Accountability is an essential part of the writing process. Accomplishing anything as a writer requires goals, and we all need some kind of motivator to reach our goals. There are hundreds if not thousands of Facebook groups out there for the sole purpose of holding members accountable for what they say they’re going to do — write a book or start a blog or finally apply for that dream job.
But if accountability is so important, why is it that some writers need accountability buddies and buzzing reminders on their phones to accomplish writing-related goals, while others can write entire novels in complete isolation without anyone encouraging them along the way?
It’s because there’s more than one type of accountability. And while all writers rely on both in some way to accomplish tasks and achieve their ambitions, some rely more heavily on one type than the other. And knowing which type stimulates your productivity most can help you get more writing done each week without having to struggle quite so much to do so.
Here are the two types of accountability, and how to make each one work for you.
What is it?
Internal accountability refers to your independence when it comes to reaching your writing goals.
If you’re mostly internally motivated, you’re probably able to set and achieve your own goals without much prompting from other people. You might find inspiration in the things you watch, read, or listen to, but you need very little nudging to drive you to complete something. There seems to be an internal force that keeps you moving forward — when you want to do something, you make it happen. Your family and friends probably don’t even know about half the things you’re working on, because you don’t feel the need to tell others what you’re up to — not until you’re done, at least!
How to get it:
The tricky part about internal motivation is that external factors still probably trigger your inspiration and motivation. Once something has prompted you to write, you can pretty much come up with a plan and get it done on your own. But social time, as well as consuming lit and media that inspires you, become extremely important when you’re itching to create. You might need an app to keep track of your tasks, and a “Great job, keep up the good work!” never hurts. But if writing groups aren’t your thing, that’s OK — they just don’t work for you, and it’s better to focus on what does.
What is it?
Sometimes called “social” accountability, external accountability refers to your reliance on outside factors — people, places, even things — to hold you accountable and successfully reach your goals.
If you’re mostly externally motivated, you probably talk about your tasks and ambitions a lot — either on social media or in person with family and friends. You need that occasional nudge or reminder to keep working on something, because without it, it’s hard for you to get much writing done. You rely on people to check in with you — for example, you’re most likely to complete a task quickly when your boss gives you a deadline and asks about your progress more frequently. All your followers know what you’re up to — announcing your progress is what keeps you on track.
How to get it:
You probably need some kind of task management app that will remind you about things you need to get done. You’re likely most motivated by going out and doing “things,” so make social entertainment time a regular segment in your weekly schedule. If you can’t find a single person to be your accountability partner, it’s OK to use social media and “real life” friends to share your progress, even if no one’s quite dedicated enough to bother you with “You’d better be writing right now” texts.
Neither of these forms of accountability are “right” or “wrong,” better or worse than the other. Just because you lack the ability to hold yourself accountable for things doesn’t mean you’re lazy or broken. It just means you need more external stimulation to inspire and motivate you than someone who relies almost completely on themselves to make sure they get things done.
Whichever ratio of internal vs. external accountability you need, embrace that. If you need other people to hold you to your promises, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. Just don’t get discouraged if your social circles don’t always seem interested in hearing about what you’re working on. Remember, it’s hard to get excited about something that technically doesn’t exist yet! Be patient. When you have a tangible “product,” you’ll be able to find an audience to receive that.
For now, just keep writing. The fact that you’re doing that at all is a miracle within itself! Don’t talk yourself out of doing what you love. It’s worth your time.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.