WriteCast Episode 59: How to Set and Stick to a Writing Goal
© Walden University Writing Center 2019
CLAIRE: Welcome to Write Cast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, a monthly podcast by the Walden University Writing Center. I’m Claire Helakoski,
KACY: and I’m Kacy Walz.
CLAIRE: Today we’ll talk with Walden Writing Instructor Miranda Mattingly about some tips for setting and achieving writing goals.
KACY: Setting goals for the new year is a common practice. Here at WriteCast, we thought we should dedicate our first episode of 2019 to discussing why it’s important to set writing goals, and how these goals can impact students’ academic development. Before we get started, Miranda, thank you so much for joining us today! Could you introduce yourself to our listeners? How long have you been at Walden? Where do you log in from each day? And what interests you about this topic in specific?
MIRANDA: Thanks so much for having me, Claire and Kacy. I’ve been at Walden for just shy of two years, and I am logging in every day from Tampa, Florida, where it’s bright and sunny so I get to enjoy that every day. In terms of my general interest, you know, I work with students on paper reviews, sometimes I pop up in their course doing a course visit, and every once in a while I’m on faculty and student webinars, so talking about writing is an important part of my daily life and writing goals in particular has been a passion of mine throughout 2018 and going into 2019 because I’ve been working on a lot of resources related to this topic and we’re going to talk about a few of them today. So I’m excited!
CLAIRE: Thanks again for being here, Miranda. We’re really excited to have you on the show. Are there specific reasons why students and writers in general should think about writing goals this year and just as a general part of their practice?
MIRANDA: That’s a great question. I think it’s pretty common for us to use the beginning of the year to reflect on what we want to achieve in our lives, or what we want to achieve in our careers, so setting writing goals—whether their for this specific semester the student’s in, the entire year, or maybe it’s even the rest of their degree program—but setting a writing goal can be, at least I think, a really motivational and organizational tool that can be useful. They allow you to hone in on specific characteristics in your writing that you want to grow and advance, but they also provide you with that means of evaluating your progress towards the desired result that you’ve set for yourself. Which I think is kind of a challenging task that would be useful for us to talk about.
CLAIRE: And, those of you who are dedicated listeners to our show may remember that we talked a little bit about writing resolutions last year, but we didn’t really get as much into the nitty-gritty as we’re going to be able to with Miranda today.
KACY: It sort of seems like breaking New Year’s resolutions is almost synonymous now with making them in the first place. At least with sitcoms and different ideas today, so how can writers avoid becoming a resolution cliché? And is there a benefit to crafting a writing resolution even if you’re not someone who typically makes these kinds of New Year’s goals?
MIRANDA: Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, right? It can be really hard to assess your overall writing development. Cultivating an effective writing process, or your overall method takes time, persistence, I know we say this a lot at the Writing Center, but it’s so true. It can be learned, but one thing that I always like to remind students is that you often won’t see a writing transformation overnight in your skills. I’ve never seen that happen, I’m still waiting for the day. But, rather, writing development is more often about small breakthroughs, small victories. And I think that writing goals can help you to see that progress. So the idea here is that writing goals can help you to put a plan in place to achieve that particular skill set you want to develop, or it can help you start a new routine, it allows you to see that growth, to celebrate those victories, which I think is so, so very important. And build your overall writing competence.
CLAIRE: Yeah, I agree. Writing goals can be really, really helpful and I’ve found it really effective to write things down or tell somebody else about a goal that I have, because it helps keep me accountable and kind of helps me keep it in perspective or think about it at various times throughout whatever sort of time frame I’ve set for myself.
