Productivity v. Creativity

Man Strolling in a Wooded Landscape by A. A. Mills
(That’s rich, me writing about productivity when I haven’t posted in two weeks, amiright?! Outlining the novel and the last blast of summer before school kind of swallowed me whole there for a bit – but I’m back!)
I’ve been thinking about the push and pull between the time it takes to bring a piece of writing to completion and the drive to produce more material. This pressure is both internal and external. Internally, I have lots of ideas for stories that are lined up waiting to get onto the page. Externally, between all the publishing options and social media, the impression is that the world is the writer’s oyster if he or she can just chuck enough words out there. How many novels can you write in a year? One? Three? More?
I’m writing my first novel; certainly I don’t want it to be my last. Now that I’m happy with the outline,* I’m writing through it scene-by-scene. I do want to write this draft as quickly as I can, so that I can maintain story momentum. I have to do a certain amount of work every day to stay in that story’s “head space.” I am hoping to have a fairly clean draft of this novel by the end of the year, but, honestly, I don’t know how long it will take.
In the past I’ve written short stories that took months to get right. It can be frustrating when it takes so many missteps and revisions to get to the final product, but I’ve come to see that everyone is going to have their own personal balance between productivity and the kind of work they want to produce. This will even change from project to project. One short story might be reeled off in an evening, polished and done the next day. Another one, where I’m striving for an ephemeral precision with each sentence reaching for a gem-like perfection, will take months.
Every day I try to create a balance between productivity and my ability to create the very best work that I am capable of today.
So, don’t just think about how many words you want to write or how many pages you want to fill, think about what you want to accomplish as a writer. How does your work feed you? What do you want to give your readers in exchange for their time?
To keep myself focused on the work, I’ve come up with a little mantra, which of course is in the form of a list (I love lists):
  1. Do the best work you can – always write at the limits of your current abilities.
  2. Work a little every day.
  3. Be patient with yourself if projects take longer than expected (see number 2).
  4. Finish things and let them go. **

* What I’ve been doing these past two weeks.
** More about putting your work out there next week.

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