Productivity and Writing Make a Tricky Alliance
We live in a culture and a time where busy-ness and productivity are badges of honor, self-worth, and pride. If you aren’t making the most of your time, what are you doing? Binging Netflix, of course. You are either supremely productive or a lazy sloth — one or the other. And only one of these entitles you to feeling worthy, feeling like you are enough.
It’s everywhere. This productivity requirement is in our work, in our homes (if you are going to binge Netflix you have to at least fold some laundry while you are doing it or post about it on social media!), in our hobbies, in our self-development, in our approach to exercise and movement, in our daily routines. Like I said, everywhere.
So, where does this leave us?
It leaves us judging ourselves and what we do every minute of the day. We become only as good as our doing, forgetting about our being. This creates a harsh inner landscape that confuses us when we embark on a creative journey, like writing.
Not all writing needs to be for public consumption. But, if you identify yourself as a writer — especially in a time when it is so easy to share your work — it’s difficult to let go of the goal of productivity and be in the process of writing for its own sake.
I work with people who use writing as a way to share their message and themselves with the world. Often they are writing a blog and they also may be writing a book or moving towards that goal. It’s good to have goals to move towards because when you start with the end in mind, it’s easier to get there. But sometimes we become lost in the goal and lose sight of the process.
Good writers do a few basic things over and over that make them consistently better:
- Write consistently without the expectation of sharing all of it.
- Read consistently multiple genres for enjoyment.
- Practice the process of writing and reading over and over.
- Trust the process of writing and revising.
And the nice thing is, even if you don’t consider yourself a “good writer” now, if you do these basic things over time, you will become one.
A deep writing process is not for those who want the quick dopamine hit of a social media post where people will respond almost instantaneously. Deep writing practice and process requires you to shift your expectation around productivity. It’s a process of delayed outward gratification, but instantaneous internal gratification. Every moment spent in the practice allows you to grow. Every moment is productive even if it doesn’t appear so to the outside world.
The writing process favors being in the present moment rather than doing as much as you possibly can. It favors focus and time and exploration. There is no multi-tasking with writing.
What does this mean if you are writing a book?
First and foremost, there are no shortcuts, easy buttons, or templates that will bring you what you desire which is your unique voice out there in the world cradled in a book cover. There are no productivity hacks when you are starting out on your writing journey. Sure you can track your words in each session, but what does that really mean? It only means you wrote that many words that day. It doesn’t mean that you will keep all of those words in whatever you are creating.
I find tracking words and your outward productivity is an ill-advised tactic that doesn’t always lead the beginner to their ultimate goal. This type of productivity tracking focuses you on the blades of grass instead of the bucolic expanse of the landscape in front of you. And it sets you up for feeling like a sloth and a harsh inner landscape filled with cutting self-criticism.
There is another — more compassionate — way.
When you first begin a consistent writing practice, time is your friend. You can commit to time on task more easily than words on a page. For instance, when you are beginning, you can commit to twenty minutes of writing time and then incrementally increase the writing time as you become more comfortable with the practice of writing. And when your goal is time and you are present for that time, you just set yourself up for success and some momentum that will help you, not hinder you.
I’ve been doing a lot of running lately. I really enjoy short distances in running, especially the 5K distance. I’m not fast. And I realize as I create a practice with running I enjoy it more and more. I find, too, that the practice of running is so similar to the practice of writing. It provides a physical manifestation of what I experience internally when I’m writing. I have to convince myself to start sometimes and I always feel better afterward.
I’ve noticed some interesting things since I’ve started exploring the similarities between writing and running in my social media posts. Primarily because running is something that people track and have goals around, they immediately assume that I am running to meet an outside goal. I’ve been asked so many times, “What are you training for? What race are you working towards.” And they always seem a bit surprised when I tell them that I’m not really training for anything. I just want to get better at running three times per week, feel strong, and build my lung capacity and fitness level so I can enjoy my body to its fullest extent for as long as possible. And I really enjoy how I feel when I’m done! That’s not traditionally productive, but it suits me and my needs just fine.
If we look at running and its similarities with writing, you wouldn’t ask yourself to run five miles tomorrow if you had never run a mile before. It’s the same with writing. You can’t expect to write 1500 words in your first writing session if you have never done it before. Moreover, you can’t expect yourself to consistently write that many words day after day when you haven’t trained for it.
In the most simple terms, we need to flip our expectations on how we think about productivity when we embark on cultivating a consistent writing practice.
When I am working with someone on a book in particular this expectation flip is particularly hard. If you are writing a book that caters to your voice, that highlights your strengths as a writer and your message, it is not going to be one that you can write in three days, a week or even a month. It’s a long layered process that meanders even when you have a book map. It grows and evolves as you grow and evolve. And once that first draft is done, you are not nearly finished. Book writing requires you to move from traditional productivity to a phosphorescent process. And if you stick with it, over time, you will have the book in your hands, but only if you allow the process. And only if you allow that every word you write is not for public consumption. Some words will always only be just for you.
If you are looking for a safe place to practice, come join us at The Writing Practice. Learn more at https://mailchi.mp/cmcollab/the-writing-practice
Originally published at https://www.cmcollab.com on January 17, 2022.