I paid for this software, so even if I don't use it, I won't lose it. That's not good.

I am writing a pet travel book. I am writing a pet travel book. I am writing a pet travel book.

If I repeat that phrase often enough, in public, will that make it happen?

I suspect not.

People have short attention spans, and most of them don’t really care if I write a book or not. Besides, being someone who has been known to fall down on the sidewalk, cold sober, because I didn’t watch how I was walking, I’m no stranger to public humiliation.

Still… I went to the movies the other night with my friend, Kate, whom I hadn’t seen for a few months. She said, “I saw on Facebook that you were writing a new book. How’s it going?” Oops. Maybe people are paying attention. And do care.

Most important: I care.

The background

For those few billion people who don’t read my blog but came across this post, I should explain that I’ve written four books, all for major publishers; for details, see here. The first three, all travel guides, were work for hire, which means I got paid a lump sum by a publisher to write the book and never thought about it again unless I was asked to update it.

Then I wrote a royalty-based book, AM I BORING MY DOG: And 99 Other Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew, which inspired this blog, and discovered that it takes a lot in today’s market — including self-marketing — to sell enough books to earn back an advance against royalties, no matter how modest that advance.

So for my fifth book, a pet travel guide, I decided to self-publish. Which requires self-motivating.Β  No advances to help finance the venture, no deadlines, no one to be accountable to, except myself.

And, I hoped, you, o gentle readers…

What I have done so far

This book isn’t just a gleam in my eye. I’ve gotten pretty far in its conception.

  • I wrote a chapter outline and fleshed out proposal, which I sent to my last publisher, who passed it on to an editor, who never got back to me and who I recently discovered had departed the publishing company; and was planning to send to an agent, but she never answered my email query. This lack of responsiveness on the part of agents is not a fluke nor can it be attributed to an email gone awry. It has happened to me before.

Here is what I wish on all agents who don’t even bother to answer query letters: You should have a brilliant idea for a book and try to find an agent for it and see what it’s like to be ignored, to encounter people who don’t even have the courtesy to send you a brief line of rejection.

Or for the whole agenting profession to become obsolete. Oops, I forgot, it already has.

Okay, so maybe I’m still a little ambivalent about this self-publishing thing….

  • I announced on this blog that I was writing a pet travel book and established Pet Travel Tuesday, which became Pet Travel Thursday because…
  • I became the pet-travel person for Animal Cafe, a new podcast/chat community with (alphabetically) Eric Goebelbecker, Mary Haight, and Lorie Huston, and on Tuesdays I blog about the topic we’re covering that week (which happened to be pet travel this week, which is why Pet Travel Thursday became Pet Travel Tuesday again this week. In case you were wondering).
  • I bought Scrivener, software that many writers I know swear by. My sense so far is that it is geared primarily for novelists, who get a complete template for book writing. The templates for nonfiction presuppose you are writing academic essays or undergraduate papers. But of course it would be better if I actually tried to use the generic template before I decided it wasn’t working for me.
  • I put my chapter outline in Scrivener, and scribbled a few notes in each of the sections. Which is not enough to test the software’s effectiveness by a long shot.


Blogging and podcasting about a subject and buying book-writing software aren’t nearly as effective motivation tools as cash advances and deadlines.

Blogging about the problems I am having writing a book is not the same as writing a book. (I am one of those procrastinators who writes — or reads — other things rather than writing, which is why my house is not nearly as clean as that of other writers. I guess I should be glad I don’t have writer’s block.)

Tentative Solutions

  • Writing a short accountability blog post about my writing progress — as opposed to about pet travel — every week.
  • Starting a nonfiction version of NaBloPoMo, which is a great writing challenge but has an acronym that always seemed a bit lewd to me. Mine might be NaNoWriMo– National Nonfiction Writing Month — which has the advantage of sounding a tad Inuit and therefore trendy.
  • Getting my best friend Clare to agree to read a chapter of my book every two weeks. She did this for me when I was writing Am I Boring My Dog, because she is my best friend. It was a huge help to me. She is more literate and articulate than I am and knows honesty is important, so has always been a wonderful critic. (At this point I am hoping she is reading this post all the way through. Is it flattery if it’s true?)
  • Asking you for suggestions. In fact, I’ll call it a contest. If anyone comes up with an idea for accountability I can use that doesn’t involve spending money or joining a writer’s group (that’s a whole other post), I will critique or edit a short — no more than 1500 words — article or blog post for you; or write a guest blog post for you on your blog; or write a blog post praising you and your blog on this blog.

