On Intentionally Slowing Down My Productivity
As far back as my memories go, one of the strongest urges in me has been to create. From a young age, that manifested itself in writing.
When I was eight, I wrote a twenty-page story about how a bunch of zookeepers from a failing zoo went on this wild adventure to catch more animals, and convince them to come live in the zoo. I borrowed my little sister’s toy projector to draw and color in the animals I imagined would live there. Shamelessly stealing from The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards, I loved creating every aspect of my story. My parents paid me twenty bucks for it, too. Thanks mom and dad!
Ironically, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is a story about how the pursuit of greed and power can cause the downfall of imagination.
Growing up, I realized writing could never be my full-time career. I’d write, sure, on the side, and maybe quit my 9-to-5 one day, but only after I’d written a famous novel, become lauded, decorated with writing awards, and retired at the age of twenty.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. Quietly, I gave up my dreams — I still told people I’d love to be a writer, but I didn’t write. I read, I dreamed, I doodled, but I never wrote. It didn’t reward me, so I didn’t bother.
Now, as a mid-twenties young woman with cats to feed, most of my free time hobbies revolve around augmenting my income. I’ve been very fortunate in that both my minor side hustles, my Instagram and my writing, have found some success.
But something’s gone a bit wrong. I got too caught up in the numbers and the money. And, like I was warned by other successful creatives, it killed my creativity.
Before I was “successful” on Instagram (my cats’ account has a modest 7.5k followers), I loved photographing my cats. They were so cute in literally every pose! I snapped thousands of pictures (not exaggerating) and had a lot of fun carefully selecting the one to post for the day on their Instagram account. My captions were funny and I enjoyed trying to create a real character for both of my cats in the captions.
Now, I hastily pick a picture from a backlog, throw on a filter, choose a pre-written caption and set of hashtags, and hit post. Then I anxiously await to see how many likes it gets in 24 hours.
A similar story happened with my writing. I started for fun, overjoyed by the ability to publish story after story, that people actually read my writing, that I could have more people read my stuff simply by writing more. Suddenly, every second not spent writing was wasted. Every minute not editing a draft was a dollar lost. I increased my goals for weekly writing, and increased them again. And, weirdly, I thought at the time, writing got harder.
About a year before I rediscovered writing, I discovered painting. I wasn’t good at it, I couldn’t sell it, but it was relaxing and fun. Every quiet evening in would find me with a cup of tea, my paints, and some fun garbage on Netflix in front of me.
But as I began to write more, find more success with writing, earn actual money from writing, I stopped painting. Something I used to do every free evening got relegated to the cupboard. I’d look at my painting supplies and think, Yeah I should pick that back up again, but then in the rush of earning real dollars from other “leisure” pursuits, I couldn’t be bothered.
There was nothing to be gained from it, I thought. No money in painting, no attention from painting, no admiring audience, loudly validating my painting. Pointless.
Why paint, when I could write and earn? What was the benefit to myself from wasting time doing something I wasn’t even talented at?
But as my writing started to struggle more and more, and as my mood and self-worth became increasingly tied to the success of my “successful” gigs, I took stock.
I couldn’t continue like this. I was losing the joy of creativity. I’d forgotten the rush of a new spark. Writing started to feel like a drag, like an obligation to keep up for fear my performance would suffer otherwise.
One day, when I’d already scheduled an Instagram post and published my prerequisite two daily stories, I found myself with a few free hours. I put Buffy on, got out my supplies, and started to paint for the first time in months.
Hours later, I resurfaced. It was like a dream, where nothing was going normally, but everything made sense anyway. My time painting, creating with no gain in mind, no purpose or demands, was actually blissful.
I love writing. I am very lucky in that the act of putting my thoughts down on paper or online is something that has always brought me joy. But I’m watching uneasily as that joy begins to fade, and I’ve come to an inescapable conclusion: I can’t continue the way I’m going, writing for gain and for numbers, if I want to keep that joy. And I’m more afraid of losing the happiness from creation than the money that accompanies it.
What will I do?
I’m going to try an experiment. For the next thirty posts, I am going to organically slow myself down, by illustrating my own stories, like this one. I’m going back to my eight year-old self, shaking her hand, and taking her idea.
Every article or story I post will be accompanied by original artwork, done by me. I’m going to record every story, too, like this one, in a bid to ensure that what I am putting out is high in quality. I hope that reading it aloud, and letting my audience hear my voice on stories will lend a bit of color and emotion to the writing.
What do I expect will happen?
Presumably, with this obstacle, my proliferous writing will decrease. I won’t be able to post twice per day, or even once per day. I expect my readership will decrease, and consequently my earnings. This is going to be tough for me, because I’ve always judged myself first in the eyes of others.
But I expect that what I do produce is closer to my heart, and richer in personal meaning. I won’t waste time writing fluff pieces to get more views; I’ll focus on writing things I care about.
I hope I’ll get better at painting. Thirty paintings is no small number for a beginner like me, and when I’m done (whenever that is), I hope I’ll have a gorgeous repository to look back on and admire my progress.
I hope I get the joy of writing back. I hope that, even as my numbers fall, I’ll be able to disentangle my need for external validation and my internal sense of self-worth as I create things that are good and worthy of admiration, even if it’s just from me.