Do you want to be a writer? Do you dream of publishing a novel but struggle to find the time to write? Do you sometimes set writing goals for yourself, only to have life get in the way? When you get busy, is your writing time the first thing to go?
You’re not alone. These are common stumbling blocks all beginning writers share. Creating accountability is the best way to overcome these struggles, but if you don’t already have an accountability system in place, it can be tough to know where to start.
Creating a sense of responsibility or obligation around your writing doesn’t sound fun, but setting goals for yourself and meeting them can be highly motivating. But before you establish your own accountability system, it’s good to know what type of accountability you need.
There are two basic forms of accountability: inner accountability and outer accountability. Inner accountability, as the name implies, comes from within. This can be as simple as a goal you set for yourself. Outer accountability comes from other people, such as an early reader or a writing coach. In her book “The Four Tendencies,” Gretchen Rubin lays out the four personality types and what sort of accountability they need to be successful. (Many of us require a mix of inner and outer accountability.) To learn your tendency, you can take her free quiz.
The suggestions I’ve laid out here are a mix of inner and outer accountability. One of these may be all you need to meet your goals, or you might need to employ several. The important thing is to keep trying new methods until you find the one that works for you.
1. Use a writing log. The first layer of accountability that every writer should have is a writing log. A writing log creates inner accountability for most people but can sometimes feel like outer accountability. I have kept a writing log for the past six years, and I encourage every aspiring writer I coach to keep one. The beauty of a writing log is that it is a visual reminder of the days you wrote and the days you did not write. There is no exaggerating to yourself about how often you write when you can see it laid out in front of you. Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. The goal is to start measuring your writing so that you can improve.
A writing log can be as simple as a special calendar you hang over your desk or a spreadsheet (I use Google Sheets) with columns for the date, word count, and space to note how you felt during your writing session. I also like to write my big goal for the month at the top of my log. Because I write full novels, I include a column for the phase of writing (planning, first draft, etc.), and in the past, I have included details such as where I wrote and how “in flow” I felt (low, medium, or high). In my experience, a simple writing log is usually better.
2. Find your first eager reader. If your goal is to complete a larger writing project like a novel, I find that it can be highly motivating to find that first eager reader as a form of outer accountability. For Stephen King, this was his wife Tabitha, but for many of us it probably won’t be a spouse. Spouses can often feel like an extension of ourselves, and so they sometimes don’t make good accountability partners for those who require strong outer accountability.
When I wrote my first novel, my first readers were my good friends Andrew and Nicole. Nicole was a rabid reader who liked books in my genre, and Andrew was a great critique partner. The best part was that after he read the first half of my novel, Andrew was eager to read the rest. This made me feel good and pushed me to work faster.
It’s important to understand going in the type of reader/listener you need: Do you simply need someone to read the first draft of what you’ve written or listen to you read it out loud without giving feedback? Or do you need a critique partner to poke holes in your writing? Ask yourself: Do you need to be heard, or do you need feedback? In the accountability stage, we often just need someone who wants to read what we’ve written — we are too raw to be criticized yet! Usually, if you share one chapter, your first reader will be eager to read the next one, which can create a nice sense of urgency that also functions as accountability.
There are two rules I have for showing your writing to others: 1) You must choose an appropriate person who is both kind and willing to abide by the parameters you lay out (reading or critiquing). It’s better if this person already reads in your genre and if she is not an aspiring writer herself. (More on this later.) And 2) you must lay the ground rules before you read your work. Ground rules can be as simple as “I’m going to read this to you. I just need you to listen. Afterward, you can thank me for sharing, but please do not offer any suggestions or praise. I just need someone to hear it.” (If these are your ground rules, don’t feel hurt if your reader doesn’t shower you with praise afterward. Remember that you asked him/her not to!)
3. Join a writing or mastermind group. I would be remiss if I did not mention writing groups as a potential source for accountability, but in my experience, writing groups can be a mixed bag — literally. Often writing groups are simply monthly gatherings of people who enjoy writing…and one or two people who are actively pursuing publication. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this can make writing groups poor for accountability. Usually, a writing group only requires that you bring a piece of writing every month, so that may be all you create.
