Keeping Yourself on Track When No One is Holding You Accountable

Due to COVID19, I have been furloughed from my job for the past few months. Besides the financial stress of being out of work and dealing with the state’s unemployment website, my furlough brought up a lot of questions about what I really wanted out of life.

If this blog is any suggestion, I decided to pursue my goal of becoming a novelist.

Coming from a 9-5 desk job, I now no longer have a regular work schedule. If I want to lay in bed and watch Netflix all day, no one will tell me not to. Without a team to report to, keeping myself on track becomes a bigger necessity. I don’t have another person informing me what is a priority and I don’t have any deadlines that are not self-imposed.

So how do I keep myself motivated? How do I stay accountable when no one else is enforcing it?

Honestly, there is no prefect answer to either question. A lot of it goes back to prioritization of goals. I have to take myself seriously as a writer before anyone else will. By taking my writing seriously, that means I have to hold myself accountable. Here are some ways that help me stay on track.

Create smaller goals to reach larger ones

A lot of times I tell myself “just write the book.” Easy enough. One word comes after another and then after you have about 50,000 of them. Totally manageable, right?

 When starting on page one, it is difficult to predict how long it will take you to write the whole book, but It is easier to predict how long a chapter or a scene might take you. If you break a larger goal into smaller ones and set checkpoint deadlines, it makes reaching that ultimate deadline a lot more manageable.

My most recent large goal was to draft book one of The Uprising series. Based on my outline, I gave a rough estimate of about 100,000 words for the first draft. I then broke that 100k goal into a weekly word count goal of 10,000 words, which then broke down to an average of about 1,500 words a day. Since I tried to aim my daily writing goal at 1-2k a day, this felt perfectly manageable. Turns out, I was able to maintain the 10k weekly goal, even if I missed writing a day. Before I knew it, I had surpassed my goal of 100,000 words, and my story concluded at around 125,000.

Make lists

Do you ever feel grid locked by having too much to do? Let’s see, you can name about six or more things you should be doing, and then waste time trying to decided which one you can actually tackle. This sort of thing happens to me all of the time.

The way I try and fight what I refer to as a “productivity traffic jam” is a simple to-do list. I consider it my easiest and most effective resource for keeping me organized.

The reason it works for me is that I force myself to stick to it and consult it often to stay on track. The notes app on my phone is a trusted ally and confidant. I try to start every day by creating a to-do list. A lot of times the tasks are the same: hit my writing goal, exercise, take a shower, etc. The satisfaction I get from crossing one thing off my list usually motivates me to go for another and the chain reaction continues.

Celebrate Reaching Deadlines

Since there is no-one that will be disappointed if I don’t meet my deadline, I can move it, right?. Similar to hitting the snooze button, it is easy to see an approaching deadline and push it back a little.

Deadlines, especially self-imposed ones, can be flexible, but if you move a deadline too many times it is no longer deadline, it’s a suggestion-line. I like to give myself something to look forward to in addition to the satisfaction of finishing the goal.

With a reward in place, e.g. a shopping trip, a new book, a night out, or a well deserved break from keyboard, I am doubly motivated to stay on track since, to me, there feels like more is at stake.

Remind yourself why you started

There is a reason that many writers refer to the halfway point of a novel as the murky middle. Beginnings and endings are easy (both in regards to plot and process), channeling your way through a mid point is harder. This is true for the process of writing a novel as well as sticking to any major goal.

There’s a reason why so many people make New Year’s resolutions; creating a goal is simple. On the flip side, if your finish line is in sight it is much easier to get yourself through the final home stretch. Somewhere in the middle is where people lose steam.

This happened to me recently with my current WIP, Secrets of Sorcery. I was halfway through editing and part of me felt like scrapping the whole project. I kept finding inconsistencies and plot errors, that left me feeling discouraged. When I considered tossing it into the metaphorical dump heap, I forced myself to remember why I felt compelled to write this specific story, to remember where the original idea sparked from. Because I looked back at why I got started, my motivation peaked up and suddenly I was adjusting plot holes and enhancing character arcs like you wouldn’t believe.

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