March of Progress

How, exactly, does one define progress?

Kind of a broad, heady question, I know – if you’re reading this first thing Monday morning, when this post goes live, the last thing you probably want to think about is how successful or unsuccessful you may happen to be, or the state of the nation or the universe at large.  So let’s be a little more specific in terms of what we’re discussing.  This is a writer’s blog, after all – what exactly counts as progress where writing is concerned?

For instance, let’s talk about the play I’m currently writing.  Or trying to write, when not at my day job or organizing the weekly readings at Tuesdays at Nine or dealing with the business of life in general.  (I got new eyeglasses this past week.  That ate up some time right there.)  Despite all my many distractions, I actually did manage to sit down at my laptop and get some work done on the rough draft.

I wrote one page.  Total.  (Maybe one and a half.)

Is that progress?

Well, from my own internal sense of how this particular story is going to work, the draft can’t run longer than ninety pages.  With this week’s output, I’m currently at seventy pages.  So if I manage one page a day from here on out, I’ll have finished a rough draft by the end of the month.  Even if I only manage my snail’s pace from the past week, I’ll have finished the rough draft by the end of the year.

But is that progress?  Technically, sure it is – any output results in a more complete draft than I had before.  But I have friends who are ridiculously fast composers, and manage several full-length drafts per year.  I’m clearly not at their pace, and never will be – but comparing myself to them is only going to cause me so much stress and worry as to not get any writing done.  Even as compared to my one-page-a-week pace.

So can I possibly accept such a slow pace?  Aren’t I just sitting around doing nothing most of the time?

Well, perhaps.  (Though, were I to really itemize everything I do in a week, the answer to that would clearly be hell no.) But what of all the value in that down time?  What about all the time spent on the subway, when I’m able to contemplate a particular plot point?  What about research time?  What about late night bull sessions with fellow writers – which, I remind you, is now literally part of one of my two steady jobs.  Won’t these things ultimately contribute to the final piece?  (Assuming, of course, I finish writing it?) Do these things count as progress?

Ultimately, of course, I don’t know the answer.  As I’ve often remarked, the time I spend writing this blog is time in which I’m not writing anything else, so I’m not making any actual progress on that front here.  (Unless, of course, you take the position that this steady output is necessary practice on my part to help hone my skills, in which case I’ve made a whole Sunday evening’s worth of progress here.)

All I can say is this – if I do wind up getting quarantined by this whole coronavirus thing, look out.  I’ve made terrific progress on previous plays when holed up in my apartment due to blizzards and the like.  If I’m forced to shelter in place for weeks at a time?  Just imagine the progress I can make!

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