Three years ago, I arranged my life to support the financial and emotional needs of a serious writing career: I moved from city to country, reducing my mortgage by seventy-five percent; sold my new car and paid cash for a used one; stopped eating at restaurants and started shopping at thrift stores. I was prepared to live on the small income my writing produced. But I wasn’t producing any writing.
I thought a writing group would help motivate and focus me, so I formed one with five other women. As a group, we were understanding and accommodating, which is good for friendships, but bad for writing careers. As the months passed, our meetings became socials and we discussed more plots involving family members than fictional characters. Each of us was up for critique once a month, but it became acceptable for a writer to submit something written years ago, or even skip a turn. (I was guilty of both.)
The only time in two years I wrote every day was when a few of us committed to putting our butts in our chairs and reporting our progress daily. It worked at first, but then reasons replaced reported times and excuses were answered with, “You’ll do better tomorrow.” Eventually we stopped reporting and I stopped writing every day.
I was disappointed in myself and the group. After two years, I should have had dozens of solid manuscripts and a handful of publication credits. Instead I had a handful of weak stories and two fistfuls of frustration. The women in my group gave me a lot of things, but they didn’t give me the one thing I knew I needed: accountability.
So I left my group and found a writing partner. She is nothing like me. I am single and child-free; she is married with two young daughters. I am a perfectionist Virgo; she is a free-spirited Libra. My professional background is left-brain technical writing; hers is right-brain public relations. My hair is blonde; hers is black.
But we are both absolutely committed to writing. Unless I’m standing at the altar with Keanu Reeves or her mother-in-law is visiting, we write every day and turn in new writing every week for critique. What few excuses we have for not writing are answered with, “Write double tomorrow.” We have daily email check-ins and meet for two hours once a week. I help her work through plot and character issues in her novel; she points out the dryness in my essays. We support and encourage each other to write more, do better, and never give up.
In the past eight months, I have placed in two contests and she has become a humor columnist for a local paper. At this writing, I have twenty-six submissions out and she is a finalist in a manuscript contest. We have both published essays in The Christian Science Monitor and both have essays upcoming in Texas Co-op Power (circulation 1,000,000).
I am accountable. I am producing. I am happy.
Robin Allen lives and writes in a little red cabin in the Texas Hill Country.