At SBWC three years ago I heard the creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise * speak. I can't say that series ever really spoke to me, but no one can deny the man is phenomenally successful. He talked about one thing in particular that has stayed with me: the key to success, he said, the trick to really getting your career off the ground or realizing whatever your dream may be is the Rule of Five. Sounds intimidating and lofty, like he's about the unload The Secret on us, but really the Rule of Five is just this: do five things in service of your goal every single day. They can be small things, but as long as you're doing something to reach your goal, eventually you will reach it.
I've been experiencing something that feels a lot like depression for a while now. Not quite debilitating, but it has definitely impacted my usefulness to virtually everyone around me. Historically this happens when there is nothing in my life I can point to and say 'that's going well, I am satisfied with that right now.' I've mentioned before that when there are real-world problems to solve I have a very difficult — nearly impossible really — time creating anything. I've been pretty convinced of that for a long time now. In the mire I've been in, output has stalled, and I told myself that one was the cause of the other. Lately I've been rethinking that, testing it against experience to see if it really holds, and I'm no longer as convinced as I once was.
I've been thinking about this: I have been happy and satisfied with nearly all aspects of my life in the past. So what was I doing then that I hadn't been doing lately? There were a lot of things — not spending enough time with friends and family, not being present for my kids the way I should, not deliberately fostering 'home' and an environment I find comfortable, not having any real commitments outside the home and work, not making an effort to create memories with the people I love, not working to improve myself in my job , not learning anything new, and not creating. The important thing here is that these are things I needed to do — they are not circumstances that I am at the mercy of. Action is what changes and improves things. (I have recently taken action on almost all of those things.)
All this time I've been thinking that if I'm worried and unhappy about x, y, and z, I can't functionally create anything, and I need to solve those other problems before I can free up my brain. But what if that's not true, and what I need to do is *act*? What if my creative output becomes the thing that I can point to and say, 'that's going well, I'm satisfied with that right now?'
As I was thinking about this question of 'what was I doing then' I remembered the Rule of Five and decided to put it into practice. I got a planner at the dollar store to document my progress, and have made a commitment to myself to do five things every day toward my writing goals.
The next series of blog entries will probably be about that. It has already paid dividends — my brain feels less calcified in just two short weeks. Here are some examples of what I've done in the past two weeks:
- I volunteered to critique an acquaintance's story (which will be his submission for his Clarion application! Go, Adam, go!)
- I rejoined Critters.
- I started doing a simple writing exercise, just coming up with first sentences. That has already paid off in that I came up with a much more engaging opening for an existing story.
- I've been reading short fiction regularly.
- I went through my old composition books looking for ideas that I hadn't done anything with, and as a result came up with several new ones – I even wrote an outline for one of them today!
Some of my entries are just things like "read notes on Story X," or "added 250 words to Story Y." I'm counting pretty much anything at all related to writing or fiction as a point. This entry, for instance, is definitely going in there. As will the outline I wrote today. That leaves me with three more things to do today.
It's already helping. I already feel better, more like myself. I haven't been perfect — I missed two nights in a row, which is bad, and some nights I haven't made it to five.
What if we all took that challenge and applied the Rule of Five? Or if that's too daunting (and I'll admit that some nights it is for me,) the Rule of Three? What if we all just took action? Where would we be in three months, six months, a year?
I'll let you know. :)
* this link is not an endorsement.