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Sometimes Progress Looks Like Standing Still

The video for week twenty-eight is included below, along with a link to the YouTube version (same video, but some people prefer to watch on YouTube) and the written transcript for those who like to read (and for the search engines who supposedly still index the content of the internet to help people find relevant information).




Sometimes Progress Looks Like Standing Still: The Million Words Project Week 28


Week Twenty Eight of the Million Words Project hit in mid-January.

I had just come off of a two week hiatus in which I was making big plans for the new calendar year, and deciding how I would tackle the second half of the year-long quest to write one million new words.

And, I had just experienced the lowest word count week of the entire experiment.

During week twenty-eight, I tweeted the following:

“Starting the third week of a new year, a new year I had big plans for, and the big plans have dramatically changed. [Having] Goals, benchmarks, and data are all great...but sometimes progress looks like standing still.”

Let's take a look at what I meant by that in this week's episode of The Million Words Project.


Hello and welcome to week twenty-eight of The Million Words Project. If you are new here, I'm Eric Sheridan Wyatt, an author, ghost-writer, editor, and writing and creativity instructor.

Twenty-eight weeks ago I challenged myself to write one million new words in twelve months. In this video series, I chronicle the ups and downs of this year-long experiment, and I invite you to come along as I learn more about myself, my writing, and the creative life in general.

Hopefully, you'll find something in these videos that will encourage or inspire you.

There are now more than twenty of these videos available, so if you want to know more about this project, I invite you to scroll through and see if any of the topics interest you.

For now, though, let's get started with this week's update.


Week twenty-seven had been the lowest word count week of the Million Words Project, and I started week twenty-eight hopeful that the prior week had been an anomaly.

Looking back at my journal, I got to Tuesday with no new words other than my daily journal entries, and then Wednesday passed, and by Thursday I only had 750 words. I wrote in the journal, on Thursday: Another week slipping by, way too preoccupied to do the writing and other work I had planned to do. And I am starting to feel a quiet desperation about it, to be honest.

Friday and Saturday I chained myself to my computer and forced nine-thousand words over two days, and I ended the entire week with just over sixteen thousand words.

The distribution of the words is basically spread across three categories: my journal, fiction writing, and my ongoing life document project. One positive note that can be seen in the data here, since the end of the Fiction First Initiative in week 23, I have continued to work on fiction over the following five weeks. I am preparing to work on writing an handful of new stories for a short story collection I actually started seven years ago, and I've been collecting ideas for some other projects in the future.

Looking at the charts page, I see that my current total, across all twenty-eight weeks is over five hundred ninety-five thousand words, which is still more than thirty-five thousand words ahead of the pace. Which is a big relief, after back-to-back under-performing weeks.

However, as I will discuss in a few moments, I knew, at the end of this week, that my regular routine was going to be disrupted for several weeks. Maybe even the rest of the planned timeframe for the Million Words Project. Thirty-five thousand words ahead was great, but it seemed a lot less reassuring than it did just a few weeks earlier.


As I mentioned last episode, my day-to-day reality got a bit of a re-boot when I got some big, exciting news, and a move planned for after the end of the Million Words Project was pushed forward. We had already decided to start looking for a new place to live, but then in week twenty-eight, the sewage line backed up in the rental house we were living in—in the basement, just a few feet from where I typically filmed these update videos—and that not only reaffirmed our decision, but it shifted motivation toward the house hunting project. The intense motivation I had to have a strong writing week was shifted toward getting out of sewage central.

I'm being overly dramatic. The backup wasn't that terrible, but it was a major inconvenience and required me to spend several hours cleaning and disposing of some items that had been contaminated. And, it did motivate us to spend extra time looking for houses.

House hunting definitely became a major time drain. Week twenty-eight was the second week in a row in which I'd devoted fifteen to twenty hours to house hunting. And, that's a lot. There are only so many hours in a week, and when I factored in other life responsibilities, it became hard to FIND hours to write.

We actually ended up making offers on two houses that week, after having visited fourteen or so. We were outbid in both instances, and the search continued.

All of this "extra action" was happening, and writing was not. Like I said in the update section of this video, Sunday...Monday...Tuesday...Wednesday all passed with no additional words written, other than my morning journal session, and I was beginning to panic. I'd started the week determined to bounce back from the all-time low, and after finding time to write a meager seven hundred fifty words on Thursday, I was standing face-to-face with the possibility of having an even WORSE week than the one I'd just finished.

And, I'll admit something to you. I was contemplating skipping the week, and starting over the following Sunday, and just pretending that the third week of January didn't happen.

You see, because of the delay between when I ACTUALLY lived week twenty-eight and when I would have the chance to film, edit, and post a video about it, I could have easily skipped a week and no one would have known. I could have just called the next week "week twenty-eight" and moved on.

