In a writing conference I recently attended with Ron Carlson, he said, “You wouldn’t not show up for a coffee date with a friend, so why don’t you show up for yourself?”
Despite our best intentions, we often let our distractions prevent us from showing up to the page.
A writing group can provide the accountability needed to keep you on track. Research has shown that we are more likely to achieve our goals if we write them down and share them with a group.
Plus, having the support of others is one more strategy to combat resistance. Here’s what you need to consider when creating your own writing accountability group.
1. Define the purpose
Imagine your ideal writing group. Are they reading your work and offering you specific feedback? Or do you imagine the shared camaraderie of discussing the writing process? Or just do you just want them to hold you accountable?
Imagining your perfect writing group will help you think about the types of people that you want to find.
2. Find your people
Will you meet online in or in real life? If you are just seeking accountability, the group doesn’t need to be made up of writers. Sometimes the best readers/critiquers aren’t writers.
When creating an accountability group, it is often best to work with individuals with which you have weak ties. These people are vested in you enough to help you succeed but aren’t so involved in your life that they aren’t objective about your situation. In other words, it isn’t easy to be accountable with your mother or best friend. A coworker, neighbor, or acquaintance is much easier.
3. Determine how and when the group will meet
The more vested you are in the group’s or your accountability partner’s success, the more likely you will meet your own goals. Success fosters success. Having an opportunity to see the individuals, either in person or online, allows the connection to occur more quickly. Use Skype or a Google Hangout if you can’t meet in person. It is easier to skip out posting each week to an online forum, but once you have connected with people via video you are less likely to no-show for a group meeting.
Create a schedule for the meetings. An hour a week is usually plenty of time to share goals and discuss challenges. You may need a two-hour meeting if you are critiquing each others’ writing. Holding meetings at the same time each week or month helps foster a routine.
4. Choose your group size
If you’ll be reviewing each other’s work, the ideal group size is between 3-5. This will give you several different sources of feedback but keep it small enough that everyone has time to share regularly. If you just want someone to hold you accountable to your writing practice, having one committed accountability partner may be enough.
5. Commit to a length of time to work together
Choose a time commitment for your group. Maybe everyone wants to try it for three months or six months. Later, committing for a year might feel very comfortable.
6. Create SMART goals
Follow the SMART goal format. If you’re in the midst of your “shitty first draft,” you might set a word count goal for the week. If you are rewriting, working for a specified amount of time each day or for the week will allow more flexibility.
7. Determine how much work you will share
Having a predetermined sharing schedule will create a structure for critiquing others’ work and submitting your own. For example, my writing group has members share 20-40 pages of work every two months. The pages are to submitted two weeks prior to our monthly critique sessions.
Often sharing a larger section of work once a month or once every several months will give your reader an opportunity to get more of the flow of the story. We have each group member share overall feedback plus mark the text with specific feedback.
8. Ask for what you need
The more momentum the group creates, the more this will spill over to each individual. Help each other!
If you need a midweek check-in to keep you focused, ask for it. Do you need help with dialogue or characterization? Would you like help line-editing? What are you worried about? How can the group help? Be specific.
9. Celebrate your successes
Having an accountability group will help you get unstuck and move forward. Take time to reflect on the group’s accomplishments. This will foster continued momentum and help you see how much the accountability group has helped propel you forward.
Writing is a solitary practice, but you don’t need to do it all by yourself. An accountability group will provide the support, motivation and structure needed to have you meet your writing goals week after week. (Click to tweet this idea).
Have you worked with an accountability group? How has it helped your writing?