9 Keys to Creating an Effective Writing Accountability Group

In a writing conference I once attended with novelist Ron Carlson, he said, “You wouldn’t not show up for a coffee date with a friend, so why don’t you show up for yourself?”

Despite our best intentions, we often let our distractions prevent us from showing up to the page.

An accountability group can provide the structure you need to stay on track. Why? Because we’re simply more likely to achieve our goals if we write them down, share them with a group and check in over time.

Plus, having the support of others is a solid strategy for combatting self-sabotage and resistance.

Creating a Successful Accountability Group

So how do you get started?

Here’s what you need to consider when creating your own writing accountability group.

1. Define your accountability group’s purpose

Imagine your ideal writing group. Are they reading your work and offering you specific feedback?

Or do you imagine the shared camaraderie of discussing the writing process? Or maybe you just want writing friends to hold you accountable to your self-imposed deadlines?

Imagining your perfect writing group will help you think about the types of people you want to include.

2. Find people who are the right fit

Will you meet online in or in real life? If you’re simply seeking accountability, the group doesn’t need to be made up of writers. In fact, sometimes the best beta readers and critiquers aren’t writers.

When creating an accountability group, it’s often best to work with individuals with whom you have weak ties. These people are vested in you enough to help you succeed but aren’t so involved in your life that they aren’t objective about your situation. In other words, it isn’t easy to be accountable with your mother or best friend. A coworker, neighbor, or acquaintance is likely to work better.

To find these people, post a flyer at your local writing center, browse online writing groups, approach writing conference attendees, connect via social media, or consider a NaNoWriMo challenge.

3. Determine how and when the group will meet

The more vested you are in the group’s or your accountability partner’s success, the more likely you will meet your own goals. In other words, success fosters success.

Having an opportunity to see the individuals, either in person or online, allows that relationship to grow more quickly. Use Skype or a Google Hangout if you can’t meet in person. It’s easier to skip out posting each week to an online forum, but once you’ve connected with people via video you are less likely to no-show for a group meeting.

Create a schedule for the meetings. An hour a week is usually plenty of time to share goals and discuss challenges. You may need a two-hour meeting if you’re critiquing each others’ writing. Holding meetings at the same time each week or month helps foster a routine.

4. Choose your group size

If you plan to review each other’s work, the ideal group size is between 3-5 people.

This will give you several different sources of feedback while remaining small enough that everyone has time to share regularly.

If you just want someone to hold you accountable to your writing practice, however, having one committed accountability partner may be enough.

5. Commit to a length of time to work together

Choose a time commitment for your group. Maybe everyone wants to try it for three months or six months.

Once you’ve worked together for a few months, committing for a year might feel comfortable.

6. Create SMART goals

Follow the SMART goal format. If you’re in the midst of your “shitty first draft,” you might set a word count goal for the week.

If you’re rewriting, working for a specified amount of time each day or for the week will allow more flexibility.

7. Determine how much work you’ll share

Having a predetermined sharing schedule will create a structure for critiquing others’ work and submitting your own. For example, one writing group I participated in had members share 20-40 pages of work every two months. The pages were submitted two weeks prior to our monthly critique sessions.

Often sharing a larger section of work once a month or once every several months will give your reader an opportunity to get more of the flow of the story. We had each group member share overall feedback plus mark the text with specific feedback.

8. Ask for what you need

The more momentum the group creates, the more this will spill over to each individual. Help each other!

If you need a midweek check-in to keep you focused, ask for it. Do you need help with dialogue or characterization? Would you like help line-editing? What are you worried about? How can the group help?

Be specific about what you need, and you’re more likely to receive it.

9. Celebrate your successes

Having an accountability group will help you get unstuck and move forward. Take time to reflect on the group’s accomplishments. This will foster continued momentum and help you see how much the accountability group has helped propel you forward.

Writing is a solitary practice, but you don’t need to do it all by yourself. An accountability group will provide the support, motivation and structure needed to have you meet your writing goals week after week.

Have you worked with an accountability group? How has it helped your writing?

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

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