Looking Forward Over Your Shoulder: Keeping sight of your progress

Long Beach, California

Long Beach, California

There’s a question I’m often asked that I despise above all others:

I hate it more than being asked, “Are you still single?”  (The answer to which, for the record, is yes.  And when phrased that way, it almost makes me want to stay single out of spite.)

More than, “Did you ride your bike in the rain?

(Answer: I live in Vancouver, BC.  It rains about 300 days a year here.  I love biking.  I hate public transit.  I own a good rain coat and shoe covers.  And you see me do this every single day; this should no longer come as a shock.)

Even more than, “What’s your novel about?”

(Answer: Err, well, it’s a historical fiction…)

This question for which I hold so much disdain is none other than,

“What have you been up to?”

Not because I don’t do things, because I do.  Lots of things.

But lately, I haven’t been doing much that’s new.  Nor do the outcomes of my current activities tend to be fast.

“Focused” is a word I would use to describe my demeanor with regards to my current extracurricular activities.  “Dynamic” is not.

Which honestly doesn’t make for the most compelling of answers to the query in question.  Nobody really likes to hear the same answer every time they ask you what’s happening.  I enjoy it even less to reply, “Oh, you know – still working on my novel.  Still trying to get good at the guitar, and at Twitter.  Still at my same job.”

Assuming I even remember to mention that much.

Long-term projects have a way of becoming invisible against the backdrop of one’s daily life, especially (and ironically) if one devotes time to them every day.  Likewise, special yet fleeting events that occur amidst long-term projects are often quickly subsumed within the grind of protracted effort.

As a result, compared to people who change jobs/partners/hobbies/etc. like others change socks – folks with lots of short, snappy goings-on at the ready to share whenever asked – the answer to “What have you been up to?” can come to feel like “Nothing” – like you’re at an utter standstill; like life is passing you by while you’re stuck on these interminable projects; like you’re not really making progress on your goals at all.

Trust me: as someone who foolishly, bravely, unwittingly took on a convoluted, two-volume historical fiction novel as her first real writing project, I know what it feels like to not be progressing.

So, what’s a person in such a situation to do?

Easy: write your accomplishments down.

Just what the doctor ordered

Dr. Randy Paterson is a Vancouver based clinical psychologist and psychology lecturer.  Back at the beginning of this year, I wrote about a talk of his I’d previously attended called Achieving Your Vision: Goal-setting in Real Life, and how I was going to use what I learned in formulating my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions.

During this talk, he discussed the benefits of adopting what he referred to as the Long Beach Principle, so named for the how easy it is to overlook how far one has walked along the eponymous California beach until s/he turns to behind him/her.

To quote Dr. Paterson,

You tell you’ve made progress by looking behind you, not ahead.  Don’t keep your “eye on the prize”.

Indeed, by keeping one’s eyes fixed too firmly forward, all one may see is have far s/he hasn’t come.  Which, for some people, is discouraging enough to halt all forward motion.

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to keep a monthly record of accomplishments and noteworthy events in my life to review at the end of the year.  It’s a kind of ridiculous thing to do, but at the same time, it’s not, for reading back even a month ago, I find myself realizing, “Oh yeah – I forgot I did that!”

I highly recommend the practice.  It makes for great reading on days when it seems like I’ll never finish my novel-in-progress.

The most recent writing-related milestone I recorded in June was that I’d reached page 250.  Whereas in January, I’d only just reached page 150.

That’s 100 new pages.  It might not be the fastest 100 pages ever written, but it’s still progress.

(Image source #1, #2, and #3)

10 thoughts on “Looking Forward Over Your Shoulder: Keeping sight of your progress

  1. Yup, if you run a marathon you don’t groan ’16 miles to go’ you say ‘Yay, 10 done already!’

    And you can be surprised to recall the sum of your accomplishments, insignificant though they might appear at the time. You and Dr Paterson are correct.


    • I found (and continue to find) Dr. Paterson’s talk was very inspirational and instructional. For me, it’s important to remember that slow, consistent progress might not offer impressive bragging rights at a dinner party, but it still gets the job done in the end … which is a noteworthy accomplishment.


  2. When I’m asked, ‘What have you been doing?’ I’ve answered for so long, ‘Sanding windows and doors,’ that no one asks me anymore! 😀

    Another question I’m always asked is, ‘what are you writing?’ and now I say, ‘shopping lists’. ‘What are you writing’ is a question I prefer people ask while we’re kicking back having a glass of wine. It’s a bit hard to talk about the intricacies and roadblocks of a novel while you’re standing outside the local shop with an armful of frozen food 😉


  3. I am so bad at recognizing my accomplishments to the point that is pisses people off. As far as I’m concerned, I have yet to meet a goal or experience success at any endeavor (outside of being a parent of course), which makes people who have done less than me angry. But your life is your life, I tell them. I’m only talking about me.

    Every time I read one of your posts, I get closer to realizing I need a therapist.



    • You know, I blame the media. I know everyone blames the media for everything, but it’s saturated with stories about the overwhelming success of others, and tends to focus only on the end result, not the years of struggle and sacrifice that went into it. That can have a real negative effect on one’s perception of their own accomplishments. I don’t think you need a therapist; I think you (and I) just need to pay less attention to news, or else do a bit of digging to find out the rest of the success story.


  4. Keeping track of your progress that way really helps keep things in perspective. It’s definitely odd how long term goals sometimes melt into the background of our lives, as if they were always a part of us. Sounds like you’re doing fabulously with the WIP!


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