8 Ways to Find Accountability as a Freelance Writer

This is a guest post by Steph Auteri.

How many of you are wearing slippers right now? Let me get a show of hands. How many of you rolled out of bed at 9 a.m. or later? How many of you are nursing your first cup of coffee, torn between writing that blog post, playing Spider Solitaire, or seeing what’s on the DVR queue? (Me.)

When I first started freelancing full-time, I struggled with my motivation levels. I wore fuzzy, Cookie Monster pajama pants 24/7. I watched all-day America’s Next Top Model marathons and, when it came to a decision between Spider Solitaire and work, the card game won every time.

Five years later, I have a much better grip on things. After going through a period in which I never stopped working, I’ve settled into something that looks a lot like success, coupled with a healthy work/life balance. What was missing before? Accountability.

My motivation and accountability come from my writing partner, who sends me threatening emails every week. But there are so many ways to find that same sense of accountability. So where can you go to ensure that your writing goals are met, thanks to a mix of motivation, camaraderie, and abject fear?

1. Month-Long Writer Participation Events

Fiction writers have NaNoWriMo, during which they can go all in on that large project they—ve been daydreaming about for eons, a built-in support network (and hard-core accountability) just an email or dedicated forum away. For bloggers, there’s NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. (Both are in November.) Or there’s Michelle Rafter’s annual WordCount Blogathon, in May. And those are just the more well-known ones. You can search for blog carnivals within your specific niche at this handy-dandy online directory.

2. Professional Organizations

Once upon a time, I was a member of Freelance Success (FLX). One of my highest periods of productivity ever was during their twice-a-year Query Challenge. Participants were split into teams and pitted against each other, earning points through queries and LOIs, and through the assignments that resulted from them. Team members had to report their points once a week, and team rankings were sent out in the weekly e-newsletter.

There’s nothing like some healthy competition (and the fear of letting your teammates down) to make you sweat. Of course, you could also find accountability on the member forums of a variety of professional organizations. I list the benefits of membership in ASJA, EFA, NWU, and others over here.

3. High-Stakes Writing Applications

There are several sites and applications that target your writing productivity, and that can be used year-round. 750 Words is one such resource. It’s a site on which users aim to write at least 750 words a day and, for their troubles, receive points for their progress, and stats about what they—ve written.

Or there’s Write or Die, for those who work best under pressure. It tracks your writing and, if you pause for too long, you either a) receive a gentle reminder pop-up, telling you to stop being such a goddamn slacker (gentle mode), b) are subjected to an “unpleasant sound” that only ceases if you continue writing (normal mode), or c) are forced to watch your writing unwrite itself (kamikaze mode).

Then there’s my personal favorite: Written? Kitten! This application rewards you with an image of an adorable kitten every 100 or so words. (You can set the word count goal as high as 1,000.)

4. Writers? Groups

Of course, you could always go old-school and join a writer’s group. Back in the day, my writers? group went a long way toward keeping me on the ball. We’d give each other homework assignments at every meeting, to ensure optimal levels of productivity when we were apart.

To build your own writing group, try posting on bulletin boards, such as those at MediaBistro and FreelanceSwitch. Send out an SOS to craiglist surfers. Tweet about your writing group desires, or put up a bulletin on Facebook. You could even find members amongst your fellow students. Or go virtual! UPOD is a popular and active Yahoo group for professional writers and editors.

5. Continuing Education

Classes are an excellent way to hone your skills (duh) and even network with other writers. But aside from that, having real homework assignments to contend with can get you moving like nothing else.

6. Accountabilibuddies

Cherry pick someone from either your personal or professional network who will keep you on point. I used to send my husband a list of my daily goals each morning, and then report back to him at night.

Now I have a writing partner I share weekly goals with. We send each other status reports of our accomplishments at the end of every week. We also give each other deadlines, swap and critique work, and have regular Skype dates. Because of her, I finally wrote up that book proposal I’d been daydreaming about for years, and started querying agents.

7. Social Media

The people I’ve met on Twitter make up a support group to rival all others. My blog readers also keep me on point. Finding accountability can be as simple as tweeting out the items on your to-do list.

8. Being a Hard-Ass

Of course, you could always use mini goals, rewards, self-imposed deadlines, and good, old-fashioned self-discipline, but where’s the fun in that?

Steph Auteri is a freelance writer, editor, and career coach to word nerds. If you’d like to receive a FREE copy of Freelance Awesome: A Starter Kit — an e-workbook containing the five worksheets necessary to jumpstart your freelance writing career — sign up for her mailing list. You can also snag more freelance advice on her blog, or stalk her on Twitter.

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9 comments… add one
  • eliana

    I hate to admit how timely and applicable this is for me. Thanks, though I don’t think a kitty picture would be all that motivating. 🙂

  • Fantastic bunch of suggestions, Steph. (As usual) I’m psyched about the kitty picture, as I am moving in a couple of days and have to give up my cat. (sad…) So a virtual kitty might be just what the doctor ordered. I do find myself taking advantage of too many online distractions, so it’s good to know how a successful freelancer like you faced them down and conquered them. I’m love the sound of the Freelance Success query challenge — I’m off to investigate that.
    By the way, I’m currently participating in the NaBloPoMo for this month, and it has already upped my writing skills tremendously.

  • Thanks for the comments, ladies!

    Eliana: I trust you’re not at the level of crazy cat lady I am. 😉 That’s okay. There are plenty of other options.

    And to both of you: seeking out accountability and staying on task is sort of like recovering from an addiction. (My addiction? Shopping.) You must be ever vigilant and, though things do get easier, the struggle never goes away completely.

    Fingers crossed we always have someone to kick our booties into shape.

  • I appreciate your insights and encouragement. This is indeed my biggest obstacle. My writer’s group is so helpful. However, I struggle with time management daily. I find TV distracting. And with On-Demand I can watch a marathon of something I have missed. Thanks for the reminder to refocus.

  • I could use some of these, but currently I’m using the Reuben method. I recently had a Reuben sandwich so good that it inspires me to write. I make a list of weekly goals, and if I reach them by Friday, my fiance takes me to pick up a Reuben on the way home from work. I figure it will work until I get sick of it.

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