If there’s one thing that I wish someone had whispered to me when I was a baby writer it’s this: Celebrate progress.
Progress is as small as one word.
Progress is spending five minutes scribbling a note to yourself about a character, an idea, an essay, a review, a direction.
Progress is any tiny piece that exists today, but didn’t exist yesterday.
I find, in talking to and mentoring writers, that this idea of progress is never “enough”. There’s a pressure that we exert on ourselves, living as so many of us do in the future, against imaginary deadlines that actually don’t matter.
When I say they ‘don’t matter’, I mean:
Nobody is going to die; you’re not going to lose a contract (most of the time); you’re not going to be tortured, hurt, or damaged. People you love will be left doing their thing without interruption. Your dog will still bark, the sun will still rise.
It is, instead, an expectation that you set on yourself.
Yet, expectations can be so damaging.
If you don’t have any expectations, then so long as you still have standards and motivations, you won’t be disappointed by simply spending a few minutes of time, if that few minutes is all you have.
If instead you set an expectation that you must write 2,000 words by hand before you can consider the day a success – but then you end up distracted by life in the interim – you’ll never go to bed feeling satisfied, even if you penned 800 of them.
The attitude of celebrating progress is resisted by people who have high standards and expectations.
But celebrating progress is what enables you to retain the enthusiasm to keep going.
Celebrating progress is what allows you to fit writing (or any project!) into your life without going bananas about “carving out time” to do it.
And celebrating progress is what keeps you happy to be doing it.
Don’t think that I write this as I lord it over you from from the top of a high mountain. Oh no. Today my plan was to write 2,000 words on my book (so, one scene). And 2,000 words on an essay.
Of them all, I’ve managed just shy of 1,000 words on the book. And this blog – however many words that may be.
I caught myself feeling disappointed, which is why I decided to write this: To remind myself that all progress is awesome. So now I am celebrating, because I have momentum!
Yesterday, the book existed only in a table of planned scenes.
Today I have the scenes PLUS the first half of the first chapter. That’s a major step forwards.
What I’d like you to take away from this is that expecting that you require 30 minutes or an hour, or some huge chunk of time, in which to Sit Down And Write is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Lives are malleable, things happen. If you have a job or two, family, kids, friends, social lives, hobbies, sports, then slot writing in wherever it fits.
Even if it’s just five minutes.
And then, celebrate whatever your progress is. Celebrating the smallest things is critical, because it keeps you satisfied and desiring to do more of it.
What you want is the satisfaction of doing something, of gaining even the tiniest piece of momentum. When you do this every single day, when you stop with a feeling of satisfaction (however tiny), that movement forward in small steps is what allows you to climb mountains of success.
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