As a new writer, one of the first and most important things you learn is to create a powerful, specific, visual image of the life you want to achieve through writing.

It’s a “castle-in-the-clouds”-type of goal, and I certainly took making one to heart. But I forgot — like many new writers — to create some smaller, more specific goals so I could achieve short-term results.

My initial plan was basically this:

  • Work hard (40–60 hours per week).
  • Think about the result.
  • Work hard.

I faithfully followed that plan for a year. Unfortunately, all my aimless wandering resulted in a serious case of burnout. I learned the importance of setting smart goals the hard way.

I’d like to share some ways you can avoid the mistakes I made.

Start with a Goal — Any Goal

In 2017, I set my first concrete, short-term career goal:

I will make some money out of going to my first AWAI Bootcamp, or I will quit copywriting!

Dah-dah-dah! Very dramatic.

The good news is that my goal was both powerful and intensely motivational. It was also good that after nearly a year of aiming for life as a paid writer, I was finally starting to make short-term goals.

But it was also a seriously flawed goal…

Fortunately, it turns out there’s a simpler yet completely brilliant system for structuring short-term business goals. The S.M.A.R.T. goals system stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Making my first Bootcamp goal was a step in the right direction, though I skipped a few steps and misspelled it S.R.T.

My goal wasn’t measurable – did I want $1 or $10,000?

Also, my goal wasn’t achievable since I couldn’t make anybody choose one of my specs or hire me at Job Fair.

The Difference Being S.M.A.R.T. Makes

My misspelled goals resulted in several months of frantic work, constant worry, and complete emotional exhaustion after the 2017 Bootcamp.

Contrast that with my second Bootcamp in 2018.

My goal for that year was simply to accelerate my forward momentum. To do that I broke my single goal down into three simpler S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  1. Submit all specs in my niche that have deadlines before Bootcamp.
  2. Research all the Job Fair marketers and pick my target prospects.
  3. Write intelligent questions for my Job Fair prospects ahead of time.

I still worked hard on each goal and produced an amazing amount of material. But I wasn’t obsessing, or running myself ragged, or tying my entire sense of self-esteem to a vaguely defined amount of success. Instead, I was starting to develop a writing success mindset.

Getting Results from a Powerful Goal

Your most important goal will always be your vision of your perfect writer’s life. But you won’t achieve it if you don’t set some equally powerful short-term goals that will help you achieve success today.

Sometimes your most powerful short-term goal can be overly dramatic and just a little ridiculous. Although, despite the flaws in my 2017 Bootcamp goal, I did achieve what I set out to do. I won three specs and covered the cost of my trip!

More often, however, your most important goal should be focused, rational, and easily within your reach today.

During the 2018 Bootcamp, I won another spec challenge for AWAI and developed many promising leads. But unlike the previous year, I had enough emotional energy to keep up my forward momentum without a hiccup. At that point, I had learned the importance of setting smart goals.

My new favorite system for creating a goal that both motivates and inspires looks like this:

  • Identify the next level of success I can achieve.
  • Figure out how many smaller tasks I need to do to get there.
  • Estimate how long that should take me.
  • State a powerful, singular, focused short-term goal.
  • Work hard (but not as hard).

If you can start your writing career off right by setting one powerful goal for the next week, and then the next month, and if you set your goal up to be S.M.A.R.T., success is already within your reach.