A couple of weeks ago I sent out my fall newsletter and in it I titled the letter-y part of it “Thoughts about Accountability.” One reader wrote to me asking where she could access that post, (it wasn’t a post, just the letter part of the news-letter). That suggested to me that I hadn’t gone deep enough into exploring my thinking. So I’m going to try to remedy that here.
I’ve been writing occasionally this year (okay, actually a lot) about how Pyjama Writing has transformed my practice. (Constant and ongoing gratitude to the other writers who are steadily showing up and keeping me company as we all work silently together on our projects).
The year my son was born, I started a small group of writers to share Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Because some of us were new moms, we did one module a month instead of one per week. That was about all we could manage between work, laundry, cooking, and being otherwise wrapped up in the needs of the marvelous new beings we’d brought into the world. I embraced Cameron’s Morning Pages. But I found them more like expressive writing – a private, emotional purge – helpful for my soul, but not something that could help me achieve my writing ambitions – which were to produce a follow up novel to my recently published YA fantasy, Strandia.
Cameron calls them “morning pages”. And I’ve read a LOT of interviews with writers I admire, and with prolific writers whose output I admire. So many of them say that they write every morning, first thing – so there is something about that early writing.
But before this year, and the Pyjama sessions, I could never manage regular morning writing on my “real” writing projects. Life and my professional promises to others always rudely inserted themselves in the queue before my own writing.
I began to trick myself. I signed up to take workshops, because if I made a promise to others that I would be there and do the work, I would (usually!) do it. I became an AWA workshop facilitator, and one of the premium tenets of AWA is that the facilitator takes the same risk as the rest of the participants. They’re not the “expert” or the “teacher” – they’re a writer, starting with the blank page, just like everyone else in the group. So every time I facilitated a workshop I also did my own writing.
And I studied accountability and productivity for writers. In my late forties, when I went to university I discovered Paul Silvia’s book, How to Write a Lot. Silvia is an academic and wrote the book for struggling PhD candidates and professors who were perishing rather than publishing, but his evidence-based research about how to get words down and submitted is applicable to every writer.
I took Maaja Wentz’s excellent workshop, “Write More, Write Better” through the WCYR.
As a writing coach/mentor, and as a psychotherapist, I often get writers coming to work with me because they’re struggling with writer’s block. And, just as it can be really helpful if your addiction counsellor has struggled with addiction themselves, I think I’m uniquely positioned to help a blocked writer. I have so been there.
I often quote Wallace Steven’s brilliant answer when he was asked about how he dealt with writer’s block: “I lower my standards and keep going.” Perfectionism is often at the heart of writer’s block—a terrible anxiety that what one writes won’t be “enough”.
I started this to write a single post about accountability, but it’s turned into an octopus – probably because, after all these years, I have a lot to say on this. So, rather than losing you with a long post you don’t have time for, I’m going to flesh out my ideas in a series of posts. Check back soon if you want some key strategies for making sure you get your “real” writing done.