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The Rule of Five Rules!

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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?

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About Vikk

  • Wonderful, inspiring article, Vikk! I was pleased to find I had been subconsciously practicing the Rule of Five! Well, most days, anyway. Today I made a real effort and am pleassed to say I now have all five marbles in my pocket. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Writing is so much more than the actual act–it becomes all-inclusive, tied up in our daily lives, entwined with our personalities. And, because of this, we need to take deliberate steps to further our careers, maybe even push beyond our comfort zone. The Rule of Five helps.

  • Simple, sound advice. I think I can start practicing today!

  • Sarah C.

    Great article, Vikk – a simple idea, with the power to be so effective. But, why didn’t you mention checking email and web surfing as productive writing activities?? 🙂 Just kidding – I’d have more marbles than I could carry!

  • Charlotte Hoaks

    Good approach. I’m a technical writer and work contract placements for now. It’s a relatively good income but not always steady so I’m constantly looking for that one job that provides security. (long term, insurance, 401K, retirement, etc.)
    Each day, I check the job boards, do research and keep my options open. One of these days, I will move from contract to direct. I use the same principle minus the marbles.

    The activity is a building process. The goal is defined by the practitioner.

  • I am a list person. My to-do list would be overwhelming if viewed all at once. Instead, I choose a number of items from a master list and put them on my daily list. Five is a good number, and that is what I aim for on a typical day.

    The marbles make a great visual, but my satisfaction comes from drawing a line through a task and exclaiming, “Done!”

    Great post, Vikk. It is so important to have goals and to feel the joy of reaching them, whether they are large or small.


  • Excellent article. I love the solid, practical aspect of using marbles to capture intangible ideas. Very interesting.

  • PJ, I’m glad you found the article inspiring and the rule so helpful. I’ve found that my writing life is tightly twined into my personal life.

  • Anna Phegley

    I’ve always been a list person. Can’t stand it until I’ve checked everything off. Sometimes there are 20 items on my list. However, I love the Rule of Five concept — so easy but effective. Thanks for the article, Vikk. I’m starting today. Don’t have marbles but will M&Ms do?


  • Anna, only 20 items? I went on a brain-dumping spree a few months ago pouring all my to-dos into Outlook and finally had to quit at 508 and counting. Everything was high and double-high priority.

    I suppose you can use the M&Ms but won’t you be tempted to eat your pseudo marbles?

  • Gee – move the M&M from your right pocket to your mouth.

    Works for me.

  • Well, eating the M&Ms would definitely be a better end than my pocket as far as I’m concerned.

    Cathy and Anna talked about keeping lists and that’s certainly something I’ve done over the years. You’re right, too, about the feeling you get when you can finally cross something off. Marking a huge DONE is a great punctuation to the action.

  • Gracie

    Enjoyed reading your article. All along I kept thinking how the rule of 5 could be applied in my daily life – at work and home. What might have been had I applied the rule of 5 to the half finished article on teaching strategies I have hanging on my bulletin board at home. I am definately going to try it. Thanks~

  • This was very timely. I just received an email that told me my first ebook hit the virtual bookstore today:

    Reading your excellent article gave me the opportunity to review my instant marketing–emailing contacts out of 2 accounts, now this makes 3. I have 2 left, and it’s almost 11PM. Guess that means our shared blog and my website. If I hit the writers’ group site, I’ll have exceeded my expectations. Then I’m done, at least for this evening, and before midnight strikes, too.
    I was relieved to find those 5 marbles included simpler tasks such as reading and researching, by the way. Makes for a nice way to wind down at the end of the day.

  • Kimberly Morris

    What a great article! Very motivating! Follow up and follow through are NOT my best sports because I let things pile up and then I’m overwhelmed. Five tasks a day is doable discipline for me. Thanks for the good tips.

  • DebW

    What a great idea! And I especially liked the visualiztion of moving marbles from one pocket to another.

    As you say, three are easy. It’s finding those last two that call out the creative thinker in all of us.

    Thanks for another excellent writing motivator, Vikk!

  • Great piece, Vikk. I also like the concept that “small” actions, especially over time, can make for some big results. It’s the steady quantity that can lead to a real “hit” when you least expect it. Thanks!


    Wonderfully written, great idea! I am inspired to start and am already thinking on what to use for my five today! Thanks for such an easily read and yet informative article! Wow!

  • I am totally delighted that so many of you are finding this article informative and practical. It seems the moving marbles has struck a chord with a number of you.

    Let’s hope you’re able to get the teaching strageties article finished, Gracie. Sounds like you’re just a few marbles away.

