I ran across a very interesting query on one of the many writing boards I follow, and it got me thinking. A relatively new writer asked a simple question: "How much do I need to write every day? Some days I write a lot but it's not good so I don't feel productive." I wanted to jump on an easy answer or a quick little quip, but my mind drifted toward that one word - productive. As a writer, that's a tough one to grasp, so I started trying to define it through my previous life.
Now, it wasn't that I didn't see the purpose of filing them away - on paper, it made perfect sense. Filing things away makes them easier to access if and when I need them, my desk wouldn't be as cluttered, and my boss wouldn't give me the stink-eye when he saw the riot of paper in my inbox. So why, you might ask, did I not file things away?
Simply put: It did not feel productive.
I am sure you can already see how this is going to come together, but I will go through the process anyway. The reason I detested filing was simple: it felt like a poor use of my skills. I wanted to build models of statistical genius, synthesize new formulas and extract amazing observations that only my beautiful mind could create. Anyone can file - my real purpose in life was something well beyond that, and to use anything less than the best of my talents was, well, unproductive.
But was it? How often did I waste that precious time searching through my papers for one little footnote or formula? How many hours a year were thrown away as I sorted through my notes, looking for something that could've easily been put in that simple manila folder in my left-hand file drawer? Now that is unproductive. That was a waste of my precious talent and time. It took me a while to realize this, but I will admit, I was hooked on the idea that to be productive, the payback had to be immediate.
As a writer, we like that immediate payoff to our writing. We want every short story to be the best one yet, we want every chapter of our novel to be a real enriching page-turner, even the simplest poem or haiku must take someone's breath away. We want... no, we need that reward, mostly because it drives us to go one step better next time. But there is a pretty good reward that we often overlook when we write - skill-building.
Whenever we write anything, we build our skills. We improve every time we commit a word to paper and use our tools to make the next word better, every time we dedicate ourselves to creating, we become that much more. Often, we don't see the rewards from these little advances, but rest assured they are there, and they pay off whenever we take on the big project and that one chapter turns out to be a real page-turner or that poem brings a tear to someone's eye. When we do our filing, the rest of the work becomes easier down the road, and the same goes for writing.
My answer to that person with the simple question? "The fact that you write makes you productive. How much you write is up to you, and how you feel is your challenge alone. But, rest assured, every time you commit to the task of creating, you are making yourself a better writer somehow, even if it doesn't feel like it now."
I stick by those words.
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