Productivity Guilt


You’re sitting at your computer. Fingers anxiously itching to produce words in a document. You want to meet that word count—need to see the number of pages increase towards your ultimate goal of finishing your book. Favorite drink is right there, snack bowl of baby carrots or Goldfish crackers within reach. A timer of one hour has been set on your phone, even though it’s facedown, the awareness is there that the seconds are ticking.

No words happen.

A half hour passes you. You’ve flipped through the previous chapter to inch along inspiration, playlist is bopping, double—no, triple checked your outline. Nothing.

The panic sets in.

Do you feel like you’ve failed when you check your phone and you’ve reached the 45-minute mark? You likely think to yourself, “there’s no sense in trying in fifteen minutes. Better pack it in.”

I think many of us have grown up with the value of being productive, and it equating to one’s success. Of course, this leads to burnout with excessive push to be productive. Your burnout leaves you to not write for a few days because you’re possibly disgusted with yourself and feel like there’s no point. On the flip side, your brain tugs at you to make it happen. Because now we’re expected to make it happen.

This is what’s known as Productivity Guilt.

We—have—to be doing something to be successful.

For writer’s especially, those juggling fulltime jobs and/or families, the pressure to perform to make it happen feels like tenfold.

Don’t we wish it could be as simple as way back when, when writers were able to dedicate themselves to the art? They rented rooms and had meals brought to them so they could focus on writing. Their world was writing. And while we wish it could still be that way, the universe has other plans. Bills have to be paid, the baby needs diapers, etc.

And you likely think it’ll never get done, even though it has to, am I right?

Let’s keep some things in mind:

Plotting is Doing Something

Just because you’re not physically writing your book doesn’t mean you can’t think about it. Taking breaks to think about what’s going to come next is being productive. It’s a different variant, so be proud of yourself. Taking some time away with the block hits can actually help you work through it.

Remember to Take Breaks

Burning yourself out is not going to help you. We all need to take breaks, and there is absolutely nothing lazy about it. It’s healthy and should be part of a self-care routine as a writer. Go for a walk, catch up on an episode of your favorite show, maybe even read a chapter of a book. Distancing ourselves from our work is a breath in itself, so take a healthy gulp of air and clear your mind.


Set some time aside to close your eyes and just focus on a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Maybe think about starting with three really good deep breaths, deep enough where you feel it in the pit of your stomach before releasing.

Breathe in what bothers you, release the guilt.

You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong.

Not being productive feels like the worst thing in the world, right? There’s a significant difference between taking a break and being lazy. Laziness comes with the awareness that you’re going to do nothing. Breaks literally mean breaking away for a designated period of time before returning. I know our culture stigmatizes downtime when we’re constantly go-go-go. But in the writing world, downtime is necessary for your wellbeing.


Focus on some realistic goals:

Is today a plotting day, as opposed to a writing day?

Can I maybe aim for 500 words as opposed to 1000 in an hour?

Can I plot for half hour and write for a half hour?

Do I just need to take a break altogether?

Be realistic in your expectations of yourself. Trickle it back and dial it down if you need to. Some days are going to be better than others, and that is perfectly fine. Ease yourself from the guilt by chipping away as opposed to bulldozing and only cracking the foundation.

Taking Care of YOU is Important

And no, I don’t me YOU as in the novel. I mean You as a person. You are important. What you’re working on has value. Be kinder to yourself by knowing that it’s okay.

It’s also important to go in to each writing session with a clear mind. Say to yourself, “I can do this, no matter how long it takes me. I have nothing to feel guilty over.”

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