  • Eli

    Hi Vikk,
    Great article. I have a tendency to attempt too many things at one time. Five a day seems tame to me. But your idea, focus on one thing like publicity and do 5 “marbles” a day just on that, sounds good. It’s the main goal that’s the problem. I seem to have too many of them. :>)
    I’m also a “list” person. But lists, as you point out in a response, can be overwhelming when they get to over 500.
    Having written for Chicken Soup books, I subscribe to Jack Canfield, Mark Hansen and the other editors way of thinking and your article fits right in.

  • Hey, Vikk. Great article! Very useful advice, while still very simple and practical. Thanks a bunch!

  • I agree, Georganna, that celebrating the “small” moments are equally important in a writer’s life–anyone’s life–as moving marbles.

    Ah, synergy…too bad it’s not a sustainable fuel.

  • Eli, welcome. Focus-focus-focus should probably be everyone’s mantra at one time or another. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Nisha

    Hi Vikk, I’m a procrastinator and keep thinking everyday that I should find time to write and do stuff related to my writing. Your article came at the perfect time. The marble concept is really appealing. I have started right away, although only three marbles today because it’s already late evening. But guess what, I already have one marble in my right pocket now after reading your article. 😉

  • I find this advice sage, a manner of discipline that extends to other avenues of life as well. It’s all the “one step at a time principle” that gets us through each morning. As all the great ideas are, universally acceptable.

  • Hi Vikk,

    Useful article.

    I have been using action item lists, but the rule of five would seem to keep the focus on tasks that will advance a particular project toward a long term goal.

    I will try it and see what happens!

  • Nisha, I’m glad the article has prompted some immediate action–particularly since my article has now morphed into a marble. Thanks!

  • Thanks for stopping by, Mark. You’re right, I’ve used the Rule of Five in other areas of my life with equal effectiveness.

    David, let me know what happens!

  • Jody

    Great advice. I’m starting today.

  • Craig

    Good information Vikk, and also written in a strong clear interesting way. Looking forward to more like this.

  • Boy, seems like everyone is finding inspiration from the rule. Don’t know why I’m so surprised given how successful it’s been with me. Thanks for stopping by Jody.

    Okay, Craig, I’ll put on my thinking cap and see what else I can bring to the table. Meanwhile, check out my blog (www.thewriterspath.com) for more ideas and tips.

  • Tremendous article for multi-taskers and procrastinators alike. Gives substance to my swiss cheese methods and I loved the idea of M&M’s instead of the marbles. Adds the reward at the end of the rule of five objective.

    Thanks for sharing this great advice with us, Vikki

  • Patricia

    In a new corporate position, my to-do projects list growing at an exponential rate has had me feeling as if I’m losing my marbles! This is a terrific tool for the multi-tasking approach that I’ve embraced out of sheer necessity. I’ve been using the sticky note projects list/sub task elements process. It works, but mentally and emotionally there’s no ongoing tally of how much you’ve accomplshed when it’s potentially so spread out. I admit to being a self-rewards junkie…your marble concept sounds like a terrific self-motivator!

  • Rewards are good thing, Judythe, but you do realize these are mental marbles…. We are kindred spirits.

  • jz selewach

    While reading your article on moving marbles daily, I remembered reading this, and hearing this, probably many times while working towards my goal of becoming a named artist. However, being reminded yet again, is what gets us where we want to be. Thank you for the reminder.

  • You’re welcome, JZ.

  • I think those mental marbles are responsible for keeping me up into the wee hours of the morning two nights in a row, which could cause me to lose the rest of my own marbles. But, no matter, because they also resulted in me netting sales of THE SWEETEST SONG, and getting a slew of kudos, too. Now there are two motivating factors to keep marbles in my pockets and use them!

  • This is just what I needed — a simple system to help keep me on track. It’s definitely the little, achievable steps that lead to big progress.

    Thanks for a great post!

  • Hey, glad you made some sales, Heather. Sorry about the lack of sleep but it sounds like the results of dropping a few marbles from one pocket ot the other proved productive. Congratulations on your book, THE SWEETEST SONG>

  • Glad to have helped, Colleen, although I’m sure you’ve been practicing your own version for quite a while given your success. Congratulations on your soon-to-be released 10th book, DEADLY DENIAL.

  • Great article Vikk. The five marbles is a geat mental image to keep me from slacking.

  • Betty Traylor

    Great article. I’m the procrastinator. More than five marbles–I’d go nuts. But marbles are tangible, easy to grasp, easy to transfer. Good metaphor for getting control of mounting tasks, writer’s doldrums, or humdrum housework. And many times doing the humdrum unclogs the creative flow.
    I like the idea of with one marble at a time–I can accomplish anything–even write a book!

  • Thanks, Cornelia and Betty, I’m glad the “rule” has the makings of a handy tool for you. I continue to find it a useful technique to keep things moving along and prevent sudden stalls that can instantly stop any sense of momentum.