Do You Ever Feel Like You’re Not Making Any Progress … At All?

This is probably the worst feeling ever.

Being able to say they’ve written a book is, if we’re being honest, what most aspiring writers really want. Which is understandable — the first time I ever finished writing something, I wanted to tell everyone I knew and didn’t know. And I probably did.

It’s not that writers don’t enjoy writing. They often just … don’t want to do the work. Or they do a bunch of work and don’t feel like they’re any closer to meeting their goals.

Writing a book isn’t just about having an idea and saying you’re going to do it. You actually have to take this thing one day at a time until you’ve actually done it. Which is, uh … difficult. But totally possible all the same.

How do you get from “I’m going to write a book” to “I wrote a book!” when everything that happens between those two events seems slow, tiresome — and maybe, sometimes, boring?

Honestly, the first thing any writer needs to do when they’re feeling like this is remember how dangerous the idea of instant gratification can be. We’re so used to getting what we want almost instantly these days that the thought of having to spend months, even YEARS chipping away at a book (for example) disgusts us.

You mean I have to write this thing a thousand words at a time until it’s done, and there’s no way to make it go faster? Ugh. What’s the point?

Obviously the point is that you eventually end up with a completed project that you’ll at least sort of feel good about finishing. But too many people are almost incapable of envisioning their future success because they don’t want to wait or put in the effort to get to their end goal.

I’m not going to put the blame on anyone or anything in particular here. But even I roll my eyes when my Amazon Prime order takes three days to get here instead of two. It’s terrible, I know. But it’s the nature of the world we live in. That’s very unfortunate for anyone who wants to publish a book RIGHT NOW but can’t because … well, they haven’t even started writing one yet.

And that brings me to the second half of this post. Instant gratification is creativity’s and productivity’s greatest poison. So what’s the antidote?

Breaking big things into small pieces. Always.

I’ve been working on the same book off and on for almost six months, which is not a long time in terms of first-draft writing averages (at least I’m assuming so). There are days it feels like I write a thousand words and am no closer to finishing the story. But I take it a thousand words at a time each day I sit down to work on it. If I hit that mark and feel like writing more, I will. But if I don’t, at least I’ve made it that far.

My end goal is, of course, to finish the book. I wish it was done. I wish I could get past this very long and often not all that exciting part of the process. But it turns out that if you want to be a writer, you have to, you know … actually write things. But the only way to do that is to take each project a little bit at a time until you’ve succeeded.

This is not an easy thing for most people to do. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I personally look at my goals only one day at a time. I don’t look at my book and think, “Wow, I have at least 20-30,000 more words to go.” I look at my planner, see that I’m scheduled to write a thousand words today, and get down to it. A thousand words is much more manageable than 20,000. Don’t you think?

Also remember to take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose every now and then. Taking on a big project in any capacity can seem overwhelming even when you’re already a good way through it. On those days you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, focus on what you need to get done today. Eventually, all that will add up to the accomplishment you’ve always wanted.

It won’t happen as quickly as you’d like it to. But at least it will happen, if you’re willing to put in the work.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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8 thoughts on “Do You Ever Feel Like You’re Not Making Any Progress … At All?

  1. When I’m actually writing the story, the steady increase of word count — even when it’s slow — makes me KNOW that I’m making progress.

    Now editing? THAT’S where I get bogged down. Sure, I can count by pages edited, but there’s so many types of editing — word choice, passive voice, adding sensory detail, streamlining the text, deciding if this adds value to the story, checking for excessive adverb use… etc. It’s really hard to tell if I’m ever truly done.

  2. As long as I’m moving forward, that’s OK, even if what’s showing up on the screen is garbage I can always clean it up later, discard it, fold, spindle, mutilate it, The important thing is to keep moving.

  3. I think doubt is also a factor. I think many writers (among others) struggle with self doubt, and few things assuage doubt quite like the knowledge that “I’ve done this before, therefore I can do it again.”

    And I think, mixed in with instant gratification, is the desire to feel safe.
    As long as the story’s incomplete, as long its part of it lies in our minds, there’s an uncertainty to it.
    Once the story is complete and on the page, it’s stable. We don’t have to worry about losing it, or forgetting some key component. We can relax.

    I agree with you that one strategy is to break a project down and celebrate the small victories, but I also find that sometimes the solution is to complete a version of it. Whether it’s an outline or a very rough draft, sometimes writing some version of the story from start to finish grants me a measure of calm and certainty.
    It may not be “good” (yet), but it’s something, something I can rely on to help me hold onto the idea of the story, as I go back and turn it into its proper form.

    1. I always say “something” is better than nothing, even if that “something” is an absolute disaster. If you don’t have anything to work with, it’s just going to be that much harder.

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