The Power of Accountability

It’s Easy to Write a Book. Right? Right?

AcountabilityBack in Spring 2015, when the self-publishing phenomenon gathered momentum, I decided to write a book. I had done some research and had a good idea that I wanted to write something romantic with magical elements strewn in.

I grew up in Germany, and from early on, I was fascinated by fairy tales my grandmother used to tell me. Later, my parents encouraged my reading passion, and for Christmas, I received beautiful Reader’s Digest hardcover editions of 1001 Nights, Tales of the Caravan Serail, stories by Hans Christian Anderson, Bechstein, Grimm brothers, and collections of world legends. I devoured them all.

I knew my material. Couldn’t be too hard, then, to sit down and pen a love story set against the background of a magical parallel world, could it? I wrote 1500 words, submitted them to my local Writers Group, and got destroyed.

Writing a Book is Harder Than I Thought

“This reads like fan-fiction,” was one of the kinder comments. What a wakeup call! Apparently, the style of writing I was used to didn’t translate well for modern readers.

I dragged my sorry butt home and sulked. I nearly gave up the idea of writing altogether. Then I re-read my story a few weeks later, and some of it was really good. And some… just wasn’t.

Fast-forward a few more weeks. I listened to podcasts, bought some beginner writers’ courses online, and slowly began to understand why my first attempt had been so bad.

Ever heard of “Show, don’t Tell”? Yeah, I had told my story. When my heroine was sad, I’d written, “She was so sad that she cried.” Seriously.

Over the course of the next year, I learned how to outline. How to weave story strands. How to build a story arc with conflict and foreshadowing. How to write settings. How to avoid purple prose—the kind of dramatic, over-emotional writing that was popular in the nineteenth century. Boy, was there a lot to learn!

And once I’d figured out how to improve my actual writing, I realized that I had to learn about marketing and publishing as well.

By the time I was ready to return to my book, it was nearly two years later.

Writing That Book Should be Child’s Play By Now

The one thing I had still not mastered was consistency. I’d go WEEKS without putting down a single word. Frustrating, to say the least! I had a really cool concept, an outline, two memorable main characters, the title for the first, and ideas for two more books.

Every morning I got up, had a cup of tea and sat down to write. Then I’d remember I needed to fold the laundry. And do the dishes. And get lunch ready. Steven Pressfield writes about this phenomenon in his inspiring book The War of Art:

“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is. (…) Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. It is experienced as a force field emanating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its intention is to shove the creator away, distract him, sap his energy, incapacitate him. (…) If Resistance wins, the work doesn’t get written.”

And yet, at this very moment, I’ve written and published two novels and four short stories (in two very different genres). I’m writing a novella, have outlined the third novel in the Spirit Walker series, and I’ve started writing a prequel in the same series. I have three books planned in a brand-new series, and ideas for many more in my ideas folder.

How Did I Finally Write Two Books (And More)?

Last year, I came across a series of writing exercises which led me to The Write Practice website.

The site owner Joe Bunting runs several programs aimed at motivating and teaching writers. One particularly cool one is The 100 Day Book Program.

Over the period of three-and-a-half months, writers must post a chapter each week. If they miss the deadline three times, they forfeit $100 which will be paid to the IRS. If they succeed, the money is returned to them. There is a fee involved which covers daily lessons, videos, mentors checking in with the writers.

Once the chapter is uploaded, the writer receives feedback from other participants, and has to provide feedback themselves to three authors. Kinda like a benevolent pyramid scheme!

The feedback was great and highly appreciated, but what made the program work for me was the accountability element. There were quite a few Thursday nights where I worked until late into the night to get my chapter done and uploaded.

The process didn’t run smoothly for me, but it got me 95% there after 100 days. I needed an extra week with my first book and an extra three weeks with my second. Most importantly though, I GOT THEM DONE! Two months later, they were edited and published as Spirit Hunger and Spirit Elfen.

Summary

For some reason, we writers are a fickle bunch. We talk ourselves out of writing every day, even though it’s our favorite thing to do in the world (mostly)!

Every time you start a new endeavor, be it getting fit, or completing a project, the first bit of advice you get is, “Find an accountability partner!”

I used to scoff at the idea. Until I tried it with writing. Knowing that there were people out there, waiting to hear how the story progressed, was a very powerful motivator. As powerful as potentially losing money to the IRS. Ugh.

The secret to writing, publishing, and becoming successful as a writer, is consistency. Find a mechanism to make yourself more consistent. You could do worse than checking out The Write Practice.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Have you suffered from Resistance and its little brother Procrastination? How did you get over it?

Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty) by the Brothers Grimm

Given that my new novel Spirit Elfen is at least partly inspired by my German heritage, I thought it would be fun to translate some of the original stories from German to English. The old Grimm, Bechstein or Hauff stories are a treat to read but far more brutal than the sanitized Disney versions might make you believe. So hold on to your hats and join me for the original telling of Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty to you Anglophones)!

Dornröschen

Sleeping Beauty
“Dornröschen” by Fritz Kredel

A long time ago, there lived a King and a Queen who said every day: “Oh, if only we had a child!” but they couldn’t conceive. One day, when the Queen sat in her bath, a frog crawled from water to land and said to her:

“Your wish shall be fulfilled. Before a year has passed, you will bear a daughter into this world.”