Except. I would know.

And, that idea was counter to everything I am actually trying to accomplish with the Million Words Project. The whole point of this video series is to learn from the ups and downs, not pretend there aren't any setbacks.

It's like I tell clients who are writing their life story to leave as a literary legacy: "Your kids want to know how you dealt with failure more than how you celebrated success." Too often, we try to present a white-washed version of our lives, which is actually counter productive to sharing our lives, at all. And that's exactly what I was considering doing.

Thankfully, that temptation passed, and despite being embarrassed that I would have two sub-par weeks in a row, I decided to press on and make a video, no matter what.

However, I also decided to take the last two days of my week and see if I could make up any ground. "So, let's just salvage a little bit of this week and go from there..." I wrote in my journal. I was pretty sure I wouldn't hit the weekly target of twenty thousand words, but I also knew that every word I did write would be progress to the bigger goal.

I might not make the full thousand miles, but I could take a few more steps.

And, at the end of the week, I'd turned a disastrous week into a merely bad one. It wasn't the worst. I'd at least managed that much. But man, sixteen thousand isn't a good week either.

And that's when I realized something I've known in other contexts of life. Sometimes progress looks like standing still. Sometimes, even falling backward is a sign of progress.

In my case, I had to really fight through those last two days just to get a mediocre result, but making even that smallest gain was a big win.


There's a Tanzanian Proverb I adapted into one of my catch phrases for the Million Words Projects, when I say, "Remember, small steps lead to big results."

The Tanzanian version is this: "Little by little, a little becomes a lot."

In some ways, this week was a win. In other ways, it was a failure. But, no matter which way I look at it, I do know that I marched sixteen thousand steps along the million step pathway.

It wasn't as much as I'd hoped to accomplish when the week started. But it was something. And something is always better than nothing.

I shared a quote from Paulo Coelho last week, but a different statement of his is applicable to this week's episode. He said, "The secret to life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times."


It wasn't just the physical act of looking for houses on Zillow, coordinating showings with our realtor, going from house to house to assess the suitability of each one. I was also using a lot of creative energy to make these suitability assessments. I wrote in my journal, "Trying to imagine building this upcoming, new life is taking almost all of my energy...just trying to get it as right as possible, of course, but also, trying to probe for possible unexpected negative aspects to this house or that house."

We weren't just changing addresses. We were trying to find the spot where we would build and grow over the next ten to twenty years.

It was a lot of extra time and energy devoted in directions outside of this million words challenge.

When Thursday rolled around, I could have just thrown in the towel on the whole week. One of the most prevalent points of resistance to anything that is good for us—diet, exercise, pursuing our creative dreams, starting a new good habit, whatever—is the lure of abandoning the pursuit whenever things don't go exactly right.

How many times have I vowed to exercise three times in a week, and when I get to Friday night and haven't done a lick, so I just give up "until next week." Or, if I am doing a two week abstinence of caffeine or sugar or whatever, and I "mess up" on day one, so I throw in the towel and go buy a dozen donuts and two liters of iced coffee.

Instead, I decided to get as much progress in as I could, despite knowing I would not meet the weekly target. So, from a numbers standpoint, this week looked a lot like standing still, but in another sense, it was a major victory.

Points to Ponder

This week's point to ponder is aimed at someone out there who has had a series of setbacks or failures. I don't know who you are. Chances are, even if I knew you, it wouldn't be obvious that you fit this description. That's okay.

But I believe this message is reaching someone who has a burning desire to complete some long-delayed project. You have something you've always wanted to do, but haven't quite gotten around to it. The reasons you haven't done it are probably valid. Or, most of them are. You probably throw in some shaky justifications along with the valid reasons, just to try to make yourself feel better about not doing that thing you want to do.

I know. I've been there.

But, I want you to ask yourself the central question of any stuck project: Is there anything I could do, right now, today, to take a few small steps toward that unrealized dream?

I can almost guarantee that regardless of how small, if you can end this week just a little closer to realizing your dream—or even just a few steps closer to being able to start the project—you will feel better than if you just chalk another week up to a lost cause.


Next week starts a ten-week roller coaster of ups and downs as my personal and private life takes a number of twists and turns. So much good stuff is happening, but almost none of it is conducive to writing for twenty to twenty-five hours a week!

I hope you'll come along as I chronicle my march toward one million words. Let's just say, I was once confident that I would hit the million word mark two to three weeks early, and now...well, I'm not completely confident that I will hit one million words in one year...and that's a big, big change in perspective.

So join me next time, and find out how this all plays out.

Until then, I want to remind you that your words matter. Make them count.


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