The Contradictory Narratives of Productivity And Rest

Writing is hard. That effort of forcing yourself to sit at a desk pushing around uncooperative sentences and fiddling with bits of plot that just don’t want to connect properly. Rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it takes a superhuman effort when there are just so many other things to do.

Like check Instagram, look up random information on the internet, make a cup of coffee, make a shopping list, give the dog a scratch, decide to do a load of laundry, decide to take the dog out, sit back down and check email, and somehow end up watching funny pet reels instead. I’m sure you know how it goes. We all have a version of this. 

Much has been said about hustle culture and our much neglected need for rest. Our world, and through that, our lives, are measured by outcomes, goals, deliverables and achievements. We are in a constant marathon against our to-do lists. There’s little space to step outside of that tide of activity and just rest. To embrace doing nothing without feeling guilty. To recognise the deep exhaustion at the end of the day after work, chores, caring for a family and feel in your bones you just can’t, and be okay with it.

And yet, I also have to acknowledge that without forcing myself back to the desk, to pick up the seemingly hopeless mess of a story and just get on with it, I don’t think I’d get anything done. The stories would not come together; they would remain a junk drawer of snippets and spare parts and rough ideas. It’s a bit like running – the first few kilometers are the hardest, then it gets easier. Sometimes pushing through the hard beginning is what’s needed. 

I also know that the more tired I am, the easier it is to get derailed by the funny pet reels and the Google-searches for random and totally irrelevant information, neither of which offer any real restorative rest. For those of us writing in time we’ve painstakingly gathered from all the forgotten cracks and corners of our lives – between work and home, and between the needs of others – it feels even more devastating when we can make nothing productive of these hours. 

Which all brings me back to the messy space between rest and productivity, between knowing when to put the pen down and when to push through. Being productive depends on rest, on gaining breathing space to recharge our creativity and yet, so much of what we do when we are not being productive is also not rest in that restorative way. As endearing as it is to watch a video of baby ducklings snuggle on top of a puppy, I can’t say I come away from this feeling revived and full of ideas.

How do you navigate this messy space between rest and productivity?

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