Building good daily writing habits can transform your writing life. One excellent habit to incorporate is the Rule of Five. Years ago, I heard about this rule from a published writer who had discussed how she was marketing and publicizing her new book. She had a practice of doing five things every day that would move her closer to achieving her marketing goals. Each morning she visualized herself dropping five marbles into her left pocket. As she went through the day whenever she did something that helped publicize her book, she transferred one of those mental marbles into her right pocket. Her goal: have all five transferred by the time she went to bed. Recently I ran across the same rule — minus the marbles — in Jack Canfield’s new book, Success Principles.
Canfield is one-half of the wildly successful Chicken Soup anthology series. (The other half of the famous writing team is 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, each practicing the rule of five, two years; but yes, they made it and sold more than eight million copies in the process. Their secret? A sustained daily effort over time that brewed a momentous force that continues to this day to propel their book forward. In its wake, the book’s success 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 transferring marbles is so visual, but for some reason it achieved major Velcro power. To this day I strive to keep the rule present on a daily basis. Doing three is easy but the last two marbles require a concentrated effort on my part if I’m going to get them 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 the most insignificant action such as writing and sending a thank you note to an editor who rejected me has the power to launch 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 rolling even in troubling times.
Now, I’m not perfect so I don’t always make five. Sometimes only three marbles hop from one pocket into the other, but I still count myself that much further ahead. Then there are the days where I zero out by early evening. That’s when I refocus and pluck them from the proverbial fire by reading at least five pages out of a writing book or scouring a writer’s magazine for useful tips. Sometimes I’ll even curl up with a short story to uncover tale-telling techniques used by the author.
This week I began my rule of five by deciding on Monday that I would attend the Texas Library Association’s (TXLA) annual conference. It’s being held in Houston; I’m a Houstonian. Perfect. I arranged for press credentials, printed out the daily conference schedule, researched the list of workshops and participating authors, and read through the online vendor list. Time intensive? Not really. I had all five marbles nesting in my right pocket within an hour.
Why not implement 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 today if you simply moved five marbles from one pocket to the other?