What Does Progress Look Like?

Everyone loves to feel like they’re progressing. The problem is, for some things, outcomes are not quite as tangible as we’d like. If I were an aspiring baker, I’d continue to work on my crumb texture, or perfect the proving of my bread (I only know these words because of Bake Off).

As a runner, that’s also an easy one. I do a slightly longer run, I get a quicker time, I manage to do one more speed interval or hill run without feeling like I’m going to die, and there it is: a sense of progress. What’s interesting is, I still see it as progress, even if it wasn’t the best run I’ve ever done. Simply getting out there and putting my feet to the floor, covering some miles and coming home, no matter how knackered, I will always see as some sort of development of my muscles/stamina/triumph over can’t-be-arsedness.

So why can’t I apply the same thinking to my writing? I just had a go at the Future Learn ‘An Introduction to Screenwriting’ course. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, and I thought it might be interesting to dally in another type of wordsmithing, just to see what it was like. Towards the end of the course, they were discussing the process of finishing a first draft. All of them agreed that it was important to remember that this piece of work was for no-one but you. Fiddling about with finding the perfect dialogue or making everything brilliant was not the focus. Getting it down on the page is what you’re there for.

It was a jolt, a reminder that I should be more forgiving about the words I do get down in the course of a week. Invariably I’m writing a blog, or a short story, or (at the moment) working on the shape of a new idea. Yet all too often I’ll read back over what I’ve done the following day and sigh, despairing that no-one will want to read it, or that it isn’t going exactly as planned.

So what? If that was a run, at least I got out there. I put fingers to the keyboard, I strapped my writing shoes on (slippers) and covered some miles in the form of a word count. Every time I do that, progress is made. Maybe the bit I wrote will eventually get cut, but if I hadn’t written it I wouldn’t know how to get to the next part, which is important. The slips along the way are what will make the final thing better.

So today, and all the other days, I am making progress. It might not look like it, but it’s definitely there. Want to join me?

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

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