Almost every struggling writer I work with has the same question: How can I be more productive? Most of them have tried countless different strategies to achieve this end, and if you’re a writer yourself you probably have too. There are all kinds of programs to help you “stay disciplined” and all kinds of apps to give you a “kick in the ass.”
Usually, when I talk to these struggling writers they all tell me a variation of the same theme, which is that they’re basically afraid that the problem is that they’re lazy and if they don’t constantly push themselves and force themselves to adhere to a strict writing practice, they’ll go off the rails and never write anything at all.
However, the real problem is not laziness. The real problem is that the writer is judging themselves (harshly, I might add) for being “lazy” and then doing a bunch of forcing and pushing to counteract that unforgiving judgment. But the more they force and push, the more resistant they become to sitting down and writing. Because the truth is that no one likes being forced or pushed to do anything. It triggers a natural stubbornness in us because it feels like our free will is being taken away.
So, what we end up with is a writer divided against themselves, split into two parts that are warring with each other. One part wants the writer to sit down every day, on schedule, meet the goal of a certain word count, and be productive. The other part feels like this takes all the fun out of everything and throws a temper tantrum. If that’s the way things are going to be, well then, they’re just not going to write at all.
The part of the writer focused on productivity above all else is the parent self of the writer, who constantly nags, judges, and shames. The part of the writer who just wants writing to be fun is the child self of the writer, and when the child self is nagged, judged, and shamed, they will then rebel against everything and dig in their heels in resistant defiance.
This is what happens to a lot of writers the more they try to focus on being productive, and this is why all the mainstream methods on how to be more productive absolutely will not work in this type of situation. Highly creative people rely on their child self to tune into the wonder and beauty of the world. Without that child self, they’re unable to find the magic and unable to explore and play in the way they need to in order to create stories.
The most common thing that happens when the parent self takes over and tries to control the writing process is that the writer begins to rush things. Being “productive” equals being fast. The writer decides that it should take them about six months to write their book, or they vow they will finish their novel THIS year. They become more and more attached to the outcome and the result of their efforts, and start to ignore how they feel when they’re in the moment of writing.
Everything becomes a means to an end. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t having fun during their writing sessions anymore, or that their story seems to be losing the magic. It doesn’t matter that they kind of actually dread writing now, if not altogether hate it. As long as they can meet the word counts, and stick to the schedule, then they’re taking action and getting things done. They just have to concentrate on the finish line.
This is a really sad state of affairs, and unfortunately, it’s one that I see writers fall into easily when they become hyper-focused on productivity. What’s even sadder is that this strategy never yields the results they want. Almost every time, the writer ends up abandoning their novel, or giving up on their creative project, because their creative flow has totally dried up or they feel completely blocked, and they don’t know why.
So, what’s the one thing you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you if you truly want to be productive as a writer?
This sounds so simple, but you wouldn’t believe how many writers fight me on this. I can’t tell you how many writers have come to me who have spent ten or more years trying to get something done by pushing themselves to move faster, and trying to get more done in less time, and have ended up with nothing. Yet when I suggest they slow down and let the child self play and explore so that things can unfold naturally they start panicking and tell me that I don’t understand. The truth is that they’re lazy and if they don’t beat themselves up on a regular basis and force themselves to go faster, they’ll never get anywhere with their writing.
If this sounds like you, I can tell you right now, pushing yourself to go faster does not work. It will only block you harder. If you’re serious about completing any sort of creative project you must stop forcing yourself to rush things. You must understand that you are not the one in charge of determining how long this story is going to take to be born into the world. The story itself determines that and all you can do is go along with it.
The more you rush things, the more time you will waste.
This is a tough shift for writers to make, especially those with perfectionistic tendencies. The best way to start is by taking small steps in the right direction. Let go of meeting word counts. Let go of forcing yourself to write when you are really not feeling it. Let go of deciding how long it should take you to finish this or that project. Let your child self come out and play and follow their lead. Follow their flow.
When you stop rushing things, you will get so much more done than you ever imagined.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of The Joyful Writer, a online video course for writers who struggle with impatience and anxiety around the writing process. She is also currently offering a free copy of her book on creative marketing for INFJ and INFP writers to anyone who signs up for her newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers.