The productivity trap

What is productivity supposed to look like?

Last year, that was an easy question. I had my daily word count goals, my scene outlines to follow, my printed-out chapters and my regular writing routines. All those metrics provided concrete evidence that I was moving towards my goal, and those hundreds of hours and thousands of words added up to me finishing the draft of my novel “on time” this summer.

Now, though? When people ask “how’s the writing going?” it’s harder to answer.

See, I’ve been focusing on short stories for the last couple of months. Daily count goals don’t apply when I’m putting a story together, since it takes multiple weeks and multiple drafts to write and polish a story that’s less than 3000 words. Measuring the number of hours I spend at my desk is also meaningless, since I’m often working through ideas or recording snippets of dialogue while I’m out for a walk or doing things around the house.

I can say “I submitted a story to a contest!” but that reduces all my work to that one tiny moment of pressing “send.” Or I can say “I had another story accepted by a literary magazine!” (which is true–hooray!) but publication is one part of writing that’s almost completely out of my control.

I like tracking my progress. I like checklists and numbers and schedules. I just think I need to loosen up a little on my goals and expectations. I’m still working hard, but for the sake of my sanity, I need to stop trying to “prove” that I’m being productive every day.

More and more, I find myself rebelling against the idea that productivity needs to be a constant. Maybe it’s ok if I work in fits and starts. Maybe I should factor in time to read and reflect, to knit and cook and daydream. Maybe I should even (gasp) take a day off, now and then.