Not Falling For the Cult of Productivity Is Saving Me As A Writer
The way it happens is subtle. You think you are doing yourself a favour. All those articles that tell you that you need to be producing volumes and volumes of work in order to succeed.
The impact is to courage you to feel perpetually left behind. No matter how hard you work, the sensation is one of constantly trying to catch up. You cannot relax as you used to do because relaxing has turned into a waste of time. Minutes must be used; hours can’t be left just to slip by.
And in this way, the distant plans you have for the future, to become a liberated human being, are slowly falling into shadow because you are beginning to suspect that stopping it’s not an option.
When spell broke for me
It happened slowly and yet also suddenly.
I saw an advert on Facebook that claimed that the CEOs of the most successful companies in the world all read at least 60 books a year. That’s more than a book a week. I’ve no idea if this statement is true or complete nonsense, but I knew what it was trying to do to me. It was trying to get me to feel inadequate.
Does 60 book sound like a lot to you? Because it sounds like a lot to me.
For the sake of transparency, I count myself to be a fairly avid reader. I can’t say for certain how many books I read in a single year, but I know it’s a lot less than 60. Probably somewhere between 10 and 20 books, and a few more besides that I dip in and out of. This modest number probably explains why am not the CEO of a multinational company.
I don’t actually care how many books I read a year. What I care about is knowing that this advert attracted my attention. I hovered over it fleetingly and digested the “fact” about reading 60 books a year. It got its claws into me. My momentary interest probably means I will now get many more adverts attempting to sell me productivity apps and other change-your-life hacks based on the cult of productivity. But I’m not falling for it…
It’s my own pace or none at all
There is an old saying in England, that today’s news is tomorrow’s fish-and-chip wrapper. It’s based on the idea that the classic British takeaway food was once parcelled up in old newspaper.
The same remains true today, but instead of the words of today’s writers ending up as wrapping for food snacks, it ends up padding out the lower reaches of search engine results with what tend to be ever-diminishing returns.
As a writer, it’s hard not to take notice of the rapacious nature of the internet. The answer for some is to become a writing machine.
In the sphere of writing productivity guides, perhaps no book title is as alarming as the Indie-publishing classic 5,000 words an hour by one extremely productive sci-fi writer.
To be fair to this book, the intention of the title is not to suggest that we should all be churning out 5,000 words every hour of the day, which would equate to some 35,000 words in a single days, but that if you are someone who is really pushed for time and must snatch at whatever opportunities come your way, then certain techniques, like meticulous planning and writing in short bursts or sprints, I can help you radically improve your word count output.
But it’s the message that counts. I’ve heard the testimony of countless writers who consider it necessary to produce a catalogue of books, essays and blog posts every year just to keep up with reader demand. It’s not unheard of for authors to publish an entire novel every two months. Some even manage to go a step further and write a title a month, every month.
Alongside these testimonies, is it just as common to hear the phrase “burn-out.” Trying to keep up this sort of level of productivity seems to me to be stepping into a prison of your own making.
Well, from now on, I’m taking my lead from those writers who succeed by virtue of taking their time. If the winning process is not slow, meandering, ponderous, relaxed, gradual and deep, then I’m not interested. And with that thought, I can feel the shadows lifting.
Christopher P Jones is a novelist, art critic and the author of How to Read Paintings.