As you build your daily writing habits, the Rule of Five is a good thing to keep in mind. I first heard about this rule more than fifteen years ago when a published writer visited a local writing group and discussed how she was marketing and publicizing her new book. She said she tried to do five things every day that moved her closer to achieving her marketing goals. Each morning she mentally dropped five marbles into her left pocket. As she went through the day whenever she did something that helped publicize her book, she transfered a mental marble into her right pocket. Her goal was to have all five marbles transferred by the time she went to bed. Recently I ran across the rule–minus the marbles–in Jack Canfield’s new book, Success Principles.
Canfield is one-half of the wildly successful Chicken Soup series. (The other half being Mark Victor Hansen.) Canfield writes of the impact the Rule of Five had on the two authors after their first book, Chicken Soup for the Soul, came out. These two new-to-publishing authors set a goal of achieving best-seller status on the New York Times list. Not only that, they wanted to be number one. Were they successful? I guess it depends on whether you’re one of those glass-half-full or glass-half-empty souls. It didn’t happen over night. It didn’t happen over 365 nights. It took the combined efforts of the two men practicing the rule of five for two years, but yes, they made it and sold more than eight million copies in the process. Their secret? Sustained daily effort over time that slowly grew into a momentous force that still propels their book into continuing sales even to this day and has led to the generation of a line of Chicken Soup for the Soul books and products for an ever-widening readership.
Maybe it’s because the idea of transfering marbles is so visual, but for some reason it’s had major Velcro power. I’ve never forgotten the anecdote. To this day I strive to keep the rule present on a daily basis. Sometimes I use three marbles but usually I stick with the five. Doing three is easy but the last two marbles require a concentrated effort on my part if I’m going to get them transferred into the other pocket–another reason to strive for five. Most of the time the goal attached to the marbles has to do with my current writing project and/or writing career. Even what appears to be the most insignificant action such as writing and sending a thank you note to an editor who rejected me has the power to move a marble. Ordering research books for a writing project is another. Writing a scene, scribbling three draft pages, combing through Writer’s Digest for a new market, all have been marble-movers over the course of the last twenty years. The constant daily attention to my overall writing goal has helped me keep the ball moving even in troubling times.
Now, I’m not perfect so I don’t always make five. Sometimes only three marbles hop pockets, but even so I’ve managed to move forward. I’m always further ahead than I’d been at the start of the day. Then there are days that zero out by early evening. That’s when I refocus and somehow manage to draw them out of the fire by reading at least five pages out of a writing book or scouring a writer’s magazine for useful tips, or focus on a short story to see what techniques the author used.
This week I began my rule of five by deciding on Monday that I would attend the Texas Library Association’s (TLA) annual conference. It’s being held in Houston, so it’s the perfect time to go. By the end of Monday I was able to arrange press credentials, print out the daily conference, the list of participating authors, and skim through the vendor list. I also found two online outlets, in addition to DWP, where I’ll be posting about the conference activities. Time intensive? Not really. I think I had them completed within an hour.
You might want to think about implementing the Rule of Five in your own writing life. Tweak it to suit you, but remember that the aim is to take five actions, however small, each and every day that will move you toward the accomplishment of your main goal. Commit to practicing the rule for five consecutive days. What could you accomplish if you simply moved five marbles from one pocket to the other? Come back and tell me about it and share what you learned wtih others.
(This post has been revised and posted on Blogcritics.org.).