Creating Your Own Accountability
How I Stayed Motivated While Writing My Book
Writing a book (or dissertation) is very different from writing a blog or articles. I was recently asked how I stayed motivated while writing my book, Gathering Strength: Conversations with Afghan Women. The simple answer is that I had something to say and was driven to say it. So, I had that big-picture motivation.
But of course, it’s not that simple. It took me a year to write Gathering Strength, and while many mornings I woke with my fingers itching to get on a keyboard, there were also those “other days” when I wanted to do anything but write. Additionally, I had psychological issues to contend with while working on a project of that scale.
Creating Your Own Accountability
As Stephen King and a whole host of other writers say, the biggest determiner of whether you will end up with a manuscript or just a file of words, is showing up every day to write. Professional writers who are successfully earning a living writing their books, have publishers who hold their fingers to the keyboard. But I was a freelancer, earning my living from things other than writing, so I had to create my own accountability. Knowing my weaknesses was a huge help because I could preemptively set up a system to work around them and tweak my system to adapt to my quirky personality.
Even though I had a burning drive to write Gathering Strength, I knew myself well enough to know that without accountability, other important (and not so important) things would get in my way; there would be times when I would lose my vision of the book, and occasions when my doubts about any possible success would take over. I knew that at such points in my project, I didn’t have enough belief in myself as a writer to ever complete such a monumental task in the midst of my busy life. What a waste it would be to start the project and then let it die on the vine!
Committing to a writing schedule is mandatory. One good way to deal with this nibbling away at a mountainous task is to break it up into smaller parts and schedule them. Books naturally break up into chapters, so you can assign yourself a chapter a week or every two weeks, for example. Other people pace themselves by word count, say 2,000 or 10,000 words a day. These tactics especially lend themselves to writing fiction, but can work for non-fiction as well.
But I needed a different way to hold myself accountable. When I began, I had no idea how long the book would be nor how long it would take to write it. Chapter accountability wouldn’t work because some chapters were mostly putting together pieces of my interviews and adding a little commentary, and others, such as my personal story or the history chapter were ones I had to write on my own. I knew that if my accountability were related to my output, whether words or chapters, I might rush chapters that needed more attention, or penalize myself for taking the time needed to do a good job, either of which would lead to discouragement. So, I made time my accountability.
Writing a certain number of hours a day, 5 days a week sounds great except that my life schedule is irregular and I knew if I tried to keep to it I would fail. So instead I figured out an ideal number of hours I wanted to write per day, tallied that to a weekly basis, and used that total as my goal. This gave me the flexibility I needed.
The most important aspect of this is to keep a running log. When I sat down to write, I set a timer. If I took a break mid-hour, I stopped the timer and re-set it when I continued. The running score allowed me to make up for weeks when I wasn’t able to meet my goal, or to bank extra hours when I was on a roll. This score keeping spurred me on and became its own reward. It worked so well that I ended the book 36 hours ahead of my goal!
Writing a Book is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
As I was determining the amount of time I should spend writing, I wanted to give myself a more challenging goal, and thereby get the book done more quickly. But writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint, so I knew that I had to allow time in my week for socializing, family, entertainment and down time.
In our fantasy worlds, all of this is enough. In the real world, there were days when I needed to put in my hours but just didn’t feel like writing. I found several techniques to help. Which one I used depended on how I was stuck.
1. Take a break. When I was stuck on a certain part that I hadn’t quite figured out how to make work, I knew I needed a break from it. In this case, I stayed on the clock, and switched to an entirely different part of the project, like editing earlier sections.
2. Set a timer. When I was just not in a writing mood, when I wanted to get away from my desk, I’d note my time, reset the timer for 10 minutes, and do something entirely different, preferably outside. I knew I could trust myself to go back to work at the end of the 10 minutes and start again fresh. You can develop this trust in yourself just by continually doing it.
3. Change your environment. Occasionally, I just needed a change of scenery. If the weather was nice, I worked while sitting on my deck or if not, I went to a coffee shop.
4. Just do it. When discouragement reared its ugly head, I took some time out to re-read chapters I knew were especially good or read over other unrelated, beloved things I’d written. Some of the Afghan women I was writing about had shared amazing stories of resilience and courage. When I thought of what they’d persevered through, I knew that beside theirs, my issues were trivial. On those occasions, just do it, or rather, just start doing it got me going and often into the flow.
5. Join a group. Writing can be lonely. Even working in a coffee shop, I was still alone. Therefore, I made it a regular practice to meet friends for lunch, or have coffee with writer friends to talk about writing challenges. Joining a writing group, whether just a writers’ social hour, a writing practice group, a critique group, or an accountability group, can sustain you over the long haul.
I made a short video that shares a life-changing secret that can help you when you don’t feel like writing (or doing any task that you’re not in the mood to do) and gives you seven tactics to help you implement it. Check it out at bit.ly/TransformOneThing