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How Do You Measure Writing Progress?

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

I actually read this prompt on Marissa Meyer's Instagram for her podcast (The Happy Writer Podcast). Look at the Happy Writer podcast or the Happy Writer Instagram.

The prompt really got me thinking, though. Because, in reality, there is no right answer to the question "how should you measure writing progress?" and there is no consistent answer to the question "how do you measure writing progress?"

Let me explain that a little bit further by including some of the answers I found under the prompt. There were a number of responses but I think many people didn't respond for one major reason: they didn't know how to respond. These were some of the responses that were in the comments:

  • By milestones I create in advance of getting started. These milestones usually don’t have dates attached, but they give me a very good sense of accountability. - @joeyrobertparks

  • Word count! It compels me to meet my daily goal instead of being too picky with editing too early. - @boyer.madi

  • Right now, my goal is to write something every day. Word count doesn’t matter. As long as I write something (a chapter, a scene, a paragraph), I’m moving forward. - @angelenapulis

I think there are really a couple of things to note about these responses. First, I want to focus on the response from @angelenapulis. She talks about moving forward. Her "writing progress" comes not from a word count or crossing a milestone like the others but simply from moving forward every day. There are two things vital to note about this response:

  1. Angelena is finding a sense of accomplishment in moving forward each day. She measures writing progress by that sense of accomplishment. When she feels like she has accomplished something, she knows that she is making progress whether that be a scene a day, 1,000 words a day, or a chapter a day. She might write less one day and more another but so long as she feels accomplished, she knows that she is making progress.

  2. Angelena is, quite literally, making progress. She seems to not have set any goals or noted any milestones she wants to pass but the main purpose of having these is to recognize that you are making progress and to push yourself to make progress. I would urge someone who is having trouble motivating themselves to write (and thus is making very little progress) to set these goals/milestones so that they push themselves and have a visible recognition of when they are making progress.

Ultimately, there are three elements vital to making and measuring writing progress the way I see it.

The first is motivation. Angelena seems to have plenty of this without creating particular goals for herself but often, having goals can come in handy. This could be a daily, weekly or monthly word count goal. It could be different turning points within your book that you set as milestones and markers of progress. It could be a goal of a chapter or scene in a certain amount of time. Or perhaps you simply set an end date—a time you want to be done by. Whatever it is, these goals or milestones push you to move forward and help you to measure when you are making progress just like they did for the other two responders to the prompt.

The second portion of making and measuring writing progress is work. Whether it is daily, weekly, monthly or totally irregular, putting in the work is vital to having writing progress to measure. Angelena talks about putting some work in daily. This is how she knows that she is making progress: she's putting in the work! Making progress means not only motivating oneself to write but setting the time aside to do so and sitting down to get it done. For different people, that amount of time and amount of progress will be different. In fact, for the same person, at different times, that amount of progress will look different! But if you are doing the work, you can be sure you are making progress.

Finally, making and measuring writing progress requires a sense of accomplishment. Angelena received this from doing the work every day. She knew that as long as she sat down to write every day, she was making progress and from that, she received a sense of accomplishment, from which she could measure her writing progress. The others needed something easier to measure. They measured their writing progress by passing a milestone or achieving a goal but ultimately, doing these things provided them with that same sense of accomplishment. It is this sense that helps us, writers, to know that we are moving forward, however slowly and we will make it there in the end.

As I write this, it has been about 6 years since I started working on the Once Upon a Tome series. I have come so far. I saw a Pinterest prompt I knew I wanted to work with in August 2015 and began to choose my characters and create my world. In November of 2017, I finished first draft of The Servant (and realized I would need to start with a different character and trash that draft!). In November of 2019, I finished the first draft of The Criminal after working with the different storylines some more (and swapping Snow White for Sleeping Beauty). In December of 2020, I published Imagine This: From Pain to Possibility. And finally, in January 2021, I returned to The Criminal, finished the second (and third, and fourth) draft/s, and began to submit it to agents.

I measure my writing progress by so many things. Usually I use goals because I find that hitting those goals brings me the biggest sense of accomplishment and thus, the greatest sense that I have made progress. But when I am down, when I haven't hit a goal in some time, when I feel unaccomplished and like I have made no progress, I look back at that list. I realize how far I have come. And then I know I can make it further.

I am not quitting now. I have so many dreams and goals to accomplish yet. I look forward to the day I receive fanart from Once Upon a Tome. I look forward to fangirling over my own books with readers. I look forward to pulling my book out of a box for the first time. I look forward to seeing the cover. I look forward to seeing it in a bookstore. I look forward to so many things because I know in my heart they will happen. I have made it this far. I have achieved this much progress. And I am not done yet!

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