Guide to goal setting

Sometimes the gulf between where we are and where we would like to be can appear large and insurmountable and can elicit a sense of disorientation. Setting goals can help to break a long journey into smaller, neater, more manageable parts. Thoughtfully considered goals can be particularly useful in an academic context and can help researchers overcome the unique challenges posed by a lack of externally imposed structure and demanding workloads.

The November Writing Challenge runs over a two week period. This means that the goal or goals that you set yourself should be modest and achievable. Short term goals like this represent the ‘how to get there’ in your research roadmap, and should logically address the larger, longer-term picture of ‘where you hope to eventually be’. Imagining a result or an end product, whether it be a doctoral thesis, a book or something quite different, can be what inspires you to press through the inevitable ebbs and flows of academic life.

Importantly, the goals that you choose need to be challenging and personally worthwhile. As Narelle Lemon, a Senior Lecturer at La Trobe who successfully participated in the AcWriMo in 2011, writes,

Set your goal, not someone else’s, and go for it. Seems obvious but often the writing block and stumbles come from not writing what weare ready to write, what feels right and what is actually aligned with their research/publishing goals.

While for some, the adoption of a strict writing schedule, with efficiency rigidly measured in word counts, might break a rut of patchy productivity, for others, a more intangible goal might be more fitting. Inger Mewburn, for example, chose to use AcWriMo as an opportunity to re-orientate her relationship to her writing; as she puts it, her goal was to ‘resist’ the sense of urgency that has increasing come to permeate academic culture and to ‘give [herself] the gift of time to write because [she]genuinely [enjoys] it’.

More than an inducement to increased productivity, the November Writing Challenge provides an opportunity for La Trobe researchers to re-consider their understanding of writing and the role that it plays in scholarly work. At the heart of the academic profession sits knowledge generation and dissemination. It is through the written word that we clarify, organize and communicate our ideas and the findings of our research and it is how we are held accountable both professionally and socially. As Liz Stanley, Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, writes, ‘Treating writing seriously as a job tells us things about ourselves, about our minds, and so about our work and its engagement with the world’. If the very act of writing is supportive of the growth and refinement of a sense of intellectual purpose and identity, then it is to the benefit of academia in general that healthy writing practices are nurtured and encouraged and that good writing takes pride of place amongst the goals of our profession.

In this vein, we hope that you will think about writing holistically as you go about defining your goals for the November Writing Challenge. Here are few pointers to get you going:
  • Make your goals specific, realistic and measurable – but also challenging. Examples might include finishing a journal article or creating a more productive writing routine.
  • Identify the steps you will need to take to progress towards the achievement of your goals. Think in terms of daily action. This might be writing for two hours before you do anything else each morning, trying out a number of new writing strategies or writing at least 500 words each day.
  • Record your accomplishments daily and don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the horse.