Getting Leverage On Yourself Can Help You Finish Your Novel

The other day I talked with a friend who fell on the ice, her second fall this winter. She’s always had trouble with balance, and she’s worried because this time her injuries were more serious.

I asked if her doctor suggested anything to  prevent falling. She said oh, yes, she has 10 minutes of balance exercises to do each day but she never does them.

Most of us have things that, if we did them regularly, would help us reach our goals. We know what they are, yet often it's hard to follow through.

The challenge of following  through day after day and week after week to reach a long-term goal is something novelists grapple with all the time.

No matter how fast you write, it’s impossible to finish a novel in one sitting. You need a long-term habit of writing in smaller chunks over many days, weeks, or months to reach (on average) about 80,000 words.

So how can you make it more likely you'll do that?

A Tale Of Two Friends

When I attended the Oregon Coast writers workshop last fall, Dean Wesley Smith talked about when he was a college student taking a writing class.

He and his friend both wanted to write a story every week and submit it to a magazine or other publication.

They agreed to meet for dinner once a week. Whoever had failed to  complete a new story and mail it (this was back when you had to actually print and mail your manuscripts) would buy dinner.

As both were students and neither had much money, the fear of needing to pay for dinner got both of them to finish and submit stories weekly.

The agreement between these two friends is a great example of using leverage and accountability to meet writing goals.

Leverage And Accountability

You probably first heard of leverage in connection with moving physical objects. It literally means exerting force by means of a lever. It also means to support or strengthen.

When it comes to personal habits, to get leverage on yourself means to use a consequence or outside force to exert more pressure on yourself.

In the story above, the consequence of paying for dinner on a tight budget created pressure to accomplish the weekly task of writing, finishing, and submitting a story.

Accountability also can be used to get leverage on yourself.

Dictionaries define accountability as an obligation or the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. That’s why corporations are talked about as being accountable to shareholders.

On a personal level, by telling someone you trust your goals and setting a schedule for reporting your progress (or lack of it) you become accountable to that person.

It’s much harder to skip doing something if you not only must admit it to yourself but to someone else.

Dean Wesley Smith’s story includes accountability.

In addition to the cost of a meal, he’d need to admit to his friend that he’d failed to do something he'd said he would or, on the flipside, he’d get to enjoy reporting that he’d accomplished his weekly goal.

Getting The Leverage To Finish Your Novel

The One-Year Novelist (my latest release) includes within its week-by-week plan specific ways to get leverage on yourself to finish your novel. You can adapt the methods, though, to fit your own schedule.

Here are a few options:

  • Tell three people that you will finish your novel by this time next year. (Or by whatever date you choose, just be sure to set a particular date.)

Ask each person if you can check in (via email, text, or some other type of message) every so many weeks to share an update on your progress.

If one or more of those people is willing, have a phone conversation where the person asks how you’re doing. But even if you simply report without getting a response, having to tell someone else will help you stick to your goal.

Caveat: I don’t suggest relying on posting on social media.

While it’s true that many people may see your goal and your periodic progress posts, there’s no guarantee that the same people will see them each time. Having to tell specific people who will follow your progress creates a lot more pressure and accountability.

  • Write down why you want to write and finish your novel. Be specific.

Do you love immersing yourself in a fictional world? Is it relaxing to get away from real life and write fiction?

Will you feel proud of yourself? Will you be fulfilling a lifelong dream?

Putting your feelings about finishing your book into words on a page will get you in touch with how wonderful you’ll feel if you achieve your goal, and you can look back at it when you need inspiration.

  • Now do the opposite and write how you’ll feel a year from now (or whatever timeframe you choose) if you haven’t finished your novel.

Be just as specific here.

The idea is to clearly identify and feel what it will be like if the time passes and you didn't reach your goal. Look at these written feelings to spur you on as you write or when you're tempted not to write.

If you want to add accountability, share both of the pieces of writing you’ve done with a trusted friend.

  • Close your eyes and imagine the moment you finish your novel.

If you like to type The End, see those words on the screen.

If, like me, you like to print out your manuscript to review, envision the printer shooting out the pages.

Get in touch with the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel.

  • Plan a reward for when you finish your novel.

It could be a weekend away, a longer vacation, or something as simple as a fancy latte at Starbucks. Whatever it is, though, it's something you vow you won't do until you finish your novel.

(I did this when I started my own law firm by skipping my favorite Chai Latte until I got my first check from a client. That was the best Starbucks drink I ever tasted.)

That’s all for this week, though you can always follow me on Twitter for other writing tips and ideas.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you'd like help fitting in the time to write your novel, you might find The One-Year Novelist: A Week-By-Week Guide To Writing Your Novel In One Year helpful. It's available in both paperback and Kindle editions.

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