Why Many Books Don’t Sell

What’s more important — your book, or the person who wrote it?

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I’m surprised at how many aspiring writers say their biggest struggle is marketing their work.

This surprises me because I’m a very author-focused consumer, personally. If I haven’t heard of you, or someone I follow hasn’t recommended your book, I’m very unlikely to purchase your book.

People focus so much on their product — for our purposes in this post, we’ll just stick with books — that they forget the other half of the equation: the person publishing that book. The writer.

Who are you? If a consumer doesn’t know, they probably won’t care about your paranormal YA romance novel, if we’re being honest here.

My theory — and maybe the theory of many others — is that it’s hard, maybe even impossible, to sell a book without an audience.

If you’re a debut author backed by a major publishing company, maybe you’ll be fine. Your chances of success are much higher, anyway.

Let’s be clear — I am not an expert here. I’ve self-published some novellas and I created this blog and I write for a media company and I know a lot about how writing, in terms of craft and online publishing, works.

But I have not worked in the publishing industry. I don’t know anyone personally who does. I haven’t even sent out my first query letter yet.

The reason I’m sharing my theory is because I see writers’ imbalanced focus on what’s important when promoting their work. And I think these words might help some of them.

If even I were to try to self-publish and sell a novel right now, I’d most definitely fail. Whatever failure means in the publishing world, if there’s a metric. At the least, some members of my audience might say, “Sure, I’ll support you.” But that’s about it.

There are so many books out there — especially now that self-publishing is a mainstream route for aspiring writers — that people are highly unlikely to pick yours up if they don’t already know who you are.

Sure — a title, a cover, a good synopsis, all these things increase your chances of selling.

But they aren’t guarantees.

What you need, if you want to get published, is an audience.

How do you get one? You write stuff. A lot of stuff. And this is why so many aspiring writers are struggling. Because they refuse to write for free, even though that’s literally the only way you’re ever going to get published no matter what kind of writing you do.

As a beginning writer, you need at least a healthy host of freelance clients. If you don’t have enough experience for that, you need a day job and a side hobby (probably involving writing). If you keep turning down writing opportunities because they’re unpaid, honestly, what do you expect? That someone is just going to come along, see that you have zero experience or work to prove your worth, and hire/sign you?

That’s not how it works. This is, of course, coming from someone who blogged for three years (for free) before even getting a low-paying stipend job as a student journalist. (And by the way, it took until five years after that to get my first full-time writing job. Yeah, this stuff takes awhile.)

If you want to sell a book, you have to build an audience. And if you want to build an audience, you have to write a lot. Many things for free. Many things you would rather not write. Now that so many people have access to publishing tools, a following is, in my experience, pretty much a requirement if you want to accomplish anything as a writer.

I could go on about this. About consistency, about responsiveness, about how to treat your audience well — and I will, in a separate post.

But I just want you to understand that yes — literally anyone can publish a book. There is nothing stopping you from doing that.

If you keep holding yourself back because you’re afraid of failing, maybe writing isn’t for you. Writers fail. All the time. It’s part of the job.

If you want to succeed, your personal/professional brand matters a lot more than you think.

Instead of focusing on marketing your book, you need to tell people why they should care. And that often involves telling them why they should care about you.

An audience develops slowly over years. I know that’s not what you want to hear. But it’s the truth.

How does all this start? By sitting down and writing. You can talk about how much you want to be published all you want. But if you never write, well … good luck with that.


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.


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What Your Forgotten Writing Goals Say About Your Future

Why didn’t you do that thing?

Looking at my goals for the year, I’ve come to the realization that so far, I have accomplished … well. Not as much as I originally planned to.

That’s not a good feeling.

And yet, it also happens to be one of those moments of growth we often take for granted.

Not crossing something off our lists doesn’t mean we’ve failed. We just didn’t get something done. It’s the reason behind that shortcoming, not the shortcoming itself, that matters.

Look at the one thing you really wanted to do this or last year, but didn’t. Why not?

You can look back at what you haven’t accomplished and ask yourself why you did not reach your goal. Was it because you lost interest? Because something unexpected came up that took precedence over everything else? Or did you struggle to manage your time, prioritize your tasks, and stay motivated to get things done?

Let’s say you wanted to finish writing your book this year. You fully intended to make this happen. But about halfway through the year, you realized you really didn’t want to finish telling that particular story. You decided your time would be much better spent on a different project. As much as you didn’t want to leave your book behind … you knew it had to be done.

