Accountability

Writing is a solitary undertaking, almost never done communally, and that’s the way writers like it. The problem is that this solitariness means no one knows when we aren’t writing. And even worse, no one cares. So, it’s difficult to find the discipline to produce on any kind of regular basis. But what Burroughs said of Kerouac is true: a writer writes. If we aren’t writing, and we walk around calling ourselves writers, we’re lying. Plato would say, “I told you so,” but I digress.

We all have to find our way to be accountable to our work by being accountable to some outside force, although force is not a good word when it comes to writing. Force doesn’t result in good writing. Discipline does. There are a few things that have worked for me over the years. At one time, I rather fully believed in the muse, Erato, and now my faith is tempered by reason and experience. There’s still some magic and madness involved, no doubt, but crafting and work are requisite ingredients. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, my supervisor required that I send her a report once a month. I dreaded it. But, I discovered that it was thoroughly affirming because as I started to prepare my report, I realized that I really did have plenty of activity to list. Research accomplished, proposals sent, publication submissions, pages written, and so on. At least once a month, I could feel good about myself.

Another thing that has worked for me is to get together with another writer (some people join writing groups) on a regular, committed basis, and talk about what’s getting written, getting submitted, getting thought. We’d set each other writing tasks for the next session, as prompts. It kept us thinking of our work and doing our work more regularly. Deadlines only work if someone’s going to mention them. Right now, I have my client expecting a draft by a certain date and the Canada Council expecting a report by a certain date. Two major projects for which I am accountable, but even given that, I have to feel the muse start to push from within, and then the writing happens. The writer is just as accountable to the muse as to the client, the publisher, the granting agency. The writer has to listen to them all.

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4 Comments

Filed under On Writing

4 responses to “Accountability

  1. Thank you Mary for the affirmation that a ‘writer writes’. “Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts, but never hope more than you work.” Rita Mae Brown. I added this quote to my writing book – to keep fired the internal imperative to keep writing. Big help to belong to a writing group that writes together.

  2. Doris Ayyoub

    I like the notion that others outside my office can help me hold myself accountable to my writing task. However, the local writing group in my town is not one I would feel comfortable joining. I did function productively with the online groups I’ve joined during these past few years.

    Right now, I’m faced with the daunting task of penning countless acknowledgement cards which all need to be sent by snail mail. I believe I need to set the discipline of mailing out seven each day and then work on the book for at least one hour daily even if it is just re-reading sections of finished work while exclaiming, “Damn, this is good!”

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