One of the many grumblings I hear among people on social media is that they struggle with self-management = accountability. This includes sticking to goals, organization, time, attention/distraction. As lone wolves, writers are forced to rely on themselves to get the work done, however they planned it. Or didn’t plan it. Many writers set a goal and chug through till it’s accomplished. Set a new goal, chug through that till it’s accomplished. So on and so forth. Some writers do well with this, and they don’t need outside support.
Many writers who spend more time in a writing cave than out and about in the bustling world tend to have less of a handle on productivity and self-management. Speaking for myself, if I could spend all day in my nether worlds with my characters I would, dinner and kid pick-up after school be damned.
But I have real-world obligations that actually force me to step out of my cave and act like a normal person. These duties act as my accountability stepping stones. The interlopers in my writing journey. Annoying but necessary. I use them as a way to help me stay productive and creative, even though there is no true connection between these real-world tasks and my fiction.
YOU CAN’T OR YOU DON’T WANT TO?
There is a difference between not being able to write due to real-world obligations, and not wanting to write.
Make sure you are aware of the real reason the writing isn’t getting done, as approaches to help mitigate the issue will differ.
As with all projects and duties, not every day is a good day to write. Not every stage is an enjoyable stage. When it feels like a burden, it’s harder to stay accountable. How many times have you put off a task—writing-related or real world-related—because you simply didn’t want to do it? Some of those tasks can really wear us down mentally, seeing them on our to-do lists week after week.
If you’re suffering from “I don’t wanna” then you need to explore that. Go deep here, because you’re likely battling something akin to lack of confidence or fear of failure or loss of joy. These are hard to acknowledge but until you do your writing will suffer greatly. Seek out a friend who can help talk you through this negative mindset, or bounce it off in a trusted writing group. We have all been there, so this is one of those times that the lone wolf in you needs to find a pack for moral support.
Not being able to write when you want to might be easier to work through, but it might take some time to assess and make some changes.
One of my weaknesses is daily goals. With the exception of the tasks that must get done, many of my day-to-day plans end up being tweaked or forsaken for one reason or another. This is why I rely heavily on my weekly calendars. If I see a Monday goal not get crossed off by Wednesday I’m motivated to get my butt in the chair. I make it happen by that point because I don’t like the look of uncrossed items on a to-do list. It’s an aesthetic thing, but I’m also competitive with myself. No way am I going to let a weekly calendar reflect what I know is a weakness.
SCHEDULE TASKS IN TWO-HOUR SEGMENTS
We’ve all become aware of the “sitting disease” and writers are at the top of the high-risk list. I have suffered from carpal tunnel, sore muscles and tendons, weight gain, and poor vision since becoming a full-time writer.
Getting up every two hours has made a huge difference in my overall physical and creative health. Two hours may be too long of a period of sitting for some people. You have to modify the time that makes sense for you. But no matter how you slice it, getting up and MOVING your body is key to maintaining a full day of writing.
Stretching and Light Exercise
Put on some music, set your phone alarm for ten minutes, and dance, stretch, lift weights, walk around the block, jog up your staircase. Anything that will get your blood pumping is a benefit to your creative juices.
Rote Household Chores
Washing dishes, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, weeding the garden—these are some tasks you can do every two hours that will help you get out of that chair and get something done that’s on your to-do list. Set your alarm for a short segment: I don’t suggest more than fifteen minutes. You want to be able to get back to the writing easily without losing too much momentum from being away.
SCHEDULE APPOINTMENTS ON ONE DAY
Setting aside one day a month to get your appointments and errands done will save you time in the long run. You can bring your portable equipment and continue to work on your writing away from your habitat. Take advantage of that time away from your cave to meet out with a friend for coffee or to treat yourself for achieving some goals.
FIND AN ACCOUNTABILITY TEAM
A writing group or a writing partner or even just a really good friend is a fun way to stay accountable. Announce your intentions and explain where you tend to slip. This is when the group, partner, friend step in and hold you up. Make sure you return the favor.
I’m a big believer in the reward system to help us with accountability. I know that many disagree with me on this point. The argument being that when we reward ourselves for accomplishing a task, we train ourselves to do things for the reward at the end, so we’re setting our sights on the reward. Or that we’ll only do hard things or annoying things if there is a reward attached.
One way around that is to make your reward as applicable to the task as possible. For example, if you finish the first draft to your novel, reward yourself by downloading a playlist of instrumental music to listen to as you begin revisions. If you met your goal of losing twenty pounds, go buy that top you’ve had your eye on or buy that really expensive blender so you can make healthy smoothies.
Self-care tends to be easier to honor when we’re already away from our writing projects. In my case, writing fiction is more enjoyment than work, so the idea of taking time away for “self-care” seems pointless. But when I’m rational, I do admit that self-care is so much more than pampering the Muse. Some of my favorite activities include going to the beach, meeting up with a friend, going to the movies, or visiting a favorite shop.
The bottom line here is that we must take good care of ourselves. When we’re physically and emotionally and spiritually healthy, we will be creatively healthy too. It’s all tied together. Start making a list of rewards you could attach to some of your goals. Make them applicable.
How do you do on accountability? Do you have any other tips or suggestions that work for you?
If you’re looking for a supportive writing group, check out TeamWriter on Facebook. We run weekly accountability goals and check-ins to help you stay on task!