How to Hold Yourself Accountable As a Writer

Photo courtesy of djloche.

“The difference between a job and a career is the difference between forty and sixty hours a week.” – Robert Frost

Let’s face it: there are plenty of days when we as writers don’t feel like writing what we should be writing.

When we’ve got a big project facing us, whether that be a novel or a long magazine article or whatever … we get intimidated and we procrastinate.

Especially when we control our own schedule.

Here’s the solution, and it’s just about as can’t-fail as they come: make yourself accountable to someone else.

Yes, for those of us who became writers so we wouldn’t have a boss, this method sounds suspiciously like having a boss. But this is better, because you choose your own boss and set your own deadlines, and of course you can fire your boss if you want.

Accountability for the writer means putting pressure on yourself to get the writing done. It means setting up your work so you have someone else to answer to.

Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Have a virtual boss. Basically, someone to answer to. This can be an editor, a client, your blog’s audience if you have one, a coworker or friend, anyone. You choose, but be sure it’s someone who will hold you accountable (in a positive way) instead of forgetting about deadlines. Simply email that person and ask them to help you out, and work out a setup similar to the one explained below.
  2. Set frequent deadlines. If you have a book that’s due in six months, that’s too far away. You want to have deadlines that are closer, so you’ll put that pressure on yourself to write every day. For example, you might tell your best friend that you’re going to email her a chapter every other day. That means you can’t wait for 5 months before actually starting to write — you’ve got to write every other day at the very least, and preferably every day.
  3. Send your virtual boss your writing in stages. So send each chapter when you’re done for their review, or send them the chapters one section at a time, or a long magazine piece one section at a time, etc. This will allow them to review what you’ve written, so that you’ll be sure not to write two paragraphs and report success.
  4. Have your virtual boss hold you accountable. It doesn’t work if they let you slide. They have to ask you where the writing is if you don’t send it in. Of course, if you have a valid reason for not turning it in (you were hospitalized or sent to prison, for example), they’ll probably let you get away with it. But if you make too many excuses, tell them to call you on it. Pressure is a good thing here.
  5. Blogs work great for this. If you tell your blog audience that you’re going to post your writing one section at a time, every day, then you’ll have pressure to actually write, or you’ll look bad in front of a large crowd of friends. No one wants that. Ask your blogging audience to hold you accountable. Of course, if you’re looking to publish this writing elsewhere, you might not want to publish it on your blog, but instead you could just give them a word count or some other update like that each day — as long as you’re honest!
  6. Consider an online forum. There are online forums for writers out there (NaNoWriMo being the most famous) where you can start a writing group and hold each other accountable and review each others’ work. This could be a great semi-private solution for many writers
  7. Also consider a real-world writing group. Instead of a virtual group, consider one in your area. They’re often held at universities or advertised in the newspaper in many areas … or start your own! Basically, you want to meet once a week and read each other’s writing. A great way to get feedback and have that accountability.

“No man goes before his time / unless the boss leaves early.” – Groucho Marx

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About the author

Mary Jaksch

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