Back in July (about a millennia ago) Steven Pressfield began a Writing Wednesday post by quoting from the documentary, I Am Not Your Guru, featuring Tony Robbins (and available on Netflix). If you know anything about Robbins, you know that he relentlessly asks, “Who are you?” “What is your destiny?” “Why were you put on Earth?”
Even though Pressfield admitted to watching only a fourth of the documentary, I had to see it for myself. One of my takeaways was this tee-shirt:
This summer I have done a lousy job of keeping promises to myself. I didn’t finish my novel by August 1, and then I didn’t finish by Sept. 1.
What I did manage, however, was to keep my promises to other people. I said I would send out 31 original postcard poems in August, and I did. I said I would start a “September Send-Out” project (sending out poems to journals every day in September), and I’m now 6 for 7 (and today isn’t over yet).
I said I would get my teenager through her on-line classes, and I did.
Another thing I said I would do is to coach my very first real client with her writing project. In August I said I would meet with her on Mondays, and except for Labor Day we have been able to do that. We’re both busy people, and one of the things we’ve talked about at our Monday meetings is how being accountable to someone else can help.
So, in that spirit, here’s the short list for how you can use accountability to make your writing project take root:
- Your first job is to find someone to communicate with who cares that you meet your goal. If they don’t care in quite the same way you do, they can still care that you keep your word to them.
- Think about what your goal is. “Write a book,” or a “30 page essay,” or a “brilliant poem” may be too daunting, at least for now. Brené Brown tells a story about helping her daughter see that her goal wasn’t to win her swim meet, but “to get wet.” Maybe, at least to get yourself rolling, your goal has to be to scribble for five minutes a day. When I’m trying to break into new material, I always tell myself that fifteen minutes count. Five minutes can count, for that matter. It all depends on what you agree on. Just get in the water.
- Agree, too, on the duration. Are you going to do this for 20 days or 30, 40, or 60? Do you get to take a day or two off each week, or is it really every day?
- So how do you use this caring person? (See item 1 above.) Send an email, a text message, or make a phone call once a day to update her on your progress. Maybe a weekly update is good enough, but an alternative (especially if you’re really feeling unmotivated, undisciplined, and maybe even completely undone) is to send a text when you sit down to begin, and another when you finish.
- And just as you can write for a very short time (at least at first), you can also use very small rewards. Say “Yay!” Do a little victory dance at your desk. Give yourself a gold star.
If you nurture it, it will grow.