We’ve probably all been frustrated with slow progress at some point in our writing career. Maybe we’re frustrated with the slow increase of our word count. Maybe we’re frustrated with an apparent lack of improvement in our writing. Or maybe we’re frustrated with our sales numbers.
The point is that frustration happens to all of us. My brother was released from the hospital this past weekend following brain surgery for removing a tumor. Even though we’ve assured him that he’s doing great (“You just ‘gave birth’ to a golf ball through your ear. Of course it’s going to take time to recover. It hasn’t even been a week yet, and you’re already out of bed—that’s awesome!”), he’s impatient and frustrated that he’s not completely better now.
We can probably all relate to his impatience. I remember reaching a point in my early writing career where I lamented the fact that the learning curve seemed like it’d never end. (Note to Past-Jami: It doesn’t end because there’s always something new to learn or try or experiment with. That’s a good thing. *smile* Luckily, the learning curve does get less steep.)
So how can we deal with that frustration? Let’s take a look at what might help.
The Importance of Realistic Expectations
One reason my brother is frustrated with his progress is because he had unrealistic expectations for his recovery. His surgeons told him to take a month off from work and warned him that he might be fairly immobile for most of that time. He’s on a bazillion medications with competing side effects, has 72 staples in his head, and had nerves and muscles cut for the surgery. Despite all that, he didn’t want to believe the doctors and planned several projects he could work on during his “month off.” Ha!
In the writing world, we’d call someone who expected that the rules wouldn’t apply to them a “special snowflake.” (*psst* Don’t tell my brother I said that. He just wants to be invincible like Superman. *grin*)
But the fact remains that unless one of you are holding out on me, none of us has access to Matrix-style learning to instantly become experts. We don’t have a magic wand to create an overnight bestseller. And we don’t have a time machine to get more done in a day than humanly possible.
How to Ensure Our Expectations Are Realistic
The best way to short-circuit our frustration is to ensure our expectations are realistic:
- Are the goals we’ve set for ourselves doable? Are they really? How?
- Do we know others who have succeeded in meeting similar goals? Or do we think we’ll be the special snowflake who can bend the space-time continuum to change reality?
- Are our goals based on wishes? Or facts of what’s possible?
- Have we successfully met similar goals like these before?
- Are we willing to do what it will take to meet those goals (changing behavior, sacrificing time, etc.)?
- If we fail to achieve our goal, what will we do? Give up or try again?
- If we overreach and can’t complete everything by a deadline, what are our priorities for the time we have left? Which activities are a better step toward our goals?
- Create a ranked to-do list. (Saying “I’ll get it all done” doesn’t count. We can give the most important things Priority A, but we still should rank them for Priority A1, A2, A3, etc.)
- Think about why we have our goals or expectations. Where did they come from? What purpose do they serve?
- What can we really accomplish during X amount of time?
- If our usual word count is 800 words per hour, we shouldn’t set a goal for 2000 words an hour without first making changes and working up to that amount.
- Will we really be able to set aside the amount of time we think we will?
- What other aspects of our life might suffer from that prioritization? Are we willing to make that trade-off?
- The goals we make should be within our control. Otherwise, we might “punish” ourselves for things beyond what we could do.
- Even if we self-publish, we won’t be in control of whether our editor or cover artist meets their deadlines.
- Do we have a Plan B? Or do we have extra time built into our schedule for dropped balls?
- If we traditionally publish, we’ll have even less under our control, everything from choosing our editor or cover artist to publisher marketing support, etc. That eliminates whole facets of our career from our goal-making ability.
- Would we have to push ourselves to the point of sickness or no sleep to meet those goals?
- What if work-life or family-life has an emergency and takes up more of our time or energy?
- Do we have extra time built into our schedule for if we do get sick or have to deal with personal emergencies?
- Can we meet those goals and still have the life balance we want?
- Will we still have the time for family, friends, TV shows, and hobbies that we want?
- If not, will reaching our goals really make us happy? Or will we feel that we’re missing out on the rest of our life?
- Do our family and friends support us in our goals? Or do we need to set aside extra energy to deal with a lack of support or any interpersonal issues we create by pursuing our goals?
(Update: After my difficult 2016, I wrote a follow-up post with an additional category to take into consideration our mental health.)
Realistic Goals Can Still Be Stretch Goals
None of those tips are meant to discourage us from trying. We often want our goals to be a stretch. We might surprise ourselves with how much our word count increases when we push ourselves or stay more focused. And remember that we often learn just as much (if not more) from failure.
The point is that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we fall short, especially if we do show improvement. Any amount of improvement is better than we were before we pushed ourselves, so falling short does not equal failure, especially if we’re going to try again. (And maybe we learned something to help us succeed next time.)
Here’s a tool to help us come up with SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This tool walks us through each of those steps with questions to ensure we’re being as SMART as possible.
Realistic People Can Still “Dream Big”
Similarly, none of those tips are meant to say that we can’t dream big. Dreams are fantastic for motivation, and we don’t want to limit our dreams by boring practicalities.
But dreaming big is different from setting big expectations that make us feel like failures when we can’t possibly live up to them. Fantasies about being a bestseller (or whatever our big dream might be) are great for motivation, not so great for expectations.
A dream is just a dream.
A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.
It’s that plan that needs to be realistic. Our dreams can be as big and as grand as we want. *smile*
Each Path Is Unique
We also need to remember that each of us is on a unique path. The holes in my knowledge that I need to learn for improving my writing are different from the holes in your knowledge.
So we can’t compare our progress with others. Maybe their grammar is better than ours, but we might have a better instinctive grasp of story structure. Maybe their writing is technically flawless, but we have a more engaging voice. Maybe they’re great with plots, but we excel with characters. Or vice versa for any of those.
In other words, we’re not in competition with others. We’re only in competition with how we were yesterday, or last week, or last year. Have we made progress since then? Yes? We win!
Recognizing Our Progress
I want to end with a note about how, just like with my brother’s situation, our progress might not be as bad as we think. Learning to recognize our progress can be the first problem, especially as when we first start writing, we don’t know what all we don’t know.
When we’re new writers, we can’t see how big the learning curve is ahead of us. Just when we think we’re “getting close,” we might learn about a new aspect of writing that we didn’t even know existed. Constantly feeling like a newbie can make us despair that we’ve made any progress at all.
But as long as we’re open to learning, we will eventually feel less like a newbie. It just might not be on the time scale we originally envisioned because our path might be longer or more zigzagging than we expected.
One way we can recognize our progress is to compare our current writing to our older writing. Sometimes I force myself to cringe through reading an old story or blog post of mine. Everything I see that I would now change proves I’ve learned. Every technique I’d use to improve it shows how I’ve grown as a writer. And every wince is a badge of progress. *grin*
Or if we want to see progress in increasing our word count, we could keep a chart of words and time spent. Or we could keep sales charts to compare one book’s debut week with the next book’s debut week. There’s usually some way to measure how we’ve improved.
Sure, writing can be frustrating when others look like they’re further along than us or progressing faster. However, we’re not all on the same highway. In fact, some of us might not be on a paved path at all. River rafting, anyone? *smile*
Do you ever get frustrated with slow progress? What aspects of your expectations create that frustration? Can those expectations be adjusted to reduce frustration? What’s the most frustrating aspect of your slow progress? Do you ever stop to recognize the progress you’ve made?Pin It