Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Scapegoat's ABCs for Writers: Accountability

Lately Hellie and Bo’Sun have been discussing The Writer’s Compass and Sin got us all to commit to some kick ass personal goals for April. The two have combined to set my brain to pondering the important lessons I’ve learned as I get close to writing THE END on my first manuscript.

I've been reflecting on three particular things I’ve discovered as essential keys to developing and thriving as a writer. I’m calling it Scapegoat’s ABCs for Writers as I consider these great building blocks for new and seasoned writers alike.

Presenting the “A” in Scapegoat’s ABCs for Writers:

A – Accountability

I need it and I believe, whether they want to admit it or not, most other writers need accountability too. I’m breaking it down to two types of accountability, personal and writing partners/groups. I firmly believe both types are essential to getting your writing groove on and doing your best work.

Personal Accountability:

When I talk about personal accountability I’m sure everyone wants to cover their ears and go “la la la” but be honest with yourself. Admit that whenever you've held yourself accountable to a certain goal, word count, or even BICHOK you’ve achieved more, felt better about yourself, and I guarantee your writing gained momentum.

Part of personal accountability is setting those small, daily goals for you. These aren’t even your BIG GOALS. Accountability is about the small things you do day in and day out for your writing. For organization lovers like me, creating a tracking spreadsheet could be just the ticket, but for others it could be as simple as reminding yourself of what you did while you brush your teeth at night. On social media? What about just tweeting or posting your progress everyday. It’s not about anyone answering back; it’s about owning your progress or roadblocks.

The BIG question: If you aren't honestly answering to yourself about your writing, then how do you expect to move forward or grow as a writer?

Personal accountability isn’t about berating yourself, it’s about learning how to work better, faster, easier and create a book you’ll be proud of.

Group/Partner Accountability:

Partner or group accountability isn’t about Who’s Got The Biggest/Best Manuscript or Who Writes The Most. If you have that kind of group or partner run for the hills!

For some, it’s about connecting with other writers and sharing in the journey together. The focus might be general in nature and focus on how your writing is progressing or questions you have. Basically, it’s your support group that keeps you wanting to have something to contribute and feeling as if you are tied to helping each other succeed.

For others, this can take the form of checking in with weekly word or page counts. Maybe it’s #1k1hr on twitter with whoever joins in or a monthly challenge such as the one Marnee and I recently participated in.

These shorter challenges make you accountable to a group or partner in a way that you might not always get. Something about “revealing your number” can be extremely motivating and allows those who don’t normally feel comfortable tracking their daily/weekly counts to be a little more accountable.

For most writers, I think the most successful strategy is to use a combination of the two. It’s where I’ve thrived as a writer. Since becoming more accountable to both myself, my writing partners, and even to strangers in a writing challenge, my writing has exploded.

Don’t believe me? I made March the first month I was truly accountable to myself and my writing partners and you know what happened? In March I wrote 10 times what I did in January and February combined. Accountability is a key to success.

So when are you going to get serious about accountability? Does the word make your skin crawl or have you discovered this writing super power for yourself? Have tips or tricks for tracking your progress or creative ideas for helping non-organizers stay accountable? What about finding your group or partner, any good advice?

Expect to see upcoming posts from me on the other two building blocks in my Scapegoat’s ABCs for Writers series. Next time we’ll tackle “B” – BALANCE.


Marnee Bailey said...

I completely and totally agree with this post. :)

When Hal and I used to exchange weekly bits and pieces, I would sometimes push through tough spots just because I knew she was waiting to read something. It helps, if you're thinking someone else is waiting on you.

I also think that setting goals, small things, keeps the momentum going. As a general rule, when I'm writing a first draft I try to do 5K a week (that's 1k a day and then the weekend to catch up). When I'm editing, well, I'm still trying to get a groove about that. :)

As to finding a good group or partner, no advice. I think so much of that is networking and feeling your way forward and getting lucky.

Marnee Bailey said...

Great post, Scape.

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Thanks Marnee!

Sorry I'm just popping in and I have to pop out again - I have a 9:30-10:30 meeting this morning but I'll be back when its done.

Hope to hear from more of you on how you are accountable for your writing!

MsHellion said...

Loving the series, Scape!

"Accountability" generally makes my skin crawl. Mainly because I have standards of perfection, so if I don't something EXACTLY as I planned to, that I stated I would, I'm unable to focus on the good that I accomplished and focus only on the failure. So basically I associate accountability with failure. You can see why I don't care for it.

But yes, having a goal and breaking down your goal into small steps you can do everyday (things that make you accountable) are KEY to making the dream happen.

