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Variations on Writing Progress


No. 142 | By Christine Carron

Once upon a time, I stood up in a personal growth workshop, filled with about two hundred other women, and stated that I had never been on a date. I was in my thirties. 

I still have a twinge of embarrassment about that moment. It was not an accurate statement, but it also wasn’t a lie. I had dated in high school, in college, and all through to that moment in that workshop, but in my head, dating was different than a “date.” A real “date” looked like something out of a movie circa 1950s where the guy had to knock on my door with flowers and chocolates in hand and whisk me out for a night of dinner and dancing on the town.

That strict, specific (and not overly egalitarian) definition of a date wasn’t useful or helpful and pretty much dissed every guy I had dated up to that point. 

Instead of appreciating the dates—in all their variations—that were happening, I always felt like the date experiences never measured up. Not exactly motivating (or fair) to anyone involved. 

Redefining Writing Progress

I share this still slightly cringe moment with you because I find many writers have an equally strict definition of what counts as writing progress. 

They decide that the only progress is words on the page, and a specific number of words on the page, every day. Any less, any skip of even one day—not progress. Failure. Possibly topped off by an Inner Critic attack.

Let’s look at some of the writing progress that wouldn’t count by this definition:

  • Taking a writing craft class
  • Learning and practicing new craft skills on your own
  • Plotting your novel or mapping out your nonfiction book
  • Critiquing pages for members of your critique group
  • Doing personal growth work to help you maintain your cool when receiving critiques
  • Taking a walk to brainstorm ideas
  • Organizing your writing files
  • Taking a nap or a break to refresh your energy and creativity
  • Learning a new writing tool like Scrivener
  • Learning how to plan and manage (all) your writing work more effectively
  • Researching agents and/or publishers, or how to self-publish
  • Writing a query letter, querying, maintaining a query tracking spreadsheet
  • Social media marketing
  • Building an author platform
  • Pitching to speak at writing conferences
  • Speaking at writing conferences

The list could go on and on. That means there is a lot of legit writing work that many writers are not honoring as legit writing work. 

Even so, perhaps you are thinking, Well sure, Christine, but still, in the end, doing all those things doesn’t really result in writing progress

If you had that response, then take note, it is likely an indicator that you have a narrow view of what counts as writing progress.

The Harm and Foul

A strict definition of writing progress is not a “no harm, no foul” situation. 

It is accurate that all the items in the bulleted list above are not words on a page. They all do, however, help us get words on the page more effectively, more efficiently, and also help us get our words out into the world.

When we constantly make that work “less than,” or a burden, or an annoyance, then it becomes harder to do it. 

I am pretty sure most of us have some kind of inner warning system that says don’t waste time on work that is not important. And if we are constantly telling ourselves that our non-writing writerly work is not important, then we are setting ourselves up to make all that legit writing work harder than it needs to be.

That’s the harm and the foul of being so restrictive in our definition of writing progress. 

How to Make All Your Writing Work Easier

Psychologist Marina Milyavskaya of Carleton University in Canada studies motivation and productivity. She classifies motivation into two types:

  • Want-to motivation: doing something because it’s personally important to us, it’s interesting, or it fits well with our values. 
  • Have-to motivation: doing something because someone else requires or expects it of us or because we would feel guilty if we didn’t do it.

My experience is that many writers view a lot of legit writing work with a have-to motivation lens. Unfortunately, according to Milyavskaya, “If you find you are pursuing a goal for have-to reasons, then you are more likely to struggle with that goal.” (Source: Forbes New Psychological Research Teaches Us How To Be More Self-Motivated by Mark Travers.)

One of the very first perspective shifts I teach writers is to acknowledge and manage and value the full scope of their writing work. I invite you to do the same. When you broaden your definition of writing work, it is easier to shift more of your writerly tasks into "want-to motivation" land versus having them languish in "have-to motivation" territory. That perspective shift will make it easier to get those tasks done.

Revel in All Your Writing Progress 

There is a direct connection between broadening your definition of writing work and broadening your definition of writing progress. The proof of the utility of ditching rigid definitions for both will first be realized through increased productivity. 

Other benefits await as well. You will experience more flow, more appreciation, and more fun. Instead of constantly feeling a sense that something is wanting—like me and my view of the dates I had been on—you will be able to receive the full richness of the variety, of the variations, of all the delightful ways that you make writing progress. 

You've got this!


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