MIRANDA: Yeah, that’s a great point, Claire. Setting writing goals can be really challenging, so putting them down into words is a step that we might not actually think about, but it is an important one to do. And what I really appreciate about writing goals is how they’re focused entirely on who you want to be as a writer as opposed to how your writing has been viewed in the past. I know that we often get bogged down in that past feedback. It’s hard not to. But as you progress through your courses and in particular in your degree program, whether you’re writing paper after paper or discussion post after discussion post, it gets even harder to see that bigger picture. But with writing goals, you get to set aside those reservations and doubts at least for a little bit, you know. And look your abilities to start to make these proactive steps toward your new future as a writer, or a thinker, helping you to identify what skills you need to develop. So you get that opportunity to stop thinking about what assignment’s due tonight – which I know is the hardest thing, right? And start considering the larger skills you need to succeed not just with that paper or that course, but ultimately with your larger career. So, simply starting with what the goal is and putting it down into words is really useful.
KACY: I’m definitely on board with this whole idea. So, Miranda, how do you suggest that someone starts establishing their writing resolution? Are there specific strategies we can take to set effective writing goals?
MIRANDA: So, when it comes to setting writing goals, there are a few tips that I like to keep in mind or at least I like to suggest. So, my first recommendation is to set smaller, manageable writing goals that you can scaffold over time, and that build towards a larger professional goal you have. And I know that that is kind of a mouthful to say and wrap your mind around, so let me break it down a little bit for you. I think that a tendency here is often to set lofty goals like, “I want to be a scholarly writer” or “I want an error-free paper.” That is a really common set of goals that we see at the Writing Center. Now, while these goals are forward-thinking, and I actually really love them, and I want students to work towards them, the overall scope of these goals can make it challenging to know where to start or where to focus. So being a scholarly writer, for example, requires clear idea development, paragraph organization, use of evidence, and that’s just in addition to other topics related to grammar, sentence structure, tone, APA format…so there’s a lot of writing components to keep in mind when you say “I want to be a scholarly writer.” So the idea here in terms of my first recommendation is really related to making sure that you set these smaller manageable goals that break that process down into parts.
CLAIRE: That makes a lot of sense. And it sounds a little bit similar to what we talked about recently in thinking about how to revise, right? So you want this larger outcome, but it’s important to break it down into those smaller steps and I think a lot of our listeners, as well as Kacy and myself, have similar goals for their writing--these big goals. So, how can they really take these broad goals and turn them into those realistic, achievable resolutions?
MIRANDA: Right, so my thought is breaking the process down into smaller parts. And so let’s think about that previous example we were just talking about. So, if I’m considering scholarly writing, I want to be a better scholarly writer, ok, this is great. Let’s think about how to break it down. So what aspect of scholarly writing do I need to focus on first? Perhaps it’s paragraph development, maybe that’s the area that needs to be my basis. So to do so I might consider what’s going into an effective paragraph structure. And then I might break that process down into even smaller parts. So maybe I need to focus on topic sentences for one project. And I get to focus entirely on that project on topic sentences. But then, in my next paper, I say, “I accomplished that, and instead what I want to do for the next paper, ensure that my paragraphs have equal amounts of evidence and analysis.” And that allows me to kind of knock off that next step in the process. And then maybe in a later paper I want to focus on my lead out sentences, or transitions in a future project. And the idea here, as you can see, is that we want to kind of break the larger process of paragraph structure down into more manageable parts. Now, I kind of mentioned I have more than one suggestion…so another one that comes to mind is establishing ways to assess and document your progress. So setting a writing goal is only the first step in a larger process, so you might also find ways to hold yourself accountable. You might consider if a goal is achievable within a time frame you set, or are there specific resources you need to achieve that goal? How you know you’re making progress or the benchmark you want to achieve is achieved? So it’s kind of essential for you to consider these questions and determine your plan moving forward. Otherwise your writing goal might become one of those New Years resolutions that we always set, like, you know “I’m going to go to the gym more” or “I’m going to eat healthier” and our goal here is to make this process as effective as possible.
KACY: Yeah, I love that, Miranda. I know, for me personally, I can sometimes get distracted from my resolutions if I don’t feel like I’m making noticeable progress, if I don’t see those kinds of changes right away. And as you mentioned earlier, we don’t become better writers overnight. So, are there specific methods that you like to use to track your writing goal progress? To make sure you’re maintaining that development and staying on track with your goals?
