Friday, August 27, 2010

Accountability and the Writer – The True Challenge

Start the ominous music, right?  That title just screams "Run Away!"

I mean, as a writer I like to work on my own time, go with the flow, wait until I'm inspired. Because of that, this is a subject that I often try to get around – at least in my writing life.

But here's the thing; as a college student, I practice accountability every day. I need to be at school on time, sitting in that classroom and taking notes. I need to get my homework in when it's due, or make sure I have that report written. I need to be ready for that test.

When at work, I need to focus on my job because I am accountable to my boss and to the people I work with. (Granted, I don't exactly have a solid job currently, but even with my chores around the house, I am accountable to myself and to my family.)

And I need to be accountable to God: I need to pray daily and make sure I have my heart set right before him every morning.

If I can be accountable in all these other points of my life, then why can't I be accountable in my writing life as well?

A common remark I hear from artsy friends (and that I sometimes harbor myself) is this simple truth… "You can't rush art". And as many of us know, writing is an art-form. But a common misconception among writers is that, at the root, this saying means "wait until you are inspired and write then." I've done that before.
Sometimes it works; other times it doesn't.

But here's the thing; if you write only when you are inspired, it might be months before you sit down in front of your computer screen again and type a few words. However, if, like me, you are basing your entire future on writing and the ups and downs of the publishing world, then once every few months isn't going to cut it. You need to have your book written and be working on another one, and you can't afford to have a really crappy first draft.

This is where accountability really starts to apply. As a writer, you are accountable to your future publisher and your readers to do everything within your power to write your book the best that it can be and to do it in a timely fashion.

Let's look at Bryan Davis, for example: in an interview I once read with the author of four best-selling Christian Fantasy series, Davis stated that he usually completes a book in 4 months: 3 months for the writing, and 1 for editing. Now, we can't all be like Davis, I'm sure  (I, for one, have to work around a school schedule, musical practice, and work, along with family life), but his example is admirable. If he can do it in four months, why can't I do it in six, or even eight? I may not always be inspired to write but, like I do with every other part of my busy schedule, I can work a time in that's dedicated to nothing but writing.  And, at that time, I can sit my butt down in that chair and type out SOMETHING, even if I'm not all that happy with how the scene reads at the end of the session.  I can always go back and fix it later.

Some of you may say, "well, yeah, that works fine for a rough draft, but what about the second draft or the edit? I want my book to be perfect, and if that's going to happen I need to take my time on it."

Yeah, that's a tricky subject; I like to take my time on the edits as well. But if Davis can manage his edits in a month, then why on earth can't I keep my editing down to 2 or 3? After all, the basic story is already there; I just want to make sure it's written well.

So what can a writer do to become accountable to their writings?

  1. Go ahead; schedule in that writing time each day, and then be faithful to yourself and make yourself sit down at that time of day and write… no matter what. I don't care if the world is falling apart and aliens are invading at the same time that all life as we know it is about to be snuffed out. Write! You have no one to blame but yourself if your story never gets finished.

  2. Research. This isn't always the most fun part of being accountable to your writing, but it usually comes in handy at some time or other. Now, if you are a fantasy or Sci-fi writer (as I am) then perhaps the hard-core science and history research isn't your thing, but that doesn't exclude you from this step. This step is vital. If nothing else, research your craft: that means look up books about writing, blogs about writing, websites about writing. Read… always read. If you do nothing else in this area, READ! And, of course, practice. Put all that writing research to work: apply it as you write and see how it improves your writing, or makes it worse. Look up the Publishing business; get familiar with potential allies and potential competition. I've been researching writing technique and the publishing world for almost 7 years and I'm still not tired of it!

  3. Make yourself accountable to someone. When comparing your social life with your writing life, you probably notice that you are much more accountable in your social life. I know I've noticed that in my life. That is because when people feel obligated to do something, they usually do it. Without that drive, we all tend to be lazy. Talk to a friend or relative and have them make you accountable to your writing: have them ask you every so often how far you've gotten, or what your word count is. If you know that they will be watching to make sure you do it, you will most likely sit down and DO IT! 
I challenge all of my readers to be accountable to their writings. And, following my own advice, I pledge to be accountable to my writings through my readers. Right now I'm working on the edit of my novel "Eldrei". (SOTD is about as finished as it gets!) From now on, when I post I'm going to try to remember to post my current Word Count until I have "Eldrei" completed. That way my readers can see that I'm actually working on writing my novel, and not just letting it sit until I feel inspired to get at it. If you see that I haven't posted my word count, shoot me a comment and let me know: I'll get it up as soon as I can.

And to start off on the write foot – er, RIGHT foot – here is Eldrei's current word count: 23,082


Jake said...

Did you change the title?

And what's your guess on the word count--if you think you can guess?

And thanks for this post; it reminded me of something that seems to slip to the back of my mind a lot. I have the knowledge that this (keeping yourself accountable and writing a lot) can be done--I know by experience. But I need a reminder every once and a while. :)

Jake said...

Oops, I meant that second question to mean "And what's your guess on the final word count?". Sorry. :)

Star-Dreamer said...

I don't think I changed the title... Hmm. I can't remember now.

Guess on the final word count? Well, the first draft was 165,919... unedited. And that was two years ago. I'll probably have to cut a lot and go back to focusing on the most important plot line. I want to see if I can' round this one up around 100,000 words. That's still a rather large book, but I think it's more reasonable than Roughly 170,000! :)

Star-Dreamer said...

Oh wait, the title of my book? No, I didn't. Well, I did, but that was a long time ago, long before I started this blog.

Song of the Daystar still has the same title.

Eldrei is older than SOTD. :D

Eldra said...

Thanks, Star-Dreamer, this is exactly what I needed to hear. I've been finding it hard to motivate myself to write recently (getting up super early to work and wanting to write late at night are a bad mix). Maybe this will give me the spark I need.

Star-Dreamer said...

Eldra: It's the spark I needed too! :) Sometimes writing about the answers that I know apply to the problems I face helps me face those problems and overcome them. I'm glad it helps. :D

Galadriel said...

Sweet. This inspires me and gets me pumped up.

Ian said...

"I don't care if the world is falling apart and aliens are invading at the same time that all life as we know it is about to be snuffed out. Write!"

Agreed. That would be one of the most inspirational events would have to be a fool to pass it up.

Something tells me that some of us writers are going to be pretty useless people come the Apocalypse. :P


Star-Dreamer said...

Ian: LOL! I can only agree with you there! :D