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How a Critique and Accountability Partner Can Help Your Writing and Career

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, What's New.

Summer, 2008 at the Highlights Children’s Writers Conference in Chautauqua, NY, I was at a low point. I’d been writing and pursuing publication for ten+ years and had little to show for it except a handful of published short stories. Also, four unpublished “finished” novels, too many rejections to count, and a growing sense of despair that maybe this conference was it for me, a last ditch shot at following my dream.

Enter: Donna.

GIVEAWAY: Jody is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: kimkvp won.)

 

thin-space-novel-cover        jody-casella-author-writer

Column by Ohio-based Jody Casella, who has been writing stories since the
age of seven. She majored in creative writing at Rhodes College and has
an MA in English from the University of Memphis. After many years teaching
and raising children, she’s thrilled to be making her debut with THIN SPACE
(Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster), a paranormal YA mystery about a boy
coming to terms with his twin brother’s death. Find her on Facebook,
Twitter and Goodreads.

 

I met her standing in a long, snaking line at the Port-o-potty and we got to talking about our angsty up and down writing journeys. Donna mainly wrote picture books and I mainly wrote YA novels, but we seemed to be at a similar stage in our lives–kids in school all day, supportive spouses, time off from our teaching jobs. We also seemed to be at a similar stage in how we viewed our writing, both feeling as if we were on the verge of publication, but not quite figuring out how to make it over the wall.

Over the next few months we fell into a sporadic email correspondence, which turned into a daily one. Each morning we emailed our writing goals and each evening we’d email what we called our accountability. In other words: had we done what we said we’d do that day?

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

At the time I was working on a novel and trying to hit 1,500 words per day. The old writing me would’ve viewed this goal as a hit or miss type of thing. The me with an accountability partner never once missed the mark. I remember one night staying up late to finish my words and my husband shaking his head and saying, “Who is this Donna? Why do you care what she thinks?”

And Donna confessed to me that her husband had expressed similar doubts about our partnership. “What is that lady even writing?” he asked her. “How do you know it’s not porn or something?”

No. Not porn. I promised her.

But it took us a while to work up the courage to share our writing with each other. This eventually became part of our daily emails too, passing stories and chapters back and forth. Later, we proofread each other’s query letters and shared our research on agents and editors.

Over the years we’ve cried over each other’s rejections. And cheered over each other’s successes. Many times we’ve talked each other out of quitting. We’ve met up at conferences and retreats. Our families have vacationed together. We’ve become close friends.

Every day we still email our daily writing goals. Every day we check in with our progress.

Some writers figure things out on their own. They work hard and attain success early. For Donna and me, it’s taken a bit longer. Okay, a lot longer. For us, the road to publication has been longer and snakier than a Port-o-potty line. But, oh, the frustrating and seemingly endless wait has been so much better with someone to chat with along the way.

 Looking for an accountability partner? A few tips:

1. Go where other writers go. Join a professional writing organization such as SCBWI. Attend retreats and conferences. Browse book festivals. Hang out at bookstores.

2. Think beyond locally. (Donna and I live twelve hours away from each other in different states.) So, strike up conversations on social media. Join online writing groups. Comment on writing blogs.

(What does it mean when an agent says “This isn’t right for me”?)

3. Don’t get hung up on writing genre. Writers are writers. (Apologies to Donna’s husband, but even porn writers are writers.) It doesn’t matter if you write romance novels and your potential accountability partner writes rhymed picture books. What matters is how each of you approach your work, the time each of you is willing to put into your writing, your openness toward learning, and your willingness to accept criticism.

4. Put the word out that you’re looking for a writing buddy, and like everything else in this business, keep plugging away until you find one.

GIVEAWAY: Jody is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: kimkvp won.)

 

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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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20 Responses to How a Critique and Accountability Partner Can Help Your Writing and Career

  1. kadelr says:

    This is just the encouragement I was looking for. I have stuff to share but know enough to go outside of the immediate group of people who love me. It’s inspiring to hear that sometimes you may find your greatest writing partner while you’re waiting to pee. And here I thought it had to be this complex, serious endeavor…who knew!

  2. HopefulWriter says:

    I would love to find or start a writing group. I belonged to one years ago and reading this column made me realize how much I miss it. Starbucks (or, even better, local coffee shops) and writing — duh!

