Revision Series #3: Realization vs. Progress

Advice from the Renwick Gallery in DC

I am so excited to share this advice with you because I truly think it is one of the most important lessons in revision that I had to learn, and turbocharged my writing afterwards.

Okay. Ready?

Value realizations the same way you value progress.

Let’s define those terms.

1. Progress

This is familiar to us. Progress could be clocking pages, making significant changes, or finishing a draft. It’s measurable and attached to numbers. We can track it, see it, and feel it. 

Progress is important! Without it, we don’t get into new spaces and out of old ones. It helps us finish the story.

2. Realization

Now, a realization might be harder to define for you, but you’ve definitely had them before. A realization is fixing a plot hole. Realizing that you need to take out an entire character. Realizing that you need to add a character. Realizing that you need to work on a different project right now. Realizing you need to change the setting of this scene. Realizing that you’re just not feeling this current plot line and need to spice it up.

Realizations are hard-won and abstract. They change the entire course of the manuscript, for the better.

3. Value

How we feel about what we have done. Our inner gold-star-sticker. 

This is different than progress. Value can be ascribed to anything, at any time, no matter what stage it’s in.

So, let’s put those all back together again:

Value realizations the same way you value progress.

Do you already value your progress? Are you able to feel good about seeing the wordcount go up, or saving a new draft with a new version number and sending it to first readers? How do you mark these changes?

Value says, good job. You’ve done enough. You can close the notebook or the computer for the day.

So — can we keep this same energy for realizations?

As in, you spend the entire writing session staring off into space without typing a single word, but in that time you are listening to your story playlist and realizing the core backstory for one of your main characters that will inform their reactions in this action sequence.

Or, you decide that you don’t want to write this scene at all, and you can actually just skip it.

Or you realize that what you’re really excited about in this book is the love story and you’re spending way too much time on trying to build up the mystery and that’s draining you.

All of these realizations help you flip a switch, get back on track, and reconnect with what you love in a project.

And if that’s all you get done in a writing session? That’s amazing!

Realizations help us stay on course. They help us recalibrate to true north. Realizations are hard to summon or predict, so when they show up we really need to value them. 

One of the ways we can do that is to take a break after a realization. Don’t reward your hard work with more hard work. Know that your creative mind has been working overtime to bring you this massive change in your text, and that is plenty of work for the day!

And do you know what follows realizations? 


These two modes work together during revision and can’t exist without the other. Sometimes just knowing which one you need can help you to take a step back, go for a walk, and focus on a character or a scene until you crack it. Writing isn’t always the way through.  

Let both realizations and progress help you get through revisions. Treat them both like the skills they are.

This has been the third installment of mini-essays leading up to Finishing School in the Fall.

Published by Marcella Haddad

I write stories about silly people doing brave things, and I draw pictures of creatures that don't exist. I like traveling, nutella, dragons, and redwood trees.

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