By Jordan Kantey
The joy of having finished a draft is one of writing’s great pleasures, yet to get there, you need to set – and find ways to keep – writing goals. Here are seven ideas to build accountability and ensure small wins keep rolling:
1. Build Small Habits for Replicable Wins
In the book, Atomic Habits (2018), James Clear writes about how easy it is to think about your goals in terms of major actions rather than the small improvements you can make on a daily basis. His thesis is that small habits established over time become big wins.
Romance novelist, RITA award nominee and Now Novel writing coach Romy Sommer often tells an anecdote in our writing webinars about small habits. When she wrote her first novel she would write snippets in stolen fifteen minutes and half hours while parked in her car, waiting on the school run.
Where in your day can you carve out time and attach writing to something you have to do anyway? How else can you build writing habits that start small but lead to big wins? Keep reading for ideas:
2. Attach Writing to Things You Do by Default
Small, replicable wins – such as writing 500 words daily, to begin – help writing become almost unconscious, like a pianist’s muscle memory. In time, you find the keys without thinking.
One way to make goal-keeping almost automatic is to ‘stack’ habits. This is something theorized by Stanford behavioral scientist BJ Fogg, who suggests using habitual behaviors as triggers for what you want to achieve.
Fogg gives the formula for building a habit you can keep. ‘After I do X, I will do easy-win-Y’. For example, ‘After I start my morning coffee, I will tidy one item in the living room’.
The small, attainable step also brings the higher-effort step closer. For example, as Romy Sommer says regarding ‘stretch goals’:
‘When you sit down to write, decide how many words you’ll be happy to write, and how many words you’ll be really happy to write. Maybe you’ll be okay with writing 300 words in an hour and ecstatic if you reach your stretch goal of 500 words. This way, when you achieve the lower goal, you’ll still feel that the session was a success – and more often than not, by reducing the pressure and performance anxiety from aiming for the higher goal, you’ll actually achieve that stretch goal!’
3. Find Accountability Partners
What is an accountability partner? Someone who shows up when you’re supposed to, checks in, and understands – or even better shares – your goals.
Writing sprints are one kind of accountability tool to ensure you keep showing up to write.
Members of Now Novel’s Group Coaching program often say our daily virtual writing sprints (where members meet in a LiveWebinar room on the hour and write without talking) are a helpful tool for sticking to writing goals and structuring writing time.
Accountability partners are also great because:
- Writing is often a lonely or isolating process
- You have people to talk to who understand your creative discipline/field and can make useful suggestions
- Knowing others are invested in your success nurtures your own motivation
4. Write Your Goals Down and Track Your Progress
In one writing webinar on process, Romy shared a simple yet effective tip for staying focused on your writing goals:
Write a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based) goal in a fun design and save it as your phone or desktop background (you could use a free graphic design tool such as Canva).
If you often check your devices, it’s an easy way to fill each day with small reminders of attainable (not massive) actions that support your writing goals.
5. Write And Rewrite to Learn Your Ideal Writing Process
Remember how ‘massive action’ isn’t necessary to reach your goals? Perspective comes with writing a lot and learning that a first draft is almost never the final draft.
Finishing the first run of a manuscript may feel like massive action qualitatively. Yet drafting plus rewrites (with beta reader or editorial input) can take you from something good (and attaining your first goal, completion) to something great – a well-developed story.
6. Stay Open to Revising Your Writing Goals
You only truly learn the actions your goals require by doing and finding out what works for you.
Sometimes you need to revise your timelines due to your preferred process, and that’s OK. Stanford did a study of 1.4 million weight loss app users and found that behaviors in the first week of forming new habits massively influence whether you will stay the course and reach your goals.
This is part of why we conduct an intake call in the first week of our Group Coaching author program – we get to understand each member’s goals better, and often spot any challenges that may necessitate small adjustments to process and expectations.
Revisiting your writing goals and adjusting your timeline expectations if necessary keeps writing from becoming a source of pressure more than pleasure.
7. Journal and Share Progress
Journaling is a powerful tool for self-reporting your feelings, process and progress. Touching base with your aspirations and any attendant fears.
Writing coaches and constructive, caring critique circles function similarly to journaling in helping you stay focused on your writing goals while touching base. They provide a mirror in which you may measure where you were then vs where you are now.
Sharing doubts, writing challenges and conundrums in a supportive environment is a lot like journaling because you have the feedback that helps you remember (and renew commitment to) your goals.
To sum up, writing goals are easier to reach when you build small habits and attach writing to habits you’ve built already. Finding accountability partners and joining writing sprints provides camaraderie and supports building good habits. Keep writing to learn what works for you, and rewrite ten times if you need to, journaling your process or sharing with a critique circle if you find this boosts your focus and motivation.
Now Novel’s Group Coaching author program provides a structured curriculum to write a book in six months. As a member, you get daily writing sprints to help you stay accountable to your goals, weekly workbooks on writing craft and Q&As with experienced writing coaches, personal feedback on your work and regular live webinars on craft, genre and process, plus weekly feedback in small critique groups and story outlining tools. Everything you need to finish a book with structured support, in a writing community that cares. Visit Now Novel to see what alumni loved and learn more.
Jordan Kantey is a fiction editor, copywriter and blogger who writes the Now Novel blog and performs manuscript assessments. Now Novel has been helping authors improve their craft since 2010 with personalized help from published writers and offers author coaching and editing services, short courses, story outlining tools and a critique community where members write more, together. Follow Now Novel on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for writing tips, prompts, contests and more.
