Becoming a Writer in the Girlboss Era
The rise and fall of hustle culture shaped my writing life. The anti-work movement saved it.
I became a writer in the throes of hustle culture. It was the time of Lean In and #Girlboss. The time of cute to-do-list notepads complete with “hydration trackers.” The time of desktop wallpapers with centered productivity mantras in brush lettering.
By existing in a culture that celebrated hard work, I wanted to be a harder worker. Most of the writers I admired at the time encouraged regular, if not daily, writing time, and I wanted more than anything to be like them.
This culture of productivity taught (mostly very white, definitely very cis!) women to punch above our weight. On my best days, it made me believe that I could do anything; at my worst, it made me think that everyone else was doing better than I was.
It made me feel that if I took just a moment to rest, I wasn’t reaching my fullest potential. It made me ashamed of getting what I really needed.
Now, with the fall of the girlboss and a mid-pandemic anti-work movement on our hands, I’ve felt a new sense of satisfaction when it comes to balancing writing with the rest of life.
Part of this comes from the feeling that the world has become more encouraging of taking breaks. As a result, I’ve noticed that I’m less paranoid about not getting enough writing done or not doing it on a certain (meaningless, but at times, useful) timeline.
Instead, I’ve been trying this wild concept called “trusting myself to show up to my writing whenever I have the space and energy for it.” And when I don’t have either of those things on my side, I don’t feel guilty about not showing up. Instead, I find a way to recharge. I trust that I will return.
But the foundation of my writing life exists on the principles of hustle culture. It’s impossible for me to approach my own writing practice without them.
Hustle culture taught me to set and achieve goals. It taught me to protect space in my week for my writing time. It taught me to prove my commitment to my creative practice—to others, but most importantly, to myself.
On the other hand, the anti-work movement is teaching me what “living in the moment” really can look like. It’s teaching me what I am capable of when I simply take time to rest. It’s teaching me to bite off what I can chew and to feel that it is plenty.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve carried along with me from the #girlboss days to the advent of anti-work.
And I’ve found that there are many aspects of hustle culture that still serve me and my writing. Here are some of the pillars I uphold.
1. I still set deadlines for my writing. 📆
I set a goal at the beginning of this year to finish my latest novel revision by the end of April. That was exactly what I did. Without that deadline—that carrot dangling in front of my drooling, eager face—I doubt I would’ve been able to finish.
2. I still seek out accountability in my writing life. 👭
I’ve written at length about identifying as an “obliger,” a label developed by Gretchen Rubin meaning that I am most likely to achieve my goals when I put outer accountability in place. In other words, I perform best not only when deadlines are involved, but when I have someone on the other end expecting me to meet those deadlines.
This doesn’t just apply to writing. I’m also most likely to exercise when I sign up for a class, and I’m most likely to tidy up my house when I have company coming for dinner.
When I started leaning into my obliger status, I sought out structures of accountability. I organized writing swaps with writer friends. I applied for workshops and residencies. I set big and small deadlines—the ultimate form of accountability, if you ask me!—and found ways to uphold them.
This knowledge of how I best achieve my goals is, for me, the best thing to come out of productivity culture.
3. I still surround myself with people who are doing what I want to be doing. 👯♀️
Stepping into adulthood in the throes of the girlboss movement meant meeting women my age who were as serious about what they were doing as I wanted to be. Watching them claim space and set boundaries on behalf of their work inspired me to do the same.
I was also lucky enough to fall in with a crowd that subscribed to Shine Theory, a term coined by Call Your Girlfriend podcast hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman that represents “an investment, over the long term, in helping someone be their best self—and relying on their help in return.” That’s something I’m hanging onto.
But the anti-work movement has encouraged writers like me to reject certain ideas of what writing “should” look like.
Here’s what the girlboss writers of the world can keep.
1. I don’t write every day. 🙅♀️
Writing ~most days~ works best for me. It gets me close to the project I’m working on, which is perhaps the most commonly cited reason for writing daily. But at the same time, it also gives me enough space to rest, have new ideas, and, in general, just not get sick of the thing I’m writing!
I want to be excited to get back to the page. I don’t ever want to dread it.
2. Whenever I don’t write, I don’t feel guilty about it. 😎
Somedays the writing just doesn’t happen! I used to agonize over that. Now, I just don’t. Instead, sometimes, I use my “writing time” to go shopping for plants I do not need.
Sometimes, I use my “writing time” to eat Trader Joe’s vegan macaroni and cheese in bed next to my dog while watching Sex and the City re-runs.
Sometimes, I use my “writing time” to take very long naps that make my contact lenses feel crusty in my eyeballs.
Every single time I have done any of these things during my “writing time,” it has turned out to be exactly what I needed that day. (Well, sort of—the nap would’ve been even better if I’d just had the foresight to take out my contacts and slip in my nightguard.) Then, when I return to the page the next day or a few days later or whenever, I have so much more energy and enthusiasm for putting words on the page.
3. I’m not ashamed of taking breaks. 🌴
After that big push toward my end-of-April novel deadline, I am not really writing anything at the moment. I’m scribbling ideas here and there, but this newsletter issue is the first real thing I’ve written in over a week. And that is very much by design.
The recovering #girlboss in me wants to say that if I let myself get bored, I will be raring to get back to writing in a few weeks. But this is just another trap set by hustle culture that belittles the rest I am doing right now.
I will write again when I write again.
Really Diggin’ This
So about that end-of-April deadline I mentioned: since I’ve been chugging along with my novel, I haven’t really been reading. Not because I haven’t had time. Lately, I’ve found that every time I open a book (especially a novel), I start doubting my own writing.
For instance, a few weeks ago, I read the opening chapter of Halle Butler’s The New Me and thought, I will never write anything this smart or funny. I should just quit. And before that, I had the exact same feeling when I read the opening of Charmaine Wilkerson’s new novel Black Cake.
Yikes, right?! 😬
And it scared me, because I’ve never ever ever ever ever had these kinds of thoughts while reading! Usually, reading inspires me with new ideas and helps me see possibility in my own work. This feeling is temporary, I think. (It better be—there are tonssss of amazing books coming out this summer!)
That said, I’ve been reading newsletters like crazy. Here are some of my faves that have left me with inspiration and strength. ✨
Monday Monday — Marlee Grace, author of Getting to Center and How to Not Always Be Working, is one of my favorite thinkers on the subject of creative practice. Their newsletter always reminds me to maintain my writing practice with a mindset of gentleness and joy.
Subtle Maneuvers — I’ve sung Daily Rituals author Mason Currey’s praises many times here on Substack (and even interviewed him!), so you better believe I’m doing it again now that he’s rolled out a paid version of his newsletter. I stop everything I’m doing to read Subtle Maneuvers whenever it lands in my inbox. His paid subscriber perks are amazing, and I’m excited to be among his first VIPs—very important patrons!
Do you have a favorite newsletter that I should know about? Tell me about it in the comments! 🗞