What do you think?

44 thoughts on “Desperately Seeking Accountability: Book Writing Gone Bad”

  1. Great and fun read. People are so different. I take a self-imposed deadline over anything else and thrive on it. Thanks for the peek into a different perspective.

    Here are my best guesses for some more accountability:
    – Buy something you cannot afford (preferably lend too much money to get it)
    – Publish the deadlines on your blog
    – Promise to write a pro-Cesar-Milan blog for every deadline you miss
    – Get a “board” of fellow bloggers to provide you feedback on chapters
    – Get rid of the clutter (Scrivener?)
    – Let a friend book a travel-trip after each chapter which will be canceled if you miss the deadline
    – Ask all the bloggers you visit to block your comments when you miss a deadline
    – Do you want me to continue? πŸ™‚

    And if all of that doesn’t help:
    – Hire Clare

    (PS. Yet I am left wondering, now that you know what blocks you, why self-publishing if it isn’t you? Think of all the energy you might waste . Energy you could spend on the book if it was a royalty – advance and deadline-driven – book…)

    Good luck Edie!

    1. I love all those suggestions, except for the first one, about buying things I can’t afford. Perhaps I should have explained that I owe LOTS of money — I’m just back from the auto repair shop, where I had to buy a set of new tires because I had a flat last night and all the other tires are very worn down — so I need to find writing assignments that pay, but which keepme from writing my book. The only thing I could give up is blogging… but then who would remember me to buy my book?

      My favorite is the “board” of fellow bloggers…. Do you want to be chairman? Seriously.

      By the way, I haven’t given up the idea of getting a publisher…thus my sending the proposal to my former publisher and trying to find an agent. But it’s not so easy, and I am easily discouraged!

      1. Would love to help!
        I could set up a blog with access for the people that you want to join. We make a deadline schedule and you mail us the material (dont want it in cyberspace). We can then use the blog to post progress updates and comment on the material. The people that you want to join must either be other writers/bloggers who’s opnion you value, and/or people you are afraid to loose face for πŸ™‚

        1. This could really work! Let me think about logistics. You mean e-mail, not snail mail right? — it could take forever for chapters to get to Denmark and I always e-mailed work to publishers and editors. I’m not sure that I could get people I’m afraid to lose face in front of to participate — they would be busy and well known — but I think a group of people whose opinions I value would be awesome.

          I’ll email you and we can discuss this. I’m psyched!

  2. Oh, Edie. You’re singing my song. Somehow I allow myself to run out of time for my “dream” project on a daily basis. Weeks go by, and I don’t even click open the document. Without the benefit of years of therapy, if I had to guess, I procrastinate my big, lofty project because I’m pretty sure if it flopped I’d be crushed. πŸ™‚ Who knows? It sounds like what you need is an accountabili-buddy!

    Also, I heard this tip years ago: Write a check to an organization that you can not stand. Give it to a friend to mail on a certain date if you don’t meet your predetermined goals.

    1. Oooh, an accountibili-buddy sounds like a great idea. We don’t even have to read each other’s work, just glance at it to confirm that it’s actually in.

      My former shrink — everyone who lives in NYC is required to have one — once told me that I feared success, not failure. I’d like to test that theory.

      I love the idea of writing a check to some horrible organization. But I can’t think of any friends who would actually mail such a contribution for me!

        1. Does NAMBLA even accept contributions? I would imagine most of them come from the FBI in an attempt to track members down! But I appreciate your helpful suggestion πŸ˜‰

  3. I wasn’t kidding before when I said you could add me to a pre-sale list. Would generating a list of people willing to buy your book, sight unseen, help? I assume you’d offer a small pre-publication discount.

    You’d have to commit to a certain publication date which, of course, would be when you’d get your first payments, thus the financial incentive you need. You’ve made a lot of friends in blog land and I’m sure you’d find people willing to spread the word if you made a special offer.

    And, if you were able to get the attention of the right publisher, the list of prospective buyers would probably help.

    As someone who struggles with self-motivation all the time, I marvel at all the work you do. Even if you have a magazine deadline or an advance to repay, you still had to drum up the work in the first place. So don’t be too hard on yourself about the book.

    Oh, and I’m with Kenzo_HW. Dump Scrivener if it’s not working for you. You can always try it again for a future project if you want.

