The Cult of Productivity

Unlike many lucky peeps, I don’t have much in the way of a local, in-person writing group. The best I can do is the occasional con with a writing track, and meeting the motley MW crew once a year. Our time together is fabulous and gets my creative juices flowing like nothing else can. I come back from our retreat loaded up with ideas and ready to take on new projects and dig into revisions.

However, a close second in inspiration are my two online writing communities, both of which that I’ve discussed in the past. One of my favorites, The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, gears up for a major writing festival in January and February. Since those months are the definition of blah—the glitter of the holidays over, the novelty of pristine first snows turned to the reality of shoveling drives and muddy yards, and we still have three more months of ick to survive—the timing is perfect. Participants set their own weekly goals and report back every Monday. Goals are highly personal and range from starting a detailed outline to writing a set number of hours a week to finishing an ms or revision. No judgment if you don’t make that week’s goals, and plenty of encouragement to pick up and try again.

The point of this festival isn’t to crank out tens of thousands of words by February 28th. Even with such flexible, individual goals though, word count still comes up. Especially in my favorite part of the experience, the daily writing sprints. “How many words did you get?” and “I only got xxx,” are frequent comments. In person and on blogs and loops all over the web, writers discuss the session’s/hour’s/day’s word count as a marker of success. It’s possible someone else came up with the term, but I first heard it referred to as “the cult of productivity” by Tamara Hogan.

Given that the Ruby group is romance based, word output is a valid concern. Romance is one of the genres that expects multiple books a year from its members—as in, 4-6 is pretty common. Many of you following this blog are SF/F writers and that’s another genre that often expects a book or two a year, minimum, from authors.

I’m not going to argue that productivity isn’t important or that being disciplined with writing time isn’t necessary if you’re looking to make this a career. They are.

But…Prepare for heretical blasphemy, folks.

I’ll give you a second.

Ready? Coffee down, pitchforks up?

Here goes. Word count isn’t the be-all, end-all measure of a committed writer.

Yeah, I said it.

Frankly my dear, the idea of daily word counts makes me itch.

I’m committed to the sprints, but I adore them because they make me sit down to write, especially when I’ve been avoiding a tough scene, and there’s a built in pool of experienced, imaginative writers to bounce ideas off of and to absorb positive energy from.

Reporting how many words we got at the end of each sprint is daunting.

Was I too slow and I’ll never be able to meet real life deadlines? Too fast and missed important details or left out motivations and this whole thing is a hot mess? That sort of angst doesn’t make for a good writing session in my world.

In the few years that I’ve been among serious writers, I’ve come to the conclusion there are roughly two types of writers when it comes to speed. The first are people who enjoy things like NaNoWriMo and blasting through word counts. They thrive under deadlines and are constantly after the high of beating their own best score. Some are naturally fast drafters, while others seem to thrive on the competitive element. I’m not judging. I love a good competition and I love winning even more.

The second type are those that need to immerse themselves in their world as they go—to live the details, taste the champagne at the New Years party, see the patterns the flowers make in the villa gardens, and feel the impact of hitting the planet’s atmosphere. Based on my completely un-scientific and non-peer reviewed data, these writers also tend to fall into the group that see their scenes and chapters as full-on 3-D surround sound movie clips.

The obvious question is which approach works best?

Whichever lets you type out The End. One style is no more valid than the other. To embrace the cliche, it takes as long as it takes to write your book. The book you’re happy with, proud to attach your name to, and reasonably certain the reading public will willingly shell out money to read.

My last bit of unasked for wisdom is simple. It’s vital to recognize and make peace with your style. Figure out *your* limits. Learn to make delivery promises to crit partners and agents and publishers based on your personal speed.

Trust me. It’ll save you years of frustration and self-loathing.

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