This was not the blog post I intended to write. I’ve been working on a post about the Literacy Narrative for two weeks now. It is not a difficult thing to write about – literacy is my passion, and narrative-based learning is one of my favorite things to write about and share! And yet, I’ve come up against and missed my own deadline; I’m now “behind” and off schedule for my own blog.
I’m trying hard not to beat myself up about missing one self-imposed deadline. Only, it’s not just one. I can’t write at all the past few weeks. I am struggling, hard to produce much of anything and it feels like I am wasting an opportunity, totally compounding my writer’s block. My creativity is faltering, and the words seem stuck somewhere deep within the dark caverns of existence, far, far out of reach. In other words, I simply cannot. I often take my own advice: I am active, I allow distractions, I accept that some stalling is always part of the writing process. But, while the world keeps rotating despite our social stillness, my fingers remain paused above a keyboard. And it makes me feel awful. Frankly, I hate it.
There are a lot of conflicting articles, memes and infographics circulating the internet: Use this time to be productive! Followed by, Don’t worry about being productive! No matter what side we fall on what part of the day, I think it is more valuable to disregard the platitudes altogether and discover the root of why productivity is at such a high-level of conversation in the first place. After all, we are all antsy to get back outside, back to routine, and possibly even to work. We are productive or we are rendered useless. This is a collective emotion after several weeks of world-gone-mad.
With writing and other creative-based work, productivity pressure is especially difficult because the creative process is not as simple as just clocking in, completing tasks, then clocking out and feeling “productive.” Nor is it as clean-cut as completing those deep-cleaning or organizing chores you’ve put off for months and now have successfully pivoted your value into stress-cleaning and can now enjoy a post-accomplishment beer. (Still valid though—have that reward!)
As Americans, we are, from a very young age, indoctrinated into interlacing our human value with measures of productivity. And, while if you follow me, you know I actively push against this ideal, it’s still engrained into the fabric of our identities. We have seen the facts that toxic positivity can cause mental health decline, specifically in our current state of collective trauma. The truth is, we have already been in a state of trauma before the pandemic outbreak. It is why the term “workaholic” borrows its definition using the suffix -holic: an abnormal dependency on. We are abnormally dependent on measured productivity. Addicted, psychologically and physically. Not just to keep moving, but to literally produce. Produce content, goods, services…even creativity. Without tangible means of production, we are but clumps of cells floating aimlessly in the universe.
No. We are so much more than that.
Why does it feel so terrible, then, to lack creative production, knowing this? This form of social productivity pressure can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and forms of PTSD. I am not telling you this to cause more pressure to not feel bad (yes, that is a thing—I’m currently battling that very feeling). But rather to remind you that it’s not your fault that you “can’t” write. Not now, not ever. And it’s not your child’s fault, either. It’s not your student’s fault, either.
For creative writers, a lack of creative outlet is burdening—especially during times of trauma, where we are used to creative production as a means to work through issues and heal. For those who struggle to write in the first place, this feeling can be awfully self-depreciating and have long-lasting impacts on how you value yourself and your voice as a writer.
So, what do we do about it?
The truth is, I have no idea what to do about it. That’s okay. We do not need to solve our problems of productivity with a productive solution. And so, I’m not going to give you advice about how you should read a book or take a walk or watch television as a means to eventually produce more.
I’m going to tell you to stop and breathe.
Will that help you finish your term paper or get your children to finish their at-home schoolwork, or help you complete your personal words-met goal today? NOPE.
THAT IS OKAY.
I am not advocating totally blowing academics or work off—I know, deadlines are real, and grades are due. Being a perfect model of productivity, however, will continue to feed into the generational trauma of this hustle mindset: where we praise our mental and physical deterioration for the sake of measured production for someone else. Let’s, for once, not add to that trauma and settle into whatever mindset we find ourselves in. Take a day to actively NOT measure your productivity – if you are completing work, or reading a book, or writing an essay – do it without thinking about checking off a box. And if you can’t check off that box, for whatever reason, give yourself grace and float on. Think of moments as more than tasks or checkpoints and be still with that perception.
In short: do your best today. If that’s not finishing your novel or turning in an A+ term paper, you are still a writer. You are still a learner. And you are still valuable.