    1. Pamela, that is very sweet, but as Calvin Trillin used to say about his pay at The Nation, I suspect the number of people willing to buy my book in advance might number in the high two digits. I’d have to charge a very high price to make that work as an incentive, and that would defeat the whole pre-ordering discount concept.

      As for drumming up work, once upon a time, in another publishing climate, travel book and magazine editors used to come to me. That made me lazy but, luckily, writing queries is another form of procrastination from actual writing assignments (or nonassignments) that I don’t mind.

      And it’s always a different perspective from the outside: You, who write two very different blogs and have a whole other full time job don’t seem unmotivated to me!

      I’ll have to think about Scrivener… when I actually pay for something, it hurts me not to use it, but deferment might work as a rationalization.

  4. I feel your pain but you’re way ahead of the game than I am.

    I have writer’s block.

    I am drowning in clutter.

    I did an extension on my taxes because of my clutter.

    I have insomnia or weird sleeping patterns because of my clutter and my taxes.

    Sorry, I’m no hell. The older I get — the less I can focus.

    1. Hi Karyn,
      I kept in your typo — “hell” instead of “help” — because it was a funny Freudian slip and a great indicator of your psyche.

      Considering that you write two blogs, are on the board of Grey 2kUSA, are a beading diva for several animal causes, and save lots of greyhounds — I saw on Facebook you were fostering this weekend — I would say that you focus plenty well!

  5. I have written books as work for hire and one for royalties … I much prefer the former. You don’t have to worry about accounting or, even, if anyone is buying your labor of love .. tho of course we want them to. And I agree deadlines are an imperative motivator, however. Most of the books I have written I have gotten an advance, which is great to get you started! Good luck, Edie … we want to see your book! I have met half a dozen people who have been happy with self-publishing.

    1. Ah, my partner in guidebook writing crime! I think one of the reasons work-for-hire is especially appealing with guidebooks is the possibility of being asked to do the update, which is far more cost effective (and fun) than writing the original book.

      Thanks for the good wishes. And send any of those people who have self published and love it my way to give me a pep talk.

  6. You are writing a pet travel book.
    You are writing a pet travel book.
    You are writing a pet travel book.

  7. I think you have to book the same time every day for four hours to sit in front of your computer with your outline. You have to sit to write. You have to have no distractions to write. You have to have no excuses for jumping up to get more coffee, answer the phone, play with the dog…no email, no surfing, no radio, no tv, no interruptions for four hours. If you can’t get work done after that, the only thing I can say is you have to write to get it done. Stop writing about not writing – write your book:) (tough love!)

    1. Thanks, Mary for the (cattle?) prod! You’re absolutely right about not writing about writing anymore. But everyone’s process is different. I can’t work in a quiet room; I need to have radio in the background. Some people need to go to coffee shops to write. And if I didn’t jump up for coffee occasionally I would keep rewriting the same sentence, over and over. I have no problem getting my assignments in, so the question is how to fool myself into believing the book is an assignment. When I think about it, that shouldn’t be as tough as I would imagine… after all, self delusion is a strong point of mine!

      1. ;-D Glad you know I’m just trying to help – everyone was so sympathetic, I thought I’d take the opposite approach…of course you are right, we all have our own approach. So re the role of self-delusion – how about believing when you get done with the book, it will sell like crazy and you’ll take a little holiday somewhere fun? A reward for all the hard work!

        1. Not that the idea would be delusional, because we know you have lots of fans, including me, but sometimes inspiration and motivation comes from a future promise to do something nice for yourself:)

          1. Ok, now this is odd, Mary: Your first comment appeared in my regular comments file, the second in my spam filter. So I responded to your first comment — the one without the clarification about my delusions — and then checked my spam filter, where I found this. Akismet is delusional!

        2. Always, Mary! It’s a fine line between affirmation and self-delusion. I’ll take the “sell like crazy” part as an affirmation, the “take a holiday” that will be fun — given the topic of the book and Frankie’s homebody ways — as the self-delusion πŸ˜‰

  8. Speaking from experience — I self-published a book and managed to do it in an unusually timely manner for someone who excels at procrastination. How did that happen? Well, I was motivated by competition. The field of ‘dialogue’ was exploding and I wanted my book to be among that first batch of books to hit the market.

