Wrangling Writers: Keeping Your Accountability Group Accountable

accounability

by Brigitte Winter/bwinterose

Early this fall, my writing accountability group had a crisis. The band almost broke up. Fragile egos were rattled, sacred truths questioned.

The goal of the group: meet regularly in a supportive environment and hold one another accountable to finishing a draft of our current novels in six months.

The crisis: almost a year had gone by, and we weren’t doing much writing. Instead, we were talking a lot about writing, drinking too much wine, and holding one another’s hands through creative blocks and moments of doubt. And while these cathartic conversations wrought deep bonds of friendship, they were (surprise) not resulting in words on pages.

This fall, we decided to take action. If we really believed in one another and loved these darn stories so much, we had to do something to keep our accountability group accountable. So we gave ourselves some homework. Each of the four writers in the group answered the following questions in preparation for a big come-to-Jesus conversation:

  1. In a perfect world, where will you be with your book six months from now? Who will you be as a writer?
  2. Why haven’t you achieved your goals? What obstacles are standing in your way?
  3. What are the aspects of this group that we should never change? What are the aspects that aren’t working as well?
  4. Imagine that you have the time and resources to design and lead a new writing group that will obliterate every obstacle preventing you from achieving your writing goals. How is it structured? Who’s a member? How often does it meet? What activities and resources does it offer?

This soul-searching led to some uncomfortable epiphanies. We clearly viewed one another as a kind of writer-family. We’d successfully built a community of trust and support. But we were all struggling with discipline, motivation, and routine. It was obvious that we had lost our collective fire.

So we practiced some creative destruction. We dismantled the comfortable framework of our little support group and rebuilt it from the ground up, focusing on piloting accountability strategies to help us finish our bloody novels already.

Here’s where we landed:

  1. We now meet as a group every week for two hours. No exceptions. Every other week we critique twenty pages for two writers. On off weeks, we alternate between “write-ins” where we bang out new words and “play dates” where one member of the group leads the others in a workshop focused on writing skills relevant to our current projects.
  2. We practice cold hard math. We determined how many words each of us needs to write per week to finish our novels within six months, and that’s how many words we write. Hard to argue with a calculator.
  3. We use Google Drive as a free online tool to track progress. We maintain a shared Google file containing a spreadsheet where we “weigh in” our daily and weekly word counts, and we each have individual folders where we upload our working manuscripts every Sunday.
  4. We are committed to our collective success. If one of us fails, we all fail. We devote the first fifteen minutes of each meeting to celebrating accomplishments and problem solving.

We’re now halfway through our six-month journey, and these strategies are (mostly) working. We don’t meet our word count goals every week, but we’re all writing. We’ve rekindled that collective fire of ours, and, come January, I’m confident we’ll have forged four new novels in that heat.

Any other writers out there struggling to finish your current projects? What strategies help you stay on task? What works and what doesn’t? Keeping one another accountable to our stories is one of the greatest gifts we can give other writers.

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