support your writing?
  • Outcomes. Over the last six months, what milestones have you achieved in your writing? Examples: work completed, work actively in progress, publications, entering or winning competitions, and participating in readings. Are you satisfied with your outcomes?
  • Self. What personal strengths have in some way helped you with your writing over the last year? What personal weaknesses, issues or problems have in some way worked against you as a writer?
  • Time. How much time generally do you presently devote to your writing? (Include time for drafting, rewriting, library research, interviews, etc.) At what time during a day or week are you at your most productive? To what extent are you satisfied with the amount of time you have available to write? With how you use this time?
  • Money. Writing resources and activities usually cost money. What costs over the last year have you found to be the most valuable? Why? Examples of resources:
    • Education—workshops, long-term programs, magazines, books and computer programs
    • Individual services—mentor, coach, manuscript assessor
    • Fees—contests, writing associations
    • Other activities—self-publishing, office equipment, etc.
  • Non-writing activities. Non-writing activities can include work, study, travel, recreation,  clubs, community service, and activities with family and friends. Some activities are positive, offering opportunities for friendships, exercise, relaxation, or creativity. They may provide a refreshing, necessary break from writing. Other activities are negative, creating stress or requiring inordinate amounts of time and energy. Some activities offer little reward but have become habits.
    What non-writing activities are you most committed to in terms of your time and attention? Which are challenging, fulfilling, fun? Are any predominantly negative in some way? How?
  • Supports. Supports include whatever helps you with your writing. Examples: a conducive writing area, print and online materials, helpful contacts, professional associations, friends and family.
    How much support have you had over the last year? What kinds of support? What was most useful? Why? What keeps you productive when you write?
  • Obstacles and limitations. Obstacles and limitations include whatever creates problems for you in terms of your writing or keeps you from doing your best as a writer. Both obstacles and limitations can include people, work, specific situations or issues in your life, and your own habits, such as excessive procrastination.
    Which have negatively affected your writing the last year? Do any provide positive pay-offs that are stronger than your desire to write? Which  can you overcome or change to your benefit? Which are you not willing to change or give up? Why? Which are a given,  which you must accept and live with?

3. Your future writing life (Column 3)

In answering the questions in Column 2, you may have discovered some aspects of your writing life that you would like to change. Use Column 3 to record changes you would like to undertake and achieve in the next 6-12 months. These changes can become the basis for writing specific, measurable goals.

Examples of  changes. Do you want to–

  • Branch out in new directions for your writing? Or do more of what you are doing now?
  • Gain specific skills or knowledge? If so, what and how?
  • Develop a more supportive and productive writing process?
  • Establish a reading plan in line with the kind of writing you do or wish to do?
  • Work on a specific writing project? Create a work plan or times to concentrate your time and energy on the project?
  • Find a larger audience for your work? Seek more recognition?
  • Draw on your personal strong points as part of your writing process?
  • Change the amount of time you have for writing? Change the way you use your time?
  • Choose writing resources?
  • Choose relevant activities to involve yourself in?
  • Continue, add or remove some non-writing activities from your life??
  • Achieve more support? Or more kinds of support?
  • Remove or reduce some obstacles and limitations to your writing?
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