Small steps are the most essential for achieving anything in life, yet they’re also the most underestimated. They are too easy to overlook or dismiss.
Unlike when we were kids, no one is handing out stickers or scented erasers to reward us for a day well done. There’s no list on the wall showcasing the names of those who put in the extra work and accomplished just…a…little…more than their peers.
So you got up and went to work this morning. Did anyone notice? When you finished reading and replying to those emails, did you get a thrill of electricity? You cleaned your house, kept your kids alive, paid your bills and didn’t run anyone off the road.
What does it matter?
No stickers for “Hey, I Didn’t Go to JAIL Today” or “I Didn’t Tell My Boss Off” or “I Returned my Grocery Cart Even Though Some Idiot Designed the Parking Lot Where the Return Corral was A MILE AWAY”. Okay, the last one might not fit on a sticker.
The others? Someone needs to get on that.
Who really notices what we do as much as they notice when we FAIL to do the same things? My family might not cheer me on for doing the laundry, but they sure notice when they run out of clean socks.
It feels as if we’re trapped in a world of homeostasis, and the needle never moves. But that is the lie. Big changes are always comprised of small steps. If we overlook small steps, then forget about setting goals, let alone reaching them.
This said, how do we keep going when, 99% of the time, it feels as if we are stuck in neutral?
Small Steps on a Realistic Path
I work very hard to be a positive person, but here’s some news you might like…or not. Whatever.
Perpetual positivity is extremely unhealthy. It’s actually a form of denial.
Sometimes life does suck. The odds CAN actually be against us. We face very real challenges every day. Acknowledging obstacles is what separates dedicated dreamers from hopeful fools.
In business, we run something known as a S.W.O.T. Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Obstacles, Threats). How Debbie Downer of me, right? Um, no. If we seek to achieve anything worthwhile, from cleaning out the sewing room to successfully publishing a book, we need a REALISTIC view of what’s ahead.
Most of you who subscribe to this blog appreciate that bluntness is my superpower. I’m candid because I genuinely care about you and am vested in your success.
Also, I did all the stupid things SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Take advantage!
If we’re going to take small steps on a grand adventure toward worthy goals, then it’s a GREAT idea to make sure we are heading the correct direction.
Genius stuff here. I KNOW!
But how many people say they want to be professional authors who sell enough books to write full time, but then they rarely write? They might finish the book but have done NOTHING to build a brand—which is when our name alone has the power to sell books.
Have they studied craft, writing, self-editing, or even the business of their business? Do they have a plan as to how they’ll actually SELL those books?
STOP NOW: Writing is a FOOL’S ERRAND
Bear with me.
You want to write novels? Series? Think you have what it takes to be the next J.K. Rowling? Odds are, you don’t. Think you have what it takes to at least make a healthy living writing books? Again, odds unfavorable.
Did you know that, according to Book Expo of America statistics, back in 2004, writers had a 96% failure rate? 96% of all authors published sold fewer than 1,000 books. And, of that number, over 50% sold fewer than 500 books. Most sold around 100.
And this was back before self-publishing and social media. These were largely agented authors with publishers and placement in bookstores.
One would think the numbers are better now, but not according to Forbes. Self-publishing is hardly a way to get rich quick. 20% of authors make ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY, and the median income is around $5,000 a year.
This number is skewed by a VERY small percentage of top earners (those earning $100,000 or more), so likely this median number is lower.
With well over a million books hitting the market, and this number compounding every year, most books will languish in literary limbo until the writer finally just sucks it up and accepts reality.
It was never meant to happen to begin with. Was never in the cards or the stars or the chicken bones…and WOW, I almost lost my “I Didn’t Day Drink” sticker!
Fail to Plan and Plan to Fail
The difference in the successful writer—whatever you define that to be—and the unsuccessful is all in the small steps.
How many of the zillions of writers who ran out to self-publish were still writing like it was 1999? When the ONE goal all writers fixated on was writing A GOOD BOOK?
Being a 21st century author is a LOT more than about writing and finishing a book (in fact, statistically it is all but impossible to make money with A BOOK). If our goal—HONESTLY—is to make a living writing, then there’s a LOT more work ahead.
Even if we decide to outsource certain jobs (I.e. cover design, formatting, internal design) we must get educated. There are too many grifters out there peddling fool’s gold to authors who want shortcuts.
