Monday, June 27, 2016

A Less Lonely Way to Get More Writing Done

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

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? 

Looking to improve your craft? Check out one of my books on writing: 

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011). She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. Boy do I ever need a writing buddy again. I've felt lost and alone in the void for so many years. Will be sure to look for that Critique Connection opportunity you mentioned.

    1. Please do, lot's of folks have had great luck with it. I'll open it up next Friday after the holiday.

  2. I've had writing buddies and even a small group but not anymore. I've scoured the internet for a replacement but in that particular area it is a wasteland.

    1. It's hard to find writing buddies sometimes. Check back next Friday when I open up the Crit Connection again. :) People have had a lot of luck finding groups and partners there.

  3. I love this idea! I'm in a critique group, and we do try to cheer on one another's progress, but some in the group just aren't very productive and I can get lackadaisical in this environment. Some new folks are joining, and I might propose we try out some of these ideas. (And I'd love to host you for any promo. Your posts are consistently wonderful.)

    1. Aw, thanks! I'll take you up on that :) Maybe this is a good way to re-energize your group?

  4. This is a wonderful idea. I've done something similar with a couple of friends. Back when I was working on The Memory Wars, a friend and I had duelling wordcounts on Facebook.

    I love chatting about book ideas with friends. Great way to stay enthused and bounce ideas off each other.

    1. It really is. I just now got off the phone with a friend. She helped me talk though a scene I wasn't happy with. And I know I'd never have hit 50K in NaNo last year if I wasn't dueling with one of the girl's in my NaNo group. She pushed me to hit my goals and then some.

  5. Wanting to publicly accountable was one of the reasons I started blogging.

    1. Good reason. It's a useful trick if you have the personality for it.