Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Charting a Course of Progress

I hate to admit it, but I've had some rediculously high expectations over the years for what tools, experience or qualifications I thought I needed to write or call myself a writer. My thinking has changed over time, and I'm starting to revise my thinking about the importance of writing milestones or how we gage our progress. I'm not sure how to describe it, but perhaps these days I think more in terms of wish lists and less of must haves.

For instance, wouldn't it be nice if the "milestones" we chose to plot in our "progress chart" weren't only those big moments of sales or finished projects? Wouldn't it be nice to think of any encounter with writing as brushing shoulders with our Muse?

Here's what I'd like for self evaluation -- a progress chart where we acknowledge our writing in all forms -- our novels and short stories, but also essays, journals, letters, blogs or even reading or thinking about writing. I often think we forget how this interaction with the Muse makes whatever we write next, in whatever format, be better. It's as if our course of progress has already been charted by many intangible milestones.

What would a graph look like if you plotted out your interaction with the Muse over a reasonably long time span? What if you included everything -- from the days you only had a moment to jot down the ideas as came to you, which meant you were open to listening, to how, on the best days, the ideas flew from your mind to your fingers?

If this hypothetical graph of your Muse's activity is anything like mine, it has a lot of spikes, flat lines, and an occasional nosedive, representing a tangent that seems unrelated to the plotted course. But most important, the chart is full of activity. Even when the line is lateral, progress may be creeping along in another form. Perhaps during flat times you're either absorbing knowledge or maybe handling revisions to straighten out the kinks. The Muse hasn't left -- you're only working together. And according to a predictable path of the graph, it will return with an upturn of ideas.

The Muse is not only fickle, it often shows little regard for pace. Rarely, when we are lucky, we get a nice, manageable cruising speed we long to maintain. But typically, at times the Muse gives us everything at once, at times it leads us down the wrong path, and at other times it stalls out, seemingly going dormant.

But hopefully, there is also an arrow at the end pointing in an upward direction. As long as you judge yourself fairly, I think most every writer would be pleasantly surprised if they tallied up the small stuff for charting a course of progress.


  1. What a great post! We do have a tendency to judge our progress in a much too harsh fashion, resulting in us overlooking the very things you pointed out that we SHOULD be focusing on.

    I also loved the part about "brushing shoulders with our Muse", and how the Muse is not concerned with pace. We try to measure it with word counts, and time spent in working on the WIP, but you're right, there's so much other activity that should be part of this evaluation. :)

    I'm definitely going to take another look at my progress now--I think there's more than I gave myself credit for!

  2. Donna, I'm glad you liked this blog and thanks for taking the time to comment, especially after I buried it. LOL On my first day of a break from studying, I spent a lot of time on this blog post as a sort of "talk" to myself. When I finished my finals there was a bit of a "now what?" let down and wondering how in the world this liberal background of the things I'd learned would count down the road. It's like that with writing. If I can "see" the intangible progress I think it helps get to those public sort of milestones.


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