Success Breeds Success

It seems like a trite observation, but if you think about it, there’s a lot of truth to it, as there is with so many sayings we dismiss as ‘trite’ or ‘overused’ or ‘cliche.’ Think about it both in terms of storytelling as a writer, and in terms of business as a writer.

Remember Dumbo’s magic feather? There are a lot of things you can say about Disney, but one thing you can’t say negative – the man knew how to tell a story. That ‘magic’ feather gave the baby elephant the first successful flight, but once he had that success firmly grasped, he discovered he could succeed over and over without the ‘magical’ assistance. I know I’ve seen this same trope used in other stories, and we accept it to some extent, and why?

Because we know it works. Look, I used to get myself motivated on days when I didn’t just have a to-do list, I had a list of my lists. That gets daunting, fast, especially when some of those action items are small, wriggly, and fuss when they don’t get fed (and oh, by the way, feeding station is attached to me). Challenging, and there were days I felt like I just. Couldn’t. Even. So I’d play a game with myself. I’d pick something to lead off the list that I knew I could do. Even on the worst of days, I could do this one thing. Because I knew that if I did that one thing, I could do another, and another, and I wouldn’t go to bed at night feeling like I’d gotten absolutely nothing done that day. I knew from painful experience that waking up feeling like I was worthless and useless would only send me further and further down the rabbit-hole.

Reality is that we’re not always going to succeed. However, if we can succeed in a little thing, we can persist and build that into a big success. If we’re writing a space opera, the kid that succeeds in scraping a job on the spaceship, even as a cabin boy, can build that success to becoming captain, and then admiral, and then Master of the Universe!!! Muahahah… ahem.

You see how you can use a small success to build a story. It’s sort of the opposite of the try-fail sequence. Someone who is so low and broken, they can’t even afford a lime slurpee, how are they going to become the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess (sorry, Sarah, I couldn’t resist)? By succeeding in something. Maybe that first one is rehabilitating the Grand Dark Duke’s orphaned kitten with the broken leg. It takes a lot of work to hand-feed a kitten, I’ll have you know, and keeping one still with a broken leg? Wow… might seem silly, but you can play that for laughs and show the character’s determination and ability to persevere in the face of the near-impossible.

How about you as a writer? I know a lot of people who want to be a writer, and they have reams and reams of half-finished stories. So for them, that first success is going to look like finishing something. Even a piece of flash fiction. I started out thinking I couldn’t possibly write more than 5K words. Just couldn’t do it. Now? I know I can do that, and I can wrap up a 300K+ word trilogy with fans asking more, more? That’s a boost to my authorial ego, and it’s one I can use to build into another successful book finished. I started that out by finishing just one story. Getting just one story (a tiny one, only about 600 words long) published. Finding out I could succeed as an Indie author/publisher.

So how do you start succeeding? As an author, you can start writing every day – or at least on a schedule. Right now, with my full-time job taking a lot of my time and energy, I’ve been surprised to discover I can fit in writing time on the weekdays, but the weekend? Forgetaboutit. That’s family time and I just can’t pry loose the time and mental energy to put words on the screen (at least, not fiction). So pick what works with your schedule, if that’s every day, 5 days a week, 3 days… I wouldn’t go with less than three days. Treat it like exercise. Schedule it, and do it. Set small goals at first. If you fail, you’ll find it that much harder to succeed: but be persistent. Just like your hero has to face-plant a few times before you let him win, you’re going to go through the same cycle.

Once you have gotten that daily writing habit, work on finishing something. A story, then a novel – it’s a snowball that will eventually get out of your control, and then you start on other snowballs. Like publishing, and marketing, and so on and so forth. In time, if we follow that snowball’s trail, we’re finding you the Queen of Ice Fort reigning supreme over your snowy castle. Which is a successful independent publishing house, with residual income from backlist, and side-income of associate ads, and other stuff. Or maybe that’s just me. I don’t expect this to make me into a millionaire. I do expect it to be a profitable hobby until I’m ready to retire (again) and make it even more successful. Trust me, if I can do this, you can, too. I think I don’t need to get into my background again, but I will if I have to *waves fist* don’t say you can’t! I know better. You can. And if you can do the little thing, you can step up on it and do the bigger things.



