The Rules


Looking for a little light reading/book chat/way to procrastinate whatever tasks are on your to-do list today? Head on over to the excellent Mother.Write. (Repeat.) blog, where I’ll be answering reader questions about all things books until 5pm. today.

TypewriterIn my younger and more vulnerable years, I was given a piece of advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. (And no, it is not to shamelessly rip off The Great Gatsby’s opening line; that I do all on my own.) The advice was this: Write a thousand words of your work-in-progress each day. No more, no less. Just a cool grand.

Here’s the why of the advice:

  • A thousand words is a fair bit, to be sure. But it’s not so much that you can’t see the end of your target when you sit down to begin. It’s not so much that you can get lost in those thousand words. It’s not so much that you’ll have to set aside hours and hours of your day that really should be spent working for a living or cleaning the house or reading other people’s books or petting the cat. It’s just enough that you can do it in a good hour or so of work. That is to say, it’s eminently doable.
  • A thousand words a day means you can (more…)

twentyI was fortunate enough last summer to speak with Bruce Coville at an SCBWI event in Orlando. (He’s an amazing speaker—truly amazing—and if you catch word that he is speaking somewhere, by all means go and see him.) Bruce mentioned something he called “The Rule of Twenty.” He doesn’t recall where he picked it up—a business article? a self-help book? a primer on original thinking?—but wherever it came from, I have since relied on it and relied on it often.

What is it? Put most simply, it is this: It is only when one reaches the twentieth or so idea that one starts entering the realm of the truly original idea.

The first five or ten? Those are the obvious ones that the brain goes to along its well-traveled paths. Most people’s heads will go that way and think of that thing. (Are you disappointed when you can see the plotline of a movie from a mile away? That’s thanks to the filmmakers working the shallows of the Rule of Twenty.) In the teens, you are starting to bushwhack into uncharted territory, where most people’s brains (more…)