Dreams vs. Goals

It’s that time of year again. Everyone is looking forward to 2019 and setting their goals.

I’ve been noticing a pattern of goal-setting that’s a recipe for disappointment, so I’m going to speak a little bit about dreams versus goals.

Some points in this article can be applied to self-pub goal-setting, but the examples I use will be for traditional publication, since that’s where I’m seeing the particular hiccup I intend to address.

Essentially, a dream is just that – the thing you daydream about. Finding an agent. Seeing your book on a shelf at a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Receiving fanart of your characters. Hitting the bestseller list. It’s the thought that keeps you warm at night.

goal is something else entirely, and I’m going to get all corporate mumbo-jumbo on you here for a little bit.

For almost a decade, I worked for a decent-sized company with a very traditionally corporate culture. (Green belts! Kaizen!) Part of our annual review process was to set goals for the year. Our raises would partially be based on how well we’d set and met our goals.

There’s a mnemonic device in corporate goal-setting: SMART. Sometimes the definitions vary, but the one I remember is:


Don’t be vague (“I want to write”). Create a very specific goalpost, such as “I want to complete a draft of the vampire novel I’ve been plotting.”


Make your goal something that has a measurable quantity. Either a “yes/no” checkbox with a quantity of one (like the “finish a draft” goal), or “I want to send out 50 queries this year”.


Make sure it’s a goal where you have total control over your achievement.

This is where the wrinkle comes in. Remember at the beginning of this post where I mentioned setting yourself up for disappointment? “Get an agent” is not really a “S.M.A.R.T.” goal. Why? Because it’s not something you can control. Setting a goal that’s out of your hands can lead to heartbreak over something that wasn’t in any way your fault.

“Win the lottery” is a similar situation. You can buy a thousand lottery tickets, but you’ll never guarantee a win.

However, “send 50 queries” is an achievable goal. That goal can help you reach your dream of finding an agent, but it’s also something you can measure and achieve by yourself. If you send those queries and haven’t found your agent yet, you’ve still met the goal and can feel good about achieving what you set out to do.


This one is pretty simple: is the goal realistic? “Send 5,000 queries this year” just isn’t particularly realistic. But sending 50 or 100? Doable.


Set a deadline for your goals. You can create deadlines for your main yearly goal (“Finish my first draft by the end of October”) and deadlines for action steps on the way to that goal, such as “write 12,000 words every month”.

So that’s SMART goal-setting in a nutshell, at least the version I learned.

It’s essential to have dreams. They’re the fuel that keeps me going, the thing I fantasize about when I get that far-off look in my eye and imagine holding a printed copy of my book for the first time, sniffing the pages like we book weirdos do.

But when you’re setting goals to achieve that dream, it’s important to set action steps that you have control over.

That way, even if your dream still hasn’t quite come to you in 2019, you’ll be able to look back with pride and know you did everything that was in your personal power to do. That you achieved everything you set out to, and that the dream is still on the horizon.

Publishing is a marathon. 2019 is going to be an amazing year for some aspiring writers. Some will get agents and book deals. Some will take another path and self-publish. Others will brave the query trenches again in 2020.

But at the very least, we can all set goals that will make us feel proud of ourselves come next December. When we put our minds to it, writers are a strong, determined, amazing group of people who can accomplish wonders.

I believe in you. Now go knock ’em dead in 2019!

What are your writerly goals for 2019? Sound off in the comments below!

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