Confessions of an unproductive writer

In my previous post, Confessions of a Writer Procrastinating Perfectionist, I shared details of a recent revelation—I discovered that my tendency to procrastinate didn’t mean I was a lazy, pathetic wannabe writer. Instead, it was a symptom of perfectionism. It was FEAR holding me back from fully committing to making my writing and publishing dreams a reality. Well, crikey! Once I knew what my problem was, I decided to get off my butt and do something about it.

Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.


Barriers to productivity

While reading Hillary Rettig’s The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: How to Overcome Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, I learned my first lesson—I’d let my fear become a barrier to productivity. I was an unproductive writer.

7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Rettig
Book cover image for 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Rettig

Rettig explains that unproductive writers have their own unique barriers to productivity. These barriers can either be defined as triggers of unproductiveness (feelings that interfere with your ability to write) or obstacles of productiveness (activities that compete with your writing, or circumstances that stop you from writing). She encourages her readers to “write out their snarl”—to identify everything they see as a barrier to their productivity and determine whether each barrier is a trigger or an obstacle.

Writing out my snarl

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Project-related problems and feelings:
    • My second draft has lost the magic and excitement of the first. ~Trigger
    • Though the plot now has a better cause-and-effect trajectory, I’m worried it’s not engaging enough. ~Trigger
  • Fear of failure or success:
    • I’m worried about getting negative reviews. ~Trigger
    • I’m worried that, as an introvert, I won’t be a successful marketer, and so won’t sell any books. ~Trigger
    • As an introvert and socially anxious person, I’m terrified of being in the public eye. ~Trigger
  • Resource deficiencies:
    • I don’t have the time I want to dedicate to writing. ~Obstacle
  • Environmental deficiencies:
    • It’s too easy to get distracted at home, whether or not I’m the only one there. ~Obstacle
  • Competing priorities: ~Obstacles
    • Family
    • Home business
    • Reading
    • The internet
    • Netflix
  • Emotional distractions:
    • Grieving for lost loved ones. ~Trigger
    • Frustrations about my earning capacity. ~Trigger
  • Physical distractions:
    • I’m often tired or mentally exhausted at the times I sit down to write, which is, more often than not, in the evening. ~Obstacle
  • Geopolitical problems:
    • The recent Australian bushfires were an emotional distraction. ~Trigger
    • Concerns for how we, as a society, are handling the Coronavirus pandemic. ~Trigger
  • Emotional/cognitive/learning issues:
    • When my social anxiety is at its worst, I fall into a depressive funk. ~Trigger

What I learned

Obstacles can be overcome. Take, for example, my belief that I don’t have time to write, and that I often feel tired and exhausted when I do. I can overcome these obstacles by figuring out where my time goes each week. Once I do, I can create a schedule that ensures I’m fitting in everything I need to, including writing and essential competing priorities, such as spending time with family. I can also aim to arrange the schedule in a way that ensures I’m writing at my optimum times—for me, that’s in the morning. By the way, in case you didn’t notice, that’s three obstacles knocked off with one solution—creating a schedule that works for me!

As for the other obstacle that I identified—too many distractions at home—I can look at heading to the local library or a café with some headphones and a deep focus playlist. And so, with a bit of brainstorming, my obstacles to productiveness are well on their way to being solved!

Another thing I learned is that when I notice a triggering thought or emotion surfacing, I need to make an effort to journal or talk about it with someone. Triggers of unproductiveness can be debilitating if the issue is left to fester and mutate into something that consumes me and my desire to write. But, by being aware of the traps I can fall into, I’m taking a major step towards overcoming these barriers to productivity.


So there you have it—thanks to Rettig, I now have a better understanding of what causes me to be an unproductive writer, and I can take steps to rectify the situation. 

Are you an unproductive writer? What do you consider your biggest barriers to productivity? If it’s an obstacle and not a trigger, can you see a solution to overcoming it? If there are triggers interfering with your ability to write, try journaling or talking about it with a trusted friend or professional. Either way, feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comments. Next time, I’ll share with you how I handled being a writer in isolation.

As always, thanks for reading!


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