That’s not failure. Just because you didn’t finish one thing doesn’t mean you’re incapable. Quite the opposite. You were aware enough of your priorities and future aspirations that you were able to make the conscious decision to set aside something from your past. That’s a good thing.

However, if you haven’t worked on your book simply because you just “haven’t had time,” that’s a sign you need to put more energy into prioritizing all the things you want to do.

But again — just because you’re bad at managing your time doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It just means you need a planner, or a better alarm clock, or a temporary Netflix detox.

Sometimes the goals we set in January aren’t as important to us by November. That’s okay. Our focuses and desires are constantly changing. You will always have a few “big” things you’re working toward, and plenty of small ideas that may or may not make it onto your list of accomplishments for the year. That’s normal. Healthy, even.

Don’t get discouraged if you look up and realize you didn’t do That One Thing … again. There’s a reason why. If that reason was or is out of your control, shrug it off and either transfer it to next year’s goals or just let it go. If it was or is completely in your control, some behavioral adjustments may be in order.

This is all part of growing as a writer. You learn to shake off the things that don’t matter and figure out how to hold on to the things that do.

Whether you’re disappointed or sort of relieved, hang in there. If you really want to finish writing that book, you’ll find a way. You always will.


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.


Hey! I’m vlogging my way through NaNoWriMo. Here’s yesterday’s video.

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Use This Trick to Get Inspired to Create

Still don’t know what to write about? Try this.

Whether you realize it or not, you use other people’s creations to inspire you to create. And when you are struggling to come up with an idea you’re motivated enough to turn into something tangible, you often make the mistake of walking away from everything, in an attempt to clear your head.

Maybe when you’re stuck, you should instead try taking a moment to think about what, if anything, you would love to read/watch/listen to right now.

Does it exist? If so, does the thing that already exists cover all the points and move in all the directions you’re hoping it will?

If not … that’s the door to inspiration — and creation — you didn’t know you were looking for.

Pay attention to particular thoughts like these:

I wish there was an article about …

I’d love to read a book about …

Why isn’t there more out there about …

Whatever comes after that ellipses? THAT is what you should write about.

“But there’s already so much out there about that thing!”

Not from you. Not from your brain, your way of thinking — not in your style.

If you ever start thinking about something that interests you, or causes you to question something, or you’re frustrated looking for something on a topic and can’t find it … you should be the one to make that thing you want to know more about.

After all, you can’t write what you know unless you first make the effort to know. One day I wondered what would happen if all however many billion of us on this planet went vegetarian. So I researched the idea and wrote an article about it.

A curious mind makes for a more prolific writer. Inspiration means something different for everyone — triggered for everyone by something unique. Maybe what inspires you most is seeking out the answers to your seemingly random questions … and then telling the world, through something you create, what you have just learned.

We shy away from this because we think “Oh, no one else is going to be interested in this.” Well how do you know? Your job as a creator isn’t to please everyone. It’s to create things that excite and interest you, knowing that there are like-minded people out there somewhere who will relate.

Don’t hold yourself back if you stumble upon something that makes you go, “Wow. That’s cool. I want to write about that.” WRITE ABOUT IT! That’s inspiration, whether it looks like it to you or not. Don’t let it escape you. Recognize it for what it is and let it carry you into something amazing.


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.


Hey! I’m vlogging my way through NaNoWriMo. Here’s yesterday’s video.

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What’s the Point?

What’s your audience supposed to get out of this?

I want you to think about what you’re currently working on. A book, a short story, an article — whatever it may be. If you’re not currently working on something, think about the last thing you finished. Or the thing you hope to start soon.

Now let me ask you this: what is it about?

I don’t mean the plot. Don’t tell me who your characters/subjects are, who your audience is, why you decided to write your story. Tell me the point.

A book about a high school sophomore who writes letters to her missing sister is intriguing. But it is not the point of the book.

A book about the different ways grief changes a family may not be the most polished sentence (it’s six in the morning, cut me some slack), but it’s something much closer to its point, its message — the thing the author wants you to think about long after the book ends.

The better you know your core message, the more focused your writing will be — and the easier your revisions will seem, if you make it that far.

You should be able to boil down what your story is about into a single sentence. And if you can’t do that yet, then you’re not 100 percent clear on what message you’re trying to convey to your audience. And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, they won’t, either.

