Ink-Stained Scribe

How Pressure and Accountability Help Me Write

I set out with a series of writing goals this year, and the three quantifiable ones are finishing the first draft of HELLHOUND, revising THE MARK OF FLIGHT, and writing 3,000 words per week. I want to talk a about how each of the goals is going, but a recent podcast by Mur Lafferty over at I Should Be Writing reminded me of a conversation my lovely Pendragon Variety cohost, Raven (right), and I had. I'll talk about my goals another day. Today, I want to address something that I think is a really difficult topic that a lot of budding writers struggle with:


Now, it’s pretty easy for any of us to say “if my main job was writing, I could churn out 4,000 words a day!” Saying something, however, is quite different from doing it. When it comes to writing, my two best friends are pressure and accountability. I’ll tell you a story to explain why:

Recessioooon; recession!

When I came back from Japan in September, I was unemployed. With nothing but an English degree and three years of TESL experience adorning my resume, I was fairly certain my quest for employment would take months. I start my new job on February 21st, putting me at nearly SIX months of unemployment. Thank God for free rent, a credit card, and temp work.

I decided to utilize the time during my job search as a time to buckle down and do some writing. Okay, so I was going through re-entry culture shock, but beyond that, there wasn’t much keeping me from accomplishing that goal. The thing is, I don’t feel like I got any more work done than I would have had I been solidly employed. Okay, maybe being unemployed for NaNoWriMo did give me the advantage, but on a good day after work I can write three or four thousand words, especially if I don’t have work the next day. My point is this:

My writing productivity is not dependant on the amount of free time I have, It’s about my PERCEPTION of that amount.

(Now, a really mathy-type person could come up with a formula to explain this. Somehow, I don't think Math 112 covered that.)

Then I get a block of free time with no foreseeable end, and suddenly I feel like I have loads of time. It’s true! During my recent stretch of unemployment, I had so much free time that, if free time were gold coins, I’d have been backstroking through it like Scrooge McDuck. Knowing that I have so much time, however, had the unfortunate side-effect of taking away the pressure to use that time for writing. The necessity to go write right now was not as strong, so I dithered. I surfed the internet. I caught up on K/J-dramas. I spent time with my friends IRL. I told myself, “I’ll write this evening”, or “after one more episode”, or “when I get back home tomorrow”.I don’t have a problem making myself write. I believe people who are successful at balancing a day job and a writing career (or hobby) are successful because they make writing their priority. Not video-games. Not watching TV. Not surfing the net. Some days, writing isn’t my priority, but I find that the less time I have, the higher it gets on my list. I’m the kind of person that itches to get out of work, run to a coffee-shop, and dash off two-thousand words. I snatch spare moments at work to add another line or two to the middle of a scene. I make notes to myself in the car using my iPhone’s voice-memo app.

That isn’t to say I wasn’t productive during unemployment—quite the opposite, I: survived the holidays; wrote most of a novella; dreamed up, outlined, and wrote 3/4ths of a novel; planned and executed a wedding; started a writing club; worked as a temp; and finally found a real job. Looking back, though, I think about how much time I dithered away on things I usually dee

m “time-wasters”, and I can’t help but cringe. No, watching Dr. Who isn’t a waste of time—it’s actually inspired some really interesting though

ts that have changed my perception of one of the characters in my trilogy. Getting into K-dramas helped me to understand the culture one of the characters I’m currently writing is coming from (as well as providing the name for my new cat, Iljimae, and my newest celebrity crush, Li Jun Ki [below...*sigh*]).

But are these the kind of things I spend my time on when I’m going to school or working a regular job? No.

I guess my writing productivity is like a steam-engine. Anyone can boil water in a pan, but pressure is needed to turn that steam into productivity; to create pressure we need to give that steam parameters. I work much more efficiently if I have a cap on the amount of time in which to accomplish a goal, because the pressure to accomplish it is there. When I was in High School and University, I never started papers early (note: I do not advise this method) because I could always manage an A or B by starting the day before. Research papers? A week before. It was hard to force myself to start early without the pressure of a ticking clock.

Accountability is my friend.

November was the most productive writing month of my entire unemployment, even though my birthday, three family-members’ birthdays, Thanksgiving, and my Grandfather’s final wake were all in that month. The reason was simple: NaNoWriMo. I had a goal to reach. Not a personal goal, but a serious goal with a status bar and a deadline. Those parameters were in place, and I was at 65,000 words before December 1st. This has happened to me before, with the rough draft of my first novel. I made a bet with my friend Skrybbi (of that I could finish by the end of summer. I did it. Just barely, but I did.


So what was it that got me to follow the “butt in chair, fingers on keys, words come out” doctrine? Accountability. Having someone who knows my goals and will see me meet or fail to meet them brings out the competitive drive in me.

Having some sort of structure imposed on my life is what keeps the days from meshing together into indistinguishable stretches of gray something-or-other when I couldn’t tell you what I’ve been up to. It’s what keeps the hours and the minutes ticking down where I can see them, what keeps me aware that I didn’t write 500 words on my story yesterday. It’s what will probably ensure I’ll write at least 1,000 words today. Having someone to hold me accountable for my goals helps me to keep that clock ticking, keep that steam engine going. So clearly, for me, having enough time to write isn’t the issue.

What kinds of things do you prioritize over writing? Do you think having more time would help or hurt your writing priority? Does anyone hold you accountable for your writing?

Answer in the comments!