Mapping Out Your Writing Life

by Allison Pottern Hoch

It’s the beginning of the year and everything feels fresh and possible. Whether you’re still chipping away at a work-in-progress, starting something new, or staring down the lane at future publication dates, your writing life lies open before you.

But the wide-open possibility of an entire year doesn’t always jibe with reality—work, deadlines, kids, travel, housekeeping, health, pets. What has worked for me is mapping out a mix of fixed and flexible goals. This helps me have plan, self-motivate, and stay nimble as new opportunities present themselves.

Setting a fixed goal

Fixed goals can be both ones you set yourself and ones set for you by others. Have a book coming out? The deadlines dictated by your publishing schedule—edits, proofs, pub date—are all fixed goals worth planning for. Map out time to sit with your work and give it the attention it needs to meet these deadlines. What steps do you need to take to accomplish the goals behind each deadline?

For those of us without book contracts, it can still be helpful to work under a deadline set by someone else. Signing up for a Writers’ Loft class or one-on-one critique or a writing retreat can motivate you to complete a desired task for which you are now held accountable. For example, I signed up for a first-pages evaluation in the early spring. I’m also participating in two critique groups with rolling submissions, forcing me to produce and share work every few weeks.

Setting flexible goals

Flexible goals include wiggle room in case of illness, snow days, or new and unexpected deadlines. “Start a new project by the beginning of the summer,” “start querying agents by September,” or “attend a writing conference” would fall into this category.

These goals give you something exciting to shoot for without the pressure of an exact deadline. As writers, we’re often hard on ourselves. Beating ourselves up over missing a self-set deadline is counterproductive. Keeping clear but loose goals gives you permission to react to new circumstances and opportunities without feeling like you’re failing.

Setting ongoing goals

Ongoing goals speak to your writing mentality. They help set the tone for how and when you write, and what influences your work. Some ongoing goals might be:

Write it down

Write down your goals, whether in a notebook, on a vision board, on your blog, or on a calendar. Recording your goals cements them in your consciousness and makes them an active part of how you schedule your life.


Goals are great, but accountability is what helps you keep them. Check in with friends periodically to let them know how your goals are going. Do some of your flexible goals need to shift? Have your ongoing goals provided fodder for fresh goals? Are you meeting your fixed deadlines? You can even find support right here at the Loft with the new Productivity and Accountability Group where you can celebrate and commiserate with fellow writers.

What are some of your goals for the coming year?

aph.jpegAllison has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She organized, hosted, and promoted over 150 events during her tenure, ranging in size from intimate workshops and lunches to multi-media events with over 700 attendees. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and book event coach. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea. To learn more about engaging with your community bookstore or develop your own successful event and marketing plan, check out the talks and workshops Allison is leading.

If you have marketing goals to tackle this year, Allison is teaching an introductory marketing-for-writers seminar at Grub Street on Feb. 3rd and will also be giving a session on parenting/writing balance at their Muse & the Marketplace Conference in April. For more info about her sessions and marketing services, you can visit her website at

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