Does this mean you should stop writing if you’re not fully confident in your overarching point? Of course not. When it comes to first drafts without time constraints (e.g., NaNoWriMo), get the first draft out first. Worry about whether or not it makes sense later.

I’ve gotten into the habit of outlining a story I’ve already written, after the fact, to see if all the connections that need to be made have been made successfully. It’s what works for me. If everything fits and my story conveys the message I want to, the best way I know how, I’m satisfied.

If it doesn’t, and I have the desire, I enter revisions and set out to “fix” what didn’t work the first time.

However, I also understand the barrier of time constraints. My job requires me to write one to two articles per day each week. If I don’t have my article’s point nailed down before I start writing, there won’t be enough time to fix any parts of it that veer away from that message. And that’s bad.

So sometimes, your message has to come first. Headlines, titles, characters — all that has to come second. And many writers struggle with that. They know they want to incorporate the whole writing letters to MIA sister thing. But they have no idea how to build a much bigger story around that.

I’ve found, in my 12+ years (!) of drafting everything from novels to news briefs to press releases, that the easiest way to pick out the flaws in your writing, relative to your core message, is to write a first draft. Then you have something to look at as you’re doing that evaluation, instead of trying to picture in your head whether or not what you haven’t even written yet is going to work.

Is writing a rough draft that feels disorganized scary? A little bit. But do you know what’s even more stressful? Wanting to write something, but never actually writing anything.

My philosophy: write first, organize later. This is coming from a person who cannot get out of bed on time in the morning unless I’ve planned out by day by the hour the night before. It’s called a rough draft because it’s supposed to be a mess. Embrace that.

So, can you do it? Can you summarize, in one sentence, what your story is about?

If not … don’t worry. Just keep writing.


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.


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If You Don’t Know What You Want to Write About, Read This

Sometimes the “selfish” thing turns out to be the best thing.

Writing for an audience is one of the first things you’re taught in grade school. Every essay starts with your purpose for writing and who you’re writing “to.”

Sometimes, this creates the false notion that you’re supposed to seek out a specific audience and write what they want to read about. Even I’ve made this mistake, in trying to start new creative projects. Audience matters … so shouldn’t you give them what they want?

That’s not exactly the right way to go about it. At least, I don’t personally believe so.

Actually, I think the approach that you need to write what everyone wants to read is the worst writing advice you could take to heart.

Yes, you need to write for a specific audience.

Yes, you need to know as much about that audience as possible and cater to their needs, interests, and desires.

But it’s also important to remember that you can’t please an audience who can tell you don’t care about a topic. And if you’re writing about something just because you know it’s popular and people will like it, and you actually couldn’t care less about it, people will see that. And they won’t stick around.

Maybe the better approach is to write about what you want to write about, find the audience that will gravitate toward your content, and establish yourself in that niche.

There is an audience for everything. It might not be a big audience. But I can pretty much guarantee you are not the only one who likes cars, or Star Trek, or birds, or whatever that thing is that you could write about endlessly, day after day, for the rest of your life.

I think everyone has that level of interest in something. And if you’re searching for something to write about, to me, it seems the most natural next step is to take that thing you love and find a way to write about that thing as much as possible.

It’s not that making money as a writer doesn’t matter. Trust me, I know how much it matters. But just because you might have a hard time gaining traction (and cash) at first doesn’t mean you won’t be able to later. And even if you never “make a living” off your Star Wars blog or whatever, let me ask you this: Are you having fun? Do you enjoy what you’re doing? Are you happy, even if this isn’t your day job?

Sometimes, that’s enough. Not all side hustles have to be about making as much money as possible. Often, the first step — if more steps come after — is to just write about something you love, to create a small but mighty community of people who love that thing, too.

Isn’t one of the greatest things about writing that it brings people together — whether they agree or disagree, like the same things or don’t, come from similar backgrounds or vastly different ones?

It’s a good starting point. Don’t forget that building a career as a writer comes with a lot of tiny stepping stones you have to navigate. Don’t worry about what comes next. Even if this only ends up being “practice” for you, that’s still important. You’re figuring out what you like and don’t like; what works and doesn’t work. You’re already one step ahead of many people who just try to get popular without putting their full effort behind something they’re actually passionate about.

You just never know where a seemingly random and weird obsession might take you, if you start writing about it. What do you really have to lose?


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.


Hey! I’m vlogging my way through NaNoWriMo. Here’s yesterday’s video.

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Stop Trying to Come Up with the Most Original Story Idea Ever

There is no such thing as an original idea.

