Malcolm Gladwell: set a reasonable bar

How much writing do you expect to produce in a session? It can be counterproductive to set your expectation too high. If you do, you’ll fail to meet your bar, and you’ll feel like a failure. This’ll produce stress and anxiety, and from that state of mind it will be harder to write.

So don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Appreciate that writing is strenuous, and set a reasonable expectation.

From Malcolm Gladwell’s course on Masterclass.

What is your expectation as a writer for how much you can write? I think it’s really important to set a realistic expectation.

The feeling of failure that writers sometimes have is very often caused by the fact that they have too high an expectation for how much they can produce in a given day. Or a given sitting. They’ll say, “oh, I only did two paragraphs today.” And they’ll feel like a failure and it’ll cause anxiety and they won’t sleep and the next day they’ll wake up and they’ll be exhausted and full of stress and they won’t be able to write.

The truth is you can’t write a lot in a day. You can’t. It’s demanding creative work. It’s physically strenuous. It’s mentally strenuous. It wears you out. I often find myself mulling over something just in my head for ten times longer than I would actually spend writing that section.

A productive day for me is a day where, if I have a good page, I’m delighted. If a book is 300 pages and I do a good page in a day, that suggests I can do a book in a reasonable period of time. That’s a lot actually.

Some writers would say if I only did four paragraphs in a day I’ve failed. I think you’ve set yourself up for disappointment if you raise the bar that high.

Malcolm Gladwell


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