Held to account: top tips from an accountability hero

I’ve always considered myself a lonesome kind of writer, most productive when it’s just me and my words. But, I must admit I’ve been missing a trick.

This year I’ve been experimenting with different accountability structures. I’ve found that enlisting the support of buddies, coaches and structured writing challenges has transformed my output and progressed my writing in leaps and bounds.

Meet Alison Jones — writer, podcaster, host of the 10-day proposal challenge, publishing partner at Practical Inspiration Publishing, and my own accountability hero. She’s inspired, encouraged, cajoled and challenged me to write more and better. Find out how she holds herself to account.

The easy option: writing to commission

Alison has written several books in the past, but always to commission. This is in many ways the easy option because accountability is built-in — you must deliver to a publisher by a certain deadline. When she started writing her own book, she found it much harder, she explains:

“I spent two years ‘(not)-writing-my-book’ because it was never at the top of my to-do list: I’m a publisher by instinct, not a writer, and all my deadlines and to-do list were focused on my clients’ books, not mine. Finally, I decided enough was enough.”

Going public — the ultimate accountability

Alison set herself the ultimate accountability challenge when she started a podcast, The Extraordinary Business Book Club, this time last year. In it she interviews authors, experts and people with interesting things to say about books and writing. She’s been using their advice s to help her write her own book. In public!

“It forced me to be publicly accountable, as well as getting incredible insights and advice from successful authors on how they wrote their books and how they’re using them in their businesses, all of which of course has gone into my book.”

“It forced me to be publicly accountable”

Build accountability from your audience

I admire Alison’s bravery as a writing guinea pig, for example her recent decision to put up the full table of contents for people to read.

She asked members of the Extraordinary Business Book Club Facebook group and those on her mailing list to comment. She said, “that felt terrifying but the response has been fantastic, so much enthusiasm, and some great questions. It also forced me to change the underlying structure and the names I’d given the sections because it turned out they weren’t clear enough.”

Set your own deadlines

In addition to sharing her draft, she’s finalising the cover design so she can put up a pre-launch sales page. And, she’s booked an editor, “she’s expecting the first section at the end of March, so now I HAVE to get it done!”

These are great examples of setting multiple deadlines for different aspects of your book and something we can all try.

Trying expert advice, that works

I asked Alison whose advice has been most helpful. “So many useful bits of advice. You’ll have to buy the book to read them all!” Here’s a sneaky peek of what works:

Guy Kawasaki inspired me to put the table of contents up online and turn on the comments button, I’d never have thought of that and it has been utterly brilliant — I’ll be putting the full first draft up when it’s ready too.”

Another brilliant tip was from Robbie Kellman Baxter who talked about writing as a tool for thinking. Alison explains, “when she’s struggling with something she starts a new document and types, ‘People keep asking me about X, and I don’t know what the answer is, and I think that’s because…’ and by the end of the document she’s shaped her thoughts and has an answer. That works beautifully for me too, writing is such a great discipline because it helps you articulate what’s unclear but important.”

“Writing is such a great discipline because it helps you articulate what’s unclear but important.”

Is there one piece of advice she’d like to try, but hasn’t had the chance yet? “I’d love to put into practice advice from Graham Allcott, the Productivity Ninja, who recommended a month alone in a beach hut in Sri Lanka to focus on finishing a book. I’m still working on that — my husband isn’t convinced.”

Designing challenges to help others

My go-to accountability structure has always been deadlines. I write regular blogs for Prolifiko and other websites which have fixed submission dates. However, I found that longer writing projects were taking a back seat.

In January, I signed up to Alison’s 10-day business book proposal challenge to help me kickstart my non-fiction book. I asked Alison what the idea was behind the challenge:

“The short answer: to help people who have an idea for a book and don’t know what to do with it!”

She explains, “I have always thought the proposal document is a brilliant tool for thinking; it’s often disregarded by those planning to self-publish or publish with a partner like me, since they don’t ‘need’ to pitch to a traditional publisher, but making the business case for your book and getting really clear on what it’s about, who it’s for and what’s distinctive about it is a superb discipline for any would-be author.”

“To help people who have an idea for a book and don’t know what to do with it!”

During the challenge, I spent a little bit of time each day doing the exercises. After the fortnight was up I was amazed that I had a polished proposal ready to send out to agents and publishers.

Alison agrees: “Just an hour or so for 10 days is long enough to be useful but short enough to be doable for most people. The combination of my publishing expertise and feedback together with the incredible support and creativity in the group means the motivation and energy stay high and you end up with a really professional, compelling proposal.”

Accountability is key. Not many people can sit down and do that on their own. Plus, there’s the added motivation that comes from including a competition.

“The cherry on the cake,” says Alison, “is that one proposal will win the prize of a publishing deal with Practical Inspiration Publishing!”

She’s proud that several of the proposals to come out of the challenge have gone on to be accepted by publishers and agents, who have been impressed by the high quality. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my proposal is one of the lucky ones. I’ll let you know…

Originally published at prolifiko.com on 13 March 2017.

Author of How to Have a Happy Hustle, founder Prolifiko writes about innovation, creativity, philosophy, productivity & writing.