How to Set Your Writing Goal for 2013–and Achieve It

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

You’ve heard the axiom, plan your work and work your plan. Sound advice but so often glossed over or under-applied. Now is the time to begin thinking . . . and preparing. You have three months to set goals and develop your plan that will enable you to hit the ground running when January 2, 2013 rolls around.

Set your 2013 goal, but don’t stop there. As coach Tom Landry once said: “Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” In other words, once you set your goal, what are you going to do to achieve it? If you don’t have a plan of action and follow through on it, you can’t expect to reach it. Here are a few examples to start your thinking.

  • Do you want to obtain an agent—not any agent, but the right one for you? Begin (or continue) to research agency websites and develop a sense of an agent’s personality and values. Prioritize your list of agents you will query. If you are an unpublished author and don’t think you will have your proposal ready by the first week in November, it is better to send your query after the first of the new year to avoid its being buried or overlooked in an agent’s inbox. Agents (and editors) will be focused on wrapping up current business between Thanksgiving and Christmas so they can take time off during the holidays.
  • Do you want to submit your professional proposal to agents and publishers? Note the submission guidelines on each agency or publisher website. Organize the query and proposal requirements for each agent and editor you plan to query. Record this information on an Excel sheet. (I’m partial to Excel sheets for their simplicity and data organizing options, but any efficient tracking tool will work.) This takes the guesswork out of trying to remember what individual agencies and publishers require—and the inefficiency of keeping separate notes. If you haven’t done a proposal before, you can find some tips here and in other posts on our Books & Such blog. Next, write a basic proposal document from which you can tailor a distinct proposal for each agent or publisher.
  • Do you want to grow in your craft to the level that will receive a contract? Schedule time daily specifically to read books on writing. In the process you’ll identify your weak areas. There are good books available, and you are probably aware of many of them. Look here for a few suggestions to start. Follow through and read them. I wouldn’t suggest you forego reading great novels and nonfiction books because you’ll learn indirectly from those too. But if your main goal in the year ahead is to grow as a writer, concentrate time with good craft books—and practice, practice, practice the skills you learn in your WIP.

Plan strategically for the writers conferences you hope to attend in 2013.

  • To alleviate economic restraints from being a major obstacle, begin now to set aside a little money each week in a “conferences” account. Request donations to the fund for your birthday and Christmas gifts.
  • Mark your calendar to check conference websites and re-visit them weekly until the faculty list and schedule of daily sessions and workshops are posted. This will help you to plan which conference(s) you want to attend. I believe Writers Advance! Boot Camp Feb. 1-3, 2013, at The Billy Graham Training Center, The Cove, in Asheville, NC, is the first conference in 2013. Correct me if you know of an earlier one. This conference offers The Badge of Honor Writing Contest to attendees. The prize is a book contract. Check it out here.

You may have more than one goal you want to accomplish in 2013. Great! But be realistic. If you have children at home, a day job, or other commitments, you’re better off focusing on the action steps you will take to reach your one main goal than to try to achieve too many and not reach any of them.

What first steps will you take to set your goals? What goal do you want to reach in 2013?

54 Responses

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  1. Sarah Thomas says:

    Thanks for the link to Writers Advance! That’s just around the corner from where I live and I’m helping out as a volunteer this year. It’s a smaller gathering (which can feel less intimidating) and has some amzaing staff. It’s also in one of the most beautiful spots in NC.

    To help with my goals I wrote a vision statement for my writing career. Eight bullet points that outline where I want to go and what I hope to accomplish. It’s very helpful to go back and revisit periodically to see if I’m on track or if anything’s changed.

  2. Jeanne T says:

    You gave some great ideas for goals, Mary. Thanks. 🙂 I should have already been doing this, but I realized the need to set aside specific time to read through more craft books. Going to begin doing this daily, for a set amount of time.

    My big goal is to have my ms ready to send out by January 2nd. Okay, now that it’s in writing, I must follow through.

    While attending a My Book Therapy retreat earlier this year, Susan May Warren helped define what a goal needs to be: SMART.


