In today’s crazy-busy world, we rarely have enough time to do all the writing we want to do—especially if we’re fitting it in around family, life, and work. Even if our process is working well for us, there are bound to be times when our motivation fails and sitting to the keyboard is the last thing we want to do.
I was chatting with some writer friends about this several months ago, and we all were facing a similar lack of motivation. Our reasons varied—recent move, new baby, switch from traditional publishing to self publishing, life going haywire in general—but all of us were having some trouble doing the writer things we knew we needed to do.
So we made a pact.
We’d hold each other accountable and nag each other when we didn’t do what we needed to do. Emails, texts, calls, whatever worked best for each person.
And it’s working wonderfully.
How Writing Accountability Works
Every writer is different, but for us (and I suspect a lot of writers), we wanted to work, but we weren’t making writing/revising/marketing a priority. We’d get a little bit done, but not enough to finish a project or be effective.
But if we knew someone would call us on our procrastination, it was easier to get that task done, because now it had a deadline and a consequence for failure. Sure, that “consequence” was just my friend emailing me with a emoted slap on the wrist and a stern finger waggle, but it was enough of a nudge to know that if I didn’t do what I needed to do I let someone down.
Writing Accountability is all about teamwork and support.
Variations of Writing Accountability
Depending on your needs, you can arrange your accountability partnership in a variety of ways, using any or all of the following (or make up some of your own):
1. Send reminders to get writing done.
This could be as simple as setting a word or page count goal every week (or day if you really wanted to be strict), and you remind each other to get them done. For example, you and your partner might decide that three pages a day is your goal, and you check in at a certain time every day to see if you’ve each written your three pages. Just be sure to leave enough time after the check in to get those pages done if you haven’t hit it yet.
2. Give assignments and tasks to each other.
This has worked well for me and my friends. We give each other weekly assignments, like writer homework. The tasks vary by writer and what they need, but they’re things we can comfortably accomplish in a week. For example, I needed a shove in the marketing department, so one of my friends is giving me weekly tasks to do things such as write cover copy for my new writing book, set up blog tour dates for the upcoming release, and come up with guest post topics
For her, I’m helping her stick to a writing schedule and keeping focused on getting a certain number of words written every week. She needs me to nag her more than once a week, so I send her “cracks the whip” emails every few days. I’m also doing light alpha reading (like a beta reader, but for ideas or very rough draft stages) to help her spot and fix anything that might slow her writing down and make her miss her deadline.
We came up with these tasks and these schedules as a team, so there's no sense of one person telling the other what to do. We each knew what we had to do, but we each also added things to the lists the other didn’t think about.We benefited from the team effort.
BONUS: Use each others' skills: If you happen to have friends who are strong in areas you need the extra push in, this works even better—especially if you have strengths in an area they need in return. My friend has a marketing background, so she’s been able to suggest things I hadn’t considered, and I’m a structure and plotting gal so I’m able to help her adapt her pantser ways to the tighter deadline she needs right now.
(Here are more ways to boost your writing productivity)
3. Team up to do tasks together.
Sometimes just doing things together can make it easier to get more done. Just look at how successful the NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) Word Wars, Write Ins, and the various Writing Sprints are.
One of my friends and I want to be more organized, and we’re working our way through Angela Quarles’s wonderful Organized Writer series. Doing it together is more fun, and we can celebrate when we get a task done. Being more organized will also make it that much easier to stay productive in the years to come.
(Here's more on staying motivated with writing goals)
4. Make it a friendly competition.
If you and your friends have competitive streaks, making your weekly goal a race could be just what you need to stay writing. NaNo has hundreds of thousands of writers every year who prove this can be an excellent motivator.
Compete head to head, write as teams (could work well for a critique group), and use pages, time, words, or even drafts as the target—whatever will get you writing.
(Here's more on ways to avoid procrastination)
5. Set real rewards and punishments.
If you need more of a push than the satisfaction of getting writing or writers’ work done, give yourself real rewards for meeting your goals. Buy that book you’ve been wanting, see a movie, tuck twenty bucks into a jar for that writers’ conference next year. Do something that will encourage you to work when you don’t want to.
On the flip side, some people work better with negative reinforcement, so promise yourself if you miss your goal you can’t buy that book, see that movie, or go to that conference next year.
For competition partnerships, you might make this a team reward/punishment. Whoever misses the goal that week buys lunch or coffee, or does something nice for the other. If you both hit your goal, you treat each other. If you both miss, well, create a nifty punishment such as clean out the garage, wash the car, clean the litter box, or something equally unpleasant.
BONUS: Enlist your family’s help: If you have willing family members, you might try making them a deal. If you hit your goal that week (or day), you get to skip one of your regular household chores. Maybe the kids take out the trash or do the dishes, maybe the spouse cooks dinner that night, whatever you’d rather avoid if you could (or just need a break from).
Writers, You Are Not Alone
We may spend most of our days alone at a keyboard, but the writing community is huge and supportive. We all face similar challenges, and sharing those burdens makes them easier to bear.
Don’t have writing friends you could partner with?
Not everyone is lucky enough to know other writers, but very soon I’ll be opening up my Critique Connection again for folks to find critique groups and crit partners. Maybe you can find someone there.
If the team effort approach appeals to you, find writers who have the same goals as you and work together to meet those goals. Motivate each other and see how much you can get done.
Do you have someone who keeps you writing?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel.
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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