I’ll never forget the feeling of excitement that I had when I first started hand lettering. I had discovered this rich new subcategory of art and creativity that was ripe with inspiration. The entry-level costs were low and there were countless resources for beginners to get started.

I felt like I was unstoppable. I was experimenting with new tools and styles. I was spending hours every day trying new things. When I flipped back through my notebook to drawings I had done just weeks prior, I could see obvious progress.

There’s nothing like starting something new. You’re fueled with inspiration.

Then comes the tough part. After you spend a few months grinding away, the same excitement you had initially felt starts to dim. Your work becomes routine as you practice the same creative habits. You’ve improved very fast, but the rate of improvement begins to slow.

Then what? Is the honeymoon phase over?

Goals: The Secret Weapon

Unfortunately, most people quit when the spark burns out. They get to a point where they’re not enjoying things anymore and wonder where they’re supposed to go from there.

The secret? Goals.

When you first set out to learn hand lettering, you had a goal whether you realized it or not! Your goal was to explore and learn. It probably didn’t feel like a goal because you were so driven by your own excitement.

But you’re going to get to a point whether it’s with lettering, or with something else, where you need to step back and deliberately plan your progression. The initial boost of starting something new will slow. And that’s okay — it’s natural. But the flame doesn’t have to burn out. You just need to work a little harder to keep those embers stoked.

There’s no question goals are great, but most people don’t accomplish their goals. There are countless reasons for this. It’s easy to set a goal, but the hard part is keeping it. If you set a goal and don’t have a real plan in place, you’re likely to fail in achieving that goal.

Let’s Talk About SMART Goals

SMART? Is that a lame corporate acronym? You bet it is!

When annual review time comes around at my day-job, we talk about setting SMART goals for the next year to help promote employee growth. And I roll my eyes.

Here’s what SMART stands for:

Specific

Instead of setting a general goal like “I want to get better at lettering this year”, be more specific. “I want to be able to comfortably write the traditional lowercase Old English blackletter alphabet by the end of July”.

The trick is to place emphasis on what success for this goal looks like.

Measurable

A good goal is one that you can break down in to trackable milestones. What steps do you need to take to get there? Write these out as a linear path that you can follow to achieve your goal.

For “I want to be able to comfortably write the traditional lowercase Old English blackletter alphabet by the end of July”, you could break this down into 6 one-week milestones:

  • Week 1: Research and obtain all of tools necessary to begin producing work.
  • Week 2: Collect inspiration and begin copying basic strokes that make up letters.
  • Week 3: Continue practicing basic strokes and dabble in making simple letterforms (c, h, i, j, l, m, n, o, u).
  • Week 4: Carefully write each letter many times over starting with a and ending with z.
  • Week 5: Continue practicing from week 4 until all letters are memorized and then start forming words.
  • Week 6: You’re just about there. Now write some sentences and focus on your letter-spacing.

Attainable

You’ll want to make sure whatever goal you’re setting is actually realistic. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. If there is something major you want to achieve and you’re not confident that’s realistically attainable, you’re better off breaking it down into smaller goals.

Realistic

In my opinion, this is the same thing as attainable. Stupid acronyms…

Time-bound

You need to set a specific time-frame or else there’s no sense of urgency. Assign dates based on the milestones you came up with in the measurable section.

Sticking to Your SMART Goals

Now you know what a SMART goal is. I said I roll my eyes when I hear it, but it does work. It’s proven effective for me time and time again. And if you are truly serious about setting goals for yourself, they’ll work for you too.

I would recommend the creative calendar approach. With a creative calendar, you can lay out your goal’s milestones granularly over the course of the week. This enables you to track your progress closely and removes the guesswork of what you’ll be working on on a given day.

Goals sound like a generic solution to a common problem, but they really do work. As long as you stick to them!