How to Thrive as a Freelance Writer Without Setting Any Goals
It may seem like freelancer blaspheme, but goals don’t work for everyone. There is another way.
I used to love goals. As a teenager, I learned how to set big goals, break those goals down into smaller, actionable steps, and achieve amazing things. Everyone told me that goal setting was a skill that would serve me well.
They were only half right. Goal setting worked great until I finished school. Without too much effort I first earned a bachelor’s degree and then a juris doctor degree. I used my proven goal system to pass the bar exam, a grueling two-day professional exam designed to try and break you.
But, after school, I started my own business, and goal setting stopped working. As a freelance writer, goal setting got in the way of my success. It wasn’t until I ditched the goals that I began to gain traction.
I’m not alone. 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. Some studies estimate that 92% of adults fail to achieve their goals.
Why do we suck at accomplishing our goals?
The Truth About Goals
Here are some harsh facts about goals:
· Not all personalities are good at goal setting
· Goal setting is difficult
· Not all life objectives are a good fit for a rigid goal setting system
· Much of the research quoted in articles is fiction
· Many of the things we want to accomplish are beyond our total control
Almost all of the literature about accomplishing your goals gives the same advice. Choose a specific goal. The goal should be hard enough to force you to stretch, but not so hard you can’t accomplish it. You need to break down big goals into smaller parts.
But, that advice may not apply to you as a writer. Most of the goals writers have are partially out of their control. They rely on gatekeepers or readers. It’s not possible to break down a goal into small enough actionable parts. You are destined to get rejected and fail a lot as a writer.
Constantly failing to achieve your goals can easily break your spirit, especially when you are rejected more often than you are accepted on top of the failed goals.
There are also a lot of myths about goal setting. Often articles and gurus will refer to a Harvard or Yale study of MBA students who set written goals. The studies are apocryphal. But, the fake results of the pretend studies have been used for decades to push a goal setting agenda.
Writer’s Lives Are Different
If you want to sign with an agent, get a publishing deal, make a living as a freelance writer, make a living as a novelist, or sell a script having those things as a goal may not help you accomplish them.
When you are in school, you can set goals because there is an objective set of standards you are being measured against. Following specific steps will lead to the desired results 99% of the time.
Life as a writer is not objective.
Readers, editors, agents, and publishers all have subjective opinions of your work.
Ditch the Goals and Do This Instead
Even though opinions of your work will be subjective, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to increase your chances of success.
You do need to decide what being successful looks like to you. But, instead of setting your sights on a specific number or outcome, like a goal, create an objective tied to a feeling or general picture.
Let’s say you want to earn a living as a writer. That means you want to be able to pay all of your bills from your writing. You don’t need to sit down with a calculator. You already have a general idea of what your bills are.
Imagine how it will feel to make enough money each month to pay all of your bills and have a little left over. It makes you feel warm inside. It brings a smile to your face.
Remember that feeling. Write it down if you want. That isn’t your goal. That’s your vision.
Now, you have to get down to doing the hard work of making your vision a reality.
In this example, you will need people to pay you to write for them. You need a process for getting work and process for doing the work. Your process for getting work might include sending out ten pitches a day to potential clients. You can control how many pitches you send out. You cannot control if you get hired or not. But, if you send out enough pitches, you will eventually find work.
Your process for doing the work might be that you write two articles a day, no matter what. If you don’t have client work, you write articles for your blog or for Medium, or as guest posts. You can’t control if you get hired, but you can control how much you write. Writing a couple of posts every day will make you a better writer. If you lack client work, posting those articles on your blog, as guest posts, or on Medium, increase your chances of attracting clients or of getting paid for the article.
This same process works even if your vision is to get a publishing deal. You cannot control if a publisher picks up your book or not. But, you can control how many pitches you send out, and how much time you spend writing a book that you are trying to sell.
Don’t set goals.
Instead, create a vision tied to a feeling. Then create processes that you control. Focus on those processes every day. Over time you are much more likely to get what you want as a writer than you are chasing goals that may or may not mean anything to you.
My vision used to be being able to make a living as a freelance copywriter. Once I stopped setting goals, I created a process like the one described above. I sent out pitches five days a week. I wrote articles five days a week. When I didn’t have client work I wrote samples I could send as part of future pitches.
It worked. I have happily supported myself as a freelance copywriter for several years now.
But, now I have a new vision. My new vision is to support myself without needing to do client work. I know it will feel amazing not to have to worry about a client deadline when I get sick or have a mental breakdown.
This requires a new set of processes. I’m still experimenting with my processes. But, I’m starting to gain some traction, so I think I’m going in the right direction.
My current process is that I publish for myself every day. I may not write for myself every day, but I plan ahead and publish something. I either publish here on Medium, or I publish on social media. I’m building an audience, and I’m starting to make income from my own work, and not from clients.
Right now, it’s not much. But, it’s a start. Most importantly, each month I’ve made a little more than the month before.
I can’t control who reads my work or who likes my work. But, I have found that by publishing regularly I am attracting attention.
The next process I am doing is that I make progress on a book project every week. This is going slowly because I still have to do client work if I want to eat. I have a family. I can’t just quit client work cold turkey. But, as long as I focus on the process of writing the book, I get closer each week.
After the current book is finished, edited, published, and marketed I will write another one. It’s a process.
If I put out enough high-quality work, I will keep increasing my earnings. Eventually, it will be enough to support myself. I don’t know how long it will take. That’s irrelevant.
I just have to focus on the process.
If you are tired of not achieving your goals, feel free to stop setting them.
It’s freeing to let go of goals. It feels good, and a little scary, to reject something most people see as common sense. But, life isn’t about pleasing others.
Create your own vision and focus on your processes. You will feel like you are making more progress and you will achieve much more through the consistent effort.
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