Accountability for writers

Two women discussing a project on a laptop screen

Photo via Visualhunt.

The most common advice given to new writers by veteran writers is to read a lot and write a lot. This is excellent advice! There is no better way to learn than by example (reading) and by getting your hands dirty (writing). A million great ideas isn’t enough—thinking about writing makes you a thinker; actually writing makes you a writer.

But another tool that can really help writers succeed is accountability. There are multiple parts to accountability though, and we’ll be breaking those down today.

Personal accountability

Is it realistic for a building contractor to not track their hours and to charge fees according to what “feels right” instead of the time and supplies spent on the project? Can you imagine a graphic designer who doesn’t know how long it took them to design a logo? Of course not.

So, why wouldn’t you, a writer, keep track of your hours?

You should! As well as track any other details important to you. I touched on this when I described my plan for this fall, when I’ll take on my writing as a job. What you need to know will vary depending on what you find important, but here are some ideas of things you could track:

  • How many words you plan to write today
  • How many words you DID write today
  • What time you started and stopped (how many minutes or hours total?)
  • Your writing location (Coffee shop, home on the couch, the library, at your desk, etc.)
  • Number of words in each chapter
  • Number of chapters you’ve written, and the number you expect to write
  • Number of chapters you’ve edited
  • What stage of the project are you in? (Brainstorm, research, rough draft, first revision, second revision, etc.)
  • How are you feeling? (Sick, didn’t sleep well, energized from exercise this morning, etc.)
  • What could you change or keep the same so you write well next time?

There are many other things you could track as well, to see how they impact your writing. Alternatively, you could just keep it simple: Did I meet my goal for today? Or not? All you’d have to track is what your daily goal is and “yes” or “no.”

You can build your own tracker in your bullet journal or in an Excel spreadsheet, or you can use an online tracker. Since what you track is personalized, what works for me may not work for you. Just try tracking a few things and tweak it as you go; you’ll eventually land on a system that works for you. If you need a suggestion, start with tracking word count and the length of your writing sessions. The rest can come later.

Partner accountability

Sometimes it’s easy to let yourself down because, well, who’s watching? If you snooze that alarm in the morning for an extra hour of sleep instead of writing before you start your day, no one else will know. It’s not hurting anybody, right? Or maybe you really did mean to write this afternoon as planned, but something came up and you decided, “Well, just this once,” and skipped writing. Before you knew it, you hadn’t written anything in over a week.

If this is a temptation for you—as it is for most of us, since those with strong personal drives aren’t commonplace—you would benefit from an accountability partner.

Not just anyone will do. Your biggest fan, a loved one, or even a writer friend isn’t necessarily the best person to hold you accountable. You’re not looking for a cheerleader or someone to commiserate with. You need a partner you can trust to keep you honest and on course.

Look for someone who is RESPONSIBLE, rather than knowledgeable in your field. If they understand the writing process, great! That’s bonus. They’re not the person you’re bouncing ideas off of or asking for feedback from for your story, so they don’t necessarily need to be writers themselves. They are your business partner first; if they also write, that’s second. You need someone who will show up on time and hold your feet to the fire, and they should be able to ask you questions about your productivity without letting you squirm out of admitting mistakes.

Make sure they are TRUSTWORTHY. You should feel safe answering their questions honestly and trust that they will hold you to high standards without making you feel ashamed. This person isn’t here to console you or lecture you. They’re here to keep you honest as you work through your own obstacles.

Pick someone you RESPECT. Don’t waste their time unless you’re committed to growing as a person. If they meet with you weekly and every week you have some excuse, why did you ask them to come? Don’t let them down. Also, the best accountability partners are ones you can support too, even while they support you. Are you able to ask them hard questions about what they’re working on? Can you show up on time and put as much effort into helping them as they are into helping you? Show them the respect you want them to show you.

Next week I’ll be discussing ways to set your accountability partner up for success (that means how they can best help you grow!), so keep an eye open for that.

Public accountability

As a writer you know the power of words. As the famous saying goes, there is a big difference between “lightning” and “lightning bug.” This is true whether you write or speak the words.

So speak power into your life! Tell people what you’re doing. Saying, “I like to write stories for fun,” and “I’m taking a year to write a novel with the intention to publish” are very different.

This may not be true for everyone, but I’ve found that when asked “What do you do?” and I answer, “I’m a writer,” people expect me to justify it as a job. I would find myself leading with the fact that I could earn income writing articles for magazines and online publications—even though that’s not what I intend to do—with a “though I’d like to write novels as well” tacked to the end like an afterthought.

No more. I’m speaking power and truth into my life—I’m a writer, and I write novels. I have a business plan in place to make getting traditionally published a reality. I’m making myself publicly accountable right here on this blog.

How about you? Ready to make yourself accountable to your dreams?

Making public declarations and sticking to them is my weakness. Which form of accountability do you struggle with? With that in mind, what steps can you take to set yourself up for success? Also: Anyone looking for an accountability partner? I’m hiring. ;)