A Writer's Search for Flow

Oct 03, 2016

When we have time to write—hours upon hours of uninterrupted time—do we get more done? Are we happier? The answer may seem obvious, but think again. 

Books on productivity are big business. They tell us we need will power. Persistence. Consistency. Efficiency. Organization. Confidence. Focus. These are values that have become deeply embedded in our psyches. If we don’t live these values, it’s all too easy to feel like a failure. The focus is on output, getting things done

And there’s something about getting things done that is just so satisfying, right? We’ve got our lives in control! We feel accomplished. People admire us for our output, our work ethic. We’re engaging with the world, which is buzzing around us, busy, busy, busy—and we’re part of it! 

The implication is: If we’re not productive, we are failing.

When I was starting out as a writer and editor, I stole moments for this work from my other responsibilities, and I made the most of them. It was slow going and frustrating, but I was able to work under the worst conditions: ringing telephones, screaming babies, paperwork, endless (tedious) trips to doctors and schools, tiny windows of time. 

Funny that what I remember most about that time was how incredibly happy I was when I was writing. 

Now I am living the dream I had earlier in my career: I have the time to work hard. I get to my office at 7:30 AM and if I want, I can work until dinnertime (with a break or two to take care of other things). And yet my sense of frustration has not magically disappeared. My happiness quotient is not higher.

I no longer believe in the unassailable “goodness” of productivity. As writers—creative types who just don’t quite operate the way “regular” people do—I think we have to be much more open-minded about what constitutes success for us.  I spent so many years measuring success by number of words written, number of books published, number of manuscripts edited. That productivity made me feel great.

Now I have come to understand that for many of us (me included) hard work is not the answer to the que