    I’ve since thought about writing another book but….ah….I just can’t sustain the inspiration. This really doesn’t have anything to do with accountability, but I’m wondering, are you feeling jazzed about your topic? Personally, I stall out on writing when I’m not trying to figure something out, when I’m writing what I’ve already digested.

    I just reread my comment. I’m sorry. I’m being presumptuous and totally unhelpful regarding accountability. Maybe you could play a little game with yourself and on those days when you don’t have a pet travel post you could write: “What I’m not writing about pet travel today is…”

    1. Deborah, I think your comments are very valid, and not presumptuous at all. It’s fair to ask whether I am really into my topic and the answer is, in the abstract and as a blanket topic, not particularly. But I’m a research geek and love to dig in and explore things from different angles — for example, whether a dog in a carrier under a plane seat could really produce enough allergens to bother someone who is sensitive to dog hair and how effective airplane filtration systems are — and know that I will enjoy writing this very much once I get into it because it’s a great convergence of two areas of expertise, travel and pets, yet one that I still have lots more to learn about. And pet travel is burgeoning, so you bring up another excellent incentive: Getting a book out on a hot topic! So I really appreciate your perspective on this issue — and I’m very glad you kept your comment in. Even if it didn’t deal directly with accountability, it did deal with incentive, which is important too.

      1. Love this: “But I’m a research geek and love to dig in and explore things from different angles β€” for example, whether a dog in a carrier under a plane seat could really produce enough allergens to bother someone who is sensitive to dog hair and how effective airplane filtration systems are…”

        Okay, I’m going to jump in here again and say—that is an great angle. Asking questions that challenge the “received view” of dogs in hotels, on plans, trains, buses, etc. As a counterpoint, why is Europe so much more pet travel friendly? What do they get that we don’t?

        What occurred to me when I read the quote above from your reply, is a take off on that old book about sex: What You’ve Alway’s Wanted to Know about Traveling withYour Pet, but Were Afraid to Ask …. or something….

        1. Thanks for coming back! Explaining the concept of the book has been one of my biggest problems; everyone assumes it’s destination oriented. I suppose it will help to write it — and then to attach a good subtitle, like the one you suggest.

  9. I *love* Leo’s idea of writing a “pro” Cesar post as punishment :O

    I feel your motivational pain. When you are accountable to only yourself, it’s really easy to put something off to the next day, and then the next day ‘tll you just never get to it. When I have real, paid for orders, they’re done in a flash. After all, I don’t want to disappoint my customers and money is always the *best* motivator! When I’m trying to come up with some new collar style or if I want to organize something on the website, my feet might drag a little.

    What I try to do is make schedules with “time blocks” and slot stuff in. When I really busy or need to get a lot of stupid little things done, it works for me.

    1. I was just going to say that between writing checks to horrible causes and writing posts about people I loathe I could really make my life hellish if I don’t write but then it occurred to me — aren’t we talking about punishment training, which we all disapprove of? πŸ˜‰

      If I look at this as an assignment like any other assignment, then I’ll do it, just as I do all my others. That’s the bottom line. There doesn’t have to be money at the end of each chapter (though that’s a nice fantasy!), just the notion that someone is waiting for the writing. So I’m going to take Leo up on his offer…

  10. well once upon a time I made one of those ‘treasure map’ collages about what I wanted, and pasted in there that “I am now currently doing articles on assignment that will, compiled, become all chapters in a book.” It did, in a way, actually work out, though not at all how I’d envisioned it – .
    So, if you could do enough freelance magazine pieces that involve travel/dog related issues – or enough structured blogs – in 52 weeks you should have a book :)!

    I was supposed to write a commentary last week about Passover for the radio and haven’t yet – (blamed it on Mercury retrograde, which goes direct again tonite!!)though I did get some material and inspiration from the crazy dinners I attended, and I think there are still 2 days left to do it, (I always try to peg my pieces to calendar events so at least I have some starting point) so my last post, on the yahrzeit (anniversary) of MLK’s assassination remains:

    oh one other thought – get really mad about something -that always gets me focused – when you’re on a mission from DOG the personal obstacles will melt away — love, d.

    1. Happy Passover, Diane. I’ll look forward to your next commentary.

      I completely agree with you about the anger as a great impetus for writing — except for me it has to be directly related to the subject I’m writing about. The only thing that pisses me off about pet travel is when people endanger their lives, their pets’ lives, and the lives of other people by not securing their pets in the car. Otherwise, it’s a topic that doesn’t get me upset enough to write with passion and ease!

