The Secret To Being A More Productive Writer
The Secret To Being A More Productive Writer
By Neal Martin/ October 29, 2014
Last Updated April 27, 2023
In any creative endeavor, productivity matters. You can be as creative as you like, but that won’t matter if you don’t finish anything or get your work out there for all to see.
As a writer, if all you do is write and don’t publish anything, or worse, don’t finish anything, how is that being productive?
In my book, that’s about as unproductive as you can get.
But what is the main cause of being unproductive?
In a word: perfectionism.
It’s a curse that helps no one.
If you want to know how to beat it, read on.
What Is Perfectionism And Why Is It Bad For Writers?
Perfection is an ideal.
Perfection is how we think something should be, which has nothing to do with how something actually is.
In one sense, this quest for perfection can be good when we are striving to master craft and techniques.
When we want to make something better, trying to get it perfect can keep us motivated to keep working on it.
We know we may never get there but that doesn’t stop us trying.
When I train in martial arts, I strive for perfection in technique, even though I know there is likely no such thing. It keeps me trying though, helps me strive to get better.
Same with writing. I strive to get better, to improve upon my skills and technique.
In that sense, perfectionism can be a useful motivator.
The problem with perfectionism starts when we try to apply it to the bigger picture, when we try to enforce perfect ideals on a particular piece of work.
There are so many variables involved in a larger piece of work that it is impossible for it to be perfect.
I may strive for perfect technique in my martial arts training, but I don’t try for perfectionism when it comes to sparring or free fighting.
Once again, too many variables at play and impossible to control them all. Anything could happen, especially in a real self defense situation.
To try and be perfect under those circumstances is folly bordering on madness. You just get it done. You finish as best you can.
Writing is no different.
Writing is as much art as it is craft, and art is simply too subjective to be perfect.
One persons idea of perfect is another persons idea of imperfect.
Trying to be a perfectionist is a waste of time.
Perfectionists are usually people who are afraid to finish anything, who are afraid to let go.
If you want to be a real writer, you must learn to let go.
The Secret To Being A Better, More Productive Writer
Learn to let go. That’s how you get better.
When you work on something, whether a book or article, learn to know when it is finished.
How do we know when something is truly finished?
Well, nothing is ever truly finished. Any writer will tell you that they eventually just give up on trying to improve a piece of work because they know instinctively they have taken it as far as they can.
Perfectionists don’t know this. They don’t know when to let go.
There is a point at which you should give up on trying to further improve something.
It’s the point at which everything is correct and in proper order, not perfect. There is a difference.
When a piece of work is correct it means it doesn’t have any gaping flaws or contain any real mistakes.
Yes, there are things which could maybe be improved, but those things don’t really warrant the time it would take to improve them.
If a piece of work feels good enough without being perfect then it is ready to go out into the world to be judged by others.
Most writers know when they reach that point of letting go. They know when they have done all they can.
Next time around they will of course try to do better, but this time there is nothing more to do but publish.
Hitting the proverbial publish button is what being productive is all about.
Writers who don’t publish don’t get anywhere.
Don’t Be So Precious About Your Work
We writers can be a dramatic lot. We talk about the “pain of writing” and “bleeding all over the page” when we write.
We overemphasize the magnitude of what it is we do to the point were you would think it is life or death, or that the world hinges on our next blog article or novel.
It’s bullshit. It’s also pretentious.
What is it we do? String words together on a page.
Hardly life or death, is it?
It’s not like people will die if we fuck up. It’s not like we are in any danger when we write. Not a great deal is at stake, except what we have convinced ourselves is at stake in our own minds.
What we convince ourselves of can’t be trusted.
Only reality, the facts of the matter, can be trusted, and the fact is, it doesn’t really matter if our work isn’t perfect.
No one will really care, so what is the point in worrying about it?
The best thing to do is to do work that passes muster, to do work that is good enough. That’s it. When a piece is good enough, get it out there and move on to the next piece and then the piece after that.
That’s being productive.
I’ve noticed many self publishers working under this philosophy now.
Writers are realizing that slaving for months or years over one piece of work doesn’t pay the bills.
The reality of being a self-published writer these days is that quantity matters just as much as quality, if not more so. That may offend your artistic sensibilities but it is the truth.
The more work you produce, the more money you will make.
If you write fiction, focus on writing good stories, not literary masterpieces. All most readers care about is that you tell a good story. It just has to be well written, no more.
Throughout this process you should strive for “iterative improvement”. This is a phrase I got from Johnny B. Truant on Google Plus recently.
Iterative improvement is all about striving to make the next piece of work better—not perfect, but better—by analyzing what worked and what didn’t work each time around before applying improvements to the next piece of work.
This is a much better model than slaving over one piece of work for a long time. The law of diminishing returns will kick in eventually in this case, meaning the longer you spend on one piece of work, the less and less impact you will have on it.
Know when to quit.
You will become a much more productive writer once you do.
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