How many people do you know that want to write a book? Writer Joseph Epstein is often quoted saying, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them — and should write it.”
Epstein didn’t share his data for that conclusion, but common guesses for how many Americans, at some point in their life, wanted to write a book usually land between 75% and 90% of people. How many do you think actually write their book?
The difference between writers and aspirational writers is one thing: writing.
The first, and often toughest, bridge a writer has to cross is learning how to hold themselves accountable for actually writing consistently and finishing projects. Today we’re going to talk about different ways you can practice and maintain your writing accountability.
This complete guide to writing accountability covers:
- Why is writing accountability important?
- How do you keep yourself accountable for writing?
- Apps and software
- Writing groups
- Partners/friends/alpha readers
- How to know which writing accountability method is right for you
Why is writing accountability important?
Writing accountability is essential in a writing career. If you don’t have it, it’s nearly impossible to get any headway.
Here are four ways not practicing writing accountability can negatively you:
- Timely production. If you don’t hold yourself accountable for regular writing sessions, your projects that could take weeks or months turn into years or, worse, never get finished at all.
- Staying in the habit. Use it or lose it! Taking too long without writing will get you out of the swing of things and make it that much harder to get back into your projects.
- Turning it into a career. If you want to write for a living, you’ve got to be able to write consistently. While writing a couple hundred words a week is pretty reasonable if you have a separate full-time job, that wouldn’t fly if you want writing to be your only gig.
- Finishing projects before you get tired or lost. My novel writers will understand this–if you take too big of a break between writing sessions, you could easily forget your goals for a project. You might even forget the plot and characters. It’s easy to get too much space from projects and get so lost it’s too overwhelming to come back to.
Writing accountability essentially is writing. If you don’t have it, you’re just an aspiring writer.
How do you keep yourself accountable for writing?
Now that we know why holding ourselves accountable is so important, let’s look at a few tools and methods you might use to increase your writing accountability.
Apps and software
Apps are great, especially for solo writers who need to self-motivate. Here are some you might try out. Don’t get discouraged if the first method you try doesn’t work–every writer has a unique style and preferences, so experiment!
Calmly Writer is for easily distracted writers. It blocks off features and distracting objects, just letting you see the piece you’re working on. It has tons of customizability, like font options, dark mode, typewriter sound effects, full-screen mode, and more.
ILYS is for SUPER easily distracted writers. You can enter your word count goal, then you’re not allowed to read or edit anything you’ve written–you can only write. If you struggle with getting caught up editing while you’re trying to write, ILYS might be for you.
PauseFor is a mobile app that partners productivity with charity. Set a “pause” to encourage yourself to set aside your phone and get some work done, and if you successfully complete the pause, you win cryptocurrency that you can exchange for things like hot meals for the hungry, heartworm medication for dogs, or trees planted around the world. If you’re a writer who struggles with phone distractions, and you’re motivated by helping others, this app is for you!
StayFocusd is a web extension that can drop timers on your assigned sites, or block them completely. If you’re tempted by sites like Twitter, this app might be for you. This is especially good for writers who only write on drafting software that requires internet connection, when you can’t actually disconnect while you write.
I have to include NovelPad, my favorite drafting software, because its accountability tracker works amazingly for me. This is the goal tracker function:
You can set your word goal, when you want to hit it, which days of the week you want to write, then you can specify how heavy or light you want those specific days to be:
You can also set your schedule to adapt to progress, so if you, for example, write an extra thousand words over your daily goal, those words will be equally subtracted from your remaining days before the deadline. If you write a thousand words too few, those words will be divided up evenly through the days left in your timeline.
FocusWriter is another option if you like to completely block out everything else during your writing time. It’s full-immersion, and has customization options for the look and feel of the program to suit your preferences.
OhWrite is great for writers who love to write with friends. This is a collaborative writing sprint system, where you can form groups and do word sprints alongside your writer friends.
Speaking of writing groups:
Writing groups are a great way to hold yourself accountable. While they can take many different forms, a writing group is basically when a writer gets together with other writers to encourage or help each other.
You might form a group on your own, find an existing one, or pay to be in a supervised one with writing prompts and guidance.
