A Super-Deep Conversation About Progress And Going Forward

Dena Ogden
Mar 6, 2017 · 9 min read

Editor’s Note: Last week, in preparation of March’s theme of “going forward,” Julia and I (the two founders of this very website you’re reading), hopped on a chat to discuss what the concept means to us.

Dena: Are you feeling good about the topic of “going forward”?

Julia: Yes! I like it

Dena: I’ve got a few questions prepped for our conversation, but we’ll see where it goes organically, too. are you ready?

Julia: Ready!

Dena: Woo hoo, here we go! Okay, how do you feel when you’re making forward progress toward something that’s important to you? And how does that compare to when you aren’t?

Julia: Oh whew, that’s an emotional question. I think I often pride myself on being a fairly practical, logical person but my entire outlook can be deeply affected by whether or not I feel like I’m progressing, or I feel like I’m stuck.

Dena: I don’t think you’re alone, I think that’s really normal actually

Julia: It probably is, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating when you’re trapped in the “stuck” feeling for like three days. I guess I should try thinking about that the next time I’m stuck — maybe it will help. What about you?

Dena: I loathe that feeling of just treading water

Julia: It’s exhausting. Which is like a trap, because then it feels like taking that next step toward what feels like forward progress is that much more challenging.

Dena: I actually have a really, really hard time if I don’t have a clear sense of direction about where I’m going/what I’m doing

Julia: I totally understand that feeling.

Dena: Like, I envy friends and acquaintances who make grand, bold moves and who quit jobs, or go backpacking, or make dramatic moves without a clear plan in place. As dreamy as those kinds of moves sound, I like to have an idea of where I want to be in one or five or ten-ish years. If I threw that totally out the window, I think I would feel lost.

Ooh, here’s a thought: is getting out of one’s comfort zone ALWAYS something that we’re supposed to do? Like, does disrupting our routine always mean we’re moving forward and making progress?

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Julia: Not necessarily, I suppose. There are directions out of my comfort zone I’d be happy to stay well away from. There are also directions I’ve gone and then turned and run quickly away from because they were straight up not the right fit for me. Plus, I think there are times when there isn’t really anywhere big and bold to go once you’ve set goals. There’s rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty. And of course that’s not to say anyone who makes a bold move and quits a job or goes backpacking isn’t doing this or is avoiding this, but they’re different types of progress.

Dena: I’m with you. I think it’s good to practice the skills we have to use to step out of our comfort zones (trying new things, talking to new people, exploring new places), but also no, since the direct results might not always be positive

Julia: That’s so true. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that progress looks like all kinds of different things — it might even look like you’re headed backwards

Dena: Yes! Like with the different novels we’re both working on…chopping thousands of words that I spent hours and hours on is not fun, but if it makes the work better in the long run, it totally can be crucial. Or, on the flip side of that, even when I’m drafting and I know that I’ll need to go back and rework significant portions and chop it up and edit the sh*t out of it later, it still feels good to put something down.

Julia: Oh my gosh, yes, we were just talking about how I cut a bunch of words about two weeks ago, and how I felt both disheartened, but also strangely better about the whole thing because something that hadn’t been working was now removed.

Dena: I so know that feeling. I think that might be relevant to the bigger picture. As in yes, progress is good, if we’re being careful and intentional, and also going back and re-assessing where we’ve been and what we’ve already accomplished and learned.

Julia: Should we formally tell people we’re both writing novels? And we’re sort of keeping each other accountable?

Dena: ha, I think we just did. I’m still anxiously awaiting an excerpt from yours so I can cheer you on with specifics

Julia: I still have to regain those freaking 3000 words I chopped, but I promise, you will be the first to see pages when they start to make sense again.


Julia: Augh! Yes! I need to write that on a Post-it next to my desk! I saw a meme recently the gist of which was “If someone says they’re writing a novel, ask them for word count” which is SO TRUE.

Dena: AH! YOU’RE RIGHT! At any given time, I can tell you my word count within a few dozen words

Julia: Me too, isn’t that funny? At first when I read it, it seemed unimportant, but then I realized I knew my exact word count at all times.

Dena: I mean, you’ve seen that silly chart I made for myself in excel, which I color in to show my progress…like a grown-up version of the fundraising thermometers we used to see in elementary schools

Julia: I think by silly you mean awesome. Screen shot for the people at home, maybe?

Dena: People who like check-lists and the like will totally get it. but, i can also totally understand why it wouldn’t be useful for others. Okay, and yes, I’ll include a shot. I’m feeling vulnerable.

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Okay, here’s a new question, and perhaps one that I should have started with in the first place: when you think of “going forward”, what comes to mind?

Julia: Hmm…the things that immediately pop into my head are lists, tying my hair in a tight ponytail (which my hair isn’t really even long enough to do), and making color-coded labels. For everything. This probably says a lot about me as a person.

Dena: OMG, that’s awesome

Julia: I like plans, can you tell? And being in control of all my data.

