Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Olivia Clare on Accountability

In the 47th in a series of posts on 2017 books entered for The Story Prize, Olivia Clare, author of Disasters in the First World (Black Cat), discusses the value of tracking her writing time.

On this New Year’s Eve—on an uncharacteristically chilly day, writing from a cottage in St. Francisville, Louisiana—I speak in praise of accountability. I sing to it. For it. I cherish it.

Am I a disciplined writer? How does discipline relate to artfulness and less easily accessed moments of insight? Does disciplined writing result merely in artificial products, lacking grace and sincerity, or artful, delicate creations that try to live and breathe?

Accountability can feel like a boring, dry thing to write about. But I’ll tell you: it’s kept me going, especially this past year. I believe in it so much that I have several ways to track my accountability. Some of those ways are for my eyes only. But I am also (seemingly, at least) accountable to others: I track my writing time every week in a spreadsheet with a group of colleagues, and I do the same with a group of friends. I also track my writing time in my own private document. I count the minutes, let my goals be known, and write down what I’ve written that week.

I’ve always craved structure, more than that which I can get from structuring sentences and verses. When studenthood ended, and the ready-made structures of student life vanished, accountability to myself became a challenge. I graduated from graduate school in May of 2016, and I started my first full-time teaching job that fall. My editor, Corinna Barsan, keeps me going with a sui generis combination of friendship and insight. My internal writing engine—located, I have to believe, somewhere inside my inner heart—keeps me going.

And for some reason, simply writing down the number of minutes I’ve written for the day keeps me on track. Like crossing out the passing days on a kitchen calendar, the visualization of time spent and words earned drives and inspires me. It lends gravity and significance to the art of writing and the writer’s life. Here’s to the new year!