There’s Productivity, and then there’s Productivity

Momentum matters.

The things you’ve been doing are the things you are going to keep doing until you make a concerted effort to stop doing them. The things you haven’t been doing are the things you will continue to not do until you force yourself to do them.

That being said, I am having doubts lately as to the quality of the things I’m doing in regards to my writing.

I’m guest-posting at LindaGHill’s blog, which is kind of a cool thing … not entirely unlike giving a fifteen-year-old the keys to a… god, I was going to say a Lamborghini but that’s not the hotness in cars anymore, is it? (God, it sucks getting older. Did you know that Friends is now showing reruns on Nick at Nite?) Anyway, I made a post there introducing myself and I mentioned all the writing I’ve gotten done this year and it got me thinking.

Because for all this capital-W “Writing” I’ve been doing this year, I’ve done more than my fair share of drooling nonsense onto the virtual pages of this blarg. At a rough estimate, I’ve probably got almost half as many words again here on the blarg as I’ve committed to the novel. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course — word count on the novel has slowed necessarily from almost 1200 words daily to about 100 (I’m editing, so some in, some out), and I can probably say that my active time working on the novel has declined from roughly an hour daily to more like thirty or forty-five minutes (editing feels so much more mentally taxing than drafting). I could be way off, but it feels like I’m not working on it nearly as much as when I was drafting. Meanwhile, the word vomit I’ve done here on the blarg has remained more or less constant.

Which is okay. I’m not complaining, because even when I’m not working on the novel, I’m kicking ideas around in my head, thinking about how changes would play out, about passages that need moving and restructuring, and dreaming up ways to break the story even more than I already have (and currently, it’s in more pieces than the wineglass I dropped the other night… not that that particular incident is in any way related to my novel, I promise).

But there’s the rub. Can I qualify “thinking time” as “working” with my novel? Can I justify a day wherein I didn’t actually sit down in front of my manuscript at all? If I wrote a blarg post on a day that I didn’t Write, was I still productive?

I want to say yes, because I’ve thought from the beginning that this blarg was as much an active piece of my Writing as a distraction from it: equal parts sharpening stone and shunting circuit (heh heh… shunt). From the beginning I’ve used my drivel in this space to puzzle through problems with characters, plot holes, scenarios and obstacles, and in a fair few of those situations I’ve actually found some new inspiration just from talking to myself for a while. But I’d be lying if I said that this page didn’t serve the equally important function of distracting me from The Project. Blarging about tv shows or books or shiny new things or toddlers or running or whatever else is front-of-mind on a given day is the pressure release valve on my overtaxed water heater. It’s low-stakes (if not no-stakes) relaxed musing that takes me away from the self-imposed pressure to produce quality work for the novel.

But is it productive?

On the one hand, I’m of a similar mind on writing as I am on running. Some runners who run exceptionally long distances or blistering fast paces refer to practice runs without a specific distance or pace goal as “junk miles”: miles that you get in just because you need to, because your training plan calls for them. But even when I was running more than 20 miles a week I couldn’t think of my runs that way. Every day I get out there feels like a victory, even if I’m hobbled and can only run a quarter of a mile from the house before I limp back. Every run is a good run. Likewise, every word written is a good word, even if it’s a horrible word, like “moist”. Every sentence, every paragraph, every page, every detour into excessively long lists to pad my word count sharpens the knife that little bit more. It’s all practice. Every step on the path teaches me how to step properly in the future, and every misstep reminds me to watch out for wonky rocks and tangling roots.

Then again, there’s the inescapable truth that time spent writing on the blarg is time not spent working on the novel, and time not spent working on the novel feels a little bit like wasted time. I waited long enough in my life to even leave the station on this little excursion; it feels sacrilegious to put it off any more than I have to.

Often at the end of one of these rambles, I come to find out that I really felt a certain way about the issue in question, I simply didn’t know it before I put it in words. That’s not the case here. I really enjoy the writing I do on the blarg–I’m even proud of it at times–but it’s a poor substitute for working on the novel. Then again, the unemotional side of my brain says, better junk writing than no writing at all. All that considered, there’s no denying that I do feel a sort of accomplishment after writing anything including a pointless blarg rumination, even if that something is just a rant about baby poop.

If anything, then, I guess it comes down to two kinds of productivity. Productive productivity (genuinely gets something done that needs doing) and Hedonistic productivity (feels productive but isn’t, or gets something done that doesn’t necessarily need doing). I used to read a lot of articles on Lifehacker, which is a sort of mecca for all things productivity- and efficiency-related, and there is a tendency for some of the techniques and products discussed over there to be more about cleverness than actual usefulness, placing them squarely in the latter category: the Hedonistically productive. There comes a point where the things we do become more about feeling clever, good, productive, or useful than actually being clever, good, productive, or useful. I think this blarg toes the line. One way or another, though, it’s hard to picture my writing process without the blarg, so I guess I’m stuck with it.

And so are you, if you’ve stuck with me this far.