Archive | October, 2007

Looking at Your Action Plans

Yesterday, I asked to hear what you’re all up to–what’s your action plan?

I’m reading through your comments today. Some of them require responses:

Tami wrote:

I have four projects in various stages of completion and I know that is a serious case of fractured focus. Is there a way to tell which one I should commit to? Does this mean that they’re all fatally flawed and just don’t want to admit it to myself? Help!

Randy sez: That depends on what your goals are. Do you want to:
1) Make lots of money?
2) Write what makes you happiest?
3) Change the world?
4) Other?

My hunch is that each of your projects has a subtly different goal. Which of those is most important to you? Do the project that meets that goal first. You don’t have to trash the others. Just put them aside for the “opportune moment.”

I have had this problem myself in the past. One reason I like Simpleology 101 is that right from the get-go, when I started using its tools to help me decide what I wanted my life to look like, I could see clearly what I needed to work on RIGHT NOW. And embarrassingly enough, that wasn’t what I was actually working on. So I changed my short-term goals to reflect what I REALLY WANT out of life.

Debra wrote:

Randy, how did you first get into writing as a business? I have just returned from the first night of a book-keeping for small business course, hoping to get some idea of how to organise a freelance writing business. Of course, I realise I am putting the cart before the horse since I haven’t been published yet apart from in a writer’s newsletter a few times. Still, the opportunity was there so I took it hoping that the business would soon follow. I did pick up some very useful tips and it has fired me up to write even more so it wasn’t a loss. I also feel that I really do have to take action now as I have openly committed myself to being a writer. I originally thought that if it wasn’t going to be useful then it might be so boring that my imagination would take over and I would write something fantastic.

I didn’t actually start treating it like a business until recently. I spent my first nine years writing without earning a dime, so there was no business to organize. After that, I sold a short story, then a nonfiction book, then a novel. And I felt that basically I wasn’t earning enough to really be businesslike about it. That was a mistake, I think. I should have thought harder early on about developing a brand–a reputation for consistent and unique quality.

In the last year, as many of my blog-readers know, I’ve gotten serious about treating this career like a real business. That’s all chronicled in the series of teleseminars I did with Allison Bottke. So I now have a clear focus for my writing. But this is a new development. Watch my career over the next five years, and you’ll see if it makes a difference. I predict that it will, and I am betting my future on it.

Daan wrote quite a lot, but I’ll snip all but the end:

My short term target is to work through all the E-zines by the end of November when I will promote myself to sophomore and enroll for “Fiction 201″.

In the mean time Randy, I once again wish to thank you for ALL your advice.

Randy sez: You’re welcome! It’s a real thrill to see a writer who’s COMMITTED to taking action and who is making rapid progress. That’s why I do this site and my e-zine and blog–to see people turn from wannabes into gonnabes. Work hard, Daan! I’m watching you and rooting for you.

Lynn wrote quite a bit also, so I’m snipping it down:

Randy, my mother was applauding a course I took a few years ago for my success. However, I believe the course did not help as much as what I have learned in the last year through your blog, through Swain’s book, and through John Olson’s lectures at a writer’s conference. These are what really turned my writing around.

Randy sez: Wow, this is so exciting, to see you making progress! I’m so jazzed! (And it’s been a long day. I need to feel jazzed right now.)

Karla is doing NaNoWriMo this year, and writes, in part:

I am now using simple*ology to help me get through the next harrowing thirty days and I am finding it so effective I’m sure I’ll make it a permanent part of my schedule. I have a biography deadline on Nov. 15th, as well as a grant writing deadline on the 15th and my husband and I are renewing our vows Dec. 1 (25 years!) and I’m throwing a huge party and there is much to do to get ready for that!

Randy sez: Wow, you have a whole lot on your plate. Go for it! And I hope you make your fifty thousand words for NaNoWriMo.

Another 10 of you wrote comments that I don’t have time to respond to tonight. I’ll do so in the next day or two. By then, I hope to be able to wrap up our mini-course in “Time Management for Writers” and transition to the next topic you’ve all requested, which will be “Self-Editing For Writers.” I hope to have a nice surprise for you on that, but I don’t know yet. But stay tuned.

What’s Your Action Plan?

I heard from one of you today via email with a strong and upbeat report on where you’re at now compared to where you were just a few months ago. That made me so happy that I thought it’d be fun to hear from more of you. Take stock of where you are now. Have you developed an action plan in the last few months? Have you figured out where you are on the road to publication? Have you developed new skills?

If so, I’d like to hear about it. Go ahead and post a comment here and tell us all what you’ve learned or achieved in the last few months, and what you have planned for the next few months.

In the meantime, I’ll answer a couple of the comments from yesterday:

Debbie wrote:

You said, “Folks, don’t settle for “I’ll try.” Take action and keep taking action until one of two things happen:
1) You realize that the goal you chose is impossible, or
2) You realize that you don’t want this goal anymore–you want a different one”

I believe there is a third option – Take action and keep taking action UNTIL YOU REACH YOUR GOAL.

I realize this was an OBVIOUS oversight.

Randy sez: Yup, I guess I kind of assumed that. But it’s a good point. SOMETIMES YOU REACH THE GOAL! In fact, a lot of times you do, if you just keep trying. I personally know many dozens of novelists who have reached that goal. Many of them I knew before they reached the goal. The common denominator with all of them is that they didn’t give up.

