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

Summer, 2008 at the Highlights Children's Writers Conference in Chautauqua, Ohio, 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 Also, four unpublished "finished" novels, too many rejections to count, and a growing sense of despair that maybe this conference was it for me, a last ditch shot at following my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.)
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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 Also, four unpublished "finished" novels, too many rejections to count, and a growing sense of despair that maybe this conference was it for me, a last ditch shot at following my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.)

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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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