Writing is not a completely solitary profession.
In general, most writers do their work alone and improve their work with the help of other people.
Because goal-setting is so vital to many writers’ early success, it’s important to keep in mind that the things you set out to accomplish can’t always depend on outside sources to reach completion.
How do you balance collaboration with productivity in your work? Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
You can’t succeed in writing without collaboration. Even if all you want to do is write novels, you can’t work as a writer without working with other people at some point during the process. You’ll have to work with an editor regardless of which route you take, but also: agents, reps, publishers, cover designers — it’s a business, and no one is capable of running one completely on their own.
You also have to interact with readers and others who might be valuable sources of feedback in your early days as a professional, whether you’re scouting for beta readers or you just really want your friend to read the first chapter of your manuscript and tell you if it’s awful (not generally recommended, but maybe you’re desperate).
When you’re working with other people, it’s inevitable that you will have a task on your to-do list that requires someone else to push a button or respond to an email before you can complete the next phase of your work. This is just one of those parts of “being a writer” that can feel frustrating, but that also won’t ever change.
Though it might be tempting to set as many goals as possible while writing or doing other related work to keep yourself motivated, it’s not going to help if you’re consistently unable to check things off because you’re waiting for someone else to make a move.
Thankfully, there are ways to still set goals and work with others without dooming yourself to a forever unfinished checklist.
Most of your smaller goals should be completely under your control. Within reason, of course. There’s nothing more frustrating than looking back at your goals for the week, month, or even year and realize the one you really wanted to accomplish didn’t happen because you needed someone else to “complete the circle,” so to speak.
I once set a goal to do a certain number of interviews for my blog in a single month. That’s a pretty great goal to start with — it’s specific and timely, and the steps are clear and simple enough to follow. But I wasn’t able to reach that end goal by the time the month finished out — not because I didn’t do the work, but because that particular goal required that the people I reached out to actually responded to me in a timely manner. If you’ve ever reached out to sources for quotes or full interviews, you know this pain all too well.
Granted, I could have been more proactive and reached out to more people than I technically needed to work with and I might have managed to gather enough subjects for interview pieces. But reaching out to people, even just through email, was really hard for me at that point. It’s a long story. The reality is, it didn’t happen — but mostly because the goal was completely dependent on elements completely out of my control.
How could I have set the same goal differently in order to guarantee success — as long as I followed through on the task? I could have simply aimed to “reach out to x number of subjects” since this would have automatically meant I was taking active steps toward posting more interviews. I could have aimed to “schedule” a certain number of interviews or “plan” the types of interviews I wanted to do in the future, instead of setting a goal that relied on other people to play their part.
If you’re someone who likes a challenge, but also likes to actually be able to complete those challenges, you do have to put a little more effort into setting collaborative goals that can still work out even if those you want to work with aren’t as cooperative or responsive as you’d prefer. Hey, it happens. Some people are just really bad at answering messages … for some reason.
You have to work at your own pace, on your own timeline, to ensure success. The problem with this is that you’re not always going to be in a position where the people you want to work with are obligated to work on the same schedule or deadline as you are.
What I’ve found most difficult to remember as I’ve pursued my many creative interests over the years is that most people I often reach out to don’t work the same way I do. I’m most productive very early in the morning, for example, and many people don’t start their workday until I’m almost halfway done with mine some days.
I also prefer the “draft fast, revise slow” method of project management. I would much rather write an article in less than 30 minutes and spend another hour editing, revising, and fact-checking it than taking two hours to do it all in one go. A lot of people don’t like that. Everyone approaches their work differently, and you constantly have to adjust your workflow to accommodate team members and others on your radar.
Some people take days to respond to timely emails. Others are very good at prioritizing their own schedules and workflow, but when it comes to completing tasks you’re waiting on, they just take their time.
You really just have to learn to make it work. There is nothing wrong with setting overarching goals that you’re going to need help achieving along the way — as long as you have plenty of smaller goals and milestones that rely only on your own work ethic.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.