• Accountability: Drew Nellins Smith & Me

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 4 comments

    SolitudeOver and over we’re told that writing is a solitary activity: the writer in a dark room, alone again (naturally), bottle of booze (and no glass) next to the typewriter, etc. And sure, usually the act itself is solitary. But recently we’ve been talking about the collaboration found in critique groups and ghostwriting. Today I want to bore you to pieces with an anecdote related to me & my pal Drew Nellins Smith and another type of collaboration: accountability.

    Shortly after we arrived in Austin in 2010, I cast about to learn what kind of writing climate we’d landed in. Part of this involved cruising the woefully depressing Craigslist Writing Gigs — a lot of you just smirked; I could hear it — where, among the “Write my book in exchange for imaginary royalties” and “Now hiring for content mill: no pay” posts, a headline jumped out at me: “Seeking a Writing Accountability Partner.”

    Seeking a what, now?

    I didn’t save the text of that post, but the gist was, “I can’t write unless someone is standing behind me with a cattle prod.” So I wrote back and said, “Me, too! Let’s be friends!!!!”


    Spoiler Alert

    Six years later — this past Tuesday, in fact — that new accountability partner published his debut novel.


    Don’t Get Slaughtered

    At first, this guy, Drew Nellins Smith, and I simply traded get-to-know-you emails. Drew wrote, “I’ve just become so undisciplined about working habits … I’m not really looking for someone to critique my work, just someone with whom I can check in about my progress.”

    I said that sounded good, and would he like to meet for coffee to discuss? He said no; that he only wanted to talk over email. I thought, OK, weirdo. Then I remembered that meeting someone from Craigslist is a good way to get slaughtered anyway.

    We settled on a program wherein we would each aim for ten hours per week of writing, and at the end of the day we would email the other regarding our progress. For example:

    “I wrote for two hours today. I’m at eight for the week.” (Drew Nellins Smith)

    “I wrote for zero hours today. I’m at zero for the week.” (David Duhr)

    [Tweet “”Then I remembered that meeting someone from Craigslist is a good way to get slaughtered.””]


    Someone to Watch Over Me

    Sometimes all a writer needs is the belief that someone on the other end gives a hot damn. Drew’s daily emails to me, the merest whisper of accountability — after all, there were no repercussions if we missed our goals — was enough to keep him motivated and on pace.

    Slowly Drew’s project began to take shape: a sort of bildungsroman about a closeted gay man’s self-discovery through repeat visits to a peepshow arcade on the outskirts of a Texas town reminiscent of Austin.

    Drew Nellins SmithMy project never took shape. I should say projects. I bounced from novel to story to novel to nonfiction book to novel. None of them stuck to the wall, to Drew’s increasing frustration. (He even dropped me, briefly, as his accountability partner! Brutal.)

    But Drew kept writing, day after day after day, a minimum of ten hours a week. He finished a draft. He revised. He finished another draft. He revised. He found an agent; the agent found a publisher; the publisher published.

    [Listen to Drew Nellins Smith talk about the book, read an excerpt, and tell the story of our accountabilitying on the Other Stories podcast]

    [Tweet “Sometimes all a writer needs is the belief that someone on the other end gives a hot damn.”]


    Silly Summary

    Accountability won’t work for everyone. But reporting to me every single day helped Drew start, slog through, and finish a book. (In fact, now that I think about it, I really should have co-author credit. Drew, my team of attorneys will be in touch.)

    It’s not as if I got nothing out of it. False starts are better than no starts. I still have ideas saved from the time we worked together. And whenever I write anything for publication, Drew is my first, and often only, reader. He’s also among my closest friends. (Yes, we did eventually meet, and settled into a routine of near-weekly lunch dates.)

    We still tell each other whether or not we’re writing. And who knows. Maybe next time we make an accountability program, we’ll both stick to it, and I’ll write a book too, and will be able to look back and, in part, credit a random 2010 Craigslist-cruising afternoon in Austin.



    Has accountability worked for you in the past? What was the arrangement, and why was it effective? Or why not, if it wasn’t. What was the result?


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. And join our mailing list, over in the right sidebar, for once-per-week writing goodies in your inbox. 

    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.




    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments

    You guys used to run something like this, like a facebook for writers. Where can I find that? I remember thinking it was cool and prolly helpful but I forget what its called.


    Oh yah, and, FIRST!

    Glynis Jolly

    Until I started writing for at least two hours 5 days a week (yep, the 10 hours per week gig), I wouldn’t call myself a writer even though I’ve been writing a blog post two times a week for six years. I don’t include the time I spend on my posts because they’re just extensions of random thought from 450 words to a little over 1000 words. The two hours are spent on what I refer to as serious writing. It’s one of a few novels that roll around in my head 24/7. Like you I’ve had some false starts… Read more »

    […] This is something we’ve talked about again and again, the importance of just knowing that someone out there gives a hoot about what we’re writing. (Most recently in this post.) […]

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x