If self-discipline isn’t your strong characteristic, pairing up with a ‘writing buddy’ can help you keep your writing goals on track. But make sure you pick the right partner.

All writers have something to work toward, whether it’s seeing your byline in a magazine, getting your novel published or just getting to the end of whatever short story you’re writing. And perhaps you’ve already come up with some concrete, manageable goals to live your writing life by.

  •  “Write two pages every day.”
  • “Send queries out to at least five magazine sites every week.”
  • “Keep eyes open in front of the computer for more than 10 minutes at a time.”

That’s all good, but for some of us, the isolated nature of writing makes us lousy taskmasters. If no one knows you didn’t meet your two-page-a-day minimum, well, it’s a little bit easier to let it slide.

That’s why you need a goal partner—someone to keep you honest. If you say you’ll finish a first draft by the end of the month, your goal partner will encourage you until you get it finished. If your goal partner plans to query three publications each week, you’ll be there to send them. Writing organizations, classes and events are great places to start looking for your goal partner. Here’s what you need to know to find the right one.

Seek a like-minded partner

Find someone who shares some of your interests and is at a similar career point. However, if your goals are too different, you may have trouble helping and supporting each other. Science writer Catherine Dold, a member of a goal partnership group called Cosmic Marketing, says, “If you’re trying to write and place one short story a year, you’re not going to be happy with a goal partner who needs to make a living as a full-time freelancer.”

Accept no excuses

Goal partnerships work best when you’re accountable to each other. Writers Marcia Turner and Sandra Beckwith, for example, have seen firsthand the importance of making each other and their goals a priority. Beckwith says, “Most recently, Marcia helped me reach my goal to set goals, suggesting a meeting to review our goals, so we set a time. If she hadn’t initiated that meeting, I probably would still be procrastinating, as goal-setting isn’t billable.”

Agree on the rules

Will you talk once a week or once a month? Phone or e-mail? Will you focus on career goals, personal goals or both? Dold says, “We meet to identify and reach our goals, and we focus on business. We don’t critique each other’s work. We’ll look at a query letter, but that’s it.” Another pair or group of writers might benefit from a different set of rules. People who are more focused on goals related to craft might want to workshop their stories with each other.

Be open with your goals

Be honest with your goal partner. If your goal is to write sappy love poems, own up.

Share your specific goals with your goal partner:

  • How many books do you want to sell?
  • How much money do you want to make?

Talk openly and honestly about what you want to see happen with your career.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, author of Pen on Fire (Harcourt), spends most of her time writing nonfiction. But her goal is to finish her novel. Having a regular meeting time with a partner to free write, work on timed exercises and talk about craft means that her novel gets the attention it needs.

Share resources

Goal partners Turner and Beckwith share resources and encouragement. “I just had an idea for a small-business article, and Marcia said, `My Business might be interested in that,'” Beckwith says. “I stopped by her house and picked up a couple of back issues to peruse before I wrote my pitch.”

Report and track your progress

Measure what you’re determined to improve. If you want to have more time for one project, measure how much time you’re spending on other tasks. If you want more assignments, measure your sources to find out which give you the most work. When we first started working as goal partners, Jennifer often wondered where her writing time was going. Bev suggested she use a time sheet to track her daily activities, and Jennifer found that she wasted several hours a day surfing the net (although she generally called it “research”). Cutting that time-wasting activity made Jennifer more productive—painlessly! For each goal your goal partner has, ask for a regular progress report, such as a daily e-mail listing the number of new queries sent or a monthly graph tallying your increasing freelance income.

Take a holistic approach

Goal partners help each other achieve their goals, but they also help each other deal with the roadblocks

Roadblocks, such as perfectionist tendencies and fear of rejection, can get in the way of success. Sharing your non-work issues with your goal partner will help you clear the way for achieving your goals. One of Jennifer’s biggest problems was trying to juggle an increasingly successful writing career with single parenting, home-schooling her disabled daughter, martial arts practice (Jennifer’s hobby) and the occasional margarita with friends. Bev came up with some simple solutions:

She gave Jennifer “permission” to hire helpers, suggested that Jennifer give her daughter increased responsibility for self-care and made her promise to set aside one night a week for friends. If the focus had been solely on making sure Jennifer met work-related goals, she wouldn’t feel as satisfied with her life and career as she does now.

Celebrate your successes

Reinforce each other’s successes by sending congratulatory cards, taking each other to dinner or sending a small, fun gift when a goal or milestone is reached. It’s fun to get rewards—but more important, they help you stay motivated. When Turner achieved her goal of breaking into a major women’s magazine, Beckwith did the happy dance with her. And Beckwith treated Turner to lunch when Turner finished a book manuscript.

Take the time to find and work with a goal partner, and that Pulitzer Prize or New York Times bestseller might not be so far out of reach after all.   

-Jennifer Lawler and Bev Bachel. Adapted and shared for educational purposes.