This was why I wrote a
Dummies’ Writers’ Guide to SEO recently. Feel free to outsource keywords and web stuff to experts, but have the knowledge to hire and fire wisely.
Who ARE You?
We are what we consistently DO. Hobbyists dabble and create when the mood strikes. Pros get to work no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you’ve not yet published a book. Ditch the imposter syndrome and suck it up. Writers *shock face* WRITE!
Understand it is OKAY to be a hobbyist. Just don’t expect pro rewards with a hobbyist work ethic. This is why it’s crucial to first define what kind of author you want to be.
If you’re writing solely for pleasure then you don’t need a business plan. But, if you want to replace the day job, then it’s career suicide to approach writing like the hobbyist.
Think about it. If you only showed up to your current day job when you were “in the mood” or “the muse visited”, how long would you remain employed?
There are GOOD reasons why this profession isn’t for everyone.
So, when we begin this ‘journey’ are we even pointing in the correct DIRECTION? Hobbyist or professional? That is a huge deal!
If I’m in Texas and my GOAL is to walk to California, then I really should check I am—at the very least—pointing WEST.
Granted I CAN, theoretically, reach California from Texas heading EAST, but what are the odds I’ll give up trying to circumnavigate the entire planet? Small steps are HUGE when I am walking a couple thousand miles down interstate highways, but it is DOABLE. At 15 miles a day, I can reach California in about 4.5 months.
The other direction? Fuggetaboutit.
Same with being a professional author. Yes, the odds are against us. But how much of that ‘bad luck’ do we have the power to change?
Small Steps & Brutal Honesty
What are ALL the obstacles standing in your way? List them and add to the list as you go along. Yes…as you go along. As you gain higher levels of expertise you’ll trade old problems for (hopefully) better problems.
This isn’t me being a Negative Nelly. It’s recognizing that, if I see a mountain range on the map in between where I am and where I want to go, it’s smart to look for the path through the mountains before I get there.
No amount of positive thinking is going to make those mountains vanish.
If I skip along to the metaphorical Alps with no plan, I will still be required to make a plan. Either I’ll have to plan a retreat or I’ll plan to find a path…and waste a ton of time and resources searching for a route I could have easily accounted for in the beginning.
Also, if I want to take on a trek of this magnitude, I need to account for internal obstacles. Self-doubt, burnout, stress, isolation, etc.
Same with writing. The author mountain range might be invisibility. How do we PLAN on standing apart from millions of other books? If we have a plan ahead of time, this prepares us mentally as well.
When we don’t immediately make a gazillion dollars, we keep on the paths that have the best reputation for delivering authors through that massive obstacle (I.e. multiple books, a series, a good blog, a strong social media following, etc.). Small steps. One foot in front of the other.
Trust in the process and that compounded efforts are like compound interest. Hard to see anything notable in the short-term, but then one day, BAMMO! The world sees an ‘overnight success.’
Small Steps Around Big Obstacles
I understand that life gets in the way. But I also appreciate the power of even small snippets of focused time. It’s why I’ve PAID for a Ning called W.A.N.A.Tribe for TWELVE YEARS.
(W.A.N.A. stands for We are not alone.)
Since I pay for this out of my own pocket, there are no ads or bots. We’ve been meeting every day, every week to do writing sprints for almost EIGHT YEARS. It is a virtual office space where one of us sets a timer for an hour, people join in the sprint (in the CHAT forum), and at the end, we relay what we accomplished.
Then, we chit chat a few minutes and do the next sprint and the next and the next. I’ve, personally, finished nine books, a novella and hundreds of articles using the sprints.
Some of us stay most of the day or even all day. I mix up sprints where I write with sprints where I clean, cook, and homeschool my 12-year-old son. It’s an amazing place for accountability. We have permission to leave the laundry, the dishes, the bills, the pets and kids for AT LEAST ONE HOUR…to write.
Here’s the weird thing, though. Out of almost 3300 members, any guess how many regularly show up for sprints?
Maybe 20, if I’m being generous.
But, want to know a fun fact about those who show up consistently? Almost all of them are highly successful multi-published authors.
Telling, isn’t it?
These writers all have lives. They have families, children, health issues, ailing parents or family members. We all have our share of crises, but guess what? We aren’t any better, any more talented. The only difference is we consistently show up.
