Over the past few weeks, I've settled into a great routine of waking up in the mornings and hanging out with D, helping him get ready for school, then sitting down to write after he leaves, then heading out for a walk with KrA, lunch, a slow afternoon spent reading or doing admin work or blogging, then heading out to pick up D from school, spending the evening with him, dinner and winding down for the day.
It's a great routine. One that's been sustainable for me, in that I'm making small, steady progress writing-wise on an almost daily basis.
Of course, things look very different on weekends or on holidays when D is at home and the priority is to spend more time with him than on work.
So, what's the problem?
The trouble is this: because the going is so good, because I'm having such a wonderful time doing all the things I love on a daily basis, it feels as though I ought to be doing more.
It's as if unless I'm struggling or working hard, I'm not going to see 'success'.
To give you an example, I've decided to stick to focusing on getting in 2 manuscript time-blocks (MTBs), as author coach Becca Syme calls them, every morning. These MTBs are for half an hour each. Essentially, I'm writing 'only' for an hour a day. I usually manage to get 1,000+ words written during these two sessions.
Previously, I've tried to get in 4 MTBs each day, aiming for a word count goal of 2,000+. But after a productive day like this, I find that I'm unable to write much the next day or the day after. And it takes me 2—3 days to even get back to the manuscript in full flow.
Getting 2 MTBs in works reasonably well on most days. Some days it's a bit of a push, but enough to keep the momentum going and not too much that it'd cause burnout. Plus it also leaves me with ideas to come back to the next morning.
I've gotten to this place after the last few years of trial and error. This seems like a sweet spot, at least for the time being.
But there's always this nagging feeling that I ought to be doing more. Now I spend an hour a day writing. If I can spend 2 hours or even <gasp> 3 hours, imagine what doubling or tripling my daily output can do! It would get me to my goals twice or thrice as fast as it's taking now!
The problem with this line of thought is this assumption of mathematical linearity we tend to make.
This assumption that if 1 hour of writing = 1,000 words, then 2 hours should equal 2,000 words, 3 hours should equal 3,000 words and so on.
But that is simply not true. Depending on where we are, we all operate at different levels of working capacity. And it doesn't necessarily increase linearly with time.
This is the equivalent of saying that if 1 hour of walking is great, then 2 hours of walking should be doubly great, 3 hours should be triply so, and so on.
We all know that's not true, and even if we manage to hit those levels of productivity on one day, that doesn't mean we can sustainably replicate it everyday.
I reckon we all manage to understand physical exhaustion really well, but when it comes to mental exhaustion we think it is simply a matter of pushing through.
I've come to see that that's the kind of misguided belief that lands us in trouble quite often. Trying to do too much too quickly. I wonder where this sense of urgency is coming from?
I used to have this nagging thought that if I didn't spend 6—8 hours a day writing, like some prolific writers are known to do, then somehow I'd never 'make' it, or that I'd fall behind, or that I'm not a real writer.
Some productivity gurus like to claim that if we treat our writing like any other 9-to-5 job, we ought to be spending 8 hours at the desk every day.
Well, I've worked in 9-to-5 jobs, and I've found that I'm not 100% productive for the entire 8 hours I spent in office. There are lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, (cigarette breaks, back in the day), coffee chats, meetings, responding to emails, following up with someone on something.
So all in all, if I managed to get in 2—3 hours of focussed work amid all the other mayhem at office, that would be considered a great day.
There was this false belief that if things were going great, then I wasn't really working hard enough. I wasn't pushing myself far enough. I was taking it too lightly. And at this rate, I'd never be able to achieve the kind of successes I wish to.
Funny, isn't it?
When I started out writing fiction full-time, all I wanted was to spend my days writing and reading and spending lots of time with KrA and D.
Now that I'm actually getting to do that, it feels as though this is not enough. As though my days should be filled up with more — more writing, more publishing, more marketing, more promotions, more sales, more income. More. More. More.
Even when I've seen that pushing myself to do more actually backfires and reduces my daily output in the long run.
I'm no longer the person I was in my 20s, who could work 16—18 hour days and didn't need to be present — physically, mentally and emotionally — for another human being in my life.
So this is one area I need to be mindful of.
If it's fun and easy, that doesn't mean it's wrong or inconsequential. That doesn't mean I have to change things up and make it harder for myself. I suppose I've struggled mentally for so long that I've sort of gotten addicted to it.
Instead, I can simply bask in this equilibrium I've arrived at after many years of trial and error, and keep at it, at least for a few months or so, until I'm really ready to/need to level up.
This balance of ease and joy in my work and parenting had been elusive to me for years. Now that I've found it, I don't need to squander it by deeming it inadequate.
Once I've built my writing muscles strong enough to maintain this current pace sustainably, then I can challenge myself to step up to the next level. And there really is no rush to do so.
So think about it. What is it that's already working for you, but you're not able to see it for the blessing it truly is?