Monday, October 22, 2012

My Secret Weapon: Or, Writing Isn't So Solitary Anymore

Today's post has a partner. Luisa Perkins and I are blogging about the same thing today (surely with individual perspectives and insights). After reading my post, be sure to hop over to her blog. The link is here and again at the bottom of the post.

Picture of me with Luisa Perkins 
at the Whitney Awards gala, May 2012

First off, I'm stating the obvious: Writing is a solitary pursuit.

You do it alone. It's just you and the computer. If you're lucky, you have a critique group, you attend conferences, and have other chances to rub shoulders with fellow writers, all things to help to keep you going.

But when push comes to shove, it's the whole BIC, HOK—butt in chair, hands on keyboard—that gets words onto the page and, eventually a whole book written. Or revised. Or submitted. And so on.

As my regular readers know, I've been at this writing gig for a really long time. But I still fight my old enemy, Resistance, which can show up in any form to keep me from getting my work done, whether it's puttering around online or getting caught up in the daily drama of life or whatever else (that "other else" often being, at its core, "I'm actually scared to work on that"), somehow, POOF! my time to write is eaten up, and I don't know where it went.

Resistance is sneaky that way, and I have to battle it, consciously, every day. But that's hard to do alone. And writing is a solitary pursuit, right?

This is where my newest and best weapon against Resistance comes in: For the last year and a half (I think? I've lost track), I've had a system with a dear friend and fellow writer, Luisa Perkins. We're accountability partners, and we help each other keep moving, break through blocks, and prioritize our lives. (And yes, that includes family time.)

Here's the basic gist of what we do: 
Each day (or the night before), we email our goals. The lists often include basic stuff like exercise and doing laundry, and then go into specific, measurable writing goals (such as "Edit 30 pages of X" or "Complete chapter ten of Y).

With my list sent to Luisa, she knows my goals. The luxury of slacking off isn't an option. Suddenly writing (and being a mom and cleaning house) aren't so solitary.

And here's why: Throughout the day, we send texts whenever we've accomplished something. My phone goes off a lot, and my kids have reached the point where they just assume a text is from Luisa when they hear it. Even though they've never met her, she's a real part of their lives.

Examples of texts:
-Dishwasher running. Load of laundry started.
-Read scriptures
-10 pages edited
-Blog post written
-Revised 2 chapters
-Grocery list made

(Yes, we even report showing, getting dressed, and putting on makeup. Some days, even those things are an accomplishment. Any stay-at-home mom can relate to that, I'm sure.)

Some results of our partnership, which began largely as an experiment: 

(1) I get far more done when I know someone else is expecting me to report back.

(2) I make better goals for myself. So instead of saying, "I need to finish drafting this book," I've learned to break down big jobs into smaller pieces, taking them one day at a time. So today I'll draft chapter fifteen. That's doable. It isn't nearly as scary.

(3) I've learned new methods of working and fighting Resistance. Every writer has his or her own bag of tricks. Mine has expanded as I discover Luisa's ways of battling it out. One of my favorite ways is her chapter/chore method. She recently blogged about that here. (She also wrote a brilliant post about Resistance. Read that here.)

(4) I've developed new methods of battling Resistance. One of mine is taking a writing task that seems totally daunting and setting a timer for 20 minutes. Certainly I can survive working on anything for that long, right? So I do. More often than not, those 20 minutes turn into 30 or 40 or even 60. Sometimes it really is just 20, and that's okay. Either way, I've made progress on something that would have gathered dust. I kicked Resistance in the teeth!

(5) When Resistance/fatigue/depression/anxiety/stress kick in (and they do), I know that Luisa is only a text away. I can complain to her about my headache or the latest problem that dropped from the sky, and she's always there with a compassionate and loving ear. Her replies give me strength. They may be text-length, but they buoy me up. I've been known to cry after reading her texts, suddenly able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

(6) The tiniest of celebrations is often enough to keep my inner writer going. Often, after I send off a text with my latest to-do item check off, I'll get a reply with something short like, "You're awesome!" or a simple, "Yay!" It's like I have my own cheering section. Most of the time, no one else is around to see, let alone acknowledge, what I've done, especially when most of my battles are on computer files and are therefore pretty much invisible to everyone else.

(7) I find myself doing more things that are important for my personal well-being and that of my family's, including making home-cooked meals, keeping the house cleaner, exercising regularly, and reading my scriptures daily. (That said, don't drop in expecting to see a Martha Stewart house . . .)

(8) Writing is no longer a solitary pursuit. Every week day, Luisa is right beside me, keeping me going, from hundreds of miles away.

The entire time we've been doing this, we've lived far apart. I'm in Utah, and when we began, Luisa lived in New York, on the east coast. Last summer, her family moved to the west coast, so she's technically a bit closer to me now, but for all practical purposes, she's as far away as ever.

Fortunately, distance simply doesn't matter. We have a simple piece of technology that links us.

I still cling to my critique group; they're my source of weekly sanity. They keep me writing to deadlines, and they keep me striving to constantly improve my work. (And they're great to simply hang out with, some of my best friends ever.)

My ten shades of awesome accountability partner is one very big piece of my writer's arsenal in helping me get the job done . . . and not doing it alone. I stay motivated. I produce. I'm happier. I'm more me. I'm more there for my family. It's been a wonderful thing.

Having an accountability partner has become such a part of my life that when my phone beeps, my kids assume it's a text from Luisa. If they're playing a game on my phone and I tell them I need to send a text to Luisa, they know they have to relinquish it right away. They've never met Luisa, but they probably know her better than they do many of my friends, because she's such a big part of their mom's life.

Accountability partners may not be for everyone, but I know that Luisa and I have both benefited from the arrangement, so we thought that sharing the idea with others could be helpful.

I got lucky in finding mine. Luisa and I have been friends since 2007 (there's a fun story behind that involving knitting), and we sort of fell into it one step at a time. If you hope to find an accountability partner, my best advice would be to find someone you're already friends with. If you've attended writing conferences and the like, you probably have writing friends. I'd definitely partner with a fellow writer, because your goals will more closely line up, and you'll understand each other's needs, desires, and feelings so much better.

Find Luisa's post about accountability partners on her Novembrance blog.


Luisa Perkins said...

I love you.

Luisa Perkins said...

I also love how similar--yet how different--our posts are.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I love you both, and am smiling so hugely right now. Read Luisa's post and then yours, and just love that you have each other. I have an accountability partner too, and I think I might have been institutionalized long ago were it not for her! =)

LibrisPro said...

This is great! A friend and I have decided to try this. Hopefully we will be as successful at it as you two. :)

LibrisPro said...

Oops. That was me, Karlene. Logged in with the wrong ID.

Jenna said...

I love you both too. Does Luisa often put "Save Jenna" on her lists or her accomplishment texts? Because she does that all the time.

Heffalump said...

You guys are both so lucky and blessed to have each other! I think it is a rare and wonderful thing!

Susan Anderson said...

What an interesting idea! Maybe I should do this with my sister...


Shelley said...

I'm thinking I should try this with my best friend. We talk a lot, but maybe we should share some goals that we want to report to each other on. Thanks for the sharing.

RKIrvine said...

I wish there was a place to go to find accountability partners like this - a website or something. I have not been able to find anyone who is as much into writing as I am or is similarly like-minded.


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