As I said before, it’s better if your first eager reader is not an aspiring writer herself. I find that aspiring writers are sometimes the worst at giving constructive feedback. In an ad-hoc writing group such as one you might find at your local library, you will probably receive a barrage of conflicting advice because people think they are supposed to critique something. And occasionally, that advice will be tainted by professional jealousy. More productive writing groups are small (four to six people) whom you know, like, and trust. Over time, they will get to know your writing and be able to provide feedback based on your style and goals.
Mastermind groups can be more appropriate if you are seeking outer accountability. Mastermind groups are often more business-focused, and rather than critiquing each other’s writing, members will be more interested in moving the needle for their own creative businesses. I am part of a mastermind group filled with female indie authors who write books similar to mine. We all live in different cities, so we hold our monthly chats via Google Hangouts. Generally we give an update on what we’ve accomplished that month and what we’re planning for the future. It’s a good opportunity to ask for advice and share ideas around productivity, publishing, and promotion.
4. Create accountability from inconvenience. This one is great for people who do not have a large support network for their creative endeavors. It’s a mix of inner and outer accountability because it uses other people and our own emotions as motivation.
Often finding time to write around work and family commitments will inconvenience the people closest to us. You may have to ask your partner to make dinner or take the children to school so that you can write, which gives him or her a stake in your endeavors. One of my coaching clients works odd hours at a golf course, and he has to remind his boss not to schedule him on days we have our coaching sessions.
By inconveniencing other people (even in a small way), it can make you feel guilty if you do not produce something during that time. If you know your partner had to rush to get to work because he was helping you find time to write, for instance, you better have something to show for it. We should not have to feel guilty for pursuing our dreams, but if you feel a slight sense of guilt, use it.
5. Find a writing coach. If you regularly struggle to meet your word-count or writing goals, the best thing you can do for yourself is to hire a writing coach. A coach can fill many different roles from accountability partner to critique partner to publishing consultant; it is up to you to decide what you need. With my own coaching clients, I wear a variety of hats based on the goals my students express and where they are in their writing journey. (The function I perform for every student is a layer of outer accountability.)
Hiring a coach provides several advantages: For one thing, you are paying for help, which sends a signal to your subconscious that you are taking your dream seriously. (It also makes you less likely to slack off because you are paying real money.) Think of it as an investment like a college education. Many people take on six figures worth of debt when they’re in their teens or early twenties for a career they know nothing about. Why wouldn’t you invest $100 to $250 an hour on tailored sessions to help you advance at something you know you enjoy?
Paying for help also means that you can see someone on your schedule and make the sessions all about you. You don’t have to pretend to be interested in someone else’s writing! You can also terminate the relationship at any time without worrying about hurt feelings. Think of working with a writing coach like finding a healthcare provider who is competent, likable, and on the same wavelength as you. (Your doctor is not insulted if you switch providers. In fact, many are happy to refer you to someone who can better meet your needs.)
Another obvious yet often ignored advantage to hiring a coach is that you are hiring a professional. Often beginning writers are reluctant to shell out money for a coach — opting instead to form a critique circle of other amateurs. For some reason, people seem to view writing differently than other business endeavors on which you may or may not make money. The truth is that if you are even considering publishing your work, writing is automatically a business endeavor. Would you rather take business advice from someone who runs a successful business or from someone who wants to start a business? Would you prefer to hire a financial planner or your brother-in-law to manage your investments? The person advising you on writing and publishing will help determine the results you see.
Accountability is one of the key drivers of success for beginning writers, and so you must learn to build systems that work for you. Now that I do this for a living, my accountability partners are my readers — and my checking account! But I still lean on other indie authors to help push me to be a better businesswoman and make better long-term decisions.
Do you have an accountability system? Is it working? Which of these measures will you put into place? Do you have any to add? As always, if you need a professional accountability partner, please get in touch to learn all about my coaching program and how I can help you take your writing to the next level.
Photo by Estée Janssens