Creators work on deadlines.
There is a strange fantasy amiss about how artists work in solitude for a while and one day, their masterpiece just falls out of them. If this is your plan to find fame and fortune, you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Done is better than good.
When there is a clock on the work, results happen. I’ve written an incredible amount of high-performing copy purely because my mortgage payment was on the line if I didn’t. I took a writing seminar in college where you were thrown out of the session if you didn’t present work or provide notes on the presented work.
Here’s the other thing: most people won’t care if you never produce another thing for the rest of your time here on earth. Feeling like you might get called out for failing can be a huge motivator. Just thinking someone might crawl out from behind the scenes to say: “Hey, whatever happened to the thing you said you were gonna do?” can be mortifying enough to keep you on track.
Don’t be shy.
A few years back, I promised my readers one small story each week. One week I sent out this insane story about a neighbor I had in Denver. People loved it, so the next week I wrote another story about my neighborhood, then another. The five emails became the first five chapters of Bad Neighbor. Because I held myself accountable to a small readership, I was able to build on a develop an idea that ultimately became a book.
Accountability makes the world go ‘round. If someone else is expecting you to do a thing, then you’re much more likely to do it. Without deadlines, magazines would never go to print. Writers would never finish their books. Audiences would never see their ideas come to life.
Gertrude Stein had all kinds of visitors to her living room. She called it the salon. People would visit her home in Paris and talk about arts and literature and trade philosophies and ideas. Ernest Hemingway was a regular at the Salon. F. Scott Fitzerald and Jon Dos Passos were a few others. Maybe as a result of the salon, but they ended up writing the literature that is still taught in schools today.
Find a way to keep yourself accountable.
When someone expects to see something out of you, you’re more likely to produce.
When you have someone to share an idea with, the idea always grows. Always. Questions come about. You tinker with it. Take it apart. Could you put it back together in a different way? Ideas are meant to grow and get obtuse and find their own shape.
This works best in private. Maybe you have one or two trusted friends you can email on a regular basis - weekly? - to keep your ideas flowing. Email might be the best means for this. Meeting a friend for a weekly coffee invites all sorts of distractions and tangents. Opening up conversations on social media is predictably worthless.
One to one accountability with someone you respect? Worth its weight in gold.
This rarely works with social media. No one will care if you forget to post on your feed about how you promised to write something every week. Social media is a place for the stuff other people care about. The same goes if you want to do this through some kind of free blog - rare is the person who will make an effort to visit.
No, you have to show up and bother them in a place they will care. You have to send it to them. Be annoying. Be vulnerable.
Find one or two or five people who you can contact directly: messages, email, something where you can bother them. Find the kind of people who will notice if your practice falls off, the kind of people who will make you feel just guilty enough to keep you on track.
This group of people might be the roots of your tribe. They may be the biggest fans you will eventually have. If you want someone to care, give them a reason to care. Then, send it to them.