It's a matter of fixing your old negative tapes first (or at the same time you're doing the small goals). Instead of saying "I must do this perfectly", focus on giving yourself little markers for every day you do meet your goal. Sometimes if you don't meet the overall goal, but you see on the calendar you wrote MOST days you said you would--that's cool. (I use star stickers sometimes to show that I wrote on days I write. Seeing them reminds me of my childhood successes--so I'm less negative about what wasn't accomplished.)

Also it's relearning that failure is not permanent. It doesn't mean you should stop trying or quit. It's feedback. Retweak and more on. Take a look at the things you did do right over the month; at reasons why you didn't meet your goals. You can't change your habits if you don't identify your pitfalls. Some of this can also stem from comparing yourself to other writers who seem to be flying along. Totally crazy to do. Keep an eye on the big picture; the grass is NOT greener on the other side. Stuff like that.

Finding the right CP. Terri and I actually agree on very little. We probably agree on the whole about politics, religion, and family--but on music, priorities, and ice cream--we don't agree at all. Occasionally we do marvel we are friends, let alone CPs. But the thing is--we GET each other, we get each other's voice, we see the big picture in the stories we write, we get it usually without having to be told, and sometimes we get it better than the other person does--and we'll put into words the very thing the other one had been looking for to explain her story.

There are no tips for finding such a person. The Universe just sends you that person. So I guess my tip would be--just because you're different on most things doesn't mean they wouldn't make a great partner. Keep an open mind.

TerriOsburn said...

This is a great blog, Scape. Your enthusiasm bounces off the page. We were so smart to press-gang you.

I've tried accountability to myself. That alone didn't work. I've never really committed to sharing pages with a CP, but only because I don't see a point is sharing every rough draft page. It's rough. I know that.

Now, brainstorming and talking my way through the rough draft? Absolutely. THAT is priceless to me. I'm not sure it falls under accountability but having someone saying, "So where are you now? How is that plot twist working?" and so on keeps me thinking and talking and that keeps me writing.

MsHellion said...

I like to send snippets and pages--but only if I'm going to get some in return. Otherwise I think you're not sharing because you think yours is better than mine or you think I'm going to steal it, and I don't feel trusted.

So basically I end up brainstorming with Terri. *LOL* It works out almost the same and I can move on.

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Hellie - I LOVE the stars idea as it really does serve as positive reinforcement!

And a double yes to "relearning failure is not permanent" - When you are accountable to yourself about your writing you not only learn that, but you discover the patterns of how you work at your best. I can tell by my daily tracking what days seem to always work best for me. It also allowed me to see just how much those 10 minutes of writing here, 20 minutes there really do stack up.

Normally I would have felt 10 minutes of writing was a loss - that I'd failed to "really" write. But through being accountable and honest about how much I was writing I discovered that those snippets of time are a goldmine!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Thanks Terri!

I'm going to be a stickler and correct you - talking to other writers about how things are going is being accountable. It does count in a very serious way that might not even be fully clear to you.

Those conversations could unknowingly prompt you to strive to do more, better, etc.

Accountability isn't only about the number of words or quality of pages, it's about owning BEING a writer. Not playing at one. Being accountable is like saying "I know this is my job and I have to show progress and advance".

At any job you will spend time doing more than just making widgets (writing) you'll also work on developing your skills, networking, etc. etc. All of those things are things you should keep yourself accountable for!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Hellie & Terri -

You've both discussed CP's and the sharing of pages, but CP's and actual critiques aren't the only sort of partner accountability you can reach out for.

Terri - You and Maureen and my accountability partners, and I hope one day I can send you my work to read, but I'm not EXPECTING you to be my CPs (although a girl can hope it works well). In other words, your CP isn't always the only person you can connect with as a writer to work on things.

In fact, sometimes you might find different writers fill different holes in your journey - maybe one person is great for brainstorming and a group is better for helping track and encourage daily/weekly word count?

Accountability can take so many forms and be useful in multiple ways.

Marnee Bailey said...

In fact, sometimes you might find different writers fill different holes in your journey - maybe one person is great for brainstorming and a group is better for helping track and encourage daily/weekly word count?

This is super absolutely true. :)

TerriOsburn said...

Hey now. I said I wasn't sure. So I just needed confirmation. Thanks for the confirmation!

I don't have just one person. I brainstorm with both Hellie and Chance as well as Dee S. Knight who used to live by me but has moved. (I MISS DEE!) Then there's the weekly chats between you, Chance, and I. That's new, but I love them.