    This acronym has helped me in achieving some of my goals for 2012. I so appreciate all the ideas you shared here today!

  3. I’ve started setting goals just in the last two years. This year it looks like I’m going to meet my goal of getting my rough draft done. Yeehaw! 🙂

    What worked for me was that I finally found a writing schedule that worked for me since I also homeschool and freelance edit. I started giving myself the first part of the day to write, and I’m making so much progress. I’m also breaking it down into monthly and daily goals.

    Plus I’m a very, very, very happy camper when I get my writing time. Weird how satisfied we are when we do what we’re supposed to do!

  4. Lori says:

    My goal for 2013 is to complete my novel. Everyday life seems to get in the way. I am good about completing my tech writing tasks but my novel still has a long way to go.

    Thanks for the link to Writers Advance! which I now have under my favorites I wish I could attend this year. I would of love to attend Mike Dellosso’s session. Attending this conference should probably be a goal of mine in 2014.

    Also a future goal of mine should be taking Wendy Lawton’s suggestion of pitching a tech writing class for a writing conference so then as faculty I would have more of opportunity to connect with editors.

  5. Mary, I love the practicality of your tips!! I’m a logical person so having those steps really helps.

    I want to finish and polish my second book by the end of January. It’ll be difficult with a day job, side teaching gig, a husband, and a new puppy, BUT I know God can do it and give me strength.

    I’d also really love to connect with an agent, but I prefer to work on goals I KNOW I can achieve on my own. Sometimes, we can shoot for something, but ultimately, it’s God’s timing when I get the right agent and a book deal. It’s hard to remember that…but it does relieve a bit of the pressure.

    • Lisa says:

      So true, thank you for that reminder Lindsay.

      Write, write, write.

      A new puppy 🙂 What kind?

      • Golden retriever! We have a 1-year-old female golden already and wanted her to have a playmate. So when the breeders said they were having another litter, we swooped in and got a male. 🙂 It’s gonna be crazy around our house for awhile.

    • Jeanne T says:

      Great thoughts, Lindsay. You’ll do it, with God’s help. 🙂 Hope the puppy transition time is going smoothly.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Finishing book #2 by the end of January–exciting goal, Lindsay. Keep index cards or a notepad with you at work or while you’re doing puppy housebreaking training. If a solution to a scene or a marketing idea for your proposal comes to mind, you won’t lose it in the busyness of your day.

  6. Lisa says:

    My goal is to have my WIP ready to submit to agents by the first of the year 2013 with a strong proposal.

    It has been written for a very long time. I just have to gather the courage to allow others to look at it and edit 🙂

    Thank you for these great ideas for setting goals.

  7. Excellent post. I’ll be putting together my goals for 2013 soon. Like Jeanne, I use the S.M.A.R.T. method.

    While securing an agent is definitely on my wish list, the only part about that I can control is dedicating time to research, and to some degree, meetings. I’ll see how the meeting I have scheduled for next month at the conference goes, and move on from there.

    I plan to start the second book in the elementary historical series I am ghostwriting in January. If I write a chapter every other week–which should be doable if my daughter’s schedules don’t require me to drive them all over the place–then I should be done by late spring. Then I can take the summer to work on edits, and hopefully have it ready by September for submission. I want to finalize the second book earlier than I did the first one, which I am working on right now.

    I should also have another book coming out in time for Thanksgiving in 2013, so I’ll need to work in time in September to review galleys and finalize my marketing plan.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about next year.

  8. This is exactly what I need, Mary. With a busy travel season in full force, I’m wondering when I’ll have time to start and finish my next manuscript. Practical and measurable goals are where it’s at…with a sprinkle of grace mixed in. 🙂

  9. Steps?
    “Stay in the game”, as a friend of mine said, when I was particularly down.
    Work harder. Then work harder.
    Trust your CP’s.
    Listen to sage advice.
    Work hard.

    Find an agent.
    Get a contract.

    Work harder.

  10. Dale Rogers says:

    Excellent advice for remaining organized and focused. Thank you.