MIRANDA: Well, to be honest, I’m a pretty obsessive planner, so I enjoy making lists like with clear time tables and deadlines with the occasional reward system. It’s like a stress-reliever for me. I have to see the time. But, I also realize this approach is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. So, to kind of meet in the middle ground, I like to recommend for students, keeping a revision journal or a writing goal journal. We’ve a couple of those examples online, but these really help you organize your steps in terms of what goals you have, the timetable you’ve set, they’re also really useful because you can add the feedback you received, or how you’ve revised based on that feedback into the journal as well as keep all the resources that you’ve been suggested along the way in the journal. So, in this way, the writing goal journal is a time saver because it brings it all together in one space. It can be useful when you’re trying to visualize all the hard work, you can see “Oh, I have had this problem before and I revised it in this way” so it kind of helps you to avoid having to go to our website and search for these different resources. They’re all kind of together. So one thing that I like to recommend at the end of this is kind of highlighting the fact that, on our website, we do actually have some templates for writing goal journals and revision journals. And all you would have to do is to search for them at the top of our website. There’s a box there that you can search “writing goal journal” or “revision journal” and it will come right up. The other thing that I like to kind of throw in there, when we’re talking about tracking progress is just keep in mind that you’re not alone in the process. Writing progress is not always something you can do on your own. Often times you need to reach out whether it’s to your course instructor, a colleague, or you know, your friendly Writing Center representative like us, to get additional insight into your writing development and goals. So we’re kind of always there as well as another resource.
CLAIRE: And you can really, you know, use us as that resource, as that sort of accountability for your goals. Like, maybe you can pre-schedule some appointments with us, to make sure that you are getting frequent feedback on your work and that’ll help you towards your goals, and you can let us know in your appointment form what those goals are so that we can give you feedback specifically pointed towards those goals. I also like to try and take time with students I’ve had for a long time, or who’ve been coming for a long time, to look back at those previous reviews that we’ve had together, and you could do that for yourself, too. And, like Miranda mentioned, that way you can really see your progress and really notice “they used to comment on APA every single paper, and now they’re not really commenting on it anymore” so, right? That probably means that you’ve solved a lot of those issues that you were having in that area. Which is a mark of progress and something to celebrate.
MIRANDA: No, I totally agree, Claire. I love that idea that you were saying about how, as Writing Instructors, or even as students, they can look back over the reviews to see “Oh they used to do APA, and now they didn’t!” I was nodding along furiously, like that is such a good point! So I do encourage students, like you said, to share those writing goals with the Writing Center staff. We are really happy to work with students’ goals. And they can do that in the appointment form. So that is a great way to kind of touch on that. Now, in addition to that, one thing that I often also recommend to students, when it comes to sharing their writing goals, is I often ask students that I work with to set one unique writing goal for each paper review appointment. It kind of goes back to that idea of setting manageable goals that you can achieve within a small frame, timeframe that is. So that way we have this focused objective to work towards in the paper review. So the goal doesn’t have to be very large, in fact, for our shorter paper reviews, it tends to work better if students set a smaller goal that we can hone in on and discuss in more detail and explanation within the paper review, rather than setting these larger form goals that, again, we want to help you work on, it’s just in a short paper review we may only be able to one or two things of that larger goal. So, I do ask students often to set like one unique writing goal for each paper review appointment that I have with them. So that’s something to keep in mind.
KACY: I love that idea. And of course, students can use review appointments to keep track of their own specific deadlines and goals. For example, if you have set up an appointment a week from today or two weeks from today, you know you need to have something to submit for that date. And of course you can always cancel an appointment, which is why we recommend making them in advance, but we’re happy to provide feedback at any writing stage.
CLAIRE: And if a paper review isn’t the right fit for you, or you’re between paper reviews, or kind of want you know, some more resources on whatever your writing goal might be, you could also use the Writing Center resources to help you work toward your goals. Maybe you want to feel more knowledgeable and confident using APA. If that was one of your goals, then you might want to take our APA modules, you might want to watch some of our APA webinars, or just review some of the pages that we have on APA. And maybe mark a couple things that you seem to always forget, so that you can bookmark those pages and pull them up as you’re working on your paper.
