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Gettin’ by with a Little Help from Our (Writer) Friends

Photo by John Crider, Flickr CC

Tomorrow at 9:45 a.m. my phone will ring. I’ll know without looking that it’s “Writer J,” one of my writing accountability partners. We talk every week at the same time. She’s been through the hard times with me when my words wouldn’t come. So two weeks ago when I typed THE END, we celebrated.

Rewind to last year. Summer of 2016. I was in a rocky place with the same work in progress. Not only was I considering abandoning the novel, I was thinking of giving up writing altogether. I muddled through the daily act. Most days I wrote something. On the others, I either lied to myself. It’s not that bad. Or I despaired. I will never finish another book.

I was signed up to go to the Writer Unboxed Unconference last November, but I felt like an imposter, embarrassed to let on that I was in the middle of a novel I hated. But I went because Writer J and “Writer L” held me accountable, encouraging me to go since I was already signed up.

They were right. To say the UnCon was writing-changing is an understatement. More like life changing.

I met a group of like-minded writers with whom I became close friends. And I met an invaluable writing coach—WU’s own Cathy Yardley [1]. I set goals with Cathy, but she also told me, “All writers write alone, but no writer succeeds that way.” Reach out, she said. We need support as writers or simply as creative people.

We All Need Support

I took her advice to heart. (I take all her advice to heart.)

One of the writers I met at the UnCon (I’ll call her “Writer D”) started a private critique group on Facebook and invited me to join. This is a safe place to talk about writing, to encourage one another, to check in and elicit feedback. To talk about our fears and dreams.

Writer D is now a close friend and new accountability partner. We text almost every day: first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. I’m not sure how I ever got through the day without her, to be honest. She’s supportive but she also challenges me to be my best. Through good and not so good days, we hash it out. “Onward,” Writer D texts me at the beginning of the day. “Onward,” I text back.

Toward evening, I get my daily Facebook message from Writer L—letting me know about her day’s progress. She’s embarking on a new project, and she’s reading background material and planning the story; I text back that I spent three hours revising. Writer L and I have been friends for so many years I can’t remember exactly when or where we met… online somewhere, her blog or mine. We’ve met in person, I know her husband and her kids, her dog and cats. Writer L is an integral part of my daily life.

No Writer Succeeds Alone

According to Wikipedia: An accountability partner is a person who coaches another person… helping them keep a commitment. A University of Scranton study [2] showed that not having an accountability partner to help a person accomplish their goal is one reason 92% of people did not accomplish their New Year’s resolution.

An accountability partner can be a “secret weapon to improve your productivity as a writer,” [3] Lee Laughlin wrote in 2014. Sometimes, my accountability partners and I set goals (word count, time we’ll spend writing, deadlines for drafts); we encourage one another; we remind one another why we love to write; we commiserate when the words won’t flow; sometimes we just talk—we’re friends. Above all, we’re positive with one another. We are kind when the writing world feels cruel.

I reach out to other writers, too, who play the same role in my life (even if they didn’t know it before, they do now), and just asking the question, “How’s the writing going?” brings writing back into the forefront when other things have taken your attention away. This simple act of checking in can help remind us that our writing is more important than reading the news of the day or spending time on social networking or playing a video game; it also reminds us that we need to fit in the writing within obligations that need to get done. When you know you will be accounting to someone, it gives you a reason to come back to the writing even on days it’s not easy.

And so, when I had trouble with my ending scene, I put out a call for help, and “Writer LJ” found time to help me think it through. When I have trouble getting started in the morning, I reach out to “Writer A,” and we text with funny writer’s life scenarios or help one another with a daily scene.

Each time, the purpose of the conversation is the same: what’s stopping you from writing?

Writer Seeking Accountability

I’m lucky. I fell into my accountability relationships.

But if you’re seeking one, start with writers you already know—maybe someone you met at a conference or someone you talk with a lot on Twitter or Facebook or in a common writing group—someone who cares about your progress, cares about you, someone easy to talk to when you feel like you want to give up.

Other important characteristics (this can be quite subjective) are: trustworthiness, kindness, quick wittedness, reasonable response time, commitment to writing, and open mindedness. It’s important to look for someone who is understanding, kind, empathetic, and nonjudgmental, but (for me), I also want someone who will push me at least a little. One of my partners tells me when I need to stop complaining and push through (she’s always nice about it); sometimes I just need to hear someone say it to know that I can.

It’s not (necessarily) important that you write the same genre—one of my partners writes literary fiction, one writes YA fantasy, another writes adult magical realism—maybe you have the same reading and writing preferences and sensibilities; maybe you just hit it off.

However you find someone, don’t feel awkward about reaching out to her. Remember what Cathy says—No writer succeeds alone—which means the writer you want as an accountability partner may well be looking for one too.

I feel grateful and lucky to have these intrepid writers as part of my daily life. I can only hope I offer them as much support as they give me because they helped me get my writing back on track, helped me love my WIP and writing again. And, by the way, if you’re wondering why I concealed their names, it’s to protect the innocent introverts—but take my word for it, they are truly heroes, yet they walk among us.

Do you have an accountability partner? Who are your writing heroes?

About Julia Munroe Martin [4]

Julia Munroe Martin [5] (@jmunroemartin [6]) is a writer and blogger who lives in an old house in southern coastal Maine. Julia's other passion is photography, and if she's not writing at the dining room table or a local coffeeshop, you'll likely find her on the beach or dock taking photos. Julia writes The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series as J. M. Maison.