The Input/Output Ratio

  • Are you reading several books a month, but somehow you “don’t have time” to write?
  • Do you read for inspiration, but avoid writing even when it strikes?

I read. A lot. If I’m into a good story, I can hardly stop. My wife will see me gravitating to my Kindle during every random time pocket, and she’ll tell our son “Oh, looks like we’ve lost papa to a book again!”

I also think of myself as a writer, though I have very little writing to back that claim. Why is that? I didn’t understand why I read so much, and wrote so little, until I read this quote:

“If you’re a perfectionist of the paralyzed sort, it’s almost guaranteed that you watch a lot of TV. Perfectionists and procrastinators love TV because nobody watches TV incorrectly. It is completely passive, which makes it an automatic, simple, rewarding, and mistake-free “win”.”
– Stephen Guise, How to be an Imperfectionist

Now, I read this book more than once (of course!) but the first few times I did, that quote just slid right over me and made no impression. We’ve never owned a TV. My wife and I watch shows on Netflix at her prompting, not mine. I do watch a lot of productivity videos on YouTube, though… but at least that’s “productive” (notice a pattern?).

It took another pass to finally see that those words were written for me… I just had to substitute “watching TV” with “reading” for it to apply.

Ouch. I might not be a couch potato, but I’m the literary equivalent. An armchair beet? A rocking chair parsnip? Never mind… humor isn’t my strong suit. Must be all serious, all productive, all the time.

Reading is worthwhile, it’s fun, and it does build perceptual exposure that can improve your writing. But the key is to focus on your production/consumption ratio.

Seeing things as either production or consumption left me no room to hide. Reading classics of my chosen genre: consumption. Reading a “how-to” book on writing: consumption. Watching YouTube videos on time management: consumption. Consumption is fine, but it needs to be balanced with the appropriate amount of production. What’s “appropriate”? Enough that you feel satisfied.

Since I started seeing things this way, I’ve started writing again after a hiatus of over a year.

The mechanics of this are simple: figure out how much time you spend in each category, and adjust it slowly until it feels right. But the key is simpler still:

Start the habit of asking yourself: “Am I producing, or consuming?”

3 thoughts on “The Input/Output Ratio

  1. Thank you for this post Adriano, this is spot on. And I’m not just consuming your post, you also convinced me to produce a comment! Joke aside, it’s a great question, and I will start this habit right now.

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