The Benefits of Writing SMART Goals

by Ellen Buikema

For many of my teaching years I used SMART goals for my learning disabled (LD) students as a part of their Individualized Educational Plans (IEP). These students needed to learn how to use their academic strengths to find a way around their learning impediments. These objectives provided many benefits, including helping them focus on their goals.

A SMART goal is:

Narrow goals are more effective for planning. Specific goals aren’t overwhelming because they take a large task like writing a novel or getting published and break it into small, manageable chunks.

  • Measurable

Define evidence of progress. You can define your goal by number of pages, chapters, or short stories, or by word count. Quantifying your goal gives you an accurate sense of how much effort and time you need to succeed.

  • Attainable

Make sure your goal is reasonable, but consider making your goals public—letting critique partners or other friends know. This way you are more likely to actually achieve your goal. People will ask about your progress!

Align goals with your long-term plans. The goal should tie directly your plans. If you can’t see how the goal drives you forward, that goal isn’t relevant enough to get you to your desired outcome.

  • Time-based

Set a realistic end-date. Time limits create a sense of urgency and help you track your performance as time moves forward.

A writing goal for an upper elementary student might look like this:

When given a topic, STUDENT will write creative short stories, descriptive paragraphs, or narratives with 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 trials. This skeletal goal would then be fleshed out to be individualized for the student’s need in a specific class.

SMART goals can be used for any topic—business or personal life.

Consider weight loss. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose the extra pounds I gained over the holidays,” make it a SMART goal.

New SMART goal: “I will lose XX pounds and fit into my jeans, looking fabulous, by the end of March.”

Specific            XX pounds

Measurable      use the scale

Attainable        make it realistic

Relevant          why do you want it

Time-based      influence yourself to take action

A lot of thought should be placed on the Attainable and Relevant aspects of these goals.

Consider relevance. What does this writing goal, or project, mean to me? How does it fit into my long-term goals? Awareness of why you write helps with the how and when.

Regarding attainable, be realistic. Are your goals possible in terms of available resources? It’s important to consider anything that might delay your goal.

Writing Specific SMART goals

Type of goal   Aspect of task

Specific            Draft first page
Measurable      Write 500 words
Attainable        Write pre-movie tonight
Relevant          Finish first chapter
Time-based      One hour after dinner

This SMART goal for writing is:

“I will write 500 words after dinner and before turning on Netflix to get a good start on finishing the current chapter.”

Sample Marketing SMART Goal for Writers

“Grow monthly subscribers by 50 readers per month by creating targeted social media advertisements for three social media platforms: X, Y, and Z.”

Sample General Business SMART Goal

“Our goal is to (quantifiable objective) by (timeframe or deadline). (Key players or teams) will accomplish this goal by (steps taken to achieve the goal). Accomplishing this goal will (result or benefit).”

A Few More Examples of SMART Goals

  • “I will finish my manuscript by the end of the December.”
  • “I’ll set aside 30 minutes in the morning to write at least 5 days a week.”
  • “I’ll have an outline for my memoir completed by June 1.”

A Few Examples of Not-so-SMART Goals

  • “I really want to finish my manuscript.” (Not specific.)
  • “I’ll write gobs more this year.” (Not measurable.)
  • “I’ll write 20,000 words each week this year.” (Not achievable unless you are super prolific and have nothing else to do.)
  • “I feel like I should probably start writing again one of these days.” (Why?)
  • “I hereby promise that I’ll work on my memoir until it’s completed.” (When? Not time-based.)

How to accomplish your goals

1. Write them down

Thinking about your goals fires-up the right, creative side of the brain. Whereas writing the goal stimulates the right, logical side.

The simple act of writing goals can nudge your subconscious, freeing it to find new ideas, now that it’s not preoccupied with thinking about the goals.

2. Check in with a writing buddy

Any goal worth achieving won’t happen in a day. It’s important to check your progress regularly to be sure you keep on track. A weekly meeting for “How’s the writing going?” is highly beneficial and occasionally, good therapy.

Having those recurring opportunities for feedback keep everybody motivated, which is especially important for writing goals that span months, possibly years.

3. Celebrate wins along the way

Don’t wait until the major goal is accomplished. Celebrate the little wins along the way.

Set small, incremental goals much like little story arcs within the main arc and cheer each other along when you achieve them. That feels great, which in turn encourages you to move forward to achieve the overarching goal.

SMART Goals and NaNoWriMo

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fantastic example of using SMART goals. I believe it is the embodiment of this type of goal.

A rare, quiet evening in Mazatlan

Writers from all over join this awesome writing marathon of sorts. The goal is to write a novel in one month, writing 50,000 words during that time. A thorough explanation of how NaNo works is here.

I tried NaNoWriMo for the first-time last year. I wrote approximately the recommended amount of daily word count and actually wrote those 50,000 words.

We were living off the Sea of Cortez. The area is super loud starting in the mid to late afternoon and into the evening, so I wrote during the morning.

Banda music is big there and not my favorite thing.

If you have never joined NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to try. I was amazed at what I accomplished. I’m still editing that manuscript, but that’s a story for another day.

Do you use SMART goals for writing or any other activity?  What do you do to accomplish your goals?

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About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are, The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA fantasy.

Find her at or on Amazon.

Top Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Mazatlan sunset photographed by me in March of 2020

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