As the frog said, so it happened. The Queen gave birth to a girl that was so beautiful that the King was beside himself with joy and prepared a large feast.  He did not just invite his relations, friends and acquaintances but also the Wise Women so that they would favor the child and help her. There were thirteen in the kingdom. But because he only had twelve golden plates, one of them had to stay at home.

The feast was celebrated with all pomp and circumstance and when it was over, the Wise Women blessed the child with their wondrous gifts: one gave her Virtue, one Beauty, the third Wealth, and everything else that could be wished for in this world. Just as eleven had finished their blessings, the thirteenth Wise Woman suddenly entered. Without offering a greeting or even looking at anybody, she called out with a loud voice:

“The King’s daughter shall prick herself on a spindle in her fifteenth year and fall down dead.”

And without another word, she turned around and left the room.

Everybody was horrified but then the twelfth Woman stepped forward who still had her wish. And because she couldn’t lift the curse but only lessen it, she said:

“It shall not be death but a deep sleep lasting a 100 years that will fall upon the King’s daughter.”

The King who wanted to protect his beloved child from all evil that might befall her, decreed that all spindles in the whole kingdom should be burnt. All blessings that were bestowed on the girl came true because she was so beautiful, virtuous, friendly and sensible that everybody who looked at her had to love her.

So it happened that on the day of her fifteenth birthday, the King and Queen weren’t at home and the girl was left alone. She went around everywhere, visited rooms and chambers as she pleased and finally came to an old tower.

She climbed up the steep spiral staircase and reached a small door. In the lock was a rusted old key. When she turned it,

"Dornröschen" by Alexander Zick
“Dornröschen” by Alexander Zick

the door sprang open and in the little chamber sat an old woman with a spindle, spinning her flax.

“Good morning, grandma”, said the Princess, “what are you doing?”

“I’m spinning”, said the old woman and nodded her head.

“What is that thing that jumps around so merrily?” said the girl, took the spindle and tried to spin as well. She had barely touched the spindle when the curse fulfilled itself and she stabbed her finger.

In that same moment that she felt the prick, she fell onto the bed that stood there and lay in a deep sleep. And this sleep spread throughout the entire castle. The King and Queen that had just come home and entered the throne room, began to sleep and their whole court with them. The horses slept in their stables, the dogs in the yard, the doves on the roof, the flies on the wall. Even the fire flickering in the stove became still and fell asleep, and the roast stopped sizzling. The cook who meant to pull the servant’s hair because he had forgotten something, let get of him and slept. And the wind quieted down and not even a leaf stirred on the trees in front  of the castle.

A thicket of thorns began to grow around the castle. Every year it grew higher, finally surrounding the whole castle so nothing was visible anymore, not even the flag on top of the roof.

A tale spread around the country of the beautiful sleeping Dornröschen (lit. Little Thorny Rose) – because that’s what people called her – so that Princes came from time to time and tried to penetrate the hedge of thorns. They didn’t succeed because the thorns stuck so closely together as if they were hands. The young men got stuck in them, couldn’t get loose and died a pitiful death.

After many long, long years, another Prince entered the country and heard an old man tell of the hedge of thorns.  A castle was to be behind it in which slept a beautiful Princess named Dornröschen for the last 100 years, and with her the King and Queen and their whole court. He knew from his grandfather that many Princes had come and tried to break through the hedge. But that they had got stuck and died a sad death.

The young man said: “I’m not afraid, I want to go and see beautiful Dornröschen.” The good old man tried to discourage him as much as he could but he wouldn’t listen.

It just so happened that 100 years had passed and the day had come that Dornröschen was to wake again.

When the Prince approached the hedge, it was covered in large pretty flowers. They parted by themselves and allowed him to enter unhurt and behind him, the hedge closed again. In the yard he saw horses and piebald hunting dogs asleep and on the roof sat turtle doves with their little heads stuck under their wings.

And when he entered the house, the flies slept on the wall, the cook in the kitchen held his hand as if he wanted the grab the boy and the maid sat in front of the black rooster that was supposed to be plucked. Then he continued on and saw in the throne room all members of the Court lying down asleep and near the throne lay the King and Queen.

Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam
Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam

He went even further and all was so still that he could hear his breath. Finally he arrived at the tower and opened the door to the little chamber in which Dornröschen slept. There she lay and was so beautiful that he couldn’t turn his gaze from her. And he bent down and gave kissed her.

When he touched her with his kiss, Dornröschen opened her eyes, woke up and looked at him with a friendly smile. They went to the throne room together and the King awoke and the Queen and the whole Court and looked at each other with big eyes. And the horses in the yard stood up and shook themselves; the hunting dogs jumped and wagged their tails; the doves on the roof pulled their heads out from  underneath their wings, looked around, then flew into the field; the flies on the walls crawled away; the fire in the kitchen rose up and flickered; and the cook slapped the boy so that he yelped; and the maid finished plucking the rooster.

And the wedding of the Prince with Dornröschen was celebrated in all its glory and they lived happily ever after.

xxxxxxxxxxx

And that’s the end of the first original Grimms fairytale. Personally, not one of my favourites. There are sooo many things wrong with this – don’t get me started on the poor kids dying in the hedge or the young princess being forced into marriage with some dude on her 15th birthday just because he happened to come along at the right time. Yeah, I know, there’s no point super-imposing modern sensibilities onto old stories but seriously, come on!

Anyway, what do you think? Did you enjoy the story? Wanna hear more? Let me know below!