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The Problem with Setting Goals for Freelance Writers

the problem with setting goalsYikes, we’re already almost four full days into 2019 and I’m just starting to think about setting goals, or rather the problem with setting goals. Even thinking about setting goals kind of makes me tired this year – maybe it did last year too, I don’t really remember.

And I just took down my vision board! Well not the board, but most of the stuff on it.

It’s not that I don’t believe setting goals or working with vision boards can work. I know it can because I’ve experienced making goals. It’s exciting. I’ve also experienced setting goals I had no real hope of attaining. That’s not fun at all! And, of course, setting unattainable goals is a possible problem with setting goals.

Life is too variable

I find life too variable to decide what I’m doing in the second half of the year in the first half, or even really the first quarter. For example, six months ago I volunteered for a non-profit non-partisan tech startup. You may have heard me talk about it. Two weeks ago a friend of mine who has, for a long long time, talked about getting me to help him write books, offered to pay me and to co-write with him.

The first, Democracy Counts! if you’re curious, ended up with me spending a week in Broward County, Florida, beta testing software that allows or will citizens to perform same-day election audits. If I had set a certain kind of goal last year I might have missed that experience altogether. And my experience with this group of people continues to be interesting and exciting. I wouldn’t have knowingly missed it for the world.

Which is the point. In January of last year I’d never heard of them, even though they were entering their third year right here in San Diego. It took a chance meeting.

My friend with the book might well have fitted into a goal for 2018. In fact, book writing was on my wish list or, as I sometimes call it, an aiming point. I’d about given up on that happening last year when suddenly it did. There might even be a lesson in that.

It’s not goals that are the problem

Of course it’s not goals that are the problem. Goals are just goals – something that we often think we ‘should’ write. Which is fine, as long as we don’t let our goals keep us from spotting the unexpected, even the synchronistic.

Although goals can help us focus and keep us moving in a direction we choose, they can also impose a lack of flexibility. If I’m targeted to strongly on say, adding X number of subscribers to my newsletter, I can miss a non-obvious way to grow both my writing and my business, or miss some truly life-changing event.

The way I solve this problem with goal setting is two-fold. First, I no longer call them goals, but aiming points. I’m not sure why that feels looser and allows me to feel I may be more responsive, but I’ll take it.

The second is I’m working on my aiming points on a quarterly basis. It’s not complicated. I simply make a list of things I’d like to have, experience, and accomplish in the next 90 days. I check in with myself and my quarterly list at least monthly, and often every week or 10 days. Somehow this approach feels more manageable.

When I’ve got a project that will take longer than a quarter, and many do, I chunk it down into 90 day increments. That chunking down lets me both see the whole, and understand what I need to do next.

I do this with work projects and life projects. This quarter I’ve added qi gong, for example. I’m continuing the keto way of eating because it’s gotten rid of my migraines. I’ve added exploring Indian vegan eating because the week I spent in Miami meant eating home cooked vegan Indian food for a full week, and I moved through that with no headache and continued gentle weight loss. Obviously I have more to learn, and to write about.

Now, I’m not telling you not to work with annual goals – if they work for you, fine. If, however, you find you rarely stick with your plan you might want to try something different.

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman, freelance writer

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Hello Anne, Enjoyed this article.

    I write the majority of my own articles, i have tried outsourcing but i seem to spend a lot of time managing and providing further guidance (maybe i’m a control freak).

    I’ve started planning out my goals in 90 day windows, too much can change over the course of my year for me! Do you think that’s sensible?


    Nick recently posted..Jungle Scout Vs Helium 10 (What i really think)My Profile

    • Nick, since it’s what I’m doing of course I think it’s sensible. 😉 I haven’t done much outsourcing… it’s too easy to do my own writing.

  • Jeanne LaFontaine

    I’m working on my website and it’s not finished yet. I enjoyed the comments of others on this site.
    Their so “down to earth.” I work on both fiction and non-fiction stories for all ages. I enjoyed writing and would like what I have written published somewhere. Thanks for letting me leave a comment here.

    • You’re welcome, Jeanne… a suggestion – sort out the difference between their and there… and the use of quotes.

  • robinkhokhar

    nobody can disagree with it. even after achieving a goal what people see is the top of the ladder but nobody sees the steps that brought you there.

    • Agreed, Robin. And the truth is I often have no real idea how a success happens either.

  • Great post, Anne. I’m like you and find life too variable to try for yearly goals. Part of my problem is I simply don’t want a life that is that predictable (probably says something bad about me, but I am who I am and I need variety!). I tend to pick a theme for the year and call it good, but I like the 90-day plan, too. It’s a good way to make sure you actually get something done and it’s usually how I structure my ghostwriting projects which also makes my clients happy. I also like Paula’s use of the term Aspirations. Goals seems heavy and finite, aspirations and aiming points, like you point out, are more flexible and friendly.

    • Wendy, why would enjoying unpredictability be a bad thing? Sounds highly creative to me.

  • You may have just described why I have an aversion to setting long-term goals, Anne.

    I tend to do better with aspirations. Like this year I want to do more ghostwriting (articles, not books – probably because articles are shorter-term projects). That’s the closest thing to a goal I’ve set, aside from finally getting a new website launched. That’s in the process, I’m just procrastinating because I loathe the techie side of the writing business.
    Paula Hendrickson recently posted..New Year, New GoalsMy Profile

    • Sounds like aiming points to me, Paula. I think I like your word better, maybe. Aspirations… will sit with that and see.

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