Yesterday I was talking to an artist friend of mine, who complained that he was feeling like his day had not been productive, even though he’d been busy testing out some new ideas. He suggested that he doesn’t feel like he’s been productive unless he has a finished product to show for it. This got me thinking about my own productivity…
Obviously the ultimate goal is to have a finished product, but depending what you are working on, for a writer that can take months of outlines, drafts and editing. How do I judge my own productivity, when progress can be so slow??
I don’t think volume of output is a valuable marker. I have recently been introduced to the concept of NaNoWriMo, and while I commend the idea of setting word count goals and deadlines, I would be afraid that by forcing out such a volume of work in such a short time, the quality of that work would suffer severely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a time and place for just churning out words to see what happens, but it is a rare writer indeed who can pump out such a volume of work and not immediately feel the need to re-write half of it as unreadable rubbish.
To illustrate this point: just the other day, I was reading over a chapter I’d written for a fantasy novel a few years ago. (The only chapter I’d actually gotten around to writing, although I still have the outline and character profiles there, so I may go back to it!) I was shocked to see that while the descriptions were very evocative, the drab and desolate landscape I was describing had led to a very slow and boring beginning, and no reader ever was going to be drawn into this world…If I am ever going to use it, it will need a complete re-write.
Personally I would feel more productive having spent a couple of hours researching. What in many professions would be considered procrastinating, can be very productive for a writer. I don’t mean things like doing laundry or washing the dishes rather than sitting down in front of the computer…but things like spending a few hours reading other people’s blogs, going for a walk, even a visit to a café can provide new approaches, new ideas, new characters and situations. It might not feel productive at the time, but when…days, weeks, months or even years later, you remember that grizzled old veteran sitting outside the supermarket (his face, his dignified bearing, his clothes, the badges or raffle tickets he was selling for charity…) and become inspired to write him into a war story, you’ll be grateful you ‘procrastinated’ the day you saw him!!