Paul Deines

The Critical Nature of Goal Setting as a Freelance Writer

By Paul Deines

Freelance writing is not the easiest game out there. It requires a lot of self-discipline, persistence and adaptability.

Just as important as the wording of your pitch template or the opening paragraph of your latest commission, though, are the goals you set for yourself. Your clients can hold you accountable for an individual project. You need to hold yourself accountable for your career.

Goal Setting is about Actions, not Results

When we think about our professional and creative dreams, we tend to think about results. I want to publish my book, or I want to be hired by a prestigious magazine, or I want to win a Pulitzer.

All those goals have one thing in common, though: they require another party to make them happen.

The bummer of chasing goals is that you will face a lot of rejection. If you conceptualize your objectives as things you want to get, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure every time you are rejected.

But rejection is not only unavoidable; it’s necessary!

Before I became a freelance writer, I worked in the theatre. If there’s one field that can guarantee as much rejection as writing, it is theatre. Both fields require you to get up every morning and put yourself out there with the expectation that most employers will pass.

In the theatre, I learned to think of my career as collecting rejections. I wasn’t going to get cast unless I did a lot of open calls. So, I needed to be passed over for a lot to find work. With that in mind, I stopped framing my goals as “I want to get cast in a play this month” and started framing them as “I want to audition for fifteen plays this month.” I had control over that latter framing.

So, when you think of your goals, you need to take responsibility for the actions you can control: writing words, revising drafts, pitching venues, applying for freelance work.

Personal versus Client-Driven

In an ideal world, we would all be paid to write exactly the kind of work we’re passionate about. Sometimes, we even get lucky enough to secure a commission that intersects with our interests. Often though, we take on work that’s of marginal interest.

Client-driven work is still important for your creative development. If you are serious about making a go of freelance writing, you need to find clients. Gathering a stable of regular employers will not only stabilize your income; it will also improve your visibility and make you a stronger writer. Nothing develops your skills quite as quickly as a client expecting pages!

However, if you take on lots of client-driven work, you need to organize your daily writing carefully. Also, you need to make time for your personal projects.

I maintain a daily schedule with word-count and revision benchmarks. I have columns for all client assignments. Right along with them, I have columns for my personal work.

It’s all too easy to push off your own projects when there’s a client deadline approaching. Nonetheless, if your goal is to work consistently and earn a living, you need to prioritize work you’re passionate about. So make sure to give it equal priority.

Flexibility and Openness

Have you ever taken a temp job and been surprised by the rapport you had with the company? Have you ever done a home repair and found a new skill in the process?

When you are laser-focused on your dream project, it’s easy to disregard other kinds of work you’re good at. As writers, we need to be open to the possibility that there are skills and interests we haven’t discovered yet.

Here’s an example:

I stepped up my freelance work in the middle of last year, submitting more proposals to different types of clients. As a result, I discovered, as many writers undoubtedly have, that a lot of work involves ghost-writing short romance novels. After submitting pitches for a couple of postings and soon had a commission. This led to another ghost-writing job, then another.

Now, I’m under no illusions that I’m reinventing the contemporary romance genre, but clients seem to appreciate my product. More importantly, I enjoy writing these stories. They allow me to write in a different key. I enjoy slipping into a voice that, candidly, is less jaundiced and more hopeful than most of my narrators.

So I made the conscious choice always to have a romantic ghost-writing job in progress. This time last year, I wouldn’t have imagined that would be in my repertoire.

Let’s Wrap This Up:

Goal-setting is key to developing and thriving as a freelance writer. If you focus on action-oriented objectives, make time for your own projects and remain open to new and different kinds of work, you’ll have a stronger sense of professional direction. Add a little elbow grease, and the work will follow.


About Paul Deines:

Paul Deines is a New York-based writer focusing on beer and culture, sometimes together and sometimes separately. His work has appeared recently in SR-Mag, Brew Studs, and Hop Culture.

As a freelancer for hire, he ghostwrites novels, crafts marketing copy and contributes dialogue for video games and other digital content.

An occasional playwright, Paul’s plays have been performed both online and on stage around the country. In his spare time, he enjoys experimental cooking, classic cinema, watching football, attending the theatre, and constructing playthings for his daughter.

You can read more of his work at his website, The Curiograph ( or follow him on Twitter @thecuriograph.

You can also read recent articles by Paul Deines by visiting the links below:

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