small wins and writing productivity

I’m intrigued of late by the notion of “small wins”. This is prompted by reading Wayne Baker’s book on social networks in which he quotes Karl Weick. Rather than try to solve big problems all at once, you attack them by making progress on a series of smaller more attainable goals. This keeps morale up and shows you that you’re really getting somewhere, even if on the grand scale it doesn’t register yet.

A small win is a concrete, complete outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of small wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. A series of small wins is also more structurally sound than a large win because small wins are stable building blocks. Small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put into place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible. Additional resources flow toward winners, which means that slightly larger wins can be attempted.

Thus, rather than think about how hard it would be to produce a book of 80,000 words all in one sitting, it gets a lot easier to think how easy it would be to produce 400 words per day (on a topic of your choice naturally) for 200 days over the course of a year. I can bat out 100 words without thinking about it to answer an email message a dozen times a day. So capturing 80,000 words is simply a matter of doing that in some sensible order and not getting sidetracked by the need for everything to make 100% sense at the very beginning.

(originally published Monday, August 07, 2000)

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