  11. One thing I’ve found is that writing and viewing things on a computer is much more surreal than tangible. In any kind of large writing task I’ve undertaken, I’ve always found it easier to print out my progress and plaster it all over the wall. I leave blank spaces for the holes that filling. I can literally see my progress, or lack of, every time I walk into the room.

    Not a grand idea I know but sometimes every little bit helps.

    1. Oh Kevin my tree killing friend! This conversation in the comments section fascinates me for what it reveals about other people’s writing processes, which are all so wonderfully different (yours is similar to Diane’s, I’m gathering). My process requires endless rewriting/self editing. If I were to do printouts, I would be destroying a rain forest every week. But I appreciate the suggestion.

  12. How about guilt? As a mom I’m very good at guilt. I could frequently write you and let you know how disappointed I am that you haven’t given me another book to read and how I think you aren’t using you potential. I could question you about if your eating well and getting enough rest and generally poke my nose into your affairs and make you feel terrible for not writing that book. πŸ˜‰

    Seriously though, I sympathize. I don’t know how I do it the way I do. I’m one of those people who is kind of obsessive about finishing something once I sit down to do it. Other things will get left undone until the current project is done. I can tell you it isn’t any more helpful than being a procrastinator. All those other things build up on you. Managing time is a skill that eludes a lot of us, I think.

    1. Guilt is one of my favorite motivators (thus the establishment of the guilt free zone)! I don’t think I would get anything done without it. And adding disappointment in me would be excellent.

      I too get obsessive about finishing things but I to have a genuine deadline or a specific goal, like getting a degree. This book doesn’t have that reality… yet! But things are brewing…

  13. one more thought, on the guilt prod – leave a huge pile of dishes – then, either, you’ll write the book or do the dishes – works for me….

    1. Well, there’s a third alternative… one I’ve taken all too often: Reading the New York Times — or looking at cute dog pictures — online!

  14. Okay, look at it this way: I thrive on your writing, and I read those chapters for me, not for you. I thrive even more on your misapprehension that I am literate and articulate. It forces me to produce comments worthy of your consideration. I have an important birthday coming up on Labor Day (September 5, for your international readers), there’s every possibility that Archie won’t be here to help me celebrate, so I can’t think of a happier way to lead into that day, than to read your chapters all summer. Please, for your best friend and most ardent admirer, do it!

    1. Ha — you’re going to tell me that someone who uses the word misapprehension naturally and correctly in a sentence is not literate and articulate?

      Ok, you’ve convinced me (or is it the other way around?)…consider yourself on a designated reader!

  15. Hi – I’m in the process of starting my own venture, and so I can identify with the angst caused by procrastination.

    Everybody has different ways of finding their motivation and working groove, so it’s difficult to provide any suggestions without knowing you better . . . but, given what I’ve read above, it seems like the two possible culprits may be (1) your interest in the subject matter (a la Deborah’s comment), or (2) your support network.

    I can’t really speak to the subject matter issue, but your fellow bloggers and blog readers are a great way to build up a support network that will keep you accountable and also provide feedback. (Just think how they motivate you to keep your blog updated regularly . . . ) I love the suggestion of a blogging “board” and the suggestion of an accountability buddy. Perhaps you could combine that into a group of bloggers and creative types that are all working on specific projects. Within the group, you are each assigned a buddy with whom you can discuss and review each other’s work, and everyone in the group promises to write a post, once a week on their blog, that talks about the week’s milestones. Finally, it could be cool to incorporate feedback and tips from blogging friends about various doggie hotspots around the country (for instance in a sidebar, or special section in each chapter). If nothing else, you’ll feel even more motivated if other people are involved.

    Good luck with your book!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment — and for your good wishes. I completely agree about the support group and I’m going to take Leo (aka Kenzo) up on his blogging board suggestion, which I thought was terrific.

      Best of luck on your venture too!

  16. As someone who is relatively new to writing, I don’t have much to offer in the way of help. But let me say, I appreciate reading all of the input you got from everyone else! I am a HUGE procrastinator, and have a hard time getting started on writing projects. Once I do get going, I do OK, but it’s that first leap that’s the hardest for me. πŸ™‚ Sending you some “good writing vibes” πŸ™‚ -Tammy

    1. Thank you for the vibes, Tammy. I totally agree — the comments have been amazing. And I’ve already started acting on them. Without procrastinating!

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