By Toni Kennedy
I suspect I appear hard-working, efficient, even productive. Every morning I’m at my desk, sitting at my computer, doing what looks like writing. Often, it is. I’m writing e-mails. I’m writing letters. Don’t get me wrong; I meet deadlines and I accomplish things. I have a lengthy list of publications. I do talks, presentations, and workshops but most of the time I feel like a slacker. Because, while I may be working, I’m often not doing the work I think I’m supposed to be doing, which is creative writing.
This is entirely internal. But my productivity, or what looks like productivity, feels at times like a bunch of rationalizations. Of course I do my work. If you don’t make it to meetings, or do the departmental tasks you’ve been assigned, you face the cold shoulders of peers who have to pull your weight. If there are real deadlines you don’t let those slip.
But to me, those tasks are like vacuuming when you know you have to clean the toilet. They’re still unpleasant, but they’re the lesser evils, the road less arduous. You’re still accomplishing something–just not the thing, the big thing, that’s always hanging over your head. The thing, in fact, you might not even be willing to talk about.
The truth is that I tackle the things I think I can handle, do them, get a vague sense of accomplishment, and then go back to feeling crappy about what I’m not doing. I have a hunch I’m not alone in that.
It’s not as if the things I’m accomplishing aren’t worthy and important. They’re fine. They’re good. But they’re not what I think I’m supposed to be doing. The problem is, often I don’t want to write. Or, like Dorothy Parker, I don’t like to write; I like to have written.
Having recognized, named, and admitted my problem; I’ve tried to think about how to deal with it. There’s always going to be something else to work on–or not. I know enough writers to know that all of them have ways in which they trick themselves into getting the work done. One of the most common is the daily word quota. I’ve long resisted such quotas. I like to tell myself that I work in spurts; if I’m not writing for a while, it’s because my mental field needs to lie fallow for a while. When I’m ready, the words will come. My problem is getting started. I like to put things off. Until the holidays. Until I’ve finished reading that book. Until I take the dog for a walk. Until, until, until.
Now I’ve decided it’s time for a change and I intend to use NaNoWriMo as the catalyst. I’ve made rules for myself. Some are common and obvious. I have decided on a quota of writing 1,000 plus words a day. Only after I meet that goal will I go back and revise. The only reading I will allow myself will be my book project; no fiction until bedtime. If getting the words down means sacrificing going shopping, there will be no new clothes. I have given myself a real deadline and know exactly what I want to produce in that time. I hope this will be a manageable amount and not crazy-ambitious.
I hope my new rules will work and that I will write a lot of words. Many of them may turn out to be unusable. But I hope that the writing will make me to do the thinking, which is getting me closer to the book. That will feel like real productivity.