Camp Accountability

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, at the beginning of the month, I joined Camp NaNoWriMo as a way of motivating myself to revise one of my manuscripts. I set myself the goal of an hour of revision a day.

The motivation appears to have worked. I just achieved my month’s hour-goal of 31 hours a day early, even though there was a stretch early in the month when I didn’t work on it at all.

Now I have to keep going past my goal, because it’s the habit that counts and because the work is never finished.  The practice, not the product, is what is important.  But to do that, I still need some accountability.

Community works.

The key to achievement is building habits, and accountability to others is a great way to build such habits, because human beings are social.

Writers often emphasize how lonely the process of writing is. They’re right, of course. It’s solitary. But so are many other things.* We are creatures of culture. Even the most silent, lonely, laboring scribes carry imaginary readers around with them like a snail shell, and travel a path laid out by fellow writers whose only messages were in books.

Making myself socially accountable for something is effective when the plod is long and the rewards less immediate, even if the “social accountability” in Camp NaNoWriMo was to strangers and even though my randomly-compiled “cabin” (a small discussion group) was inhabited by only a few active participants. Some cabin members were, for whatever reason, ghosts who signed up, set a goal, and never updated, or else from their statistics were clearly working on their projects but not stopping in to discuss what they were doing. The few of us who were regularly chatting in the cabin did so irregularly, asking questions, reporting on struggles or successes, and encouraging the others.  But I cared what they thought, even if I didn’t know who they were and they didn’t know me.

It turns out, as I say, that 31 hours was not enough to get the manuscript completely revised, and because Camp NaNoWriMo is only a month long, I don’t have meetings I can attend to help me finish up. But it was long enough to get me really engaged in the process, and to make me care about the story again.

I have to continue seeking an ongoing community, and to lower my standards for what that community should look like.  Any writing community will do, I suspect.||

*Losing weight, for instance, is a solo undertaking and one in which the individual has to withstand considerable negative pressure from family, friends, community, and society as a whole.  Over the past year, though, I’ve lost nearly forty pounds and am keeping it off by going to my amiable, amateurish Weight Watchers meetings, weighing in once a week, and staying for the sessions. Even now that I have hit my goal, I’m still attending (now for free, thank you Weight Watchers, because that’s what happens when you hit your goal weight), because there’s no reason I should stop doing what works just because it worked. (I learned that the hard way, mind you. I’ve lost this weight before, and stopped going to the meetings, and it crept back.)
†And to realize that it really really wasn’t ready for publication when I first thought it was.  Oh, god, the incoherence.  The palimpsests of earlier ideas lingering on even after I have abandoned them.  The confused motivation.  The unclear plot. In fact, I was as confused about what was going on as the characters were.§
‡Shout out!  Elaine Glimme, Sachia, Mischief_Managed1977, and TARDISstowaway were constistently active all month long, but I just scrolled through the chat window and Lena35, EmmHays, whiskers11, TheKoward, 1anioh, grimbie, and arunjchess all participated.
§And that is because I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo proper, where the idea is to write a novel in a month, and I just kept moving forward no matter what forks I took in the road, not caring that I was heading for Syracuse with a herd of cats when I had first set out for Prague with a very large egg.
||I bet I can look on Twitter and find something in five minutes.  Heck, I already belong to some Facebook groups designed for the purpose.  They’re easy to find, but I haven’t used them. Why don’t I ever really, actually, want to do what works?  Rhetorical question.

3 thoughts on “Camp Accountability

  1. Miriam says:

    Hi, I just read Nameless Magery on a friend’s recommendation, and enjoyed it very much. (I’m past the point where I could have imprinted on it the way she did, but if I had found it in 6th grade, I might also still be recommending it to people. As it is, it feels a lot less dated than much of the stuff that I did read in 6th grade, and I’ll be tracking down Of Swords and Spells.)

    As far as writing, I also find NaNo/Camp NaNo motivating (usually) for relatively short stretches of time, but struggle to keep that sort of schedule on the long haul. (See: I wrote 16,000 words in July, and then spent the past two days reading your book instead. This may be partly due to the fact that my story requires more underpinning, but I was just ignoring that for the duration of the month, and now it needs a little more serious thought.) Aliette de Bodard mentioned on Twitter that one can try committing to writing two words a day (or two words every weekday, or whatever) and when I first started that I found it very effective for several months. I simultaneously started tracking daily wordcount in a google doc, to mimic some of the reinforcement of NaNo. I recently added a column for hours of editing/plotting, to reward the parts that can be hard to measure in words, and am cautiously optimistic, though of course the spreadsheet only works when I put in the effort to do things that I can record on it.

    Generally, I’ve found “writing dates” to also be very effective, where I deliberately schedule time to set aside for writing. Even just doing one with my roommate* makes us significantly more likely to get words written, but if we can get a third person, it triggers some sort of peer pressure effect that I find very compelling.

    Now, having said all that, maybe I’ll go write something, or at least lay groundwork so that I’ll know what I’m writing tomorrow.

    *Who is, as I type this, making disparaging comments about Simon’s inability to share information.

  2. DMT says:

    Hi, Miriam! Thank you for making me a less “lonely writer” 🙂 and for the idea about two words a day and a spreadsheet. NaNoWriMo requires an obsessiveness and exclusivity I can maintain for a short while, but not over a long period. But I use a writing schedule and have for years, tweaking and tinkering whenever I realize something doesn’t work. Right now it’s working.

    Every once in a while someone tells me they’ve read Nameless Magery, and it is such a nice thing! I wrote that book when everything was sideways and I was so busy and stressed I couldn’t think, which is a good reminder to me that I can always find time; I published it almost by accident, which is a reminder to send things out because you never know. I’m passing that on because we writers all need to remember that

    Of Swords and Spells was a planned sequel but was written at high speed because Del Rey wanted it NOW, so most people don’t like it nearly as much (I don’t get royalties any more so I don’t mind saying so). If I were doing it again, I would give it six months of revision time.

    1. Miriam says:

      I certainly found it sort of charming to have wandered over to look up a Real Grownup Writer (even one who doesn’t seem to have published much recently), and find you making accountability posts for your Camp NaNo goals.

      Yes, that is a good thing to know.

      I will consider myself forewarned.

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