Writing accountability: how other people help you achieve your goals

Research shows that using other people to keep you on track leads to greater success in achieving your goals. Here’s some top tips on how other people can hold you to account.

Psychologist Dr Gail Matthews from the Dominican University of California found that people who share their goals with a friend and send them weekly updates on progress are on average 33% more successful in accomplishing them. Because writing can often be so lonely, many writers have come up with ingenious approaches to working with others to hold them to account, keep them productive and help them meet their goals.

Writing accountability

If you’re struggling to make progress under your own steam, having an external accountability structure might be the trick you’re looking for. It means you’re answerable to someone else for your writing progress, though you still get to define what progress looks like. It ramps up the pressure and raises the stakes because you’re now writing for someone other than yourself.

But it’s not all stress – the best sort of accountability provides support, advice, and feedback. For many writers, it’s a sure-fire way to get them writing and keep them going.

Top writing accountability approaches to try

Accountability comes in all shapes and sizes, from someone signing an agreement to write to recruiting beta readers to feedback on drafts. We’ve compiled some of the best methods you can use to keep you accountable

1 Go public

Just tell people! This one’s pretty simple but it’s surprising how many people embark on a writing project in secret. Just telling one other person – and asking them to check in on you regularly – is a great way to keep you moving forward.

2 Sign a writing agreement

Another method that some writers swear by is to have a ‘contract’, an actual signed agreement between two parties committing the writer to write.

You outline the terms of your commitment – for example, writing four out of seven days a week, for a number of hours, or a certain amount of words or pages. Then you need to deliver on that promise by emailing, messaging or tweeting your co-signatory to confirm you’ve done it.

“You need to deliver on that promise by emailing, messaging or tweeting your co-signatory to confirm you’ve done it.”

In addition to enforcing the agreement, the co-signatory will check in with you, offer support and encouragement to keep going. They are there for you, as and when you need them.

It’s a similar relationship to the one many PhD researchers have with their supervisor, but any type of writer can try it.

>> Read more: The writing agreement

3 Critiquing partners

A critiquing partnership is between two writers who share their writing, exchange feedback and offer guidance and support.

It’s a classic beta reader relationship based on trust. As such, many critiquing partners originally met face to face on a writing course, online as part of an established forum, or are introduced by a friend.

Both partners should agree how it will work, for example what writing will be exchanged, when, and what sort of feedback they are looking for. It takes time to develop the relationship, and like all good relationship it is based on communication.

Start by offering honest, objective and respectful feedback. Other tips on giving useful feedback include being specific and offering examples, acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses, and always critiquing the writing not the writer.

“Critiquing partnerships are a great way to keep you writing and gain valuable feedback on your work.”

Critiquing partnerships are a great way to keep you writing and gain valuable feedback on your work. And you get a buddy for writing support and solidarity.

>> Read more: Critiquing partners

4 Writing groups

Joining a writing group takes the critiquing partnership up a level. Groups vary in size and can be either online or face-to-face, but the principle is that writers share work and offer feedback. It is a great way to keep writing isolation at bay and learn from other people who might be at the same stage as you or write similar things.

>> Read more: Thinking of joining a writing group? Ask yourself these 8 questions first

5 Feedback from friends and family

It can be scary sharing your work with strangers so some writers first call is to friends and family. The relationship is already in place, you need to make sure they’re clear what they are being asked to do and why.

Ask specific questions, give them deadlines, and tell them how you want them to comment. You know them already, so will be familiar with their style – some of them will be blunt and tell you straight, whereas other might be so full of praise you don’t get anything constructive to work with. To get a balance, recruit a few people and get a mix of ages, genders and experience.

>> Read more: Friends and family

6 Professional beta readers

Using your professional network can be a great way to get your target audience involved as you write. It works brilliantly for non-fiction, business and professional books, though reaching out to potential readers is helpful for all writers.

Work out who your audience is and where you might find them – for example a Facebook group, on LinkedIn or a message board.

“With all beta readers, be clear what’s involved, what you expect from people and what they get in return.”

As with all beta readers, be clear what’s involved, what you expect from people and what they get in return – will they get a copy of the book when it’s published, a discount, or a warm fuzzy feeling they’ve helped. Ask for specific feedback and respond to it – and don’t forget tell people what you’ve done with their comments.

>> Read more: Business beta readers

The last word on accountability

Having accountability structures in place can kickstart your commitment to a project and get you smashing through milestone as you make progress towards your goal.

However, a word of warning: don’t share your work until you feel ready. Many writers have received poor feedback, at too early a stage and it has crushed their writing dreams and stalled projects.

Stephen King said: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” – Stephen King

Unless you’re writing purely for your own pleasure, your writing will be read by people – some will like it, others won’t. Having beta readers can prepare you for publication, help you learn what feedback is valuable, and build early support as you write – getting reviews, comments, and sales from readers on publication.

When you’re ready to open the door, be prepared, find people you can trust, and tell them what you want and expect.

Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with helping writers write.