The “Machine” is the process I created for writing students to understand a pretty much failsafe path to becoming a published writer. It originated in my own wish, forty years ago, to push away despair and discouragement, knowing that it would require many, many “failures” before I ever reached success. How to do this, when the serpents of doubt were already hissing and coiling in my mind?
The “proto machine” was the answer. The process was resurrected when I started coaching writing clients. They wanted to know how long things were going to take before they reached publication, and I needed two things: a way to measure their progress and current position, and a way to diagnose what wasn’t currently working.
Here is the description of “The Machine”:
- Write a story a week, or every other week.
- Finish what you write.
- Put it in the mail and keep it in the mail.
- Don’t rewrite except to editorial request
- Read 10X what you write
- Continue for 100 stories.
It would obviously be possible to teach a year of classes on any single step: writing and flow state management, The psychology of completion, why short stories are the best way to develop novel skills, managing your home office, critical reading skills, goal setting and tracking progress, internal as opposed to external loci of focus, and so forth. Endless.
One of the most amusing things is how often the same argument comes up: “but my ideas are novel length.” Rather oddly, I always have the sense that they think I’ve not heard this one before. But the point is that the “Machine” is designed to provide a game board, internally focused, which maximizes your chances of reaching your goal. The difference between someone just starting the game, and someone who has gone through 100 steps is ENORMOUS. So far, not a single student has gone through all 100 steps without publishing. NOT ONE. They can stop, quit. Or ignore steps. But IF they do all of them, on the average they start selling at somewhere between 20 and 30. Personally, I got to about 24. Never looked back.
But it occurs to me that it should be possible to adapt this to other disciplines and goals. “Career” is clearly laid out. Could you apply this to 100 job interviews? 100 sales calls? Sure.
What about relationships? Talking to people in long-term happy relationships (I’d say a successful relationship is one that lasts over 15 years. That’s about the age when a child is capable of taking care of himself, and while that is a little bit arbitrary, evolutionarily it makes a lot of sense to me, as “success” in reproduction is the production of grandchildren, and a primary purpose of the romantic bond is to provide a safe zone for the nurturance of children. There are obviously other standards, I like it as a minimum, even if you have no children, or don’t want any. Duration matters) on average they find a partner after dating between about 15-20 different people.
What about physical skills or fitness? 100 martial arts classes would begin to encode basics at the level of unconscious competence. 100 days of Intermittent Fasting would familiarize you with the inner demonic “voices” that ruin your efforts, and open the door to hearing those voices elsewhere in your life.
I can think of few activities where you cannot create a “100 step” process that would move you from one level to another.
And what might the other steps represent? Let’s look at how basic success secrets are embedded in the “Machine”:
- Write. This is daily action. You have to actually do it, commit to doing it. This is the only way you will get anything done, as well as the only way you will notice if you’ve gone “off the rails” and broken discipline. You WILL break discipline, and noticing how and why, and what inner turmoil you put yourself through, is educational.
- Finish What you write. All you need to do to have a perfect week is to have a succession of perfect days. One day at a time. One ACTION at a time. It also implies goal setting. Whether they admit it or not, most people’s real goal here is NOT just just “to write”, but to FINISH AND PUBLISH STORIES AND GET PAID FOR THEM.
- Put it in the mail. You have to enter the arena of competition if competition is a part of the learning process. This is the only way to learn and grow: and face your fear. The CONVICTION that you can and should do something, the Faith that it is appropriate, helps to fight your fear of putting a story into the mail. Or of asking for a date. Or of going back to that class or back on that diet.
- Keep it in the mail until it sells. Action, Gratitude, and Conviction. You’ll need all of them to keep trying and trying through the “rejections”. By the time you’ve done this 100 times you will understand that the pain and fear doesn’t control you. In fact, it is energy to improve.
- Don’t rewrite except to editorial request. “Perfectionism is procrastination masquerading as quality control.” Oh, you can re-write all you want AS LONG AS YOU ARE FINISHING A STORY A WEEK OR EVERY OTHER WEEK and putting it out into the conga line of production. Overlap work? Sure. Re-write a story for a year? Sure! But you’d better the @#$ be simultaneously writing little teeny short stories that are going out the door to keep your average up!
- Read 10X what you write. How do you get strong? Stress plus rest plus nutrition. With writing, the nutrition is reading. With the physical body, well, nutrition is obvious. In the emotional arena, nutrition might well be self-love: meditation and journaling. But also studying the actions and emotions of people who have successful relationships so that you KNOW it is possible, and can discard the artificial standards in movies, novels, and television. Learning about relationships from fiction can be as bad as learning to fight from watching John Wayne movies. You’ll break your hand. Or your heart.
- Continue for 100 stories. You have to give yourself time. But notice that the “how long will it take?” DEPENDS UPON YOU. You could write 2 stories a week, and be confident you’ll be published within a year. 1 story a week takes 2 years. 2 stories a month gets you there in about 4 years. How badly do you want it?
As “the Machine” has yet to fail, I encourage you to ask how you can apply the same concept to your own career, inner or outer relationship work, and physical body. I think the parallels will become clear.
(p.s.–if you are interested in applying this concept to storytelling, join our Revolutionary Writing class. It provides a clear path to success if you have the heart for the journey! www.createthenarrative.com)