It seems that I always fall into wonderful serendipitous experiences. If I’m going to fall, that’s the best kind of fall to have–no bruises, no bumps or bangs, and no painful stitches. What a relief! These are elements I experience every day in my blurry, vision-impaired world.
Today I’m excited to tell you about my gradual immersion into a writing accountability group on Facebook called “My 500 Words.” I first learned about it through Jeff Goins–a writer who has carved out a niche for himself by mentoring other writers and jostling them out of their comfort zones to succeed as writers.
That term alarms many of us because it means we are in charge of our success.
Some days find us sipping wine and hobnobbing with Shakespearean counterparts and other days find us lying on the floor coughing up paperballs!
Oh, the dramatic ups and downs! This is especially prevalent with newbie writers. The uncertainties occur daily and productivity is debatable. Well, at least mine.
Even experienced writers like Jeff struggled. He used that vulnerability as a springboard for creating a safe environment where many writers could meet in a virtual group setting and together battle the fears, the time-wasters and whatever else keeps writers from achieving their goals. He believed that the biggest obstacle came from not following a habit of writing. So he proposed that group members work toward a manageable goal of 500 words per day, just for one month. They would then form the habit of … writing.
I signed up. Just like that. On a whim.
It started in January 2014.
I planned to write my memoir and narrowed down the time frame to a pivotal year when my faith, cane orientation and mobility training, and teaching converged to mature me. I had accepted a speaking opportunity in May. I was to be a keynote speaker at a ladies’ retreat with an expected attendance of about 1,000 women. If I aimed for that deadline, that would give me enough time to finish my book. Since I’d left my teaching position, money had been scarce. In fact, I had no income to fall back on. So, God would provide through my book.
I secretly doubted my ability to produce a book, even when my writing coach assured me that God never demanded anything without first equipping a person. My new career served as my writing ministry. In name. Writing a book seemed out of my league; I’d wrestled with my memoir for years on the side.
Even articles took copious amounts of time to produce. Unsure of my skills, I depended on a friend to help me edit them. If he wasn’t available, it didn’t get polished. We laughed about how the dangling and misplaced modifiers tripped my readers. What was worse, blogging was a non-paying endeavor. Income for the articles trickled in but too rare to live on. I kept borrowing from money set aside for my retirement. I struggled with family interruptions, time management issues, my vision and self-doubt.
Not my idea of success.
So I popped into My 500 Words group. At first, I didn’t interact much. I only wrote the 500 words when I blogged, and that was three times per week–when I kept to my schedule. Occasionally, I posted a link to the group. I often stumbled over my words in darkness and uncertainty. Typical. When I reached for my figurative red and white “writing” cane to guide me through the many obstacles in my new workplace, I found a hand to lift me up–actually, more than one!
January extended into February. I navigated through my writing environment like I did when I first took up my physical cane–with half-developed techniques. Heading off failure, my coach and I adjusted our target objective. The book turned into a booklet.
Meanwhile, I got to know a few individuals in the 500 group through their writing.
Somewhere around April, I started feeling more comfortable navigating through my word-filled environment. I anticipated the shadowy obstacles and found them with my cane before they found me. I worked through some of the chapters a little faster. Although I missed my May deadline, somehow my booklet turned back into a book.
My hands flew over the keyboard. By “flying,” I meant my words tumbled through the air and figuratively were going in every which direction as I attempted to put a voice to my experiences.
Navigating through my writing was like navigating with my cane. The techniques I learned, helped when I applied them. When I failed to see a deadline ahead, I remembered the mild reprimand of my mobility instructor, “You weren’t using your cane, were you?”
I started trusting my cane to navigate through tricky areas of my memoir–voicing inner thoughts and building tension–while I used other senses to remain on my path.
As my writing became more cohesive, I reached my goals. I shared my progress in the group. In July, I couldn’t believe when I smoothly swept through the final chapters of my memoir.
By this time, I felt close enough to ask some of my accountability partners to serve as beta readers. By the end of August, something amazing happened. Though I needed my physical red-and-white cane in the real world, I suddenly could toss my writing cane out of sight. I didn’t need it anymore.
A miracle had happened: I could see myself as a writer. Instead of losing vision, I was gaining it!
What was even more miraculous was that my colleagues were gaining vision too. It was as if they’d come out of cataract surgery with new lenses! They started new blogs. sent clever articles out, finished their books, wrote query letters, asked for feedback on back copy and cover designs, attended conferences and even held book signings! They saw themselves as writers!
It was the total reverse of what I’d experienced in my everyday life where time was chipping away at my sight.
I remember imagining my manuscript with a luminescent light shining on it–the kind that looks like natural sunlight– and thinking that my words were filled with light. I wasn’t going to trip over them anymore.
It was a moment of quiet pleasure.
By October when my book launched, a few members of my accountability group had even reviewed it.
In the few months remaining, I discovered an intensity in the group … a member’s unexpected love story. Tales of hardship. Haunting pasts. Strength. Forgiveness. Prayers for members’ friends going through adversity. Remission. Life-threatening illnesses of family members. Travel. Glimpses of international meet-ups. So many exciting diversions that developed alongside the actual writing.
On January 1, Jeff Goins reached out and gathered a group of willing but fearful writers together. By December 31, more confident authors had emerged from their cocoons.
In our shared vulnerabilities, we found a shared vision.
And the miracles are still happening.
More tentative writers join the “My 500 Words” group each day. Our success spreads by word of mouth. People want to know what the secret to forming a new habit.
I think it’s that new life is breathed into our writing nerves. They rejuvenate as they are hooked up to the pulse of the group.
If you’d like to read reflections from other members, check out their posts:
Vanessa Wright’s Humouring the dark
Roslynn Pryor’s Pushing the Bruise
Stella Myers’ Stella’s Starshine
Crystal Thieringer’s Muse and Meander
Carryl A Robinson’s Echoes from the Cave
Becky Williams Waters’ A Novel Creation
Laura Hille’s For The Love of Storytelling