The Thief of Productivity
Everyone’s writing process is different. The most helpful thing we as writers can do for ourselves when it comes to developing a writing technique is to accept what works for us personally and, just as importantly, what does not.
A lovely and wise writer in her 70's told me recently that she feels like she has never achieved “the writing life.” I was surprised to hear this from a gifted writer who has published books, teaching materials, and more: a woman who has been honing her craft for decades. As we talked more, she admitted that her conception of a writer’s life consists of sitting down at a computer for six or eight hours a day and pouring out an unending stream of meaningful, succinct, powerful prose. In reality, she said, her writing process is tattered. It’s fragmented. It happens in snatches, here and there between cooking and chores and all that a full life holds. Although initially surprised to hear about the reality of her writing process, I quickly realized the gift of her words to me. My brain and heart relaxed into the fact that my writing process does not have to look or be a specific way for me to produce meaningful words.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. We’ve probably all heard the saying, “comparison is the thief of joy,” but for our purposes, let’s go ahead and claim that “comparison is the thief of productivity.” Does this resonate? I know it does in my own writing process. When I start imagining how effortless or inspired others’ creative processes are, I forget about the truth that my own writing process works well for me, even if it doesn’t match some made-up perception of what being a writer should look like. So with this in mind, let me give you three prompts to ask yourself as you begin navigating your own best writing techniques and processes.
What are your needs? A few months ago we had a great post about establishing your writing space. There are many great questions and suggestions in that post to get you set up for success when it comes to space. But what about your schedule? You may be able to create a great home office space, only to find you never have time at home to use it. Maybe one of your needs in your writing season is to intentionally schedule blocks of time for writing. Or maybe it’s to start each writing session by reading a specific poem that stirs your imagination, or by listening to a piece of music that calms you and settles your mind into the task of writing. Assessing these needs at this level before you start will go far to make your writing process a productive time.
What is your style? For this one, consider your personality. Do you prefer constant stimulation and activity, or are you the type who likes total silence and one idea? While this is related to your writing space, think about it as well in the context of how you will write. Will you free-write for an hour and then edit and re-edit those words? Or will you spend a few weeks just getting all the ideas out at once in a rough draft, let it sit for another week, and then come back to it with fresh eyes? I like to work on one project at a time and finish each one thoroughly before I start another one, but some people need multiple irons in the fire to be inspired. What works for you?
To whom will you be accountable? So much wonderful writing never gets past the writer’s mind because she lacks an outside stimulus to help her through the tough job of actually sitting down at the page and putting the words on paper. Writing is not easy, but a strong and supportive community can make all the difference here. Whether it’s a writing group at a local library or community center, a class at a university, or even a reliable friend or relative to give critique and feedback for your writing projects, this piece of the process is invaluable.
Ultimately, your writing process is about no one else but you. If you take some time to work through these questions and then take action from your answers, I guarantee you will see a shift in your techniques for the better.