Four Steps to Writing Success

Every year I run a creative writing challenge called StoryADay May, in which a bunch of writers sit down every day and write, well, a story a day.

It’s a challenge and each year it teaches me something new about writing, creativity and productivity.

Over the years, I’ve identified four building blocks for a stable and productive creative life.

Start Now

“Start before you’re ready.

Don’t prepare. Begin.”

-Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

It’s scary, right? Yes, yes it is. And there will come a time when you have to break off and research 12th century sanitation or how carbon nanofibers are created, but that day is not today. Today is all about the ideas and getting words on the page.

There were days when I had to literally put my pen on a piece of paper and start making shapes. Soon the shapes became words, and soon the words became a sentence, an idea, the germ of a story. By the end of the day, that doodle had become a story with  characters, movement and a world to live in. It was hard and messy at times, but I never regretted just starting.

“Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.”
-Steven Pressfield.


Finishing a piece of art requires a whole different level of courage. It is in finishing that we see the whole shape of the piece. It is in finishing that we put ourselves on the precipice, looking woozily down at the void that is  the wider world of readers/viewers/listeners.

But one of the best things about finishing is that once you’re out there on the precipice, you start to notice that there are a lot fewer people around than before.

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like everyone is writing, drawing, composing, creating? It’s wonderful and it is intimidating. But if you look closely, the number of people finishing and polishing and publishing (even trying to) is  a surprisingly small subset of all the creative artists you know. It is a far shorter distance from ‘finished’ to ‘successful’ than the distance between ‘working on it’ and ‘successful’.

“The day I start a book 200 other people start books. And they’re smarter, and funnier, and more talented than I am, and you would enjoy them much more than you’re enjoying me. But too bad for them and too bad for you, ’cause I’m the guy that finished the book. That’s the reality.”
-Stephen Hunter


So these are two prongs of your creative life. But a two-legged stool is pretty unstable. We need a couple more legs to really brace this thing:


Yup, not ‘quality’. To a certain extent you need quantity.

If you write or draw or play every single day, and if you have any talent at all, you can’t help but get better.  It’s a simple as that.

Create daily and you will get better. You will find it easier to get into that creative zone quickly, and you’ll find it much, much easier to survive a bad day because you know you’ll be coming back tomorrow.

“Start early and work hard. A writer’s apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he’s almost ready to begin. That takes a while.”
David Eddings

Embrace Failure

There is a book that is taking the sales world by storm, called Go For No.

The authors contend that the route to success is not a journey away from failure and towards success,

failure  <<<<  you  >>>>  success

where you move towards either one end of the scale or the other.  Rather, they say, the route looks like this:

you  >>>> failure  >>>> success

where you traveling through failure in order to become a success.

Look around at the world (business, personal, creative, whatever) and this starts to make a lot of sense.

If you stop creating every time you have to face rejection or criticism, how much closer will you be to finishing? Now imagine if you plough on through the ‘‘failure’ and keep creating anyway. Where are you now?


So start today, work on your project everyday, recognize when it is finished and, if it’s not perfect? So what? That’s one less crappy story/picture/song you have in you. Now move on to the next one.