Writing and Productivity: What Can We Realistically Expect of Ourselves?

Our writing practice is rarely perfect, and for so many of us, it isn’t our number one priority (though it may be close!).

Other responsibilities like work, study, care giving, or even health may consume the bulk of your time, but in many ways, this is totally natural and to be expected.

Many professional writers only write for one to four hours a day, whether that’s a result of their schedules or their energy levels.

For the rest of us, we squeeze writing into the fringes of our life. Maybe twenty minutes before or after work or an hour or two over the weekend.

Most of us are doing way more than we should be doing. In fact, I shared the below image on my Instagram, Facebook, and newsletter a few weeks ago and the response was really interesting.

The point of this exercise was to show the mismatched between what I actually get done in a day compared to what social media and hustle culture tell me is reasonable. (Obviously, I exaggerated the left-hand side as a way to make this post funny, but also show how ridiculous these expectations are).

The comments I received back on this post were pretty illuminating. Everyone knew that the left-hand side was a joke, but many actually thought the right-hand side was also overloaded.

  • Some of the comments were things like:
  • Woah! That is intense!
  • So intimidating.
  • I would take half a day to write that.
  • Just one day? I’m in awe.
  • You are a maniac.
  • Puts my day to shame.

    Now, I’m not including those here as a way to big note myself, I’m sharing them because these responses legitimately surprised me. I don’t have a typical 9-5, Monday to Friday job. I have multiple streams of income from working as a sessional academic, coaching, hospitality, editing, and freelance writing.

I’m largely in charge of my schedule, and what I wrote on the right is what I literally did one random Tuesday. And to be honest, I was embarrassed to share this post because I didn’t think it was enough! I was afraid that it would make me look scattered, unprofessional, and unstructured.

On this particular day, I remember feeling frustrated that I hadn’t gotten more done. While I did do four writing session on my novel, I was also aware that I didn’t make any progress on my thesis, I didn’t edit the short story I’ve been working on or the three journal articles that I have in the pipeline.

I also worried that the mini-breaks throughout the day like taking an hour for lunch, meeting my mentor for coffee, and watching an episode of TV would make me look lazy and indulgent.

I shared this activity as a way to show other people how ridiculous hustle culture is and how real life is so much more colourful and responsive; instead, it showed me how much damn pressure I put on myself. Maybe you can relate.

By placing these two lists side-by-side, I wanted to visually depict how our mental to-do list measures up to what is possible in a given day.

The left-hand side doesn’t take into account interruptions or the daily chores we do to keep life ticking along, things like bills and laundry, and seldom does it refer to other people, whereas in real life, we’re usually dealing with other people all day.

Of course, this too can be a daily point of frustration.

Hustle culture and our obsession with productivity can mean that we deeply resent these interruptions because they are ‘stealing time’ away from writing. But something that we need to remind ourselves of is that the story isn’t going anywhere.

We can tend to these interruptions, responsibilities, or the administration of life and then return to our writing, or better yet, we write first and then tend to these tasks second.

Anyway, I just wanted to share these quick insights with you and invite you to have a crack at this activity yourself, either in the comments or using paper and pen as I did. If you do the latter, feel free to tag me on social media (@authortaraeast) or send me a copy via email (authortaraeast@gmail.com), I’d love to see what your two lists look like.


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2 thoughts on “Writing and Productivity: What Can We Realistically Expect of Ourselves?

  1. I’ve had massive shifts in the ‘productivity for praise’ cycle. It was super-comforting to read recently that one writer’s second book took 20 years. I’ve slowed right down, and as this seems to be a poetry time, I’m writing poetry and little else. I’ve had to drop most of the professional side of my writing life, because I just couldn’t keep that ball in the air.

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    1. It is a massive problem isn’t it? I know I’m working hard to undo my own productive = worth narratives and to go against the constant need to produce and be seen. So happy to hear that you’ve found your own way through this.

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