  11. Thanks for the encouraging reminder. My goal is simple. I want to go from a good story teller to a good author. “Good” means that I must develop my skills to enhance my talent (I’m the guy in the story who was given two not five, but I’m tre cool with that.)

  12. Thank you, Mary. You made my day. I already have my list of agents, so my goal is to have my WIP ready so that I can start querying in January. You made my day by saying that that is a good time to send queries. 🙂

    In regards to getting the right agent for me, as I’ve said, I have my list of “dream” agents–meaning the agents I would really love to have represent my work. However,I have been thinking lately that I almost hate to send my manuscripts to them first. The odds seem to be against my manuscript being accepted by one of the first five agents I send it to. But I’ve been studying them and everything that they say about queries, manuscripts, publishing, what they enjoy reading, etc. So I’m hoping, by the grace of God, to blow the odds out of the water and getting a “accept” from one of them.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      I’m glad the January timing made your day, Christine. If you feel the dream agents on your top-five list might be a fit for you, the most important thing you must do to get noticed is to polish your proposal until it is the most professional sample of you work possible.

  13. This is great advice! Thank you, Mary! Good reminder to not send our proposals after the first week on Nov.

  14. Ooohh! I love setting goals and making plans, and the list above has some great ideas. This is good encouragement for me to sit down and write out where to go next with my writing and pray about which goals I want to meet. Thanks for the list, Mary!

  15. Anne Love says:

    My goals:
    Combining blog with CP-focus on readership.
    Skype with CP monthly to stay accountable.
    Finish WIP #2 by end of January.
    Get proposals, queries, agent research, one pages/pitches ready by May. Decide by May if ready to commit to ACFW Indy 2013 and register.
    Between all that: edit, crit, research, study craft, read, rework WIP #1
    Pray, pray, pray–and wait on God’s leading.

  16. Jenny Leo says:

    This is such an inspiring post, Mary. I’m really looking forward to 2013.

    That said, let’s not wave the white flag yet on on the last quarter of 2012! If some 2012 goals remain unmet, there are still three months left. Maybe things haven’t gone quite as planned, but what CAN we do in three months if we really push?

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Good point, Jenny. Things a writer can do in the remaining months of this year can be polishing your proposal, finishing your manuscript and having critique partners or, if possible, a professional editor review it, continue to build your social media network, come up with creative things you will do to market your book and add those to your marketing plan in your proposal, and research comparable books to include in the competition section of your proposal.

      • Jenny Leo says:

        Thanks, Mary. Last-quarter-of-2012 activities will be different for every writer, but we’ll all feel more cheerful about greeting the new year if we’ve at least made some progress toward 2012 goals, even if we didn’t quite conquer Everest (yet). Three months left, scribes. On your mark. Get set. GO!

  17. Jill says:

    Thanks, Mary! Posting this a few months before the new year gives all of us plenty of time to get our goals in order. Bring on 2013!

  18. Peter DeHaan says:

    Mary, this is great advice and most helpful, but I’m not going to wait until January first to set my goals. I like to set goals throughout the year and tweak them as needed. Thanks so much for guiding me to two more goals to move my writing forward.

  19. Michelle Lim says:

    I am coming into this discussion a bit on the late side, but what a fabulous article!

    I am at the place of goal setting and the thoughts you shared gave me a jump start on some ideas. Thanks!

    One thing I like to do when getting ready to set goals is ask my critique partner what area of my writing could use more attention. She often has a clearer view of my writing weaknesses than I do, highlighting the most urgent of the list.

    I also look to have goals in more than one area. Growing in craft, networking, and personal growth. Focusing on only one area is like setting out to be healthy, but only planning on drinking more water when the other areas of your life are out of balance. Setting goals in a variety of areas also increases your likelihood of finding success.

    Great post, Mary!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Michelle, that’s an excellent idea to ask critique partners’ feedback on areas you should focus on improving in 2013. They know you and your writing best. It would be valuable for any critique group to dedicate time to share focus points for each member in a supportive atmosphere.

      And thanks for bringing up the important point about preparing for 2013 in more than one area of our lives. You provided a segue to my post for this week, an extenuation of this topic.