The Difference Between Goals and Dreams

I believe strongly in the importance and power of setting goals. With the new year just a few weeks away (which is probably the most popular time to take stock of our lives and set goals for the next twelve months), I wanted to share my thoughts on why setting goals is a good thing and how to best set those goals.

So if you have plans to set goals on January 1st, read on.

The Difference Between Goals and Dreams

One of the main hindrances I see to goal setting is a misunderstanding between the difference between goals and dreams. Don't get me wrongs, dreams are very important. I think dreams can sustain us in a lot of ways. They provide that hope and can spur us into action. They can inspire us to make a change in our live. Without these dreams we might never reach for the stars.

But dreams by themselves can lead to frustration. Why? Oftentimes our dreams include steps that we, as individuals, have no control over. And that is the biggest key difference (in my definitions) between goals and dreams. 


Let's say you're a new writer (unagented, just starting out) whose dream is to get a publishing deal from a major traditional publisher. 

This is a pretty common dream for writers (though not all of course!). Unfortunately, if you make this your 2015 goal, you may be in for a bit of disappointment. Not because your dream is unattainable, but because it includes pieces that you have zero control over. 

And that's key. Goals are things 100% in your control.

Things you can control:

  • Writing every day
  • Finishing your novel
  • Querying agents
  • Coming up with the next idea

Things you cannot control (and therefore take away their "goal" status):

  • Signing with an agent (that's up to them to offer, not you)
  • Getting a book contract (again, not your choice. You can do things to increase this likelihood, but you cannot make this happen - it's someone else's decision)

If your dream for the year is to get an agent, that's great! Just remember, it's a dream and not a goal. You'll want to create a series of goals that help make the dream more likely while remembering to celebrate the attainment of those "stepping stone" goals.

Turning Dreams into Goals

Let's say your dream for 2015 is to get an agent. Here's one way to break that dream down into attainable goals (things you have control over):

  1. Finish first draft of novel 
  2. Revise novel
  3. Seek honest feedback on your novel
  4. Use said feedback to revise again
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until your book is as good as you can make it
  6. Research agents and create list of agents to query
  7. Draft a query letter, get critique, revise until sparkling 
  8. Query agents
  9. Start the next book
  10. Repeat

And that's where the goals come to an end. You can't control how many full requests you get. You can't control whether an agent falls in love with your work. But what you can control? Putting your best work forward. Writing the next book in case the current one isn't The One. 
So as you're compiling your list of goals for 2015 (if that's something you plan to do, not everyone likes setting goals. To each their own!) be sure to double check that your goals are things you can control. If not, see if you can break down that dream into a goal you control.

Check back in a few weeks. My first post for the new year will be my writing goals for 2015.


Do you have additional parameters for goal setting? Leave me a comment and let me know!