Snowball Theory (Part Two) – Micro-victories and Eating the Elephant

This is Part Two of my series on Snowball Theory and how it impacts our lives. In Part One, I explored the idea of numerous small issues compounding into major negatives that sort of bleed into one’s daily life – like a drop of ink in a glass of water. That discussion was, in large part, a reflection of my struggles with Imposter Syndrome, how it affected me over the past year, and what I am doing to proactively prevent it. I’d definitely recommend reading the previous article before continuing on with this one.

Let’s start this article with the age-old question: How does one eat an elephant? If you know the answer, you’re probably smiling, chuckling, or saying the answer to yourself right now. If you don’t know the answer, take a second and think about that. How does one take on the task of eating such an enormous creature?

One. Bite. At. A. Time. That’s how.

This is the core of Snowball Theory. We’ve already seen the power and impact a rolling snowball can have in your daily life from a negative, ink-tinged lense. However, there is an equal power on the positive side. In fact, I think the positive side of the equation has the ability to grow exponentially and indefinitely. At least, that’s how I choose to look at it. Dave Ramsey preaches this concept in his Financial Peace University (FPU) program. If you have a lot of debt and are tired of living paycheck to paycheck, I’d highly recommend looking into it. The entire program is based on one small victory after another. The sense of accomplishment is incredible and empowering.

About a month ago, the light clicked on for me – why not implement the same strategy in my writing process? It was one of those moments of clarity. It was a golden-light-shining-down-from-the-heavens, red-haired-angel-strumming-a-harp, smell-of-fresh-baked-cookies sort of moment. I had been such an idiot. Why hadn’t I thought of this years ago? Hell, I use the same mentality in my day job on-boarding new hires and training them to proficiency. It’s overwhelming for a new team member to come aboard and have to learn such a complex industry, so I try to remind them that we are simply eating the elephant. One. Bite. At. A. Time. Why hadn’t I given this a shot with my writing?

It makes so much sense. Writing anything is a monumental undertaking. It doesn’t matter if it’s a novel, a poem, a blog post, or a piece of flash fiction. There is a lot to the process, and an undefinable amount of considerations to make. It’s personal, emotional, and it exposes part of yourself to complete strangers willing to judge you against the masters on high. For me, that’s overwhelming – to a crippling degree. I have thought about this a lot over the past month, and I think it’s a huge contributing factor to why several of my projects have stalled. Simply stated, I get overwhelmed in the process of writing. Once there, it’s a series of negative reactions that tints my glass of water to black.

So, how does this relate to my writing process? Simple. I’ve started outlining a series of micro-victories before starting a project – milestones I can shoot for. Low-hanging fruit goes to the top of my list. The entire concept focuses on starting with the easiest things first even if it isn’t totally logical. For Ramsey, that means paying off your lowest debt (based on balance amount) first, regardless of what the interest rate is in comparison to others. Why? Why should I pay off a 0% debt when I have a credit card with a 20% interest rate? The answer is simple – the sweet taste of victory. Getting the first debt paid off as quickly as possible is going to get you excited in the process. You’re going to buy in. It’ll get you amped to pay off the next debt. The same applies to writing.

I decided to test this concept with a few projects on my writing desk. First, I looked for easy projects to work on (please note, I’m not saying any writing projects are easy per se, but there definitely a difference between writing 1,500 words versus a 140k manuscript), then prioritized based on urgency. I was faced with few pieces of low-hanging fruit. The first was completing the micro-setting, (Super)Natural Resources, for Gallant Knight Games’ TinyZine: Issue 1. I already pitched the concept and had about 500 words on the project. It was there, it was partially developed, and it was going to get me published and paid. Also, I was insanely excited to write it. Project one was a no-brainer. So, within a couple of days and some discussion with Alan Bahr, I had my submission hammered out. 1,500 words of awesome. That was a HUGE victory for me on a lot of levels.

I savored the sweet taste of accomplishment for a day or two before diving deeper into my project list – things got a bit trickier this time around. I have four different novels/series in varying states of completion. I also have a few short stories I want to shop around some more. There’s an opportunity to submit another micro-setting proposal for GKG’s open call for the upcoming Tiny Supers Kickstarter. I’m building the skeleton of an unnamed RPG project where I get to write the whole thing. Oh right, and this here blog I’ve wanted to return to. I’m also participating in the NYCMidnight 2018 Short Story Challenge. A good friend breached the idea of collaborating on a middle-grade project. There’s probably more I’m forgetting as well. So how do I determine what is low-hanging fruit? Hell, what classifies something as an “easy win” for me? That’s a tough question, but I’ll try to illustrate below. Also, your definition will probably be different than mine, which is 100% okay.

