The Rule of 5 for Writers By William Ballard

I learned the concept of the Rule of 5 at a seminar, “The Rule of 5 for Leadership,” by John Maxwell. Since then, I’ve heard the Rule of 5 for just about everything. The Rule of 5 is a list of the five key things that you must do every day in your business, in your writing, or whatever goal you may be pursuing.

The Parable of the Rule of 5

Imagine you are standing on the back patio of your dream home. A dead tree stands dead-center of your backyard, and blocks your view of the glorious prairie hills behind your home. Your goal is to enjoy the prairie scenery but, to do so, you must get rid of the tree. You get your axe from the garage, and start whacking at this obstacle in the way of achieving your goal, but this tree is massive, so you apply the “Rule of 5.” You swing your axe five times a day until, one day, you have given that tree the final whack it needs to fall down. Now, you can enjoy your prairie hills. You fix a cup of coffee, and enjoy the view of your oasis in peace.

Your book, blog or writing business is that stubborn tree. Your goal is either completing your book, building (or expanding) a blog, or getting more writing jobs. The five things you should do every day to achieve your goal are:

1. Read (Fiction and Non-Fiction). I am sure that most seasoned writers know and understand the necessity to read. However, some aspiring writers may have never thought of this. It’s been said that not all readers write but it is essential for all writers to read. In other words, writers are readers.

I believe there should be an even balance of fiction and non-fiction intake for the writer (and it must be high-quality writing). My reasoning for this is simply that one exercises the right brain and the other exercises the left-brain. In other words, one strengthens the creative side of the writer and the other strengthens the logical side.

If you haven’t already, start making reading one of your daily tasks. You can see dramatic results in your writing very quickly.

2. Write (Journals, Notes, Outlines, etc.). As you read, write down the thoughts and ideas that come to mind in a journal. Also, take as many notes as you can about what happens in your day. I call this exercise Discovering the Writer’s Footsteps.

Start by asking yourself some internal questions such as, how did I feel when I woke up this morning? How do I feel now? How do I feel about that novel I read last night? How did I feel when that driver on the way to work cut me off? How did the colorful flowers in my garden change the whole rest of my day? The questions that you can ask yourself are endless. What this exercise does is takes you on your own writer’s journey. It helps you to become presently aware of your surroundings, and your feelings during those times.

As you journalize your day-to-day experiences, this creates avenues for new stories that you can share with your readership. It helps novelists craft intriguing plots that can be used in their next New York Times Best Seller. Moreover, it also helps non-fiction writers learn from their mistakes, and then outline those lessons learned into their next non-fiction book.

3. Think (Imagine, Visualize, Concentrate, Analyze, etc.). At this point, all you have to do is let the creative juices flow through you. Before the masterpiece (the book) reaches its destination (the store bookshelves), it starts in the mind, and then takes a pit stop through the writer’s fingertips.

This point is actually combined with the one mentioned above (writing). As you answer those internal questions, they light a spark within the imagination of the writer. If you’re a novelist, you’ll begin to visualize the next scene in your book that you have been struggling to get down on paper. If you’re a non-fiction writer, you’ll be able to concentrate on your next point that you want to drive home to your readers.

4. Ask Questions (Interviewing, Gathering Information, etc.). For the freelance writer or non-fiction writer, interviewing a source adds more credibility and authenticity to your work. It’s another way to drive a point home using authoritative figures to assist in backing up your point. As you read more and more, make sure to takes lots of notes, and write down quotes that have meant something to you, and touched your heart. When you are out with someone you respect at a luncheon or some type of gathering, take as many notes as you can about your conversation so that you can review them later on.

For novelists and fiction writers, this point still applies to you. Gather as much information as you can about people, places, things, and ideas. This, too, helps build credibility and authenticity in your work.

For example, if you were to write a story based out of a city in Wyoming, but it’s a place that you have never really visited or been physically, then read up on that city or town, and interview as many people as you can. Ask specific questions, such as: Wat are certain street names? Are there specific diners or common hangout spots where locals gather around? Doing this not only brings authenticity to your book, but also could be the very place your book launch could start, and ultimately be the place your book gets most of its sales.

5. File (Organize or Organization). This is where you file (or organize) all of the information that you have gathered, and have placed in its rightful place in your book. This stage keeps you organized and on track. This “swing of the axe” helps to keep your thoughts in chronological order. Moreover, when you do this every day, when you get closer to contacting a publisher, your manuscript will already be in order, and ready for submission.

It is not necessary to do these five things in order but it is paramount that a writer does these five things every day. Take these five swings of the axe daily and you will be well on your way to having your book completed, and enjoying the view of your prairie hills oasis.

William Ballard is a freelance writer and chief executive of Freelance Writer and Author William Ballard in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. He blogs about freelance writing and business on his blog.