Have you ever searched for someone who could hold you accountable for your writing? This is about 25 percent of the posts I see in online writing groups. “I need someone to hold me accountable.” The problem is, people don’t really know what that means. They know what they want – but it isn’t accountability. Not the kind of accountability that works, anyway.
I’m not an expert on this specific subject matter, but from my own experience, these are the conclusions I have drawn related to accountability as a writer, and the strategies I can generate from those conclusions to help you find the kind of accountability you need. You are welcome to add to the discussion in the comments section below.
Understand what accountability is and what it isn’t
So you “need someone to hold you accountable” for your writing. Nothing wrong with that. Recognizing you can’t isolate yourself, even as a writer, is a great first step. But there seems to be a lot of confusion about what accountability, in terms of writing, actually means. We want to be able to rely on people to help give us that push we need to sit down and write something. But that desire, and the reality of how the life of a writer actually tends to play out, don’t always get along.
Accountability is a lot simpler than you probably think. It does not imply an equal partnership between you and someone else. It doesn’t not require you to ask anything of anyone else – and does not require anyone else to give you anything in return. Accountability is mostly one-sided. It means, “Hey, I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do, so you know what’s going on.” Then it’s up to that person, or group of people rather, to support you in any way they choose.
Don’t rely on just one person
In general, accountability buddies don’t work, and here’s why. You have a friend, who is also a writer. So the two of you decide to be accountability partners. You promise to text her at the end of every day to ask how her day of writing went, and she promises to text you every morning to “motivate you” to start writing. You plan all kinds of progress updates, meetings, etc. But then you get back to normal life. You text her, she texts you, but a text doesn’t really motivate you to write. The two of you get busy and forget to check in with each other. The end.
One person’s support isn’t really what you’re looking for. Accountability, in terms of writing goals, just means you need cheerleaders. Not someone to give you feedback. Not someone to text you every morning to force you to write. You need people on the sidelines who will be eager for updates. People who will be, dare I say, disappointed if you don’t reach your goals. Social accountability basically means you’re making your writing goals public – such as posting about them on social media – so that people who follow you know what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s more intrapersonal than interpersonal. Psychologically, sharing your goals makes you more likely to actually pursue them.
The key to accountability that works has nothing to do with other people. This part is completely up to you. It’s why it isn’t logical to think depending on someone else to “force” you to write is actually going to make you more productive. Once you set a goal – to write 10,000 words over the weekend, for example – and you make that goal public – telling your friends on Facebook what you’re working on, or posting about it on your public blog – you can’t just sit there. You can’t just wait for praise and encouragement to come flooding in. You can’t expect any writing to get done if you don’t actually do any.
You have to write. Accountability, when it comes down to it, is just a motivator. You need other people to know what your goal is, so you are less likely to fail. You don’t want to have to follow up your initial update with one about how you weren’t able to meet your goal because Netflix distracted you. Follow through. Do what you said you’re going to do. That’s how accountability works. You still have to do the work. You still have to put in the effort and accomplish your own goal, even if no one actually gives any supportive responses. People are busy. Just because they don’t give you attention doesn’t mean they aren’t PAYING attention.
Accountability isn’t hard to come by. You just have to know what you’re looking for, and what to expect from it. At the end of the day, you’re still going to have to sit down and write. Nobody can do that for you. Only you can decide to type that first word. Will you?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.