Have you ever stayed up far too late writing? Even if you didn’t really want to, pushing through your projects until your eyes burned and you felt like a zombie the next day? What about ignoring your mental, social or physical health needs in favor of your word count? If anything from here applies to you, you may have fallen victim to hustle culture.
Also known as grind culture, hustle culture is the idea that work/productivity should be placed above everything else and that forsaking your whole life in favor of work is a show of strength. It is an incredibly toxic culture that has unfortunately become quite prevalent in the writing community, especially during the month of November and the NaNoWriMo event.
The typical goal of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write a full 50K word novel in the month of November. While many people enjoy themselves doing NaNo and have a sense of accomplishment after it’s done, lots of other people in the writing community feel pressured into doing it, out of worry that they aren’t a “real writer,” or “aren’t dedicated to their craft.” There’s even a sense of shame involved in reducing the word count, when you see everyone around you finishing a full length novel and you’re only halfway through yours (or in my case, not even finished outlining). It can make you feel like you aren’t doing enough, like you’re never going to “make it” as a writer.
That’s not true, though.
There’s a huge problem in the writing community, and that is focusing on word and page counts instead of passion or living what you do. This can be seen by the adage of “real writers write every day,” and other such phrases, which are often given to young writers as pieces of advice and “tough love.” Phrases and ideas like this completely ignore everything else that a young writer might have going on in their lives, such as school or social lives. Maybe you have other interests and hobbies, maybe you just need to take some time after school or work to relax and read, or watch Netflix.
While I respect the idea that there needs to be an element of dedication in one’s writing craft in order to get anything done, that doesn't mean writing should come at the expense of any other part of who you are. Lives should be varied and exciting, we aren’t just novel-writing machines. Doing too much of one thing for a long time is insanely unhealthy. When talking about physical effects alone, you may come into contact with joint pain from sitting too long, eye problems and headaches from too much blue light, or carpal tunnel from all the typing you’re doing. Not to mention mental health effects from overworking. Stress and isolation can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression and can exacerbate any symptoms that you may already have.
Of course, these are extreme examples, and even if you’re not a desk-dwelling hermit, you may still have issues with overworking yourself. Any amount of work that is damaging to your personal well-being needs to be challenged and addressed. Not only can you not produce your best writing if you’re overworked and exhausted, but if you spend all your time writing, you may someday run out of material to write about.
As writers we need to draw on our own experiences. Getting out into the world and having real life experiences is imperative to creating believable and emotional stories. And I’m not just talking about travel or anything expensive, even simple things like laughing with friends or going for walks in nature (even if it’s just a walk to the bus stop!) will increase your emotional and sensory awareness and improve the quality of your work. Being mindful of your surroundings will not only help you “live in the moment” or whatever, but it will also strengthen your description! Of course you can learn a lot from research, but there are some elements of storytelling that can only be used effectively if they’ve actually been felt to a certain degree, some elements which you can’t fully grasp if you’re not getting out of your comfort zone.
I know that this sounds cheesy and pretentious, since I had a hard time believing it myself. My friends and family would be the first to tell you that my relationship to work and writing isn’t the healthiest, so I totally get it. I understand being overburdened with school work, yet still wanting to keep my writing up and not “fall behind”. I’ve been really challenging myself lately to not focus on word count and productivity, but rather on the joy that writing brings.
When I was in middle school, I’d be writing all the time, secretly scribbling in notebooks when I should’ve been taking notes for class, spending all my free time thinking about my characters and new stories. The thing is, I wasn’t doing any of that for the purpose of getting published, I wasn’t concerned with word counts or line edits, or whether my plot was being perfectly executed, I was writing because I loved it. My stories didn’t need to be deep philosophical treatises filled with symbolism, they were just a second home I could escape to when the real world got to be too much. Since being in school for creative writing, and the overall stress of high school courses, I’ve become much more disillusioned with writing as a passion. It’s been years since I’ve written anything that wasn’t being evaluated for grades, for competitions, or for publications. Writing is still enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but it’s started to become yet another thing on my to-do list.
During this month’s NaNoWriMo challenge, I didn’t give myself a word count goal. As a matter of fact, I didn’t set any goals related to productivity at all. I made it my goal to fall back in love with writing, to find that same spark that twelve-year-old me had, the spark that led to sneaking notebooks under desks and daydreaming on my way home, the spark that made the world a little brighter. My goal hasn’t been to write a novel that is marketable or ready to edit, it’s been to create a world and characters that make me feel like I’ve come home again.
is a young writer from Ottawa, Canada. When he isn’t in school, he enjoys reading, writing, crochet, and playing with his two cats. Their favourite genres are horror and fantasy, and they enjoy all things strange. You can find him on Instagram at @nate_fahmi.