Play It SMART: Treat Your Writing Goals Like Science Experiments

The word “goal” just doesn’t mean what it used to. 

For one thing, it’s practically synonymous with New Year’s Resolutions, which, statistically, 54% of all people quit by June (source).

Its definition has gotten so wishy-washy that an acronym in a business paper from 1981 is now on the lips of every life coach and marketing team out there, as they seek to clarify what they do for their clients: SMART goals (source).

This may sound like a term out of an eighties HR training video, but there’s a reason for it. The ideal goal is, in fact:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable* 
  • Results-Based
  • Time-Bound

* = The original acronym defined A as Assignable, but for personal goals, not ones being enacted by a team, Achievable makes more sense.

A SMART goal is the difference between saying, “I’d really love to write a novel” and saying, “By June 30 of this year, I’ll have the first draft of my 70,000-word novel written.”

But how will you achieve your goal? You still need a plan to get those 70,000 words onto paper, right? And what if your initial plan for achieving that goal doesn’t work?

This is where treating your goal like a science experiment comes in. 

In a science experiment, there are controls, independent variables, and dependent variables (i.e., causes and effects). By manipulating one independent variable in an otherwise controlled environment, a scientist can determine the impact it’s having on the overall study. 

Similarly, you only want to make one big change at a time when it comes to meeting your personal goals. If you change too many aspects of your process to reach your goal, the best case scenario is that you won’t know what worked for you and what didn’t. 

For example, if you were trying to identify the source of a food allergy with an elimination diet, you wouldn’t add dairy, tree nuts, gluten, and inflammatory foods back in all at once! Instead, you’d gradually reintroduce each food group until you discovered the one that was giving you trouble.

The worst case scenario? The worst case scenario is that you’ll be overwhelmed by change and not accomplish the goal after all you hard work.

How does this apply to your writing?

There’s a lot of writing advice out there, including on this blog. You should certainly try those pieces of advice that appeal to you, but you should know by now that there’s no wrong way to write a book and that not all advice fits all advice-seekers.

With that in mind, if an attempted strategy doesn’t lead to good results for you, scrap it, shake it off, and try something else.

For instance, I once read that morning pages are a good way to cultivate a daily writing practice. The idea is that you get to write 750 words about anything first thing in the morning, before launching into more goal-oriented writing. 

The freedom of the concept appealed to me, so for a couple of months, I tried it.

Ultimately, morning pages didn’t work for me, especially because I didn’t have a great deal of time to write in the mornings. As a result, I felt frustrated that the 30 minutes I did have were wasted on words of no importance. (No offense to words of no importance. You guys are great from time to time, but occasionally, I have places to be, manuscripts to write, &c.) So, I’ve jettisoned that advice and started a morning practice of writing one journal page to clear my head before launching into my existing projects. 

A good scientist always repeats her experiment and measures her outcomes.

One way to track your methods towards achieving your goal is to use my 30 Days of Writing Challenge Planner. The planner has 30 customizable daily scheduling pages, with tracking at the top for both word count and writing time goals, as well as a prompt or motivational quote towards the bottom. 

And now through February 28, I’m promoting a bundle sale. If you buy the 30 Days of Writing Challenge Planner, you can get Your 15-Day Editing Game Plan at 50% off. 


Best of luck to us all, and happy writing!