If writing a novel is like training for, and running a marathon, do we have the same ways to measure our progress and growth?
When I was growing up, I could never understand how my dad could get up early every day and go for a run. For the most part he did it simply for the exercise and as something he enjoyed doing. There were a few years where he took it more seriously and trained to run a marathon.
He was already a runner, so he had the essential technique, but training to run that kind of distance takes all kinds of different energy, mindset, and physical training, from simply running for fun.
It wasn’t enough to run every day. He ran six miles one day, ten miles the.next, then back to six, learning to extend the length of running time.
If you know anyone who has run a marathon, they always talk about hitting the wall — that point near the end of the race when it feels like you’ve, well, hit a wall. You can’t go any further. Your body is done. To finish the race, you have to push through it. You have to find the mental strength to keep going.
There is also a shift in nutrition and dietary needs. The right nutrition for a distance runner’s different from that of a sprinter.
For runners training for the marathon, it is a long process with measurable benchmarks of progress.
What kind of benchmarks of progress and growth, do we, as novelists, have?
The most concrete writing benchmarks we have are noted by our writing progress. Every time we finish a scene, a chapter, and a draft, we have passed significant steps in the writing process.
In my course, The Daring Writer, I teach setting achievable and exceedable goals, goals we can reach on a consistent basis. When we set specific word count goals, be they daily, or by writing session, we can tangibly see our progress for that day. An additional visual for our progress comes when we track our word count on a calendar or in a spreadsheet.
What about the less tangible benchmarks?
Like that of improving your scene development, or description?
I think this is where the phrase, “Progress, not perfection” can come into play. Don’t expect a perfect first draft. It is through editing, that our stories improve. Each read-through of your manuscript is when you are doing more than fixing the grammar and typos. You’re filling plot holes, adding character depth, description, improving dialogue, and so on.
I know, I know, editing isn’t everyone’s favourite thing. I go into more detail on the benefits of editing in my course, The Daring Writer, and you can also read more on it, and get a free editing kit over here. Editing is an important and necessary part of the writing process and it is the perfect place to see our writing progress and growth.
As much as I don’t believe in a perfect first draft, our growth as writers will also show up in our fist drafts. Not our first ever draft, of course. Once we start learning more about the craft of writing, what we learn will start to show in our fist drafts. We will see where we can make the story better right from the start..
The best feeling is when those story improvements show up without conscious effort on our part. I love when I’m starting my second draft and I’m reading what I wrote in my fist draft, and I see I’ve already put in elements of description (which I’m terrible at), and character development. In the end, that means less time spent editing. Eventually!
When we’re writing, deep in the process, in the middle of the first draft, and our energy and motivation is waning, it is difficult to believe we are-making any progress or have grown at all. At times like this, pull out the first novel you ever wrote. You will see how much progress you’ve made.
Writing progress and growth
If writing a novel is like training for and running a marathon, then we too have measurable benchmarks. To recap, they are:
- Each scene, chapter, and draft. Print them out after each one is written. Re-read your old first drafts Each draft, as you edit;
- Setting and achieving your daily word count goals and tracking them on a calendar or in a spread sheet;
- Your first drafts will improve as you learn more about writing. It will show up naturally, and it will show up as you recognize where to elevate your writing from the start; and
- Look back at the early drafts of the early stories you wrote and acknowledge just how far you have come.
Knowing we are growing as writers, and making progress to our end goal, be it a finished novel or a grand writing life, can keep us motivated to write, even when we don’t feel like writing.
Until next time…