Regardless of whether your goal is to find an agent and follow a traditional publishing route or blaze your own indie publishing trail, the same fact holds true. In order to become a writer, you need to - well, write!
The main thing about writing is... writing. Sitting your butt down in the chair and doing the work.
Here are 4 tips for holding yourself accountable to write regularly. Find the one that works for you and let your words flow.
Breaking a project down into daily tasks is a great way to make progress towards a large goal. If you have a particular word count in mind for a writing project, break it into its smallest, most manageable pieces.
For example, if you want to write a YA novel with a goal of 80,000 words, how much could you reasonably write each day? Could you write 250 words? Writing every day, you would reach your goal is 320 days or just under a year. Could you write 500 words daily? You'd be done in 160 days or just over 5 months. Some writers would rather divide a project by scene or chapter. Whatever unit of measure you choose, small goals can quickly add up to big results.
There are several ways to track your daily goals. Spreadsheets are useful tools for documenting words written. J.H. Dierking lists some that range from simple word counters to complex scene trackers on her site. If you want some inspiration in your spreadsheet, check out these word trackers by artist Svenja Gosen. If a progress meter for your blog or email signature is what you want, there are some great options on Tracy Lucas’s site. Lastly, it seems there's always an app for that. Ink On, an app by Inked Voices, helps you track word counts and progress towards writing goals.
Another method for managing large goals is to dedicate short spurts of concentrated effort to a task, taking frequent breaks in between. Many writers find the Pomodoro method an extremely useful time management strategy for making progress on writing goals. Typically, a Pomodoro is 25 minutes, but you could make it shorter. Work on your task without interruption during that time.
The main rule of the Pomodoro technique is to focus your attention for short periods and then take breaks before coming back for another round of concentrated effort. Forgot to schedule an appointment? Need to pay a bill? Write it down and keep working. Most distractions can probably wait and writing them down frees your brain to stay focused on your current task.
For many, this method works much better than trying to dedicate a large block of time for writing.
Nothing can replace the accountability of participating in a face-to-face or online critique group. Meeting with like-minded writers to share your work and gain constructive feedback is invaluable. Writing is often a solitary activity and the best way hone your craft is to put your work in front of others you trust.
Finding a critique group can sometimes be a challenge depending on where you live, your schedule, or even your stage as a writer. A great place to start for those writing for children is with SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators). As a member of SCBWI, you have access to information about regional critique groups for writers of picture books, chapter books, or middle grade and YA works. A regional critique coordinator can also help you start a new group if current groups are full or one does not yet exist in your area.
If joining a face-to-face group isn't an option, there are many online sites that help writers connect to share work and get feedback. Scribophile allows you to post your work and receive critiques from other members. The more critiques you offer, the more "karma" points you earn, which subsequently allow you to post more of your own work for feedback.
Inked Voices is another excellent writing community and focuses on writers sharing feedback within small critique groups. Your work is only visible to the writers in your group and it is more like a face-to-face experience. You can join a group on the site or if you have some writer friends in mind, you can create a private group.
Both sites offer tools for managing critiques that make them nice alternatives to emailing multiple drafts back and forth to critique partners.
Committing yourself to a writing challenge is another way to keep the fire to your feet. There are several out there, but the most well-known is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, writers participating in NaNoWriMo commit to writing 50,000 words, which breaks down to 1,667 words per day. Doing this in any month is a challenge, but somehow doing it in November with the looming frenzy of Thanksgiving, family gatherings, and the start of the holiday season, adds to the sense of accomplishment in meeting your goal.
If that sounds a little too ambitious, consider Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNo's kinder and more laid-back sibling. Run in April and July, "campers" can set their own word counts and work on non-novel projects. Unlike in NaNoWriMo, you can also bring previous work into the challenge and spend your month finishing or revising a languishing WIP.
There are also writing challenges for picture book and chapter book writers. In 12 x 12, picture book writers commit to writing 12 picture books in 12 months. Despite its name, ChaBooCha or the Chapter Book Challenge is actually for writers of early readers through YA fiction. Taking place every March, participants commit to writing a completed first draft of a picture book, early reader, middle grade, or YA work by the end of the month. Even if you don't sign up for the challenge, it is worth signing up for the newsletter, which is chock full of blog posts from published authors, agents, and publishers with tips to help writers hone their craft.
This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard.
What are your best tips for writing accountability? Share them in the comments!