How To Set And Track Goals For a Creative Nonfiction Writing Career

by Kayla Dean
published in Writing

Besides actually doing the writing, I’ve found that the hardest part of forging a writing career is making goals.

There are more opportunities now then there have ever been: you can submit to literary magazines, pitch to editors at almost any publication, apply for writing residencies, and, if the opportunity presents itself, go to graduate school for everything from Writing to English to Publishing. Never mind the fact that there are countless Facebook groups, Tweets, courses, and mentors online that can help you find these opportunities, hone your skills, and get your writing published. You can also choose to create your own website, newsletter, or Medium channel. Not to mention freelancing in other forms of writing.

How do you navigate calls for submissions, a day job, and your personal life without losing sight of your writing goals? While I do make writing resolutions every year, I find that these still aren’t enough to get me through the weeks and months.

My system is a healthy mix of Google Sheets, notes on my phone, calendar reminders, and a paper journal that helps me keep my sanity. Let’s get to the details.

Organize Opportunities

My latest project is breaking up calls for pitches, editor contacts and writing residencies into three different spreadsheets. I also have one for current pitches. Each has a column for items like Story, Publication, Date, Rate, and Status. I also try to keep track of the number of days it takes for editors to follow up with me. I’ve found that I almost always hear back from editors only after I follow up with them a week later.

Check and update these periodically. Also, make sure you have access to these items through your phone or tablet. If you see an opportunity and want to make a quick pitch, it may benefit you to have your ideas and contacts at the ready. You can also work on them if you have idle time at school or your day job.

I also recommend keeping track of the different resources you come across. Right now, my inbox is full of newsletters and groups I signed up for, but I also have helpful resources flagged on my phone and computer. I’m planning to organize these into one place so I have a one-stop resource of groups, freelancer networks, and helpful articles.

Schedule a Time for Email and Social Media

Admittedly, I’m still working on this myself, but my goal is to turn off notifications on my phone so I don’t feel the need to respond to emails instantly. It can be better for your well-being and sanity to save these emails and Facebook groups for a specific time of day. I don’t recommend looking at a screen first thing, even though I’m guilty of it!

Segment Your Time

Whether you choose to segment your time by hours, days, or weeks, it may be helpful to identify your style. Are you a deft multitasker or are you more successful when you focus on one thing at a time?

If you’re a multitasker, break your tasks into small goals each day. Perhaps you work on one pitch, part of a story, and plug away at your novel all in one day. But maybe you segment days of the week for these tasks. For example, you might find success writing multiple pitches at one time, then reserving another set of hours for working on your book.

The reason for following these steps always stems back to determining what projects you want to work on. While you may have smaller goals to land a story or finish your latest assignment, a long term goal might include applying to a writing residency, finishing your book, landing a long-term freelance contract, or getting an agent. It’s important not only to make a schedule that accounts for these different goals, but also to keep an eye towards them without losing your sanity.

Kayla Dean is a Vegas-based writer, who has written for publications like Electric Literature, Darling, and Bella Grace. She has several stories and essays in the works and also blogs about writing and creativity on her personal website. Currently at work on a literary nonfiction thesis, she will receive her MA in English Literature this May. You can find her on Twitter @kayladeanwrites.

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