What does progress mean for a newbie writer? Many different things, as many as there are writers. For some of us, it means getting a downpayment from the big publishing house that has just bought our manuscript, while for others the mere act of writing a few pages every day means they’re making progress.
As a writer, you are an artist, a creative person, and your progress is subjective. No newbie writer should think of progress as something she has to demonstrate to others. Just as you ultimately write for yourself, you should be the only one deciding what progress means in the context of your writing life.
Progress and goal setting
For any writer progress has to do with goal achievement. Anything that takes you closer to your writing goals is progress. As a newbie writer, your writing goals are (and should be) modest. Writing 3 pages per day, resisting the urge to edit as you write, find the time and space to write, joining a critique group (and stop being afraid of showing your manuscript to others), are goals that a newbie writer should reach if she’s being disciplined, constant and patient enough.
Writing a perfect draft on your first try, winning every contest you send your manuscript to, or landing a publishing contract with your first novel aren’t reasonable goals, though. If you link your sense of progress to achieving such goals, you’re in for disappointment. And lack of progress may make you stop writing altogether.
Does this mean that you should set your goals low to make progress? Not at all. What I’m saying is that, for a newbie writer, keep on writing should be the most important thing. You should run from anything that could make you stop writing: disappointment, frustration, writer’s block, insecurities and the like.
Progress milestones and mid-course corrections
It’s great to want your novel to be the next bestseller, but instead of linking your sense of progress to such a big goal, why don’t you break it into more manageable chunks, each of them being a “progress milestone”? Have a few of these milestones, and you’ll be much closer to see your novel published.
Progress milestones will also help you to make any required mid-course correction on your writing career. Being creative is being flexible. You might have been writing poetry for a year, and suddenly find out a passion for historic fiction. What are you supposed to do? Keep on writing poetry and ignore this new field? Jump into historic novels and forget about haikus? The beauty of creativity is that allows you to experiment, to follow a new, interesting path for a while just to see where it takes you. Mid-course corrections are more than good; they are necessary to make progress.
As C.S. Lewis put it:
Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be […] If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.
If you want to make progress relax, set some sensible writing goals, and don’t be afraid of walking back after having explored around for a while.