Dena: I knew that about you

Julia: How about you?

Dena: When I think of moving forward, I think of baby steps

Julia: YES

Dena: Like…say I have a small writing assignment due that I want to work on it over the course of a couple days. Maybe on the first day, I wanted to be halfway done with it, but in reality, I only managed to title a document and put three bullet points in the doc…sometimes that can be enough for me for me to feel like I did something.

Julia: YES. I think there’s a . She has some funny ones about writing where she’s messing with her font and the genders of her characters.

Dena: And, even with being pregnant right now…I can only take that day at a time. Getting ready for a baby is a gigantic undertaking, but when you a make it smaller pieces and tasks, it’s not so bad. It’s literally baby steps to prepare for a baby.

Julia: I feel like digestible chunks have to be a good idea for most things in life, right? I don’t know about you, but I often make my Daily To Do list absolutely ridiculous in terms of expectations. Even if I tell myself in my head it will take me three days, in reality it will take me a week and half because life gets in the way. But even the act of making the list is progress.

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Dena: Agreed! Okay, new question; we’re just coming off our February theme of “inspired,” so I’m curious how inspiration and forward progress go together (or don’t) for you? For me, as a freelancer and also with other creative projects like The Woodsy and a novel in the works, inspiration and progress sometimes feel like one and the same, though I’m sure others see it differently

Julia: For me, I think they definitely go hand in hand. Inspiration is the catalyst for “bold moves” of progress like we mentioned above (cue me making a LOT of color coded labels).

Dena: Do you think we agree on that because we’re in the same career field and we work together?

Julia: Maybe. I think there are a lot of circumstances, and fields, and people, who may feel similarly. I think inspiration and progress really depend on the person and the job. But they aren’t here to chat with us.

Dena: Their loss. JK…sorta

Julia: We’re FUN.

Dena: Agreed, but it’s probably worth mentioning that I can think of a few people in my life who would probably (lovingly) roll their eyes at the idea of only making progress when one is inspired. I mean, most of us have responsibilities we have to handle, whether or not we get that lightening bolt of inspiration.

Julia: Oh, but we’re not really saying progress is only achieved after inspiration, right? It helps, A LOT, but most sh*t gets done in the day to day slog.

Dena: No, we’re not saying that, but I did make the point that for me they were tied very closely together since so much of my work is creative

Julia: Ah, I see. But you also write even when you aren’t inspired, because it’s your job.

Dena: That’s true, but I feel differently about completing day-to-day work than, say, when I’m checking things off my to-do list that line up with bigger, more personal goals, or on projects that I manage myself.

Julia: I think we might be talking about different things, or maybe we just have different views of it. In my head, even the everyday stuff like laundry counts towards my bigger personal goals if getting it done allows me the time to work on what I want. Which saying out loud sounds kind of silly. That the act of getting laundry done is that important to me, but then again…laundry is kind of important.

Dena: Okay, I can’t argue with laundry, so let’s switch gears for the last question…How does the fact that spring is upon make you feel about moving forward, and (hopefully!) making progress?

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Julia: I do fall in the traditional category of loving to spring clean and get everything just so in preparation of things blooming and the weather changing. Perhaps even more than the new year, I love spring as a time to get organized and get moving ahead in projects of all sorts. Plus, writing by a window when it’s raining is just lovely stuff. Oh, and barefoot on warm concrete in the rain might be one of my top ten favorite feelings ever.

Dena: Agreed, although I’m craving the days when sunshine comes through the window, too. And I never thought I’d say that because when I lived in CA, I MISSED the rain like it was my job. But, I am kinda over this winter, so I’m ready to move on from it

Julia: So true! Even if it is still chilly, sunshine seems to lift everyone’s spirits (mine included).

Dena: And I can’t pretend like I’m a particularly good housekeeper, but welcoming spring and even the whole idea of spring cleaning feels like a mini-version of the glorious back-to-school vibes we get in the fall, with emphasis on newness and freshness.

Julia: Oh, yeah, my house is definitely more controlled chaos — who coined that phrase? But every year I have the best intentions for it to be the year everything will have a place and finally be in it’s place. I get a little closer every time. Also, SPEAKING OF FALL, I can’t wait until we do one of these around autumn — fall is magic time here in the PNW.

Dena: Agreed. Okay, I’m going to wrap us up because we’re out of questions and I know we’re past your bedtime

Julia: I want the record to show it’s after 10:30pm!

Dena: DON’T LET ME KEEP YOU. Go rest so you can move forward in the direction of your dreams bright and early tomorrow!

Julia: Haha, well I always love these chats, so I will wish you the same, and look forward to checking in with you on projects in oh…eight hours?

Dena: Love it. You’re the bessssst

Julia: Right back ‘atcha! Goodnight, friend!

Dena: Night!

The Woodsy (Archive)

PNW topics, insights, and enthusiasm, circa 2016–18

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