Is ‘productivity’ good or bad?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about productivity written by Karen Ullo….

Now that we’re safely into December and NaNoWriMo has concluded, it’s safe to talk about writing again. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that scary initialism, I can tell you NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is pronounced Nano-Rhymo. It was started 19 years ago by writer Chris Baty and 20 friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. I shared my views on it about six weeks ago and while I’d never participate in NaNoWriMo myself, my hat goes off to anyone who has the time and determination to write 50,000 words in a single month.

For an opposing view, my friend Paul Schratz sent me a fascinating blog post by writer Karen Ullo, in which she promotes the merits of slow, mindful writing. Here is part of what she says:

There’s a fundamental problem with the idea that a writer’s progress can be measured by a word count, which is, of course, that a word count by itself imposes nothing in the way of quality control. “I wrote 20,000 words this week!” sounds like a great accomplishment, and if it represents a flurry of true inspiration or the end of a period of literary sloth, then it is. But those carefully enumerated words, by mere fact of their existence, do not always represent progress…

But she concludes with a more nuanced view:

Productivity is an idol that can lead to sloppiness and blind us to our real goals, not only as writers but in virtually any area of life. However, I cannot close without acknowledging that it has an equal, opposite idol: perfectionism. For many of us, there is a powerful temptation never to be satisfied—to do the opposite of rushing through sloppy work, and continue revising endlessly long after the work is done. It would be a noble thing if every writer set out to create one masterpiece in a lifetime, but rarely will the current project become that masterpiece. Humility is the only remedy for both of these extremes…

If her ideas interest you, read her entire blog post, here.