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.


2 thoughts on “The productivity trap”

  1. Just the notion of productivity is a very modern one. Does it apply more to material goods, I wonder? I have just started the November novel writing challenge so I totally get your number count mode. ( It’s the Giants, Rebecca) This is the first time I have set such a goal so it feels different but good to have to grind out 1700 words good or bad each day. Usually I write short stories and poetry so it’s quite different.

    The idea that others challenge us by asking that ” How’s the writing going?” question is sort of modern too. It’s like that clunky question kids have to endure “How’s school?” Sometimes a simple “Fine” is the easiest answer.

    Ps congrats about the acceptance …I have had sheafs of rejections lately.


    1. Thanks Isobel. I’m excited that you’re expanding the giant stories! I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo but I like the idea of everyone working towards their goal, cheering each other on.


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