Are You A Productive Sheep?

“Accountability breeds response-ability.”

—Stephen R. Covey

I fear accountability. There, I’ve said it. I need it; but I avoid it.

It hasn’t always been so. Early in my time at Bethel College (Indiana), I was invited to join a group called the Writers’ Accountability Network (WAN). You can still see me and the group here.

Members of WAN began each month by sharing their goals for the next four weeks. At the end of that time, we all reported on our success—and where we didn’t quite measure up. In between, we encouraged each other.

I’ve never completed so much writing! In fact, while a member of that group I wrote the first draft of my novel.

What happened?

As I took on more responsibilities professionally—a good thing—I soon found myself over-committed—a bad thing—and left the group.

I’ve worked on the novel sporadically since then, never with the intensity and commitment of those days.

What I’ve learned is I need accountability to be productive. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us: “You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another” (The Message). That was the benefit WAN provided.

I needed to make changes. I needed to embrace, again, the power of being a good sheep. Here’s how I do it. Maybe it will help you.

Setting boundaries

The biblical idea of Jesus as our shepherd and us as His sheep has always resonated with me. I have sheepy tendencies. In WAN, we were all sheep within the same pen. The fences (goal-setting, accountability, encouragement, and reporting) helped us be good sheep together.

These are the fences I’ve built now to get back some of that accountability.

  • Fence 1—Television: I can’t give up it up entirely, but I can cut back by at least an hour or two a week. (Can’t give up Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy—that’s good writer TV!)
  • Fence 2—Social media: It’s time to wrestle my e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter addictions to the ground. There’s an important place for social media, but too much of any good thing can be a problem.
  • Fence 3—Mornings: While in WAN I got up early to write for an hour before reporting to my job—and it worked. I completed the first draft. I need to repair the holes in this fence.
  • Fence 4—Accountability: This is the gate to my sheep pen. I need writing partners, other sheep, who will make sure I do what I say I’m going to do—and who’ll cut me no slack when I don’t.

Speaking of accountability: Who are you accountable to? If no one, would you consider an accountability partner?

Next Tuesday: One of my favorite authors, Michael Dellosso, will step Into The Edit with me. Don’t miss it!

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line


11 thoughts on “Are You A Productive Sheep?

    • Will, not at this point. But thanks for the offer.

      I have a great group I’m not taking full advantage of now. Just wondering how many readers who aren’t already in accountability relationships are considering them. I know both ACFW ( and Novel Rocket (link in my sidebar column) can help connect you though.

  1. Michael,
    What I did on the last WIP that I just finished yesterday (YYYYEEEEAAAA!) was to have a freelance editor lined up who gave me a general date that she’d be ready to start editing. I tried to make myself work hard to get as close to that date as possible–I missed it by 10 days, but I learned lots about what is needed to hit deadlines. I want to be the kind of writer that a publisher knows will be disciplined and reliable. No doubt I have much to learn in this area.

  2. Michael,

    And here I thought WAN meant “wide area network”. 🙂 I’m teaching that in class shortly so my mind is tilting geekway at the moment. Accountability is paramount for creative dreamers. I so agree and resonate with this post because it is where I find myself probably 80% of the time (that old 80/20 rule).

    I’m the off-white sheep that got lost counting sheep in my dream sleep and wandered into a Walmart looking for Brach’s malted milk balls (my favorite). By the way, I’m off-white because they melted on me.

    You’ve touched on something here because social media can be a real wolf in how it sneaks up on you and steals the life right out of you. I’m thinking “steal wolf”? “steal wool”? Sometimes I just cannot stop playing with words.

    Reminds me – I need to get back to writing but I wanted to thank you for being one of those friends that sharpens others. I’m not accountable at the moment and I certainly need to be. Thank you for reminding me to make that commitment.

    P.S. I like the new banner on your blog page. Quite apt!

    • Love your way with words, David. “tilting geekway” made me smile.

      Thanks for the kind words on the new banner. Designed for me by my ultra talented graphic designer daughter, Emily. See more of her work at: She is an excellent lifestyle photographer (and sports photog), plus she does great logos, brochures, book covers, ads for the ACFW Journal, etc.

      Talk to you about accountability–and more–in September.

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