And I have amazing beta readers. Worth their weight in gold. Plus, reading someone else's stuff is always a learning experience. Seeing what they do and don't do. Especially when you have different strengths. That kind of exchange is so helpful.

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Terri, my chats with you and Chance are so helpful to me and the support means so much! Of course that's part of staying accountable! (I mean even making it to the meeting is keeping us accountable) LOL!

Marnee - I'm so glad you feel the same way. It nice to know that as I advance into writing that I'm discovering things that other writers have found worked for them too.

That's means I'm one of you! A Writer! LOL - JK!

Maureen said...

I'm one of those who is totally phobic about accountability. But I completely understand how they function and almost reluctantly have begun to incorporate them into my life.

I've basically found the personal ones don't work worth shit for me. I cheat on my myself totally. Blow myself off and don't/won't keep to them.

But when I'm working with a group, like the goals I've set the Scape and Terri and the April writing goals...I can do it. I'm not saying it's easy, but the same pride that gets in the way of holding to personal goals (I don't need no stinkin' goals!) is the same pride that will push me to have wordcount to report.

Or if I am working on deadline, I just do it.

In all honestly, I don't have a full fledged CP. I throw stuff at Terri now and then, seeking opinion and validation, but I haven't really clicked with any one person I want to hand my entire book to. Though you, Scape, were the only one to read The Kraken's Mirror before I submitted it. ;-)

I assume I will find one along the way, and if I don't...I can only hope it's because I don't need one?

TerriOsburn said...

Wow, Scape. You're just asking for empty rum bottles to come flying at your head. :)

Mo - There are a number of GH ladies who finaled with Sci-Fi romances. I can't wait for you to meet them. They often mention authors that I know you like. I'm sure you'll all talk for hours.

I don't think everyone has to find the traditional CP. Everyone has their own process and for some the CP doesn't work. You certainly don't to seem to be suffering from your lack of one. :)

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Chance - I am honored my lady. :)

You know a lot of people think of pride with more negative connotations, but I think pride in yourself and your work is an essential part of writing well and should be looked at in a positive way.

To quote one of the ladies on Real Housewives of Atlanta (I don't watch it was just on in the background the other day) "If I don't think highly of myself who else will?"

I cannot believe I just quoted a Housewife of Atlanta!

The point is, being prideful isn't a bad thing and I think ties in well to holding yourself accountable.

Janga said...

I am a world champion procrastinator, and without some kind of accountability, my writing would always be scheduled for tomorrow. I find that using books I want to read as my "carrot" works. If I write three pages today, I get to read Christina Dodd's Betrayal today. I'm not sure this qualifies as accountability, but it keeps me writing.

I've tried CPs, and they don't work for me. I have a group whom I trust and respect, and I know they will read what I send them and comment when I ask--however erratically I send stuff. I know other writers work without CPs (Nora Roberts, for example), and so I figure I'm in good company. :)

BTW, are we reporting on our progress for April? Where?

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Hi Janga - I love that you bribe yourself with books and I would call that a tool to keeping yourself accountable! I'm totally going to add that to my plan too.

You've also asked the Million Dollar Question: Are we reporting for April....

My answer so I don't get kicked off the boat is, if you'd like to report your progress here anytime during April PLEASE DO, but only if it's helpful to you.

The other answer is hell yes let's report! I'm emailing Hellie with an idea and if it's a go I'll let you know soon!

TerriOsburn said...

We could always start reporting on Thursday. Then we'd be back to five days a week. LOL! But only for April!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Ha Terri - great minds think alike - I emailed Hellie asking what she thought about a post on Saturdays for check-in but Thursday works too!

A short post with a thought for the week or writing tip and then in the comments anyone who'd like to check in on progress could...

TerriOsburn said...

I love motivational quotes from writers. Goodness knows we could use those and never run out!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

I thought I might use some quotes I found, but I don't want to be too chippy or Hellie will throw me overboard so I've thought up some threatening/harsh get youu butt in gear thoughts too. :)

Maureen said...

I actually enjoy my personal pride parade. Tis true, one must love, respect and believe in oneself, else who will?

Ah, my blog theme for Friday echoes this...

MsHellion said...

Actually, Hellie adores motivational quotes or particularly writer's quotes. Once upon a time, I used to use Thursdays as a "Cat o Nines" days--where we flogged you with "inspiration" to write. I wouldn't mind going back to those days again; they were quite fun.

And if we do a Madwrite, we can leave it open for a week for submissions and use the next Thursday to vote on favorites.

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

I look forward to reading that Chance!