Life Size is Bite-Size with Small Steps
I don’t mention the lackluster attendance on W.A.N.A.Tribe to make anyone feel badly. But think about pre-Internet. How many authors had a free and designated workspace with peers around almost every day to encourage and offer help when needed? Think how many authors dreamed of such a place.
Heck, I did, which was why I built it.
Trust me! I wish I ONLY had to worry my pretty little head about writing. Today, while working on this post, I have done the dishes, sorted, washed and folded laundry, cleaned the kitchen, cooked, cleaned the kitchen AGAIN and organized my vitamin cabinet.
Because LIFE is Messy & BIG
And needs to be broken into manageable bits. I can write about 500-800 words in a sprint, but then I need to move around unless I want back pain. Also, those dishes—sadly—aren’t going to wash themselves.
The vitamins are sorted and the ones that tried to bite me? I tossed. Then I did a quick guided meditation on my phone. NOW, I am back doing a sprint WRITING.
I use lists and timers for everything I do, all the small steps. It keeps me focused and on task and I accomplish a lot more (especially when there are others to hold me to task). But even if we reduced W.A.N.A.Tribe down to ONE sprint five days a week for six months SOLELY dedicated to writing..
How much could one get written?
What habits might one form? Is it reasonable to assume with just these small steps—logging in, writing for an hour a day, day after day—that it would be easier to self-identify as a professional author instead of a dabbler who maybe one day will get around to being amazing?
Obviously, I’d love everyone to use W.A.N.A. Tribe. The more the weirder! Does it matter if only 12 people continue using it? No. I don’t make any money off it. It’s really just a virtual office for those who choose to make writing a priority.
You We Are Not Alone
I certainly do not pretend to have my act together. In fact, I can only look at watercolor paintings if I’m on Instagram lest I give up all hope.
Anything worth achieving isn’t going to be easy, but we can improve our odds of success by simply being honest about our obstacles as well as what we want…then breaking all this down to bite-sized pieces.
Every massive success (or failure) is made up of small steps. In fact, I could make a case that it is impossible to trace the beginning of…anything. Couples don’t ONE DAY end up in a nasty divorce. That nasty divorce is comprised of many small steps taken or not taken. Then, we could go back before they married to their childhoods, their genetic predispositions, then farther and farther and father back.
The same can be said for success.
This is why it is key to simply DECIDE and START. Commit to showing up, whether that is as a writer, a partner, a parent, a whatever. When it comes to writing, you are not alone. Your chances of forming new habits and reaching goals vastly improves with a support network.
Feel free to use the Chat over at W.A.N.A. Tribe, or join a writing group, start your own. Just DO IT. Small steps are DOABLE as in TODAY, RIGHT NOW. They are simple to repeat. Just small steps day after day, month after month will take you thousands of miles from where you began.
Looking forward to seeing where y’all go! Btw, if you sign up for W.A.N.A. Tribe, I have to manually approve you. I try to be as instant as possible, but this is what keeps the bots away.
Thoughts? I LOVE hearing from you!
Do you REALLY think of yourself as a writer? An author? Are you guilty of dabbling when you really need to set a schedule?
For the record, I have had times I HAD to take off and resort to being more of a hobbyist. Burnout is a real thing. Rest is crucial. This said, how can we do better at making what time we have extra fruitful? How do you get the most out of your minutes?
***Btw, for those who want to make a living writing, make sure to scroll down and check out the classes below. When you treat yourself as a business, which you are, then classes are an INVESTMENT. All these classes will help you up the quantity AND quality of your writing.
I love hearing from you!
What do you WIN? For the month of APRIL, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice.
What do you win?
The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Small Steps to Start
The Write Stuff Special: 20 pages for $55
Only TEN SLOTS AVAILABLE! Offer ends May 4th, 2020. Sign up HERE.
Small Steps with Classes
***All classes come with a FREE recording
Bring on the BINGE: How to Plot & Write a Series
Thursday, May 19, 2022 7-9:30 P.M. NYC Time
For more information, SIGN UP HERE.
The Art of Character: Writing Characters for a SERIES
Thursday, May 26th 7:00-10:00 P.M. NYC Time
For more information, SIGN UP HERE.
Practice Your Pitch: Master the Log-Line
Thursday, June 2nd, 7:00-9:00 P.M. NYC Time. This is a TWO-HOUR INTERACTIVE WORKSHOP!
For more information, SIGN UP HERE.