Honouring your unofficial accountability partners
How many times have you been on the receiving end of a question like this?
“How’s that novel coming along?” “Have you finished your book yet?” “When can I read that short story?”
No matter who asks me this kind of question—my writing group colleagues, my sister, or a random well-intentioned stranger who hears that I am a writer—I have an emotional, visceral response. An internal shudder. A surge of irritation. An immediate need to run away or hide.
I find it’s easy to respond with a little white lie: “Still chugging away!” Or a deflection: “It’s fine. But tell me about your new job!” Or a half-hearted attempt at a joke: “You’ll have to wait a bit longer—I’m holding out for a 6-figure advance and a Netflix adaptation.”
If I’m feeling especially fragile, I want to lash out with sarcasm or venom. Or just cry.
It’s no fun being reminded that your work in progress is just that—a work in progress. As in, not done yet. Especially if you feel stuck, if you’re comparing yourself to another writer, or if you had planned on reaching whatever word-count by now. Maybe you haven’t written anything in weeks, and the shame and self-loathing is gnawing at your insides. Maybe you gave up on your novel and turned your focus to renovating your laundry room, or gardening, or moping. (Been there.)
Whatever plot problem, personal vulnerability, or other form of writer’s block has caused your project to stall, it’s not the fault of that friend or family member who innocently stumbled into your creative dark night of the soul.
Instead of blasting that hapless individual or succumbing to those negative feelings, try this instead:
Pause: Take a deep breath. Sip your drink. Tie your shoelaces. Do something to give yourself a moment before you respond.
Smile: The action of using your face muscles to smile can have an effect on whatever negative emotion you’re actually feeling. Basically, fake it ‘til you make it.
Say thank you: This person is taking an interest in you and your writing. They don’t know about your internal struggles. They probably care about you and genuinely want to know how it’s going.
Clock your response: Notice the emotion you feel in response to their inquiry and reflect on why it set you off. Think about why you had the emotional response you did.
Be honest with them: You’re not obligated to tell this person why your writing has stalled. That’s between you and your muse—or you and your therapist. But if it feels right in the moment, share that the writing isn’t going as smoothly as you like. They might have some words of wisdom, or at least a sympathetic ear.
Be honest with yourself: If something isn’t going the way you want with your writing, you’re the only one who can change things. Ultimately, you’re responsible for moving forward with your creative project. Whatever has you stalled—lack of time, lack of motivation, boredom, frustration, a problem with craft, a problem with structure—it’s up to you to dig into that challenge and find a way through it.
As unwelcome or uncomfortable as those questions are, they can be the kick in the pants you need to get back to writing. Taking a closer look at why questions like this set you off can help you understand what’s keeping you from moving forward.
And that can ultimately help you turn discomfort into action.
How do you handle questions about your writing?