  1. I finished my first story *mumblety* years ago. Then I stopped. Inner editor and a friend telling me all the errors I had made(yes she was right about the errors, not going to argue that). I have finished a bunch of short stories this past year since starting in April. A few other WIP’s are currently bogged down and I will try to get back to them. I find I tend to go in spurts though which is annoying and frustrating.
    This past week has been especially frustrating since I can’t seem to get words down for the past few days. I am going to alleviate this issue by doing some research. Which means a trip to check out a couple scenes from the current story. Then looking for physical items that one character will need to acquire.
    One list thing I have to accomplish is making a list…I need a list of books that someone will have access to in their personal library. Which means a lot of research and running around on my part.

    1. Yes, that’s also true. But it does need to be write get feedback adjust writing to feedback… Because mass of words alone does not equal improvement. Feedback not from literary crtics! That could be fatal to anyone’s writing.

      1. Hell, Orson Scott Card’s first rule for training beta readers _back in 1990_ was to not recruit literary types.

        Having a well-developed sense of ‘this isn’t as fun to read as my favorite authors’ might help too.

          1. Is there any genre that’s truly outside the broad penumbra of SF&F, though? I mean, the bulk of my practice writing to date is this one massive fanfic, but within it I’ve managed to get practice to various degrees in romance, geopolitics, slice of life (quite a bit of this one, to be honest), political thriller, tolkenesque questing, and probably a few others while training myself to suck a bit less.

            -Albert (now that my blog is up, I should probably start signing my posts again)

  2. I’m slowly relearning that I can either grouse or I can do. I can look at this weekend and grumble about losing all that writing time because of a commitment that seems to be growing larger as I look at it, or I can get my grading done, park rump in chair, and try for a few words on the screen before getting ready for the thing I agreed to help with. The more I grumble and grouse, the less gets done on anything.

    And the more the Black Dog chortles in the back ground. I refuse to give him any openings this time.

    1. I find myself getting busier and busier, out of needs that have nothing to do with writing or art, which is frustrating to me. But those needs are there, and no less important than the desire to do paying work.

      The Black Dog found other ways to get at me though, through things I cannot change, short of perhaps attaining Goddesshood and working miracles. Busyness helps keep that somewhat at bay, but I get nipped now and then.

  3. I try to write every day, but I will point out that it can be awfully difficult when the “small, wiggly, fussy action item” develops an obsession with your laptop and every time you try to write, you get something that looks like +*8461549+*+35-+65+*+++ after said action item gets a hand on your ten-key.

    Beyond that, it seems that success can build on itself in many ways on the business side of writing as well. You get a few fans, they start recommending you to their friends, who become fans, who recommend you to their friends, etc. Once you’ve got a book that’s making some money, hinting that yes, people besides your mother might be interested in this, then you’re willing to spend a bit more money on things like freelance editors and a professional-looking cover. The problem is trying to get that initial bit of success.

    1. Yes, and part of the reason my first stories were so short is that I was dealing with four of those action items! They get older, and more independent, and then they ask you to write stories for them, and I can assure you that’s the most success you could ever wish for.

  4. This, all this, and then some. Just launched a short story, my first as a KDP test. My friend has just pointed out it has made 17 in the Kindle short reads.

    Here just in case anyone is interested.

  5. but even when I am writing i feel like there is something else i need to be doing, unless that writing is for an actual paycheck.

    1. I conquer that by publishing, so I know that writing ‘Is’ a paycheck. Recently I’ve been telling myself I really want a house. A house that’s mine, not a rental. That has boosted the drive to write a lot. Not that my writing will buy the house, but it will certainly add to the downpayment nicely!

  6. All I did today was organize a very messy scene into some kind of order, by listing the main points I was trying to make, and connecting them to a map, which then gave me what I needed: the order to write them in.

    I fought with my new iPhone (I don’t DO iPhones) to get a copy of the map into my Scrivener file – and won.

    Then my sister called, and she needed to talk for an hour (we are settling our parents’ estate, and it is an actual need), and I reassured her. And I may not get anything else written. And it comes after 5 days of excruciatingly detailed research, 99.99% of which may not be allowed to show.

    But it’s SOMETHING! And better than NOTHING.

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