“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
Do all writers struggle with low productivity?
I believe they do. At least until they get free of having to perform for validation and acceptance.
What? You don’t do that? Well, let’s just see….
As I said last time, first we have to get free of the pressure to produce. Then, we have to get free of the pressure to perform. And if we could all let go of the idea that our worth was by some great talent or our perfect skill, we might finally realize it’s by consistency within inadequacy that we become the writers we really want to be.
And need to be. Because that freedom is also what every reader longs for.
But how do we actually get free of performance anxiety to become productive?
Last time, I shared my #1 tool for eliminating low productivity: instead of focusing on being productive, focus instead on showing up, and merely read what you wrote last. That’s being consistent.
This week, unfortunately, we’re not so lucky. Removing the pressure to perform isn’t so easy. We don’t like inadequacy. We write to feel validated and affirmed (I know, not you, but everyone else), you’ll feel pressure to produce only “good” work—and that causes you to try to control your output. It won’t be honest or true enough, and you’ll be producing junk.
I know. I’ve been there.
Ask any writer if they’ve lived this. Over and over, I’ve tried to remove the pressure by showing up and reading the previous days’ pages, then slowly getting back into it once I felt freer. But when I saw how my own feelings were intricately wound up in the main character’s, I feared writing a book that revealed my true feelings, even through fiction. And I choked.
I was almost 40 when I realized I was writing to have my wounds seen and the damage to my heart known and accepted. It never crossed my mind before; it was just “fiction.”
But it was never just fiction. It was fictionalized autobiography. And as the book grew and became more honest and I had less places to hide from my fear of family and strangers who’d read it and judge me, as I knew they would, I knew writing it would leave me exposed. I’d have to admit I’d felt silenced, dominated and unimportant. And many people experience that and worse, so I was also afraid my story would seem small in comparison. I may never be normal, but I had so much to be grateful for. Others may never know what it really feels like to be free as I had…
And yet. Had I ever been able to write in full honesty or get over my resentment and anger? In the end, it’s always been just too much, and the fear of what might happen if I spoke up held me back. Finally facing that and feeling it was the only way to recover a semi-normal working process. To share it all and escape and begin a deeper level of healing, I had to let it go.
Of course, therapy and loving community is essential too, however you find it. Even though I knew letting go controlling what people saw was the secret to productivity, I still couldn’t show up thinking I was going to write what will heal me. I couldn’t even show up thinking I was going to write, necessarily. I still had to let go of producing something so a non-pressured process could take its place.
And I’m ever in need of prayer and friendship, so the need for validation gets dealt with, diminished bit by bit.
Through showing up and just reading my previous words, I recall my truth, the fears I’ve carried and the wound I’ve caused by diminishing them. And facing that mess, I slowly move through the next stage of healing what led me to writing in the first place.
We can’t aim for it, but it’s only from this redeemed ground we recover anything that may help someone else. And perfectionism dies a thousand tiny deaths…
Sadly, I don’t know if years or books or experience or time ever fully resolve this. And I still want a silver bullet, some beautiful solution, but so far I haven’t found one. I say that with all the empathy I’ve been able to recover so far…
I don’t think there is one.
But there is a beautiful broken way to productive writing, a “secret” to consistent work. We show up, we look at the blocks we’ve set up, why we set them up, who was involved, what it produced, and when…and we can know this: we’ll get free.
Just by willingness to be inadequate, and to let the story deliver what we need.
And maybe instead of perfect examples, we’ll become true writers.
Sadly imperfect. But honest.
Hopelessly unimpressive. But free.
For the higher purpose,