“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
– Richard Feynman
Ain’t that the truth? It seems to be part of human nature that we arrange things in our head to make us appear like we’re performing better than we actually are. That can be deadly if you’re a writer.
The only way that you can be sure that you’re not fooling yourself is to be accountable to someone else. When you do, the results can be striking.
The Accountability Factor
Some years ago, a behavioral psychologist named Robert Boice did an experiment where he worked with three groups of writers with similar experience and challenges. He followed all the writers for a year.
One group worked as they always had, researching and writing and accountable only to themselves. A second group committed to writing in daily sessions and kept a log of their writing time. The third group also committed to the daily writing and to keeping a log, but they also were contacted regularly by Boice to see how they were doing.
At the end of the year, Boice measured publishable output. The group that kept records outperformed the group with no change by more than four times. And the group that had Boice as an accountability partner produced nine times the publishable words of the first group.
My takeaway from this is that you can improve your writing and your writing productivity by keeping records of how you do, but you can get a more dramatic effect by having an accountability partner. There are some common ways to do this.
Join A Writer’s Group
Writer’s groups are the accountability partners for a lot of writers. It’s a bit like Weight Watchers. You go to the meetings and make your results public. That works for an awful lot of people, and technology makes it easier to have a writer’s group without having everyone in the same location.
The potential downside to becoming a member of a writer’s group is that the members of the group determine the quality of the feedback that you get. They also determine how much the members will call you to account when your performance is not up to par.
Get A Little Help from A Friend
For a couple of years now, I’ve connected almost every Friday with a friend who functions as my accountability partner. The beginning of the week, we email each other with our goals for the week. When we chat on Friday, the main order of business is “How did you do this week?”
It works for me, but I’ve tried before when it hasn’t worked. Those were times that the person I chose as my accountability partner missed a lot of our meetings, or cut them short, or didn’t give me uncomfortable feedback that I needed to do better. That’s why several clients hire me as an accountability partner.
Get A Little Help from A Pro
Suzi’s situation is typical. She’s working on her first book while she also maintains a rigorous schedule in her business and fulfills roles of a wife and mother. We do almost everything by email, though we have had a couple of Skype consultations.
At the beginning of the week, Suzi emails me with her objectives for the week. Some of those goals are writing, but others involve research, and choosing tools that will make her more productive. At the end of the week, she sends me an email with how she’s done. Most of the time, there are several questions for me to answer or a bit of writing for me to review.
On Monday, I answer her questions and share my thoughts about her process, what she’s doing well, and what she could do better. During the week, as I spot articles or studies that are relevant to her project, I bookmark them, so I can send her the links at the end of the week. At the end of the week, she reports on how she’s done, and the cycle begins again.
I asked Suzi how the arrangement was working for her. Here’s what she said.
“It totally works, even though, and perhaps because, it forces me to write when I don’t feel like it. Knowing that if I don’t do anything on the book that week, I have to rock up at the end of the week and say, ‘Hi Wally, I did zip, nada’ isn’t exactly palatable! I guess that’s the point. I also value your support, encouragement, challenge, constructive criticism, practical tips and articles.”
The Benefits of An Accountability Partner
The big advantage of using an accountability partner is that you will probably produce more and better work. Then the question becomes, “Should I use my friend or hire a pro?”
Most of the friends that I’ve used as accountability partners simply weren’t up to the job. They didn’t have the same commitment to the project that I did, and they often didn’t give me advice that helped.
If you’re thinking about using an accountability partner to improve your writing and production, think about hiring a pro. You’re more likely to get helpful advice from someone who’s helped others and written books him or herself. The fee arrangement keeps everyone on their toes. It’s a good option.
If you want to investigate whether teaming up with me is a good solution for you, just use the form at the end of this link.