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Accountability with creative writing

The Big Peat

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I've seen a few folk state beliefs or theories to the effect that lack of writerly creativity wouldn't be such a problem if it was like a job and there was the same external pressure you get with a job to get it done. I've been one of them.

Now, I wouldn't want to overegg this theory. But there's summat to it. And I think one part of it is that when we don't do the work, there's not a lot of repercussion. Different for those of us with agents/publishers who might make pointed comments about where the next book is, and for anyone who has managed to make it a day job, but there's not many of those in writer town or this particular neighbourhood. And those who make it through the same swamp as the rest of us where there isn't any. We aren't accountable.

Anyone else feel that way? And if so, how do you make yourself accountable? Or what naturally exists in your life that does make you so?

Personally, I just joined a small group that a poet friend of mine set up with the sole aim of making us accountable to each other. Maybe we'll lend each other more writerly support, maybe we won't, but we'll ask each other why if nothing's happening. Its already given me a boost - probably the best boost I've had since I did NaNoWriMo with people here.
 

Dan Jones

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As ever, I suppose it's a case of whatever works for you. I don't particularly need to be motivated most of the time; when I have an idea that I like the writing sort of takes care of itself. In fact for me it's the opposite: time itself is much more of an issue for me, as I tend to have a "gather ye rosebuds while ye may" outlook on these things. I constantly think I'm behind where I ought to be. That may stem from the corporate / Gov't culture where I've spent most of my RL career, where there are hard deadlines and nothing ever is delivered soon enough, and I suppose it's quite helpful in one respect.

On the other hand, having human resources (ie a writing group, betas, a community) is invaluable even if you don't need it for motivational purposes. Though having said that, getting feedback and and responses and critiques is motivational in itself, a sign of progress, perhaps.

In any case, it's great you're getting a productivity boost, because I want to read your finished stuff!
 

HareBrain

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And if so, how do you make yourself accountable? Or what naturally exists in your life that does make you so?
I'm wary of chiming in with this, because if I give details it'll be embarrassing, and if I don't it'll be vague and unsatisfactory, but it does fit your question, so:

The YA thing I've just finished I wrote with a particular purpose in mind, to benefit someone or something else (but not financially). I have no idea whether it's capable of achieving that even if it gets published, and the massive self-doubting part of me thinks it's a ridiculous and naive attempt, but there you go -- I believe it was what kept me working on it even during lulls in feeling motivated by the story itself, and one reason I completed it so quickly (for me).

With the Fire Stealers books, I've never felt anything like that, at least until the first one was published. Now I have some sense of accountability towards people who've read the fist two and want to know how the story ends, and this is probably matched by a sense of accountability towards the story and characters themselves. I want to get them (or some of them) to the ending I have in mind for them.

I find pressure from a writing group or other peers to be too easy to shrug off, unfortunately.
 

Venusian Broon

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I find pressure from a writing group or other peers to be too easy to shrug off, unfortunately.
Yeah I find this too, partly because you have to have a group of people that are equally highly committed and 'singing from the same song sheet' and secondly unfortunately life gets in the way for all of us. It's hard being consistent sometimes.

The main pressure, like that I believe drives you best in the gym and exercise, is the one you apply to yourself.
 

The Bluestocking

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I find pressure from a writing group or other peers to be too easy to shrug off, unfortunately.
I'm a bit of the opposite - having my writing group with a subbing schedule helps get me moving. I'm not perfect at making the deadline all the time due to work (most of the time) or family stuff (last year was so bloody bad on the family emergency/tragedy/drama front).

BUT it helps - I know I should send in stuff and I do it 75% of the time when I'm not on a break to handle all the above (work/family). Was actually on a roll at one point with one chapter in every 2 weeks like clockwork...

NOTE: Also found that having a hard deadline (aka external immoveable deadline) like the Tor novella submissions deadline helps me with focus. Boy does it help with focus...
 

night_wrtr

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There is certainly something to this. If writing isn't your day job, even if it is the eventual job you wish to have, it is nothing more than a hobby. Its not what pays the bills, so it will always take a backseat. Because of this, the accountability is faulty.

This causes the big moments that make or break a writer. When things aren't working, its easy to let yourself fall through the cracks and let the time pass without ever putting pen to paper. Whats going to happen? You won't get fired from a hobby. There is no external support. The determination to stay accountable is all your own, and some of us are better at dusting ourselves off than others.

Peat, I think you'll find that writing group beneficial, as you already stated you've seen a boost. If nothing else, a group of like-minded people will be there to help you get up when you're down and keep the focus alive so you can stay productive. I think you're right about accountability and this is probably the best method.

Personally, I've let myself go for months without writing and it pained me to let the days pass. It's not that I didn't have the desire to be creative and write, but it was a mix of laziness, doubt, and this lack of accountability. Its just a hobby after all, right? I want to turn this into my day job, and it took several pep talks to get me back on track. I set a few goals, and I've hit a few of them. That is good motivation, but its still up to me to stay focused.
 

sknox

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I would have said the same, but recent experience gives me a different perspective.

