By Paul Hobday
Have you ever sat down and tried to calculate the actual time you spend writing a manuscript? I did this a couple of years ago during NaNoWriMo. By the end of November, I was at around 47,000 words and about 63 hours of writing. I kept it going and the final manuscript ended up at 93,000 words and 150 hours.
Which prompted me to look back and do some basic math. During November, I averaged 746 words per hour. After November, I averaged 529 words per hour. And I didn’t have a finalized manuscript until mid-April. The more I stared at this data, the more concerned I became. I wrote half the book in 30 days, then took an additional 130 days to write the second half!
Writing Goals Matter
I spent longer than I like to admit to figure out why I was more successful in November than I was after. It was the goal. The endpoint. The finish line that existed on my calendar. I had an outside motivator (my NaNo chart) to prompt me every day to write. Without a goal in sight, I wrote more slowly and less often.
In the end, the manuscript suffered. But my writing practice benefited from my negligence! I know, seems absurd. But after a period of beating myself up, I realized I needed to be more regimented if I wanted to write consistently. I needed to set regular goals and hold myself accountable for meeting (or missing) those goals.
I went on an accountability journey that led me to a much more productive NaNoWriMo last year; I finished with around 42,000 words in November and an additional 35,000 in December, finishing my new manuscript in just under 60 days!
Accountability #1 – Use Your Software
Here at Lulu, we use Basecamp to organize and assign daily tasks. It’s a pretty simple tool, but it gets the job done. We have tasks parsed out and organized into a calendar so that each morning I can look to see what I have due that day. I also get a daily email for each task due the following day, priming me for work to come.
I set myself a word count goal for Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Sunday and set a ‘to-do’ for myself to reach that goal. If I fell behind, I’d have ‘late to-dos’ staring at me. And with the mobile app sending notifications, I couldn’t avoid the work by not opening the program. If I was on my phone, I was being reminded that I had work I wanted to do.
Accountability #2 – Keep A Journal
Yeah really. This one is so much more beneficial than you might think. Just get a notebook and pen and keep them somewhere easy to access. I keep mine beside my desktop computer at home. When I sit down to write or game, I pick up the notebook and just write down my thoughts.
Let me tell you, that journal is a mess. From breaking down a rough day to just stream-of-consciousness, it’s all over the place. But it’s writing. And that’s what matters. I’ve even done some great brainstorming and character development for my manuscripts in my journal.
If you can get into the habit of journaling, you’ll be astounded how much it helps you stay motivated to do your ‘real’ writing. It might seem counterproductive to do extra writing outside of the work you’re trying to finish but think of journaling as more of a writing exercise. You have to flex your writing muscles if you want to keep them in shape, right?
Accountability #3 – Your Readers
I don’t mean the people who’ll buy your books. I’m talking about your friends, your family, and your writing community members. These are the few people who you’ll ask to read the first draft. The ones you trust to give honest and constructive feedback. Think about the two or three people who always read your work.
I’ve got two people on my list; my wife and one close friend. I create a to-do in my Basecamp to send them a portion of the story every week. They are lined up to expect those pages. So if I miss that deadline, I’m accountable to my readers. I don’t want to disappoint them, so I stick to my schedule.
Don’t skimp on this one because it seems obvious. Treat it as part of the process. Put it on the schedule and stay on track.
Accountability #4 – Set A Release Date
This only works if you’re planning to self-publish, so take this one with a grain of salt. But if you are self-publishing, it’s a really good idea to line up the entire process (so writing, editing, laying out the pages, cover design, and marketing plan) as early as you can. Set a date you want to release the book and work back from that date to figure out when you need to get each piece done.
I’ve interacted with a lot of self-published authors and the most consistent thing I hear is how much more work it was than they expected. That kind of weight can be oppressive. The best way to manage it is to have a plan and to set a schedule. Deadlines are more than a fun ‘whoosh’ that goes zooming past. They are the ultimate form of accountability. So use them.
Achieving Your Writing Goals
Before you even have anything to be accountable for, you need to set up goals. Without goals, you’re just writing to write. Which is fine. But if you’re trying to finish a manuscript, you need goals and you need accountability. These are my 4 tips for staying accountable and achieving your goals, but I’m sure there are others! How do you create accountability for yourself and your writing?
Bio: Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.