We have all fallen into the familiar trap of believing our story ideas aren’t good enough.

Too many writers also spend a lot of time wondering if the idea that’s in their head is as original as it could be.

Maybe you’ve somehow convinced yourself that one day, you’re going to be able to write something no one has ever thought of before. And that will make all your dreams come true.

Guess what? In some capacity, if you’re thinking of it, it’s already been done.

The point of storytelling is not to come up with an original idea. It is to take an idea and craft an original story using that idea as a foundation.

If you constantly shoot down your own ideas because they’ve “already been done,” you’re never going to get anything written.

Think of how many Cinderella adaptions there are. Or all fairytale-based pieces of media, for that matter. The original Cinderella story is nothing like that Disney cartoon you grew up watching. They are two completely different versions of the same idea.

The trick is to keep writing. Because the longer you do it, the better you get at figuring out how to build a unique story using pieces of ones you’ve read before.

Give up this desire you have to write “the next big thing” or “the most novel novel ever.” Anything you write will contain traces of stories everyone is already familiar with. That’s not what makes or breaks a story. What makes or breaks a story is the way you write it, and the way you develop the characters, and the story’s purpose and message.

Basing your story off of another person’s idea does not mean you are not creative. If anything, writing another Cinderella story forces you to be more creative, because you have to figure out how you can spin it to give it a new angle.

Of all the things you could obsess over when constructing your next story, this one just isn’t worth it.

Instead, focus on crafting a story that’s relatable, emotional, and exciting. Find that one element of a familiar story arc and figure out how to twist it around to surprise your audience. There are a dozen ways you can take an idea you’re afraid isn’t original enough and make a decent story out of it.

You never know where an idea is going to take you. Don’t let doubt stop you from exploring. The best writers are the ones willing to try anything, whether they end up failing or not.


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.


Hey! I’m vlogging my way through NaNoWriMo. Here’s yesterday’s video.

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You Only Have So Much Creative Energy to Spend Every Day — How Are You Using Yours?

Mind how you’re using your energy, and your time.

We’ve all been there.

You sit down at your computer, fully intending to get a huge chunk of writing done with the sudden free space that’s opened up in your schedule …

… and you can’t write anything.

It’s like your brain is just stuck. You want to write … but your mind just won’t turn on.

Most people in this situation start panicking about what they’re going to do if they can’t force themselves to create something right here, right now. They don’t take the time to think about what led them to this brain drought — what they did yesterday that might have used up all their mental resources.

Yes — yesterday does matter. Just as much as today, and tomorrow.

We each have a daily allowance of creative energy to spend on whichever activities we choose. Sometimes we use part of this energy for our day jobs (some are luckier than others in this regard). Many times we’re forced to figure out how to divide our energy and time between different elements of creativity — such as working on a project for school while also writing a book and trying to come up with a solid idea for that blog we’ve wanted to start for two years but haven’t yet.

Unfortunately, the reason so many people suffer creative burnout — and shy away from creating as a result — is because they don’t realize they’re trying to distribute their daily mental energy over too many different elements of their day.

It’s happened to me. It’s probably happened to you at some point or another — or it will. It’s a common mistake. But it can be prevented.

This is why I’m a strong advocate for time blocks. It’s the method I recommend to most writers struggling to manage their time (and, even if they don’t know it, their creative energy). You know that at some point today, you want to write a 1,000-word blog post. When you do that depends on your preferred workflow and your personal productivity “hotspot.” If you know you’re sharpest at 6 a.m., right after your morning cup of coffee, then no matter how odd it might seem, your best bet is to try sitting down to write that post at 6 a.m. If it works, you can choose to make it a habit — a permanent time block in your schedule.

The other issue with this method is that you can’t fill all your time with work — especially not work that spends your creative energy. You have to leave blocks of time open to let your brain decompress (sleep doesn’t count — that’s usually an automatic blocked-off segment of your day, at least I hope so).

Some days you might have to dedicate all your energy to one project and save other work for tomorrow — even though you might desperately want to work on both.

If you try to, and overspend your energy, you might wake up tomorrow mentally exhausted, unable to do anything at all. And that’s definitely not what you want (unless you’ve planned that intentionally — to which I applaud you).

You might really want to work on your novel today, but you’re behind on blog posts and need to focus more on that — even though you’re itching to write just one more scene.

You might want to get ahead on your work for the week on Sunday … but you haven’t touched that personal project for awhile, and know it needs some attention if you’re going to keep it going.

