Progress Report

Rather than wait until New Year’s Eve, when it’s too late to do anything about the year’s unmet goals, I took stock at the end of October. Despite grand ideas of writing a poem a week this year, I haven’t.

In fact, I forgot about that resolution until I reviewed my posts for this year. I’m not beating myself up about it, either. It’s a good exercise and a great goal. Maybe I’ll try again next year, even join a poetry group for guidance and support.

The single most important task I set myself in 2012 was to write one, complete, messy, first draft of a novel. To my credit, I’ve been consistently tunneling my way through two decades of notes. I’ve hit dead ends several times, most notably in August, when I deleted nearly two-hundred pages and started over (again).

Since then, I’ve been writing faster, with more confidence and more clarity, and I’d finished three chapters – almost 30,000 words – by Halloween. But I could see this still wouldn’t get me to The End by December thirty-first, and I knew I could write faster – if properly motivated. I needed something to nudge me to write with less fear and more abandon. As a reader of this blog as well as a contributor, the answer became clear: sign up for Nanowrimo. I did.

I put the 30,000 words of the first three chapters aside and restarted my word count with Chapter Four on the first of November. My goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, which will leave me about another 20,000 to write by Christmas. If the draft is finished by then, I can put it aside to ferment over the holidays, when my family will be home.

Nanowrimo is more fun than I ever imagined, even though I’ve not taken advantage of any of its social offerings. I simply love viewing the bar graph at the end of the day, when I clock my word-count and see how I’m doing. It’s like having a boss who’s holding me accountable in a way I’ve not been able to by myself.

Nanowrimo has also helped me give up tight control, which has little place in a first draft. In order to pound out two thousand words daily, I’m writing a little more wildly than I had been before, and this is okay. There are eleven other months in a year to chisel away and give the story the shape and polish I aim for. Right now, I’m delighting in simply writing. And I’m pleased to think that I’m again on track to reaching the goal I set at the start of the year.

The point here isn’t about Nanowrimo – that’s just a tool I’m finding helpful in meeting a larger goal. What I’m so proud of is that I haven’t given up because I might not meet my goal. Even if I don’t “finish” by the end of December, I’m going to end the year trying.

How are you progressing toward the goals you set for this year?

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. She lives in southern Vermont. Learn more at

18 thoughts on “Progress Report

  1. 30,000 words is three chapters? Holy cow! I aim for 2,500 words per chapter. Am I doing this wrong? Is it becasuse my attention span is short? Do readers in New England like it this way? Should Texas secede?

  2. Such a wise comment: ‘I haven’t given up because I might not meet my goal’. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done just that – while exercising, or eating, or writing. And you are very wise too not to beat yourself up about the goal to write a poem a week. We can’t achieve every single goal we ever set ourselves, but my question is: how do you decide which goals are absolutely worth achieving and which can be left to ferment for later…

    • Hi MarinaSofia, Thanks for your comment and intriguing question. In general, I don’t know if there is a rule for determining priorities. In my specific case, the poetry-writing exercise was like playing scales on the piano. I’ve never lost track of my main goal: to write literary fiction. Everything else I do supports that, including diet and exercise! I think every writer has to determine “what’s important” for herself, just as she has to decide which characters, settings and plot twists are essential and which have to be be lopped off. All best,

  3. 30,000 words is great! I can’t imagine that one poem a day goal. It takes a long time for a good poem to gel, IMO. But my goal is to work on a poem at least 2x week.

  4. It’s never about beating myself up for not meeting a particular goal. If I did that, I’d feel terrible about my writing. This is my first go-round with Nano and I admit, I’m short of that 50,000 word goal, but learning valuable lessons about myself and my working style. Because I’m committed to moving my story along, it’s happening, but it’s moving at it’s own pace – not at the pace I want it to. Perhaps I should “let go” and write more wildly, but I refuse to do the mental list of shoulda/coulda. There will always be those and that negativity does nothing to advance my skills or my outlook.
    The story tells itself. I beieve the writer has only a certain amount of control and if you push too hard, expect too much, it upsets the whole process. Then it becomes rushed, burdensome. Rushing leads to missing pieces.
    It’s comforting to know more experienced writers have difficulties along the way. It tells me my challenge of writing a novel is not unusual and that there will always be challenges.

    • Laura,
      You sound very wise, and I totally agree that we each have to find our own way and use the tools available as best suits us. While I’m trying to write 50,000 words this month, I expect to write a total of 130,000 in this first draft, and then – after several rewrites – turn in a 100,000 word typescript to my agent by the end of 2013.
      Thanks for joining the conversation here. Deborah.

  5. Deborah,
    NaNoWriMo can be a motivator. But it can also be discouraging. I took Wendy’s advice and am trying to make her ‘prompt’ into a story.
    I’m working on it every day. But according to my NaNoWriMo stats I’m a lot behind.
    I needed to write 1,667 words a day. But until today I’ve only been able to crank out about 1,442.
    I was at 17,312 last night, but should be closer to 20,000 to be up to that darn line. With the Thanksgiving festivities coming, it’ll be after Dec. 4, before I reach 50,000. Hope it isn’t a repeat of 2011 with 49,231 on Nov. 30.

    • Clint,
      There’s another way to look at your Nanowrimo participation. In 2011 you wrote over 49k words in one very short, dark month. It looks like you’re on target to pound out several thousands more this year. So, which is more important, hitting the Nanowrimo goal or using the event to focus your efforts? Seems to me the only problem you’re having is “shoulding” all over yourself. The glass is half full! Have fun!
      Good luck, Deborah.

  6. I didn’t set goals this year. I got tired of looking at my goals at the end of the year and seeing how much I didn’t accomplish. This year, on January 1, I will reflect over the past year and list all the things that I did accomplish that I never would have thought to put on my list!!!!

  7. Pingback: Artistic Goal Setting | A Layering of Perception

  8. I find your post inspiring. I lack the discipline. Using Nanowrimo as a motivator is a great suggestion but it is easy to get caught up on keeping up. Any suggestions for organizing a story?

  9. Hi,
    Thanks for writing.
    Everyone has a different method, and rather than look outward, I suggest looking inward and finding what works for you. If it helps, my process is to write double and treble what’s needed, then pluck the plums. Other people write with a great deal of control from the start. My best advice is try writing from a detailed outline and try writing from chaos and try any other method that occurs to you and find out what works for you. The main thing, though, is to keep writing.
    Good luck,

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