Set your accountability partner up for success

Two people at a coffee shop table with a notebook, tablet, and phone on the table

Photo via Visualhunt.

Last week I talked about how accountability is an important tool for writers. It’s second only to being well read and writing a lot. Accountability has three parts: personal accountability, partner accountability, and public accountability. Personal accountability is where you hold yourself to deadlines you’ve set for yourself and you keep track of your output. Public accountability is when you tell others what you’ve committed to and you use that peer pressure to your benefit.

And hopefully I’ve convinced you that getting an accountability partner is a good idea—as well as how to choose a good one (and be one). But too often we think the job entails, “So, how are things going?” and “Good! Good…” as the sole exchange.

This will get you no where.

You know what to look for in an accountability partner. But you can set them up for success by getting a few things out on the table first.

Set your goals

What do you need them to keep you accountable on? What is it you hope to achieve? If you don’t have goals, there isn’t much they can ask you about.

Be specific and have measurable steps. Here’s an example: “I want to write a novel,” isn’t specific enough. “I want to write a novel and be ready to query it in one year. I will take two months to plan and research, four months to write the first draft, and six months to edit, let rest, and edit the manuscript again, repeated as needed. While it rests, I will draft a query letter and make a list of literary agents I can send it to.”

With the former, your accountability partner may ask, “So, when do you start?” or “What are you going to write about?” With the specific goals, they can ask, “You’ve finished planning, so how many chapters into your first draft are you? Is it realistic for you to be able to write the rest of the chapters by Christmas? What do you need to clear from your schedule to ensure this happens?”

See how much more helpful that is?

Write down what it is you want to do, when you want to do it, and then make space for it in your schedule. Your accountability partner can help you stick to that plan. Your plan may simply be to write daily, and they just need to ask, “Did you write today?” But they won’t know the right questions to ask unless you make it clear what you’re trying to achieve.

Make a plan, so they can help you stick to it.

Be clear about your expectations

What is it you want your partner to do? This depends on your goals, which is why we discussed that first.

Do you want them to check in daily? Weekly? What weaknesses do you have that you know they should keep an eye on? Do you need them to employ consequences (you owe them $100 if you don’t meet the next deadline; they’ll watch you do one push up for every minute you were on social media during work hours; etc.) or just be someone to whom you can admit that you fell short? Should they just focus on your list of to-dos, or do you want to discuss your fears, accomplishments, and strategies, too?

Once they know what you need from them, they can better support you. Turn the questions around if you’re their accountability as well, so you can be of support to them too. This can also help both of you decide if you two are a good fit—sometimes you just don’t know until you try it out, but being clear about your expectations can be a helpful preliminary check (one person wants to touch base daily but the other finds that smothering and would rather check in biweekly? Hmm).

Decide when and where you’ll meet

Once you decide how often you want to check in with each other, schedule the time for it. If you leave it to when one of you remembers or to spontaneity, it won’t happen. Write it down and keep the commitment. Though you can touch base less often, I recommend starting with weekly check-ins (daily if it’s a “did or didn’t” accountability, rather than a list of tasks). We tend to fill up the time we have—if we have a month to accomplish something, it takes us a month to finish; if we have a week to do it, it’ll take us a week. Don’t give yourself too much time between check-ins so you can stay focused and productive.

And how will you meet? In this era of technology, meeting in-person isn’t the only option anymore. If you prefer to speak in person, that’s fine! Decide where you’re going to meet (your house? her office? at a local coffee shop?). But if you live far from each other or can’t spare the commute time, maybe you’d both benefit from touching base via Skype, e-mail, or even text. What form of communication feels most natural to you both? That’s what you should go with.

Provide a list of questions

You’ve both made clear your expectations for these meetings, and you’ve decided how often and in what way you’re going to touch base. Now comes the meat of it all: What should they check on you about?

There will be some things they may need to ask you weekly (such as, “How many words did you write this week?”) and some that they need to ask based on what was discussed the week prior (“Last time you said you were going to edit three chapters. Were you able to accomplish that?”). What do you want them to ask?

Think through your weaknesses that you know you need regular guidance on. Think about the tasks you’ve committed yourself to. And then think about the specifics you plan to work on between this time and next time’s check-ins. Here are some examples:

  • Write 8,000 words this week
  • Complete your synopsis and send it to a friend to edit
  • Research a topic (armor, science, food, etc.) relevant to your story
  • Read a book that could be a potential comp to list on your book proposal
  • Edit and submit a short story to that contest you read about
  • Research literary agents you could query

In summary, what did you accomplish since the last meeting, what are you currently working on, and what needs to be accomplished by the next meeting? How are you feeling about it all? Why do you feel that way?

The more specific you are, the more your accountability partner can help you stick to your goals. You should also tell them they have permission to press into you with hard but open-ended questions. If you couldn’t finish something, why not? What can you do to prevent this in the future? Is that realistic for you? How can you improve your process? And so on.

It may not always be fun, but it will stretch you and grow you as a writer. And you’ll get a lot more done! The more we write, the better writers we become, so your accountability partner is helping you to improve yourself even faster than you might have on your own (that snooze button in the morning is so tempting, isn’t it?).

Do you have an accountability partner? What kinds of questions do you ask each other? I have a writing group where we commiserate and laugh with each other, as well as bounce around ideas. That’s helpful in its own way, but I’m still looking for someone who can sharpen my iron even while I sharpen theirs. Cross your fingers for me!