I went with the NYCMidnight project first. The choice was still relatively easy as it also had a hard deadline. It’s a cool competition concept, and I’ve had varying degrees of success in past challenges. I like what I wrote, but it isn’t mind-blowing. So, I wrote my 2,500-word short story next. Another piece completed. Another writing victory. Another flood of endorphins and dopamine. Another positive shift in my writing process. Excitement level-up.

A new, exciting opportunity blipped on my radar at this point. While attending the LTUE writing conference in February, I had the opportunity to pitch my YA urban fantasy novel idea, Camp Sleeping Bear (working title), to Lisa Mangum at Shadow Mountain Publishing. It was a great experience, and I left with an invitation to submit when I have a polished manuscript. That’s a victory for me! I could feel my excitement for writing grow again. I wanted to leave LTUE and just write.

Next, I conceptualized and wrote my pitch for the open-call of Tiny Supers micro-settings. The pitch limit was 100 words, so I spent some time on it. It was easier than writing a novel, but it was quite hard to distill into 100 words. However, I really want this one to be accepted, so I worked on it for a few days. Then I submitted. Again, another victory.

These micro-victories are propelling me onwards. It’s little bursts of accomplishment continually fueling my motivation to write more. It’s the bloody point. In fact, it’s the whole elephant. With a slight shift in perspective, I’ve started the snowball of positivity. I’ve packed it tight and rolled it down from the top of a mountain. As these micro-victories add up, the snowball grows, gaining momentum. At some point, hopefully, I’ll hit critical mass and there’ll be no stopping my writing. Perhaps that means I become prolific, have a great library of published works and, with any luck, can switch my career to full-time writer. But I’m not focusing on that now. That opens the door for Imposter Syndrome. I’m training myself to lock-in on the here and now. On the accomplishments I’ve earned. The ones I’m writing towards.

I’ve likened my approach to the timeless movie, What About Bob?. The story of Bob and his psychiatrist, Dr. Leo, whose treatment plan revolves around his best-selling self-help series, Baby Steps. These are, in fact, micro-victories. Each step is one bite of the elephant. Baby steps out of the apartment. Baby steps onto the elevator. Baby steps into the taxi. Eventually, Bob has overcome a great fear of his – sailing. “I’m sailing! I’m a sailor! I sail!” This is Snowball Theory at its best.

I encourage you all to take a look at your writing process and figure out how to eat whatever elephant stands before you. Being able to prioritize your writing and isolate each step of the process into its own accomplishment is a huge step forward, especially for aspiring authors. Again, writing is hard and it leaves you vulnerable. It’s always been incredibly easy for me to allow the fear and self-doubt to creep in. Focusing on the positives, no matter how insignificant each one may be, will allow you to build excitement – to gain momentum just like the snowball rolling down the hill.

My next post will focus on how to connect each micro-victory together into the unstoppable force of continual momentum. We’ll talk about seeing the forest despite the trees. And, finally, I’ll show you how to break down an entire project into each individual bite, creating a checklist for a productivity level-up. Until then, click the Follow button over there on the right sidebar and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

This is part two of a three-part series on Snowball Theory and how it affects my writing productivity. I believe most authors could benefit from some of the ideas within this and the other related articles, so please stay tuned.


2 Responses

  1. I just read part 1 and immediately came here! This is fantastic, and as soon as I’m done with this comment I’m going to go see where my low-hanging fruit is. As a longtime fan and advocate of Ramsey, I love the tie-in. It is so obvious! Why didn’t we think of it before! But seriously, fantastic post. I feel more fired up than I have in a long time. Thanks so much!

    1. Drew Gerken

      Thank you so much, Audra. It’s one of those things that, once you’ve stumbled across the similarities and effectiveness, you smack your forehead out of frustration. It is an obvious connection once you’ve made it, but it sure took me a long time to get there. I hope you’ve identified some low-hanging fruit and begun your path towards micro-victories and building writing momentum.

Please, let me know what you think.

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