Alas, I am taking Friday first non-work holiday day off all year so far. Work has me overloaded and exhausted. Another reason I cannot believe I wrote 10x more in March! I didn't miss a single day or work, a single gym workout, planted my veggie garden, planted citrus trees, re-did our irrigation, etc. etc. and FOUND the time to write 10x more even with keeping to my 10:30pm bedtime.

Still...exhausted and it's my B-day weekend so I'm taking Friday off and think I'm headed to our local zoo - I love it there!

TerriOsburn said...

I'll say an early happy birthday but must beg you NOT to tell us how old you are. This list of things you did in March is already enough to make the rest of us look bad.

Maureen said...

I have a feeling Friday is going to be a very slow blog day. Terri on the road, Scape at the zoo, Hellie off with her Dad... Maybe I'll let my characters out and argue with myself...

TerriOsburn said...

Hellie will be here with you. :) I'll try checking in when I get to the hotel. If not before.

quantum said...

Fascinated to read all the comments but they leave me a tiny bit puzzled.

When working on any project which is simply development, not requiring any new innovative ideas or major flashes of brilliance, the project management plan will specify a time-line with various deadlines for achieving stages. It's vital when different vendors are collaborating.

With creativity though, it simply doesn't work like that. Demanding that Einstein develop a new theory of gravitation by a certain time is nonsensical. Most funding agencies recognise this and will ask only for progress reports rather than results, on speculative projects requiring great creativity. Most work in this latter category is funded in universities.

So with writing romance, I'm not convinced that achieving 10k words per week for example, will lead to a creative masterpiece. Its more likely to steamroller over the creative impulse and not allow the green shoots of genius to take root.

If I'm right, and your aiming for a masterpiece, then you only need accountability to yourself, no matter how long it takes. By all means share with trusted colleagues but don't feel pressured by it!

That's my two pence input for what its worth! LOL

Sabrina Shields said...

Excellent points Q!

I'm hoping my post and the comments I wrote don't make it seem like word count is the only output or measure of accountability i'm speaking of.

Sometimes it's just knowing that I worked on brainstorming for a scene that day, or that I spent a few days researching GMC in order to make my characters come alive...

All of these things add up to writing a book, and I think they should all be accounted for so the writer doesn't look at a blank page for the day and thinks "I've done nothing."

Does that make more sense Q?

TerriOsburn said...

Nice theory, Q, but there's one problem. Us writers don't get paid until the book is done. Which makes lolly-gagging (my unscientific word for "letting the genius brew naturally") doesn't help much. Though a certain amount of lolly-gagging must occur.

And we're talking rough draft here. Often called the piece-of-shit draft. The masterpiece is created in the revisions. Which often take way longer and is much more painful.

MsHellion said...

Exactly. A scientist needs to go to the lab and play with his experiments at times in order to stumble across real genius. AND when Einstein was mulling his theories, he was working a job that paid his bills in order to do so. And I'm sure he still played around with paper and stuff to put his theories through tests...

Same with writers. In order to develop our genius, we need to be near items where we can write the genius down. We can't be watching another episode of FRIENDS and eating ice cream only--we need a laptop open or a notebook at the very least to scribble on.

And as Terri said, 99% of this comes in the rewriting. Which few of us want to discuss.

Sabrina Shields said...

ooh. ooh. *raises hand* I'd talk rewriting all day long! (Although I could talk almost anything all day long.)

I'm ALMOST there. At rewriting. Not even revisions. This puppy is going to need massive rewriting. But I've read some amazingly awesome blog posts with suggestions on how to rip it apart and revise the hell out of it.

Kinda excited to start the first daunting rewrite ever. Somehow I've convinced myself it will be better than writing that very first wip.

Maureen said...

Yeah, creativity can't be forced, but it can be prodded. Accountability is the prod. If it ain't there, the idea, the play, the prod won't do much. But it's so easy to fall into a pit of despair when we don't write... So the prod keeps you doing... SOMETHING! And that gives you a weapon to use against the worthless/too late/no good/give it voices...

quantum said...

Does that make more sense Q?

Sabrina, that makes perfect sense to me. I would call it being accountable to yourself.

Nice theory, Q, but there's one problem. Us writers don't get paid until the book is done

Come now Terri, you are not relying on the monetary income so can risk investing your writing talent for the long term by some major lolly-gagging. Though if the rough draft is just the starting block and major structural revision is contemplated, then I concede that you may be OK. *grin*

Helli, you are right in that it took a long time for Einstein to be accepted into the establishment. But during that early period he wasn't trying to churn out scientific papers. He allowed his genius to take root naturally ..... and the results when eventually published stunned the scientific world.

