What Joyful Productivity Looks Like: The “Woodland Trail” Metaphor

Picture your writing (or other work) session as a stroll down a beautiful, sun-dappled woodland path. The path is wide and flat, the air warm and inviting, and on either side of you are banks of friendly plants alive with twittering birds. You’re having a marvelous time, and are moving at a relaxed, yet efficient pace – almost with a bit of a strut.

All of a sudden someone pops up out of the underbrush and joins you on your path: it’s your spouse, full of opinions on your current piece of writing.You walk on for a bit, your spouse yammering in your ear, not just about the writing, now, but about he/she wishes the house were better maintained and how you two never go out any more. It’s an unpleasant distraction, but you’re still mostly enjoying your walk.

Then, someone else pops up – your parents, who are worried about how your writing will reflect on them.

And then your siblings parachute down onto the path, asking when are you going to get a real job, and aren’t you embarrassed to be driving around in that old car?

Then, an old teacher or boss pops up, reminding you of how, “you really don’t do dialog very well.”

And an editor who, twenty years ago, described a story of yours as “jejune.” (Yes, people do remember cruel comments for decades!)

And the author of a newspaper article you recently read that proclaimed that the market for epic family sagas, like the one you happen to be writing, is “dead.”


Soon, you’re walking at the center of a clamorous crowd, none of whom you’ve invited. Naturally, you’ll have a hard time working in the midst of their harping, carping and negativity.

The prolific handle things differently. They decide, with absolute authority (get it? author-ity), who comes on their trail, and how long they can stay. You’re only allowed on if they want you on, and the minute you’re no longer an asset to their process, you’re gone. (I like to imagine that “gone” being either in the form of a vaudeville hook whisking the offender off stage right, or a giant boot sending him into orbit.)

And no free passes: everyone has to pass the “asset” test, including partners, parents, kids, and “important” teachers, editors and the like. And those who fail the test a few times permanently lose their right to apply for entry.

They’re banished, baby.

And so the prolific have a wonderful time strolling peacefully and productivity through the hours, days and years of their work.

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