Hint #10 — A Thousand Small Victories

Welcome back to Hints, a miniseries of Mr. Horne’s Book of Secrets.

The difference between good advice and bad advice is not always obvious, especially when it comes to writing. And as an inexperienced writer how are you supposed to know which is which?

There will always be people trying to confuse you, and even the good advice may be designed to lead you away from your vision. Yet without any help, you’re stuck.

What you could really use…is a hint.

“Hints: because only need a little help.”

The Impossible Task

Have you noticed just how far away you are from being a successful author?

Oh, you can see where you want to be. It’s on the horizon, but quite visible, though one glance tells you that you will never, EVER reach it.

A pity.

But one good thing comes from beholding this hopeless vista: it lets you know, in advance, what you are in for.

Because reaching that distant shore is possible. It has to be: other people have done it. Other people are going to do it this year, maybe even this month. Somehow, the gulf is passable.

But there’s a problem: the massive effort needed to reach the other side requires you to have peak morale from start to finish. If you lose yourself in doubt at any point on the journey, it will become too hard for you. And once it becomes too hard to keep going, you will quit.

And when you quit, you’re done.

The Wrong Way to Fight Back

One interesting thing about this particular Hint, is that it is also one of my patented secrets, meaning that it pulls back the curtain of reality a little, and cuts against the (frankly dishonest) conventional wisdom.

Because the conventional wisdom is to keep your eye on the prize. Never look away from that distant shore. Stare at it without blinking until, somehow, you reach it.

That is the conventional wisdom. And it is a lie.

Because the longer you look at your end goal, the more painful it will become to look. It could be years before you are in a position to claim ultimate success. And as time passes, it will only become that much more apparent that you are not where you want to be.

Keeping your eye on the prize will destroy your morale. And once that is gone, despair will eat you alive.

Why such bad advice has become the go-to answer is anyone’s guess. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the deception was intentional. A lot of successful people happily share their secrets to success, hoping to lift others. Yet there are also some who would pull up the ladder behind them, heading off anyone who might become a future rival.

And it’s not unheard of for some luminaries (of various fields) to give one set of advice to their chosen acolytes, while dispensing a different set of advice to the masses. It allows for the appearance of benefaction while preserving power within a tight-knit circle.

The Right Way: Always be Winning

The only way to sustainably increase morale is through victory.

This is not exclusive to writing. In fact, it doesn’t originally come from writing. Morale, as a resource, was first recognized on battlefields—some literal, some political.

In war, morale can be affected by a number of things: living conditions, camaraderie and cohesion between various military factions, love of country, monetary payment, and anything else that might lift or break a soldier’s spirit.

But nothing moves the needle like consistent victory. Consecutive wins by an army instills a feeling of invincibility, which prompts the soldiers to fight more fiercely. It also attracts newcomers, because everyone wants to be on the winning team. New allies means new resources, which replenishes the ranks and gives the army even more victories.

Whether in war or in writing, the key is to ride the tidal wave of morale all the way to the end goal. And keeping morale that high requires constant winning.

How is It Done?

When an army is suffering from low morale, a clever general can turn the tide by giving his soldiers a string of guaranteed victories. This can mean sending the army against a number of smaller, softer targets that are easily captured.

Of course, doing this means taking your eye off the prize. Instead of obsessing over the final conclusion of the war, military brass turns its attention to individual battles.

Conventional wisdom would have you believe that this is a disastrous approach to war. But history tells us otherwise. Real-world wars are fought one battle at a time, and capturing progressively harder targets is a fundamental strategy.

The same applies to building a successful career as a writer. The writer whose morale is sky high is more productive. Not only does he complete objectives on schedule, but the quality of his writing is improved by the strength of his spirit.

To ensure a productive writing schedule, set the conditions for victory in such a way that you are always winning. These victories should be small enough and manageable enough that they can be accomplished regularly.

These can include daily targets. Many writers recommend a daily word count, but this is not the only daily target you can implement. Marketing pushes such as racking up social media followers (or blog subscribers) is practical and can help your career in ways that lie outside of writing.

You can also make a target about nailing a particular character voice, perfecting a particular setting, or nailing down the world building. Anything that makes the work better can become a win, as long as you make sure to document it as such.

As for the details of making this all happen for you, that’s your decision to make. Remember, this is a Hint, not an advice.

Rack Up the Kill Count

Much of the creative act of writing cannot be quantified. But the parts where you can keep score are meant to be used to your advantage. Give yourself a thousand small victories, and you will be emboldened to do the rest on your own.

Each roadblock you overcome is another notch on your belt, another stripe on your jacket, or another head on a pike lining the roads of your empire.

Hey, if the metaphor fits…

But regardless of how the score is kept, your best bet is to organize your campaign to rack up those wins from the earliest stages, and keep the momentum going until the last page.

It’s your war. You had better be prepared to win it.