You and Terri are telling me that all of the real action takes place with revision and rewriting. I have no argument with that, as long as those green shoots are thoroughly nurtured! *smile*

MsHellion said...

Q, I will grant you I've been "writing" as it were and mulling and nurturing myself since I was 10 and we did writing in my 5th grade class. It was then I knew I wanted to be a writer someday. When I was 15 or so, I had lots of fabulous ideas I wrote and doodled on all day (horrible things I've buried in my trunk, I will not show anyone, don't ask). I have my stuff from college (where I though I had SO MATURED), also buried. I have my stuff from 5-10 years ago that I even go, "Ack." So I get what you're saying. You can't rush this stuff. But I think what you mean, is you can't rush the publishing aspect, trying to publish the first thing that sticks to the wall because it's probably not that great.

I admit the stuff I write now is far and away better than the stuff I wrote when I was 16--I am far more confident of it finding a home on a future shelf than the crap I wrote when I was 16 (though I was more imaginative then than I am now!)--my emotion and writing is deeper, better, more authentic. But in all of that, we were always, always writing. You can't NOT write in order to improve, which is what we're saying...but I think you're saying we shouldn't be in such a hurry to publish the first thing we finish because it's not going to be the best thing we write.

Lisa Kleypas--LOVE her stuff, esp her newer stuff--but she's a huge example of how her early stuff doesn't begin to compare to her more recent stuff. We mature as we write just as we mature as we age--they're sorta tied together. Her stuff she wrote in her 20s sorta reflects her values of when she was in her 20s...and the stuff she writes now sorta reflects her age now. The best things.

It's just proof the older we get the better we are because we're better at expressing it!

MsHellion said...

creativity can't be forced, but it can be prodded.

This is so true, this should be taped above my computer.

Sabrina Shields said...

Perfectly put Hellie!

So I skipped writing in my 20's - dare I hope that means the first one will be better than normal?


A girl can dream.

Sabrina Shields said...

Chance - that is a great quote. I think we should all keep that in mind!

MsHellion said...

Sabrina, you're in good company. I don't think either Mo OR Terri picked up a keyboard to write until after 30, but I say they did it better out the gate because they had read so much fiction that completing a WIP was more natural. Also Terri says I nagged her a lot. I think she meant that sorta helped. Then once the first one was completed, writing the additional one wasn't as bad because she had a better idea of how to avoid the pitfalls she had in the first one.

I'm not sure I learn as quickly. *LOL* My first two completed manuscripts had the exact same problem: inherent unmarketablity--as well as needing complete and utter revision to make the characters more likable. (I seem to have a problem about writing likable people.)

So I've basically identified the problem, but haven't fixed the problem. Sorta like I know my problem with weight loss is not eating more healthy foods vs unhealthy foods, but I'm usually making this revelation WHILE I'm eating a package of oreos. Really? That's the time you notice, when you're staring at the crumbs?

I think this is the reason why WW advocates PLANNING before eating, like writers advocate writing a short synopsis before committing to writing the whole story. Try to hammer out the big plot holes first before you fall right in one and can't come out again.

I've had stories like that. You don't have to abandon them ALL completely. Some I think need to simmer in the back of your head until you find the solution. Just work on something you DO have a solution to. I'm working on one I've had a while but finally found a solution to. I think it's going better this time. But I've had the idea for quite a while.

Sabrina Shields said...

I'm going to stick my neck out here Hellie so don't shoot me...

Do you not like your characters, or did a reader tell you you're characters weren't likable?

I'm asking the same about the Marketability...

Because if one of the stories you've talking about is Adam and Eve - I can tell you right off I think that story sounds awesome and totally feel it's marketable!

Not having read it, I can't say if I like or dislike your characters, but sometimes I think we are TOO HARD on our writing and characters.

We've lived with the doubts and the writing despair that we just can't accept that something IS A DAMN GOOD THING.

I for one, would buy that story in a second from just the little I've heard of it. And I'm the average romance reader dammit!

Okay - running behind bar to hide...

TerriOsburn said...

Scape - She's wrong on the marketability thing and I've told her so repeatedly. Her stuff would sell without problem. But she does have a tiny likability issue. Not nearly as much as she thinks. And all could be fixed with a little tweak here and there. These characters are not hopeless by any means. They're just....multi-faceted. And could use some buffing out.

But hey, that's a perfect place to start. No one want to read about perfect people AND that character arc had no where to go but up. :)

TerriOsburn said...

I'm having a horrible typo day. Gah!

Maureen said...

Hmmm. Should I make a button? Creativity can't be forced, but it can be prodded...