When I was a junior in high school, our student body president was a preppy, cocky senior who was annoyingly sure of himself. I was not a fan of his style in general.

At our fall academic honors banquet, this student was the keynote speaker, and most of his talk is a blur to me. He did, however, relay one insightful nugget that has stayed with me all these years and instantly raised his status in my eyes. To paraphrase:

Shooting at Nothing

“A young, aspiring basketball player practiced hard every day for years, worked out religiously, and studied playbooks late into the night, every night. His diligence paid off when he was named a starter on his high school team as a freshman, and he enthusiastically invited all his friends and family watch him play in his first game, which was also to be the first game in the school’s sparkling new arena.

“At tipoff, this young man raced to the ball and sprinted down the court, dribbling with perfect grace and leaving his opponents gasping for air behind him. As he neared the end of the court, he snatched the ball to his body and went into a perfect layup. He had practiced the move so many times in preparation for his big moment that he didn’t even notice that the construction crew had failed to install backboards or baskets on the court. Spectators later told him that his play reminded them of watching a ballet, but his shot sailed into the air bounced across the floor and into the stands.

“Without a goal, all his hard work and preparation meant nothing, and his perfect shot was just an ephemeral piece of art that helped his team not at all.”

Sure, this a contrived story, but its lesson resonates with me still. If you don’t have a goal, then why are you working so hard?

Don’t Write Without a Goal

As writers, most of us have lofty visions of what we’d like to do, what we’d like to be, someday, but we often neglect to map out a path that will get us there. And, way too often, we have no set goal for our writing in a particular week or day.

So here’s the challenge: before you put pen to paper today, make sure you know what you’re trying to accomplish.

Do you want to write 1000 words? That’s your goal.

Are you trying to write a 50,000-word novel in the next 30 days? Then you’d better crank out at least 1700 today.

Been working on a blog post for awhile? Make this the day you put a fork in it.

Whatever you do, make sure you always have a goal of some sort, and watch your productivity spiral to new levels.