  3. cotidiano says:

    I’ve tried to find an “accountability partner” before, but it’s hard to maintain consistent correspondence…=/

  4. Jeri Baird says:

    I don’t know what I’d do without my online critique groups. I met two of the women in my group for the first time at the SCBWI Conference in August. We had a wonderful time and felt like old friends because we had already shared so much through the group.

    Great advice – thanks!

  5. jdmstudios says:

    I NEED an accountability partner to keep me honest and keep me working instead of playing facebook games! Great advice, Jody, thank you :) You have inspired me!

  6. Great idea, looks like a fun read

  7. waughwright says:

    It sounds great, but a little exhausting too.

  8. kurtpatt says:

    I love the story of how you found your accountability partner. The idea of daily e mails and checks is also a great idea, thanks!

    Patti
    kurtpatt13 at gmail dot com

  9. twistingmom says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and for the great advice. I tried the local writing group, but it wasn’t a good fit for me. The idea of an online partner sounds perfect!

  10. Linda.H says:

    Thanks for the idea. After reading this, I went and got myself an accountability partner.

    Your book sounds interesting. Even though I think it would be perfect for my daughter, I think I’d read it before giving it to her. (shhhhhh, don’t tell her.)

  11. Moovemkr says:


    Jody, thanks for the tips and inspiration. I am going to start working today on finding an accountability partner. Does anyone have Cormac McCarthy’s phone number?

  12. Firefly123 says:

    Thank you, Jody Casella, for sharing your inner story. I have always loved writing, singing, and have a desire to play the piano. Well, I sang in choir and on a worship team for years, my fingers are too short and I truly do not have an aptitude to play the piano, however, my love for writing has never waned. What has waned is belief in myself that I can actually write, discipline to keep at it when I “feel” defeated, and a lack of encouragement to never give up. Until now. Reading about you and your “accountability partner” and the dedication it inspired in you, has encouraged me to never give up. Working two and three jobs makes it challenging to find the time to write as I would like to and even more difficult to have a partner. However, the knowledge that if I would work at it daily, even for only 5 minutes , holding myself accountable, and believing that what I am writing is worth writing, then I will be living out my love for writing. Whether I ever actually become published is a different matter, as what is important to me is: to write! Thank you for reminding me that it is the committed effort that I am willing to make that will make the difference.

  13. Haypher says:

    My accountability person and I meet at Starbucks to review what the other wrote. Starbucks’ coffee/tea/goodies are one half of the reward of doing the work. The other half of the reward is the down and dirty discussions that come from reading each others work. I type the word ‘dirty’ with a lot of love ;o) Because out of those discussions came avenues to better ideas and sad farewells to our little darlings we so wanted to keep BUT had to go.

  14. Vicky says:

    Jody,

    I loved reading about your low point – many writers can identify, I’m sure. I’m so happy you finally made it! I will keep on trying, praying, and writing……

    Happy Holidays,
    Vicky

  15. jenay56 says:

    Great idea. I need to find a writing buddy. I think this would be incredibly useful. Thanks!

  16. SammySammo says:

    My accountability person still texts me every day. He takes my abuse and still texts me to ask why I’m not writing!

  17. vrundell says:

    Great advice! Whenever possible I seek out in-person critique with a trusted group, but for those of us who can’t get a physical network together, a digital buddy can be invaluable. It’s hard to self-motivate. Think of all those lapsed gym memberships and busted new Year’s Resolutions!

    An accountability partner like having a personal trainer–for writing–a cheerleader who also holds us accountable to gain our goals and desires. He or She doesn’t have to actually critique the work, just make sure words get on the page…of course critique would be a fantastic bonus.
    Thanks Jodi, and best of luck.
    Veronica
    http://vsreads.com

  18. kimkvp says:

    Thank for sharing your inspirational post–I am actually going to send a link to the critique group I belong to…I love the thought of an accountability partner. Thanks again and good luck with your book debut. Thank you!

    kimkvp at gmail dot com

  19. Lina Moder says:

    This is the kind of real-life story that gets writers out of depression – thank you so much Jody for sharing your story with us, and how long it took you and how openly you admitted to almost quitting. It’s the almost that counts!! You proved that hanging in there is the only way to success.

    The best thing about the writing world? The friendships writers make :)

    Lovely lovely article with wonderful tips:)

    Thank you!!
    linamoder at gmail dot com

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