I do not use shame and anxiety to motivate myself

So, it looks like November is going to be my least productive month of this year*. In fact, unless I make some kind of push over the next three days (don’t worry, I’ll make it), this is probably going to be my lowest-productivity month since January of 2011, which was the month that I left my job in DC and moved to Oakland and kicked things up a notch, productivity-wise.

It’s okay, though. Each year is going to have a least productive month. And it’s not like I don’t have good excuses. My trip to California kicked my whole system out of joint for a week and then my wisdom tooth extraction killed another week. I’m only just now starting to regain my equilibrium.

I mean, I don’t want to write off a whole month as unproductive. That was still a month of my life. I met new people and went to new places. I wrote my first book review (to be published in Strange Horizons sometimes in the next few weeks). I got serious about driving traffic to my blog and creating a social networking strategy. I started strategizing for my next novel. Things happened in November. It was not a bad month.

And, when I look back on it, I can see that I’ve even written a fair amount of fiction. I’ve made slow and steady progress on revising my novel (I’m a third done). Nowadays, even a low-productivity month is more productive than most of my months were in 2009 or 2010. But, I definitely could’ve worked harder.

Still, what can you do? Obviously, I believe in hard work and discipline, and I don’t really believe in things like breaks or vacations. You can always find a reason for going easy on yourself. And no one’s ever going to blame you for going easy on yourself. But, at the same time, there’s no reward for having a good excuse. I know that my dreams for myself can only really come true if I push myself.

And yet, at the same time, I also believe in forgiving myself. You know, there are whole years when I did barely any work. Some writers push themselves monomaniacally, like, age 14 onwards. If I’d done that, I’d probably be publishing novels by now. But I had other things to do; at age 14 (or 18 or 22) I wasn’t really capable of working like that. The last decade of my life has basically been about learning how to do the work that I need to do. And that’s not a terrible way to spend a decade. It’s the kind of journey (guys, I used to be sooooooo lazy and apathetic) that not many people get to experience.

And in the course of this journey, one of the major things that I’ve learned is that shame and anxiety are not very useful emotions. People use them as a goad to motivate themselves. But, for me, they are not very good motivators. They’re all stick and no carrot. A cessation of anxiety feels like nothing; there’s no pleasure there except for the absence of pain.

Furthermore, shame and anxiety drive people into these defensive postures. People quit pre-emptively, in order to drop that daily load of anxiety. People set insane, impossible goals in order to make up for having been unproductive in the past (and then feel shame because they fail to meet those goals). People don’t submit their stories because it’s easier than the anxiety of waiting for a rejection.

I just don’t see the point of punishing yourself. Punishment is something you level upon dogs and children, because they’re amoral, irrational beasts who have no sense of what is good for them. But there’s no need to do that to yourself.

Shame is for people who don’t really know what they want: people who are just sort of bouncing through life without a clear sense of where they want to go or what they need to do.

For myself, I found that once I started to enumerate clear and achievable goals for myself, then my sense of shame dropped precipitously. There isn’t (and shouldn’t) be any shame in not meeting a goal. If you don’t even come close to meeting it, then it means you need to set a more achievable goal. If you come close to meeting it but don’t quite make it, then you just need to try harder next time.

So, yeah, next month I am going to try harder.

*In contrast, I was super productive in October: I wrote for about 61 hours in October, as compared to 20 in November (thus far)