Priorities. Time management. All things most of us aren’t good at. But we really need to learn, if we’re going to successfully create even half the things we want to create in our lifetimes.

Here are my best time management tips for writers, if you’re feeling low on energy and can’t figure out where to dedicate your focus today.

And here’s how to get organized so you don’t wake up tomorrow feeling frantic about all the things you are (and aren’t) going to get done — and get more accomplished in the process.

You got this. Good luck this week — and happy writing!


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.


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Are You Being Helpful?

Are your words actually helping someone else?

The most meaningful comments I receive on my blog are those that let me know how helpful my words are to different people.

Technically, those comments about how helpful I am being (yay!) are very helpful in return.

I come into contact with many bloggers who constantly struggle to continue creating content. Not because they don’t have ideas or don’t want to, but because they don’t know whether or not what they’re doing serves their audiences.

They worry that a lack of comments, or a stagnant readership, means they’re doing something wrong. But they don’t know how to figure out what that is.

I have a feeling that if I were to visit every blog with a writer worried about the loyalty of their audience, I would find a few key things in common with them. One of them being that the content on those websites may be well-written, and interesting, and insightful.

But it isn’t helpful.

It doesn’t provide the reader with a motivation to read, or keep reading, or come back later for more.

I frequently notice that any blog post I write that has a generic headline performs terribly. Notice how I’ve titled this blog post using a question and the word “you.” That signals (or should) to you, the reader, that you’re going to get a question answered — and it’s going to serve you in some way.

Sometimes it’s not someone’s blog, but their attempts at outreach, that hurt them. It’s a common practice in the blogging world to comment on others’ blogs. Yet I see way too many comments that simply repeat what the blogger has already said, or comment with a short few words like “great post” and then a link to their website.

That’s not helpful.

A comment — one that motivates someone to click and subscribe — should add on to what’s already been said. It should attempt to add to or branch off of a conversation. It should never be self-serving, because that’s unhelpful to everyone else — including you.

Before you publish — before you comment — ask yourself: is this helpful? How am I helping someone else, in posting this? What are they going to get out of it?

There are many different purposes for blogging. Maybe you’re entertaining or teaching or offering advice. But whatever you’re doing, it has to help. That’s what people want. Readers are selfish — not because they’re bad people, but because that’s the definition of what it means to be a human. You want to know how to make your life better somehow. That’s why you read. That’s probably why you’re reading this blog post right now.

Was this helpful? I’m assuming so, at least a little bit. That’s why I’m publishing it. Because I care about you, and I want all the time you spend writing to feel worthwhile to you — and to the people you’re writing for.

See how that works? :)


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.


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Don’t Forget About Your Story’s Setting

Location matters.

In school we were taught setting matters.

Where your story takes place ends up its own character. Sort of.

Yet it’s so easy to focus on our characters and the tragic things we’re putting them through and forget to give enough attention to the where.

Take a second to think about the most significant moment in your life.

It could be the event that brought you the most joy, the most pain, the most redemption. Anything.

Notice how you don’t just remember the thing that happened. You also remember where it happened.

The room where it happened — you never forget that.

Because that location is part of your life’s story. The same way every location in your book’s plot should also be as memorable as the characters who interact within it.

If you can take a scene in your story, transplant it into a completely different setting, and nothing changes about the significance of that scene, your story’s setting needs work.

Some might argue that location isn’t always a significant plot point. I suppose I can’t necessarily argue with that. But if you really want your readers to feel like they’re right there with your characters, you’re going to have to make your story’s environment pretty important. And as important as “realism” might be, this is still a story. Things are allowed to have seemingly obnoxious significance if you want them to.

If you want your main character to break up with her boyfriend over the phone in her bedroom instead of the kitchen, because she is a private, closed-off person, and you need that location to represent her growing isolation from the outside world, DO THAT.

Where your story’s scenes take place matters. Your characters will remember the significance of the locations events in their stories take place. So should your reader. You can’t forget to take the time to paint a clear picture of that setting for your readers to settle into as your story progresses. Otherwise, there’s an unwanted element of disconnect your readers WILL feel from your prose — even if you don’t.

This is really something I want to work on improving in my writing during NaNo this year. I thought maybe you needed a quick reminder, too.

Happy writing!


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.


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The 2 Types of Accountability (and How to Figure Out Which One You Need Most)

Accountability can make or break your writing career.

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.

Internal accountability

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.

External accountability

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.


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