Make progress in your writing by setting intentions, not goals.

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Not everyone is a goal setter, and I get that. At times, I'm rather loose about it myself—especially when I sense that my writing needs room to breathe and evolve. But when you want to make progress toward a specific outcome, it can be helpful to give yourself direction and focus.

Goals are one way to do that, but there's something important to remember: good goal setting is gentle and realistic. And good goal setting uses a different word altogether. Intentions.

Instead of demanding that you find more time and more determination, intentions take into account the full breadth of your life. They acknowledge that writing is just one aspect of who you are and what you do. They leave space for all the twists and turns of the writing process, and the days when writing doesn’t go the way you expect.

Good goal setting also accounts for the possibility that what you want to accomplish can change or evolve once you start writing.

When I was in graduate school, for example, I swore I’d never write about marriage or relationships. I associated that topic with overly sentimental essays, and I maintained that I was more than a wife, thank you very much.

Trouble was, marriage and relationships were very much on mind. At the age of 30, I’d begun to take stock of my life—the one-and-a-half-story bungalow, the ring on my finger, the marketing job downtown—and wondered, was this it? And every time I sat down to write that’s what came up.

After a while, I realized I had a choice: write about my marriage or don’t write at all. Luckily the goal I’d set for grad school to write a collection of essays left room for me to switch my focus from travel and nature to marriage and relationships.

That’s why I like to use the word intention rather than goal. It sounds less final.

It allows me to have an outcome in mind (finished first draft) and ideas on how to get there (write as badly as I need to in order to write at all) but leaves room for reality (now that I'm writing, that story hits dead end after dead end, but a new idea has arrived). 

Has your goal setting left room for this kind of reality check? Consider it now with these prompts:

  • My intention has been to...
  • As I work on my writing, it has surprised me that...
  • Now that I'm in the process of writing, it would be helpful to...

Have an interesting insight? Let us know in the comments below!