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Rajesh Chandra Pandey says
That was a pleasant article to read and contemplate upon.
The best one I liked was writing in snippets because even if you write in bits and pieces, you happen to accumulate good material. Later, you can stitch the pieces and make a gem of a story or article or whatever. This kind of writing suits part-time writers like anything.
Of course, to make it big, this is not sufficient. Perhaps everyone would agree on that.
Thanks a lot.
Hi Rajesh, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feedback! I agree, it’s the verbal equivalent of tapestry or quilting – creating in small blocks that you can later ‘stitch’ together as you say (I like the sewing analogy).
Vladimir Nabokov wrote on index cards he could reshuffle into any order he liked. It is also a useful way to escape the tyranny of a linear narrative, of feeling the the creative process has to flow from beginning to end in one continuous line (though if not working this way it’s very helpful to have a plan!).
I’ve been a member of Now Novel for over a year and the prospect of having other writers read my submissions has really motivated me to write write write! I don’t often have a word number goal, but I just try to be fully immersed in whatever work in progress I’m currently focused on. Setting certain hours aside for writing has been helpful. As Margriet said, just being part of a writing community is key for accountability. 🙂
Thank you for sharing this, Jess! That’s how critique groups *should* work ideally, to spur on and encourage. Giving feedback is also a great learning process, I find, so it’s win-win. See you in Groups 🙂
Mark Biddlecombe says
As a Now Novel member, I get so much from the Groups – they pick you up when every word feels like a trip to the dentist, cheer for you when it’s working and help you find solutions when it’s not.
I’m part of a group where we’re setting each other writing exercises and it helps me get my writing mojo going as well as letting me play with a character I’m developing in different situations.
Having completed 2 drafts in a year (after 30 years not completing 1!) I’d say three things made the difference:
1) I had a proper novel plan that helped me through the tough times
2) I made writing my priority – I pretty much stopped watching TV
3) when it was hard I bribed myself – get to 500 words and you can have a coffee or a chocolate or play a stupid game on your phone. Often I’d get past that 500 words and keep going until it was bedtime!
Hi Mark! It’s fantastic what a guide and comfort a good plan can be. Self-bribery or reward is really useful as well for keeping motivation strong. Thank you for sharing your process. See you in Groups 🙂
Deborah Makarios says
Attach writing to things you do by default – now that’s got me thinking! I’ve been so used to considering writing as something you Sit Down Prepared To Focus Fully On and not something that one could pootle away on while, say, drinking a cup of tea in bed and waiting for one’s brain to assemble for the day.
Hi Deborah! Absolutely, I think this is a common mindset around creativity; we think it has to be an ‘event’ rather than a scribble or scrawl between duties and obligations that can always turn into something more developed and whittled into shape when we revisit and revise. I like ‘pootle away’. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Jordan, I’ve had a question to my inbox on your post, and how to find/match up with an accountability partner. Does Now Novel have a way for writers to find and connect with other users who are also looking for someone to work with them to keep one another motivated?
Absolutely, in addition to writing groups (that are free to join and where members swap crits and chat in forum threads), we also have options such as the Group Coaching course described in the article as well as private one-on-one coaching where you work with a published writer who’s done it all before – which works similarly to having a peer accountability partner.
Some of our members swap details to stay in touch via email, particularly in our Group Coaching course where some alumni have become friends in the course of meeting at the daily writing sprints. Writing circles are generally a great place to find accountability partners, provided that the circle is constructive and you’re able to find writers of a similar skill level.
I hope this answers the query you received sufficiently, do please mail me if not.
BECCA PUGLISI says
These are such simple and practical tips that can be applied to any kind of goals we might have. Thanks for sharing, Jordan!
Jordan Kantey says
Thanks so much, Becca! It’s a pleasure. Yes, I’m forging onwards with Spanish and Turkish applying the same principles, wish me luck 🙂
I’ve been with NowNovel for a while now, and it’s often where I turn in the moments between wrangling kids, scrabbling for work, and the general hustle bustle of life. I had never personally known anyone with the creative sparks that I tried to suppress in favor of the practicalities of life, but now I belong to a community of people from all over the world and with every level of experience and talent. We all have that spark and we all have goals, even if we don’t know how to define or achieve them.
NowNovel has easily accessible resources and support for every step of that journey. I’ve seen Romy’s Webinar that Jordan referred to, and even though it was from the working mom’s perspective, consistently writing in the car for 30 minutes a day seemed daunting. Now that I’ve been happily stretching my creative wings in short group exercises, I see that 100 words a day might not be out of reach. Reading this article made me see that and maybe I’m ready for the lesson. Thanks (this is one hundred words) 😉
Oops, lies! 184 words. I’m better than I thought (or worse, depending) 😂
Jordan Kantey says
Hi Margriet! Thank you for spending your 100/184 words on sharing this 🙂 See you in Groups!
MINDY ALYSE WEISS says
Thanks for sharing so many helpful tips, Jordan. It’s so much easier to write when you make it part of your daily routine. Goals have always motivated me. And I absolutely love having accountability partners and doing writing sprints with them.
Jordan Kantey says
Hi Mindy, it’s a pleasure. Changing entrenched habits may feel hard but it starts with those small steps. Same here (and giving feedback has been a wonderful teacher, too).