Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Creative Writing Plan, Part 3: Accountability

I recently made a plan for my creative writing life. No stranger to unsuccessful planning efforts, I have found this particular planning process to be extremely helpful, and I have been sharing the reasons. This is the third and final post in the series. Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.

In my first post about this plan, I talked about how setting limits helped me gain focus and (finally) some success in planning my creative writing. Last week, I described how expectations and timing worked to my advantage as I created this plan. Now: Accountability!

Most goal-setting literature tells you to become accountable in some way: get an accountability buddy, a mastermind group, a workout partner, whatever. This advice always made hyperventilate. I'm introverted. Sharing something deeply personal with someone else is not a step I take lightly.

However, I have found personal accountability helpful in some situations. For example, if you want to play an instrument, joining a group ensures that you play (during rehearsals) and gives you incentive to practice between them (making mistakes at rehearsals). If I were ever to take up swimming again, I'd try to be part of a team -- showing up at the pool would use up most of my discipline; I'd let someone else make up a workout. 

Having seen some value in accountability, I was open to figuring out how it might work in this plan. We included a more traditional "buddy" form of accountability, but I've also found a surprising element of short-term accountability in the process. 

Long-term: My partner in this planning process and I agreed to exchange draft plans and give each other feedback; we had that meeting early this month. It was extremely useful. She's also game to exchange email updates every month or so, and we have scheduled a six-month Skype check-in. I have already found myself listing what I've achieved this month, in preparation for my first email. This traditional form of accountability seems promising.  

Immediate: Another form of accountability element has proved INVALUABLE. Somewhere, I recognized that with this plan, I'm accountable to me -- every day, week, month, year. My left-brained, organized self loved the whole planning process and has stopped nattering in the back of my mind. My more free-flowing, right-brained self has buckled down to send up some words. 

I stumbled on this "accountable to me" aspect by accident. I sat down to work on my plan in a coffee shop, away from my desk. I had forgotten to bring the stack of lists from previous planning attempts (e.g., the Getting Things Done "someday/maybe" lists). So I quickly jotted down a few ideas that had been intriguing me lately. I figured I'd add in some of those "pie in the sky" things later, at home.

Then I tried to slot those few ideas into specific timeframes. I quickly ran into the irresistible force/immovable object problem: with only 24 hours in a day (many taken by other activities), "something's gotta give." Forget about adding things I didn't already have on my short-short list.

So, sadly, I assigned a pet project to 2013 (how can "next year" mean "2013"?) and another to 2014. Yes, it was sad to move them. On the other hand, they're there, on the plan. I don't have to wonder if I'll ever get to them. I don't have to second-guess whether I should be doing one of those instead of something I am working on now. I have decided. I also know that, as long as I work toward meeting my current goals, I have a good shot at addressing 2013's projects in 2013.

For a wonder, this accountability feels freeing. I'm not concerned at all about sharing progress, or lack thereof, with my co-conspirator in this process. I'm not concerned about whether I'm working on the right things. I am still concerned (excited, exasperated, thrilled, eager, frustrated) about the actual writing -- which is how it should be.

In closing: limits, expectations, timing, and accountability all worked together to make both this planning process and the plan itself extremely useful to me. In much the same way that my "25 minutes of suffering" has let me address all the things that could/should be done without freakout or burnout, having this plan lets me focus on doing the writing. And that's exactly what I needed from it.