In July 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, I wrote the first drafts of three books back to back. It was the first time since I’d lost the function of my wrists that I’d been able to accomplish a feat of that magnitude. It felt incredible. The obsession with my books, always thinking about the next scene, the next twist. The release of dopamine every time I looked at the day’s word count and found it over five digits. The fuzzy feeling from my peers congratulating me on a good day’s work.
It was a different kind of high. And, I discovered when I tweaked my meds, it was a side effect of new medication.
As someone who deals with chronic pain, I am constantly cautioned against the use of opioids unless I “really need them.” The risk of addiction is drilled into me to such an extent that it’s not uncommon for me to spend days inert and in pain because I’ve “felt worse pain than this” and therefore don’t “really need” one of those dangerous painkillers. I’m constantly asking myself if I’m reaching for a painkiller because it’s reached that threshold or if I’m in danger of addiction.
Ironically, no one ever cautioned me against my other meds. The ones that produced the side effect of the creative mania. The ones that, after reducing my dose, I found myself seriously considering asking to raise it again just so I could chase that high.
I’ve felt that high before, unmedicated. I felt it when I worked 10-12 hour days, 6-7 days a week writing new books. It’s an incredible feeling to sit down and have the words pour from your fingers (or, in my case these days, from your lips). It’s also a dangerous one. A fraudulent one.
There’s an emphasis in our work mill of a society to produce. A pressure that tells us 10,000 word days are worth more than 1,000 word days. When productivity is the bottom line, it takes time from other areas of your life. You’re exhausted when (if) you make time for friends and family. You only halfway absorb the book you’re reading because you’re still thinking about your own project. You start to see your day as worthy only if you have something spectacular and concrete to show for it, forgetting all the small pieces of work that go into the final product.
There’s no harm in writing a book quickly. The harm comes in when you style your life around writing every book as fast—or faster. Productivity is it’s own high, it’s own drug. I know how addictive it can be.
And I know how draining. If we as human beings are going to live fulfilling lives, we need to stop measuring ourselves against the work mill rhetoric. It isn’t about how much you do, how quickly. It’s about the experiences you miss out on if all you ever do is work.
It extends beyond the work I “bring home.” (It’s difficult to leave work behind when you work from home.) I forget the simple joy of sitting on the porch under the warm sun. I forget the delight of my year-old niece laughing and making silly faces. The accomplishment of launching a new release fades into the background because the prevailing rhetoric is a pat on the back and a question about what comes next.
Productivity has its place, but when it sinks its thorns into you and becomes the be-all-end-all, it needs to be trimmed back. Every endeavour, from writing a book to cooking a healthy meal, takes more than it appears on the surface. It takes forethought, research, a gathering of resources—this before taking into account the time spent in creation and refinement. When the world becomes about numbers, about doing as much as possible as quickly as possible with little consideration to the cost of going full tilt, that’s when you need to take a step back before your body decides to force the issue.
And, trust me, so do I.