How to Hold Yourself Accountable to Writing

How to Hold Yourself Accountable to Writing

I’ve belonged to a couple of writing groups where the writers seemed to be on fire. We typically met once a week. Everyone in the group agreed to do three things: we’d write a certain amount per week, and we’d critique each other’s work. If a writer was brainstorming a novel or a major story, we would also help out by brainstorming with them. 

This worked fine for small groups—from three to six people—but if you got too many people, you tended to get bogged down in editing.

In each of these groups, multiple authors began getting published and winning awards quickly.

Over time, as friendships developed and deepened though, the groups would dissolve and fall apart. Why? Lack of accountability.

Usually something happened like this: a bad cold or flu season would hit, and half the group was too sick to keep up. We’d say, “Well, Joe’s got a fever of 102 and hasn’t been able to crawl out of bed for two weeks, so we’d better be nice and forgive him for not getting his chapter written.”

To be honest, we were right to do so. That’s the compassionate thing to do. But then everyone would catch the same flu and we were all forgiving each other.

Of course, once you got over the flu, you needed to catch up on work at the office. Then you had to get back on track with the family matters, and suddenly you found that you were playing catch-up on your writing and had missed a whole month.

Eventually, the deadlines blew by like leaves in an autumn storm, and no one in the group was being accountable anymore. So the group died.

In one case, I belonged to a large group in Oregon run by Dean Wesley Smith, and Dean came into our weekly meeting with fire in his eyes. We had perhaps thirty people at the meeting, and Dean pointed his finger at each person in turn. If the person was writing, they stayed, but if they hadn’t written in a few weeks, he said, “You’re out. This is a writing group, and you’re not writing anymore.”

The danger with writing groups is that they turn into social clubs.

Kevin J. Anderson tells of one group that he belonged to when he was young where the writers got together every week, went to dinner, and complained about how they didn’t have time to write. So he got up in the middle of a meeting and went home to work on his novel. He never went back. He’s written over a hundred novels now, and I doubt that his writing group with all its members have ever got a tenth of that done.

Kevin had the right idea. Dean had the right idea. If we’re going to be writers, we need to learn to stick to a deadline.

What good is a deadline if nobody dies?

So, it seems to me that if you want to be part of a writers’ group, you should encourage mutual accountability. That means that every group should have a Sergeant at Arms, a person who has the authority and responsibility to escort the slackers out of the room.

The question then becomes, what is a slacker and how do you handle them?

How about this: if you get sick or super busy with work deadlines or have a family crisis, you can take a week off (or more) but the Sergeant at Arms has the job of telling the person, “Get back on your schedule.”

Maybe a writer needs to take an extended leave even. That’s okay. The thing is, if a writer isn’t in the writing habit, if they’re not deepening their art and advancing their career, then they’re sliding backward. The truth is that they will be losing those hard-won skills that they’ve developed. So the goal is to get them back on track as quickly as possible.

If you’re too sick to write, you’re too sick to go to your writing group. If you’re too busy with work to write, then you’re too busy for your writing group.

Once you’re in a position to write again, then you can go back to your group.

Of course, a writing group isn’t even needed for accountability. You can have accountability meetings with a spouse, a friend, an agent, and so on.

I’ve observed that any writing group that doesn’t encourage accountability will weaken and die. It might take a couple of years, but it happens.

So, I keep thinking, “We as individuals should have some way to hold ourselves accountable. We should express our goals, then be working consistently to reach them.” We’re all struggling to become Apex writers, so we do have our goals.

Have you identified yours? Do you know what books you want to write? Have you begun to outline them? Do you know what movies you’re working toward? Do you have awards you want to win or key publications in short story markets? Would you be willing to talk about your goals with others—writer friends, a life coach, or something similar? Would you be willing to commit to weekly goals?

The future you dream of is right in front of you. Make it so.


I’m putting on a workshop on “Creating the Perfect Cast.”

This workshop will be held from Thursday, Feb 27 through Saturday Feb 29, 2020 in Provo, Utah. Check it out here: http://mystorydoctor.com/live-workshops-2/

If you are a highly motivated, passionate writer interested in becoming an Apex Writer, please send the word “Apex” to apexwriters@xmission.com. We’ll provide you with an application and let you know about the next step.

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