This past weekend was our firm Christmas party, and many people know that I've been taking writing classes and that I am working on a large project and so I kept getting the question, "so, how's that novel coming?"
It's the literary equivalent of "been doing any acting lately?" It's meant to be a friendly inquiry, not the inference of abject failure the interrogee takes it for. This is the nadir of the creative process. You reach a point where you're absolutely bereft of inspiration--where your characters are willful and rebellious and they simply won't do whatever you tell them to do. So, you have to write reams of scenes which may never make it between the covers of the book because you have to keep writing or you stop, and to stop means death. So you try things out. You have them go here, go there, follow each other, find clues, get hints, etc., all in order to have your critique group say, "Oh! This is the Scooby-Doo ending!" At which point you crumple up the pages and take another stab at it.
The perfect response to these creative questions is, "Oh, the novel? It's progressing quite nicely, thank you." Which is the truth, even though it doesn't feel like the truth.