It never fails. I almost always underestimate how long an article will take to complete. I assume it should take an hour or two. Tops. But often it’s more like a few hours on one day, and a few more the next. And maybe a few more hours after that. I also assume I’m a robot that should be checking off all the tasks on my to-do list. And I always pack my to-do lists with tasks, because, again, I’m a pro at underestimating my time and overestimating my efficiency.
I forget that I am a human. I’m a human who gets distracted, who needs frequent breaks, who often can’t find the words (and needs to coax them out). I’m a human who gets tired, because creating, while exhilarating and energizing, is tiring, too. It’s tiring when you’re using your brain to perform complicated tasks, such as synthesizing sentences, creating cohesive paragraphs, conducting research, making sense of complex subjects, brainstorming ideas, rereading, revising, making connections and so on and so on. And so on.
With countless articles on productivity tips and tricks, we tend to forget that writing (and most creative work) requires time and energy. Don’t get me wrong—it’s great to have quick solutions for some things, and many of these articles are very helpful.
But I think many of us misinterpret these hacks to mean that we must be quick with everything. And many of us have developed an aversion to slow. We see slow as a negative, as undesirable, as a bad thing we must avoid. We see it as a synonym for sluggish and uninspired. We see it as a barrier or obstacle we must overcome.
All of this has resulted in the unrealistic expectation that even thoughtful work shouldn’t take much time. That even thoughtful work should be easy and straightforward and linear.
Yes, on some days the words spill out of us in rapid succession. However, the reality is that on other days, on most days, it feels like you’re prying the work out with a crowbar. On these days you might spend an entire hour staring at your computer screen with nothing to show for it—except a whole lot of frustration. Which leads you to berate yourself: I can’t believe it’s been an entire hour and nothing! What is wrong with me? I have so much more to do, and I haven’t even started.
We assume that something is wrong with us—terribly flawed—when really it’s just the nature of the work. It’s simply the creative process, which has many layers and stages, and ups and downs. We are the tools for our creative work, and some days we’re sleep-deprived. Some days, our brains take a while to warm up. Hours, in fact. Some days, we’re extra distracted and it takes time to fully focus. Some days, we’re burnt out. Some days, there’s no reason other than it is a long, slow, all-consuming process. Because it takes time and effort to develop, shape and prune a project.
Instead of criticizing or abandoning ourselves or setting unreasonable, sky-high expectations, it’s much more helpful to acknowledge that creative work takes time and energy. It’s much more helpful to honor our humanity instead of constantly trying to fight or deny it. Because that takes energy, too.
That’s why I’m working on accepting that the process can be slow and sweaty. I’m working on being patient with it (and myself). It’s something I remind myself of regularly. Because part of being human is that we naturally forget. And that’s OK, too.