I've been an academic, which means writing to a schedule, all the way back to "oh crap it's end of semester and I gotta write that paper" sort of thing. Once I retired, writing fiction opened up. There were no deadlines.

Then I hired a cover artist. That wasn't too bad, as the book could still appear pretty much any time; the only real deadline was to have the art in hand before the final edit.

This time around, though, I hired a for-real editor. Set me back about $1,500US. She works on a schedule, of course. When I contracted with her, I was full of confidence. It was September, I was rolling along with the book, and I could easily make January.

Nope. Things blew up, everything from family stuff to underestimating what it would take to solve a couple of plot points. What I gave her in January for an initial evaluation was ragged, with two whole chapters being nothing but notes. The MSS is due for copyedit at the end of the month. It won't be finished then either.

What I have discovered is that I hate working to a deadline. The more the pressure builds, the less productive I become. I find myself looking forward not to writing but to playing Minecraft or walking the dogs. Pretty much anything besides tending to this millstone around my neck. I can't wait for end of January. I'll send the MSS limping to my editor, she'll mark up what she can, and then when I get it back I can finally approach the thing without pressure.

I know I don't need pressure to finish. I have two novels and two novelettes under my belt. I really do want to have an editor (copyedit and proof), but I'm not at all sure I'll use one on the next book. It takes all the fun out of it and makes it feel like work.

To quote the poet: the work done got hard; I make my living stealing chickens from the rich folks yard.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I can think of many authors under contract and under plenty of pressure (not, interestingly, from their editors and publishers, who know it's counterproductive and generally display amazing patience) to produce the next book and unable to do so for long periods of time. For some people pressure may help to motivate them. For others it cripples them.
 
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CTRandall

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As with most things in the arts, different people will always have different ways of working and different reactions. I do think regular schedules and requirements are helpful, however. I take Bach, Mozart and Haydn as the prime examples. Mozart wrote 41 symphonies and Haydn over 100, yet only a handful are regularly played today. Bach wrote a full cantata for every Sunday for three years (okay, he recycled a few bits here and there) yet, again, only a handful are played today. Their regular work helped them refine their craft and create, from a catalogue of hundreds of hours of music, a few stunning pieces that have endured for centuries.

As a writer, I'm at a much earlier stage than most others here but I've found blogging incredibly useful. The discipline of posting every week (ok, almost every week--so much for discipline) has helped me work on expressing ideas clearly and succinctly while getting the maximum impact out of language. Not all of my posts work but a few have turned out great and they all help with some aspects of craft.
 

tinkerdan

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When I managed businesses that hired teens one of the most important things we looked at was what that person wanted. What it boils down to is how hungry is this person, do they need to work to obtain something? Usually it was a car and that grows into a place of their own and that grows into filling that with the latest gadgets and that grows...

A hungry writer, one that needs to sell stories so they can eat, clothe themselves and have a place to hang a hat...probably all conspire well to create as much output as they can manage. However due to great impatience it's likely that most won't quit their day job. And at that point it takes a great commitment to writing itself to sustain the struggle.

That said: writing already is a business and if you haven't approached it as such then you might still be dabbling in some hobby that may or may not make money and may or may not go anywhere and you may or may not have a lot of output.

Just be thankful you don't have to go ISO 9000 or AS 9100 to be a science fiction writer--that would just suck the life out of it.
 

Plucky Novice

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I have the fortune to work best under pressure, although that doesn't make it any more pleasant an experience. My job is such that pressure is the norm and so a little more for my writing is neither here nor there.

So I set myself soft milestones or goals and try to stick to them. Most of the time I get pretty close. I think understanding what is important to me and prioritising what I spend time on accordingly is probably most effective for me.
 

Susan Boulton

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Being under pressure to write. (when I was with an agent) killed the desire too, and pleasure I had from writing. I have never been able to regain either to the same extent. This coupled with dealing with one publisher, which left a sour taste in my mouth about the business. I was left with so many doubts about my ability to write, that I didn't want write for a long time. I do write now, but very rarely do I submit any of it, (I submitted only four short stories last year) or allow others to see any WIP. Even when a story is finished I shy away from sending it out for ages. I have gone back to more or less writing for pleasure when it suits me.
 

thaddeus6th

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Sorry to hear that, Susan.

Writing's mostly a solitary pursuit, but things can get awkward when collaborating with others, (publishers, artists etc), if things go awry.
 

The Bluestocking

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Hear, hear! That is precisely my situation. Oh for the life of a hermit. Scratch that. Make it two days a week of a hermit.
I enforce hermitdom for myself on Saturdays or I would never get any writing done.

This has resulted in disgruntled family and friends but it's sometimes down to this: do I want to get writing done or do I want to spend all day with other people who will inevitably suck up all the precious spare time that I have?

Writing wins (usually). At the very least, if I get a headache from it I can stop, take Ibuprofen, have a nap, then start again. No way can that be done while I'm out and about with friends or having a (usually) long drawn-out mealtime with family.
 
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