However your writing group is formed, you’ll want to make sure it’s working for you. Here are some things to consider.
Tips for working with writing groups
I’ve been in several writing groups over my career with different people, rules, and expectations. There isn’t a right or wrong way to use and conduct a writing group, but here are a few things you might consider when forming and running a writing accountability group:
- How many writers will you include? This becomes important when you’re actually swapping work, especially if you expect everyone to give feedback. With too many members, you’ll end up doing more critiques than writing.
- How rigid is the schedule? Getting everyone on the same page about turn-in dates and expectations is very important. Will you swap a chapter every Friday, with feedback due Sunday? Or is it more casual, with every writer reporting their words written for that day in a group chat? Decide the parameters, and make sure everyone is aware of their role.
- Is everyone writing the same genre? It’s not required, but it is often helpful that all of the writers in a group are working on the same type of story. Having one member writing poetry while another is writing a high fantasy novel probably wouldn’t run as smoothly. However, one person writing horror short stories while another writes dystopian short stories is probably fine. Ultimately, you want everyone to give and take equally, whatever the service and attention swap is.
How to be sure your writing group is making you more effective
- If you’re sharing feedback, is everyone getting helpful feedback? If one writer is much more experienced and doesn’t get anything useful from the other writers, it might not be the best use of their time. But several writers of varying skill levels will probably produce a helpful range of feedback.
- Are you spending more time reading their work than writing your own? While reading other writers’ work, writing critique, and getting their critique on your own work are all helpful tools for growing as writers, there comes a point where the time balance stops working. Keep on top of your own productivity, and try to be aware if it’s imbalanced.
- Is it demotivating? Every writer is different, and many find that writing in a group makes them too nervous. Whether they feel too pressured to keep on a specific schedule, or if having people read their first drafts make them hold back in their writing, writing with other people just isn’t for everyone.
If you’re not quite a solo writer, and you don’t thrive in groups, you might be in the market for a coach!
Some writers opt to hire someone to keep them on track and provide professional industrial insights. You might hire a freelance coach, or something more official like the Self-Publishing School coaching program.
A more affordable and accessible option if you’re not ready to invest in a coach just yet, is to have writing partners or friends who read your work. An alpha reader is the first person who isn’t you that reads your work–mine is my non-writer best friend.
It can be as formal or as casual as you’d like, but having someone waiting for you to finish a certain project (or part of a project) by a certain time helps to hold yourself accountable.
How to know which writing accountability method is best for you
Every writer is different, but most will fall in these three categories:
1. Lone wolf
The loners don’t need anyone until they’re ready to hire an editor or do beta reader rounds. The best tools for the lone wolf are a good drafting software and productivity apps if they have trouble staying on task.
2. Part of the pack
Other writers might thrive in groups, with someone there to hold them accountable. This could be one writing partner, or a whole group of them. It can also just be an alpha reader who reads their writing regularly, writer or non-writer. These writers’ tools might be a writing coach or a group, in addition to drafting software and productivity apps.
3. Estranged aunt/uncle wolf
You might want a little hybrid of these options. Maybe you’re the estranged aunt/uncle wolf who works alone, but checks in occasionally. This is my current method, with letting my friend read my story as I write it, but he’s not a writer, nor is he offering active feedback and encouragement. This method of self-motivation works for me, but it might not for people who need a more hands-on person keeping them accountable.
A few questions to ask yourself to see what kind of accountability method would work best for you:
- Do you find someone reading your writing to be:
A.) daunting and intimidating
B.) inspiring and encouraging
2.When you’re writing in a public space, like a coffee shop or a library, do you:
A.) hide your computer screen from other patrons
B.) not keep tabs on how visible your writing is
3.When writing, do you:
A.) find yourself excited to hit certain milestones
B.) have to force yourself to focus
4.When you’re writing, do you:
A.) sit down and hit your word count
B.) write a few words, check Twitter, write a few words, make a cup of coffee, write a few words, check Twitter
If you answered mostly A, you might be a lone wolf.
If you answered mostly B, you might belong in a pack.
If your answers are pretty mixed, you’re probably a hybrid!
Now you should have a better idea of the options available for writing accountability, as well as an idea of your own style.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different methods.
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