Why Reading Books on Productivity Is the Worst Thing a Writer Could Do by Lauren Sapala

Every year, hundreds of new books on productivity are published on Amazon. Out of all these books, a significant slice is dedicated to productivity for writers. Many of the titles promise to teach us how to write faster, how to schedule our time more efficiently, or how to publish our books more rapidly. But no matter what they promise, they all contain a common theme: The way you are working now is not good enough. You are too slow, and if you are too slow as a writer, you will get left behind.

I shudder when I see these kinds of books, and my heart breaks a little more each time I work with a new client who tells me that they’ve been devouring this kind of material in the hopes that it will help them become a better writer. Because these types of books are intertwined with the dominant mindset of our culture that says that a person’s worth is defined by their productivity, and that there should be no low-energy periods of any creative cycle. It’s best to be always growing, growing, growing, and getting bigger and bigger, like a corporation.

But writers are not corporations. And the belief systems that run corporations are poisonous to the natural cycle of life.

Writers have a natural cycle too, especially writers who are also highly intuitive people. Intuitive writers are deeply connected to the seasons of the year, and to our own personal creative cycles. When we push ourselves ahead and force ourselves to keep working, even when our natural cycle is calling for a rest period, we are damaging our own creative energy.

The way I see this manifest most often in my clients is through impatience. Out of everything that can possibly sabotage writers, impatience is one of the big ones. When a writer is taken over by impatience, nothing is ever moving fast enough for them. They are never satisfied with how much they wrote that day, where they are with their current WIP, or how much they’ve produced overall. When you talk to a writer with impatience they will always tell you that they need to be more productive, and they will frequently look grim and worried when discussing anything about their writing life.

Writers with impatience also frequently ruin their stories. They push things too far, too fast, and they completely override their intuition when it’s practically screaming at them to back off and give the characters some breathing room. Whenever I start working with a writer who has strong impatience, they usually tell me that they have a long list of unfinished projects behind them. They almost always start out working with an idea that they really love, and then nothing seems to be happening fast enough, so they start aggressively brainstorming, plotting, charting, and researching what “should” happen next to make their story a good one. Then, shortly after that, the whole thing falls apart and they’re back to square one.

Photo of person with head in hands, hair mussed
Stress by Firesam! (flickr.com). CC license.

What writers with impatience usually miss is that their impatience is linked to anxiety. They’re obsessed with moving faster because they believe:

Their natural pace is inadequate
They are victimized by time (there’s not enough of it or they’re running out of it)
They must earn their worth
They need to control situations to feel secure

Not surprisingly, this perfect storm of limiting beliefs coupled with high anxiety tends to occur most often in writers who are highly sensitive, introverted, and intuitive. Because of our high sensitivity, we tend to be more anxious in the world overall than other people (an unavoidable result of having a highly sensitive nervous system), and because of our intuition we’ve usually felt different from everyone else from a very young age.

All this combines into us feeling like we’re not good enough and we’re doing it the wrong way. On top of that, introverted intuitives tend to be slow writers, and our naturally slow pace is an easy thing for our inner critic to pick on when it wants to make us feel horrible about being an inadequate writer.

Now you can see why I shudder when a new client tells me that they’ve been voraciously reading all these books on productivity and time management. Because these kinds of books only exacerbate the problem. They tell the writer that, yes, there IS something wrong with the way they’ve been doing things, and if they can only get more organized, or find the right motivational strategy, then they will be able to write faster and write more and push through, even when they’re feeling “unmotivated.”

That’s the real problem right there, though. To someone who believes you must be constantly productive to earn your worth, “unmotivated” really means “lazy.” To someone who recognizes that every single one of us has a natural energy cycle and our creative process cannot be separated from that cycle, “unmotivated” actually means “in need of rest.”

In order for intuitive writers to do their best work, they must surrender to the ebb and flow of their natural energy cycle. That means that we must consciously work to let go of impatience. We must accept that we have a natural pace to our writing and if we honor that pace—even if it is slower than everyone else’s pace—we will be the most productive we can actually be. We won’t run into roadblocks like burnout and apathy. Our stories won’t fall apart in a ruined mess of storylines forced into directions they never wanted to go. And we won’t feel so grim and worried about our writing life anymore, we might even feel joy again.

If you are a writer with impatience, the most helpful thing you can do for yourself is also the hardest. Slow down. Take rest breaks. Accept your slow and natural pace for what it really is, not a hindrance, but instead your unique and beautiful way of creating things.

This post originally appeared on Lauren’s blog on July 7, 2022.

Lauren Sapala

Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ WriterThe INFJ Revolution, and the creator of Intuitive Writing, an online video course for INFJ and INFP writers who struggle with traditional writing methods. She also recently released Loving Meditations for Writers, a bundle of 10 meditations for only $20 that you can use for your regular writing practice. You can get a free copy of her book on creative marketing for writers by signing up for her newsletter HERE.

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