When Productivity Isn't a Good Thing

It is so easy to get caught up in chasing the wrong thing, and not nurturing the things that matter most. | lucyflint.com

About a month ago, an acquaintance of mine--a good person, well-intentioned, who wants the best for me--asked how my novel was going. And I wanted to:

Multiple choice: choose the most appropriate answer: 

a) discuss the recent high points in my drafting process.
b) invite them to read my work-in-progress.
c) pass the question off with a super-vague answer.
d) scream. And just go ahead and keep on screaming.

To my deep mortification, the answer is d. I held it together at the time, and managed to squeak by with a combo of a and c, but oh my goodness. I had to go to my writing desk and sit down and have a very serious talk with myself.

I mean: What was my deal? It's one thing when someone's being a pain in the hindquarters. But this was a genuinely nice person. (Who doesn't read this blog. So don't worry, I'm not talking about you.)

It took me about ten minutes to realize that my near-meltdown was because I haven't been writing fiction lately. I haven't been working on my novel.

When I'm not working on fiction, two things happen. 1) I become restless and irritable, and 2) I'm much more likely to take the heads off innocent bystanders who are asking about it.

When I'm not working on a novel, I get a little unhinged.

But I know this about myself. I've known this a long time. In fact, my family is well-trained: if I'm getting a bit, um, difficult to live with, they know how to lovingly say, "Hey, why don't you go write."

So the real surprise on that day I did not scream was this: That I had no idea that this condition was creeping up on me. 

To tell you the truth, it didn't even dawn on me how much I wasn't writing.

What was I doing instead? I was having a mega let's-plan-the-rest-of-my-life festival.

For about a month.

Now, I have a bunch of good reasons. SO MANY REASONS. I'm taking new directions in my overall career focus, and shifting a few other things around too. (General life stuff. Big overhaul. Big plans.)

A lot of things are up in the air, honestly. And since I'm one of the 99% of people who have trouble with change, I've been feeling a teeny bit anxious lately.

And when I get anxious, I plan.

I try to stabilize my shaky legs on ideas that feel solid and sure. Like lists.

I've been looking at productivity strategies, making to-do lists, creating six-month plans, three-month plans, eight-week plans, next week's plans...

My days were full of words and paper and new digital documents. I felt so deliciously BUSY. And it was all to do with career stuff, and new mindsets, and a better outlook. 

Everything I was doing wore a big shiny "I'm Important!" badge.

But the truth is, I camped out way too long in Plan Making. 

I fought all the uncertainties with a blaze of productivity, of plans and activities and deep thinking.

And I stranded the imaginative side of my work. For weeks.

Funny how this is still so easy to forget, but as a fiction-writer, the imagination is my primary citizenship.

Not lists, but dreams.

What do you do when you get a wake-up call?

I didn't make a list. But I did make a few choices.

plunged back into my fiction work, bringing my novel back to the front of my days. The top priority spot in my schedule. When my brain is best.

The novel now gets the bulk of my time. (Can you hear all my characters cheering?)

But the more I thought about it, the more I could tell that there are other places I've neglected too: There's my perennial cry that I don't read enough. It's been too long since I've nurtured creativity for its own sake. And there are places in my craft that I need to focus in on, with a master class or two.

What's a Lucy to do? 

I'm making a few other changes to my schedule, and one of them affects you, my lovely and wonderful readers. Here it is: Instead of publishing three posts a week, I'm gonna pull it back to just two. Is that okay?

I still love you, and I'm still rooting for you like crazy. We're still going to talk all things lionhearted, all thing writing lifeWe'll just be doing it on Mondays and Thursdays, instead of three days a week.

Is that cool with you? ... Okay. Thanks.

And my novel says a huge THANK YOU. (Also, it says: high fives to your current work-in-progress, if you could pass that along.)

So how are you doing? Have you stumbled across a wake-up call lately? Any acquaintances that may have been screamed at? Or is there just a slow disconnect, an unwinding and an unraveling in your work? 

Do you feel crazy-busy? Is it choking out all the quiet voices of your words, your writing? 

How's your imagination? Does it feel strong and healthy and ready to conjure up another world at a moment's notice? Or is it a little limp, exhausted, and drowned out by the productivity sirens?

Maybe for you, planning and list-making isn't the problem. Maybe it's all research and no writing? Or staying in the "idea gathering" stage waaaaay too long? 

What might be trying to get your attention? And what would it look like if you listened? If you focused in on it, and put all your attention on the most important thing?

Let me know in the comments, and I will totally cheer you on.