The world loves the romantic ideal of the writer alone in her garret, wrestling with her muse and grinding out her book all by her lonesome self.
Cue soundtrack for a cold, whistling wind. Can someone please toss some coal on the fire?
Am I right on this? Do you find yourself thinking that the secret to finishing your book or your current writing project is hunkering down and just doing it already?
Of course there’s some truth to that and we do have to face the reality that our books won’t write themselves. Butt-in-chair + word count = book finished – that math doesn’t change.
“Just write. Many writers have a vague hope that elves will come in the night and finish any stories for you. They won't.” –Neil Gaiman.
However, whoever said we had to ultimately go it all alone?
I remember those years in my late teens and early twenties when I was writing in secret, hiding my notebooks in the closet, and really afraid to share my work in case my deepest fear was realized and someone told me my writing was not good enough.
Ironically, not sharing the work was a way of ensuring it would never be good enough – because it takes feedback on the work to know how to revise and improve it. Good writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s the product of engagement with other writers and other stories.
It wasn’t until I was connecting with other writers that my work really began to improve, as I got feedback on my drafts and learned more about the techniques that would help me develop my craft.
Community was critical for me, for feeling connected with other writers so I didn’t feel quite so alone with the constant technical/craft challenges that were coming up for me as I worked to complete my writing projects.
But another key role for community in my writing life was in providing the accountability I needed to get the writing done in the first place.
I’ve written before about the importance of mentors, and also how to build a constructive writing group. These provide two different but complementary forms of accountability for writers – both equally essential.
In my First Book Finish programme I talk about loving accountability for writers and this is the approach I take in all of my coaching. Writers can be hard on themselves and often I find the harsh words we’ve been saying to ourselves eventually leads us away from the page.
(Because who wants to sit down to write if someone’s going to say abusive things to you every time you do? And by “someone” I mean yourself.)
Loving accountability is possible when someone is invested in your success and really cares about you finishing your book and actually enjoying (!) your writing practice.
If you have a history of talking smack to yourself about your own writing, then loving accountability is essential for you being able to show up consistently and stay connected with your writing – especially when you’re working on a larger project like a book that won’t be finished in a weekend or a month.
I think of this as the Hugs approach to accountability, providing the encouragement to counter the harsh way many writers often treat themselves when left to their own devices.
Spanks or Spanx?
I was talking with a writer friend a few months back and she said “What I really need is someone to spank me when I don’t get my writing sessions in.”
Ouch, Sister. That’s gonna hurt. I think I was never a big enough “50 Shades of Grey” fan to have that approach work for me.
So I think instead about Spanx. You know, the shaping garment in so many women’s dresser drawers. I own these in multiple lengths and colour options and what they do for me is offer containment.
It’s still me in Spanx, just a more contained me. Same tummy, just a smoother tummy. (And the secret joy of Spanx is really in stripping them off at the end of a day, yes? #sweetrelief)
And when I look in the mirror wearing Spanx, I’m looking at the best possible ideal version of myself in that moment.
I don’t believe in punishment, but I do believe in containment.
How this applies to my writing practice – and my coaching practice – is that I set an ideal (yet realistic) expectation of when I’ll show up for my writing sessions. This is my best ideal version of how I want my writing life to look.
I plan for my ideal version, and then I plan for a Real Life version of how I’m anticipating my writing life will happen. And I engage a coach or mentor or friend or – in desperate times – an app to hold me accountable for having those sessions happen as I’ve planned them.
This applies to both getting the time in as planned, and managing myself and my environment to minimize distractions (internal and external) while I write.
And I always want both the love – someone who cheers me on and encourages me to keep going – AND the accountability of a coach who’ll also offer me some tough love when I’m tempted to let my usual excuses take over.
Loving Accountability for Writers
I don’t know about your life, but mine can be very lifelike on occasion. If I don’t plan ahead and seek out loving support from people who care about me (including sometimes a mentor or coach I’ve paid for that pleasure) then my best laid plans can run aground.
Seeking out and setting up loving accountability – someone to hold your feet to a warm toasty fire – can be a secret ingredient for you to finish your writing project. Give some thought to how this might look for you personally and how you can make it happen to help make your writing life that much more productive and enjoyable.
The doors to First Book Finish are opening next week!
I want to invite you to consider how you can use July and August to make real headway on your current writing project and possibly even finish your book.
And if you’re interested in having some further support in that process, then I’m excited to let you know that I am offering a free live Masterclass on exactly this topic:
How to Finally Finish Your Book…without all the anxiety, voices of self-doubt, and worry about how it all fits together — or getting completely derailed by Real Life.