Progress: The Muddy Definition

I didn’t do NaNo this year. I keep saying that someday I will, but November never shows up on my calendar as a one-project, one-focus month. Every year, though, I follow along on blogs and Facebook and Twitter and eavesdrop on the conversations about how everyone is doing.

And every year, at this time of the month, with turkeys on order at the grocery store and cranberry sauce gelling in the pot, I think…how must NaNo writers be feeling. Four or five days with kids out of school, family visiting, and tryptophan sending us into naptime…and how many more words left to write?

I find myself worrying a little about NaNo stress levels and hoping that nobody’s really beating themselves up about word count or having to write The End in concrete in a week. I find myself hoping that they know there are many different meanings to progress and knowing that they have already achieved some form of it.

Here are just a few things that qualify, on my tally sheet, as progress:

  • Discovering the true, important goal of your hero.
  • Figuring out why your antagonist is so mean.
  • Working out the elements of your world–whether that be an elven forest, a far planet, or a particular street corner in your neighborhood.
  • Writing five chapters in a row without knowing what you’re doing, then realizing the connection between these scenes and the story arc—even if  you put off the revision till later.
  • Writing a half-page of perfect dialogue.
  • Writing one chapter in third person, another in first, two in present-tense, and six in past. And being okay with the fact that you’re playing around and experimenting.

Whether you did NaNo or not this month, I’m betting you achieved one of these progress markers, or another with as much weight. Let’s face it–the best progress of NaNo is taking your writing so seriously, with utter commitment, for this one month. And realizing, out of that month, that–minus the sore wrists and the exhaustion–this is the commitment you want to feel about your writing all year long.

What’s your definition of progress? What did you do this month that makes you proud of yourself as a writer? Leave me a comment and share.

Then go out and buy another two pounds of yams and another can of whipped cream for that pumpkin pie!


  1. Jamie says:

    Progress…Well, I too have not NaNoed this month. My definition of progress? I read and enjoyed this post…while taking a break from finishing my column due today. The ending of my column is just not right yet. If I come up with a great ending that’s not trite (and get to the store and get my exercise in and remember to pick up children from school) that will make me happy! Thanks for helping me take the pressure off of performance..or how I measure my performance..


    • beckylevine says:

      “Not trite” is always good. As is not forgetting the kids! A tiny bit of pressure is good, but too much–goes against progress, I think.

      Good luck with the column ending. You’ll get it. 🙂


  2. LK Hunsaker says:

    I’m Nano’ing for the fifth year. This year I’m also on a whirlwind virtual book tour – 16 blogs in 31 days, plus I finished edits on the book I’m touring early this month, finished the cover art for it and the design/upload of the bookmarks that are now on-hand and being signed as I watch a few fave TV shows, am nearly done with the short story I’m submitting to WD by December 1st, am putting my quarterly newsletter out today, book club meeting tonight, Thanksgiving shopping and deep cleaning are done, a few Christmas gifts bought, chaperoning to and from football games finally done for the season, and put up the website for said novel. Part-time job still being maintained.

    I’m mostly on track with Nano although I won’t get to 97K like I did last year. And I love the story that’s emerging.

    Kids are still being fed and talked to.

    I’m calling that progress. 😉


  3. I signed up for NaNo, but I never intended to write 50k.

    My goal was just to finish writing the book I started. And not just slap down words for a count, but to write it well. NaNo just makes me commit and gives me an excuse to tell my family to cut me some slack so I can write more 🙂


    • beckylevine says:

      I think, sometimes, that’s the best thing about short chunks of big writing time–the FAMILY can handle our increased writing time/sloppier more casual house.


  4. P. J. Hoover says:

    I’m making my way through a first revision on something. The good news is I really feel like I’m making progress. But it also seems like it needs a ton of work. I like to hope this is because I’m getting better at identifying my own issues before getting someone else to.
    I haven’t been a NaNo gal yet either!


    • beckylevine says:

      I think first revisions are the toughest, but also the ones that make that big leap to SOMETHING. Good luck!


  5. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I’m preparing for the launch of one book while working on the second draft of another.


  6. Amy G. says:

    Love your list of things to be proud of! The journey isn’t always (ever?) a straight line, that’s for certain.

    No NaNo for me, either, but I have JoNo’d (and weirded nouns into verbs). And I’m ten chapters into the revision as of this week. Given the year I’m having, that’s a big achievement!


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