KACY: Definitely. That’s a great point, Claire. So, do you have any final thoughts on writing goals you want to share, Miranda? Or do you plan to make any writing resolutions yourself?
MIRANDA: I do! I always enjoy talking about writing goals, as if you can’t tell from today, but I really enjoy it because it’s an easy step that I think that you can do today, right? And that’s always helpful. Something I can do today helps be action oriented. Now, setting goals in general is fairly common practice, whether you’re setting a New Year’s resolution – which I think we’re familiar with, right? Particularly this time of year. Or maybe you’re setting like a specific career-aspiration as part of your job, right? That’s what we’re familiar with. Now, writing goals aren’t that much different in that you simply just need to consider what you would like to achieve and what steps you need to get there. So, when it comes to what you can do today, those are the things that I would start with, and that I kind of always like to end on that right? That positive note that you can do this now. And to help you do that, if you are interested in learning more, we do have several resources on our website that can be found pretty easily. I mentioned the writing goals journal and the revision journal earlier, but we actually have a series of resources to help you set goals and give you examples of effective goals. It gives you some tips on how to avoid ineffective goals, as well as to achieve them. So to find that you simply would have type “goal setting” in the search box on our website, and they’ll come right up, which is really useful, so I really hope that you check them out if you get a chance. And in terms of writing goals, you did ask me if I had any resolutions for myself, I have my writing goal is really to find a way to more effectively fit writing consistently into a busy work week. That is my goal that I am going to achieve this year. Thanks for asking!
KACY: Yeah that’s a great goal, Miranda, and I feel like mine is very similar. I want to make sure that I put in that time, but also I think my specific goal, since we’re talking about making sure those goals are really clear, is separating out revision and writing. Because, I have a very bad habit of trying to revise as I write and I have read a lot of research about how important it really is to separate those two things. Because you’re actually using two different portions of your brain when you’re writing you’re using a more creative side, and when you’re revising you need to use that detail-oriented, really focused side of your brain, and so, that’s my specific goal, is making sure that I can separate those out. I feel like it will help me make a lot more progress, using that writing time that can be really hard to narrow down, as you pointed out, Miranda.
CLAIRE: I have a very similar writing goal as well in that I would like to make more consistent time to write not for work in my schedule, and so some sort of more specific aspect of that that I’m aware of are to figure out what time of day and which days really work well for me with my schedule. And to kind of make that a regular part of my routine, rather than what I’ve been doing which is sort of waiting until I feel like it and have time, which is not a very effective method. So I really want to figure out what scheduling looks like for me, how often feels good, and what times of day are sort of the most inspiring for me.
MIRANDA: I love that, Claire. You’re going to have to help me out, too. We’re going hold each other accountable.
KACY: Yes, definitely. And now that you guys have heard our resolutions, we hope you’ll consider making some for yourself. And I just want to thank Miranda again for coming in today, this was such a great session. I really appreciated hearing all of your tips, Miranda.
MIRANDA: Yes, thank you so much for having me! And I really look forward to reading some of your writing resolutions, hopefully, in future paper review appointments!
CLAIRE: Thanks again, Miranda. And thank you so much for listening today, everyone. We’ll post links to our goal-setting pages and resources in our show note. But as Miranda mentioned, you can type “goal” or “goal setting” into our website – which is academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter – as a great way to pull up our many pages and blog posts on this topic. And you might enjoy our other podcast from January of last year, episode 47: Resolutions to Reflect and Revise. Until next time, keep writing!
KACY: And keep inspiring!
KACY: WriteCast is a monthly podcast produced by the Walden University Writing Center. Visit our online Writing Center at academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter. Find more WriteCast episodes on iTunes,Stitcher,TuneInor your favorite podcast app. We would love to hear from you. Connect with us on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and at [email protected]. Thanks for listening!