Robert wrote:

One question on your post. You said “A lot of writers have to write about [5-6 novels] before they break in”. Do you only recommend abandoning a novel if it has irreparable problems? My thought is that as long as the premise is good I should just keep re-working it and rewriting until it is publishable?

Sol Stein said in one of his books that he told someone what they needed to fix in their novel, and then instead of doing that they went off and started on another novel. If I remember it, he didn’t seem to approve of that.

Where do we draw the line on DO vs. REDO? At what point do we need to buckle down and fix it until it’s right?

Randy sez: OK, here’s the deal. If you know the project is hopeless, then shoot it in the head right now and walk away. There is no point working on a project you know is fatally flawed. I did that with my first novel after working on it for two and a half years. But I didn’t walk away from the general idea. I ultimately published several books that are essentially offshoots from that idea, and the book I’m working on right now is also an offshoot. I walked away from the specific implementation of that idea that I realized could never work.

If it’s not fatally flawed, then keep working on it. At a certain point, you may well realize that your heart isn’t in this project anymore, and that you’ve grown as a writer or a person and you have a substantially different vision for the book you want to write. In that case, again murder the old project and walk away. No point trying to sell a book that you aren’t excited about. Your agent and editor won’t be at all interested in a project if you’re bored with it.

Finally, it’s possible that you’ll work hard, believe your book is good, love the book to pieces, finish the thing, and submit it to every agent you can find who might be interested. If they all pass on it, then that is a very good time to set it aside. DON’T kill it. Someday when your skills are sharper, you may be able to revise it and sell it. But if you’ve given it your VERY BEST effort and it still doesn’t sell, then lay it aside. For awhile, not necessarily forever.

In any case, try something new. Work on it, again, until you know it’s fatally flawed, or you lose interest, or you just can’t sell it, or . . . you SELL IT.

This is the procedure that all published novelists have followed. Few of us took the shortest path to success. (I didn’t.) But you can’t get published unless you follow this basic strategy.

Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment and tell us how you’ve changed over the last few months and what your action plan is.

More Thoughts On Action

I’ve had an interesting weekend! A very cool thing has come up that I can’t talk about publicly right now, but I’ll let you all know if and when it comes to fruition in a few months. It’s going to chew up a bit of my time for about another week, and then life gets back to normal. Naturally, this is messing up my current “primary goal” but that’s OK. When a great opportunity comes along, the smart thing is to shift priorities. I really can’t say more about this right now. :)

Looking back at comments from last week on our time-management discussion, I find a few that need answering.

Camille wrote:

First, I hopped the train out of order. And since then, I’ve been trying to do several of the things on that list simultaneously. (Sorry, I confess! I’m Multi-GOALed. But I’m thinking about working on that.)

OK, The NOVEL is what got me enrolled as a Freshman, and gave me a reason to get serious about the craft. Are you saying I need to set it aside until I’m a Junior? I thought that by working on my blushing novel during intense learning phase, I’m:

1. Making Words On Page — which count toward that 1 Million words every novelist needs to write to get into Publishing Heaven.
2. Exercising the craft tools I acquire.
3. Finishing something I started, for what it’s worth.

Upon enrollment as a Freshman, I was enlightened by these profound words of wisdom:
• Work on your craft
• Go to writing conferences
• Take classes on writing
• Read books on writing
• Meet other writers
• Join a critique group
• Write, write, write!
~From Fic 101 — What to DO if you’re a Freshman

So, as a Freshman, is it counterproductive to “focus” on a heartbreaking work of staggering genius while learning the craft? Does this weaken my primary focus?

Randy sez: By all means, work on that heartbreaking varmint! Work hard on it. Give it your best shot. Some novelists actually do sell that first novel. Just be aware that you might not be one of them. Stephen King didn’t sell his first 5 or 6 novels. I think the first one I sold was #6. A lot of writers have to write about that many before they break in. After that, of course, pretty much anything you write will probably get published.

Those first unpublished novels are not wasted! They are necessary steps along the way. You will never get good unless you give yourself permission to be bad–in some cases, very bad.

Write, write, write! And that means write a novel. I don’t approve of spending time overmuch on writing exercises (although I have recently started doing daily writing exercises designed to make me a better writer.) But I believe the best training for writing a great novel is writing a crappy one. And then a better one, and a BETTER one, until you achieve Novel Nirvana and get published.

Karla wrote:

I LOVE Simple*ology! I am taking time out of my busy schedule to get it going — printing the books and binding them and everything. I think I’ll “get it” eventually, and I think it’s really going to help moody me on those days when I have a hard time focusing for the moping I’d rather do. The daily praxis rocks. And I am learning what things I have in my life that drain me that I didn’t even realize did!

I love it too. I’ve always been quite productive, but I have been noticeably more productive since I started that strangely-named-but-oh-so-useful Simpleology 101. Part of what I like about it is that I am absolutely certain every day that I’m on the right track to reach the goal that’s most important to me right now. Because if you do that pesky Daily Praxis in Simpleology, you know what you want and you are on the shortest path to reach that goal. (There is no guarantee that you’ll reach the goal, of course. But being on the right path is a good thing.)

Donald wrote:

I understand the point that Brausch is making, and the motivational and psychological reasons for his argument. But he messes with the language irretrievably. “Try” of course means that one is acting, though it’s a word that captures some ambivalence about either one’s level of commitment to the action (or to achieve the goal that will result from the action) or one’s uncertainty about the prospects for success.

Brausch is making a point about the latter meaning. He’s saying “commit, darn it” — “stand up” in his lingo. And this is fair enough. We all need a kick in the pants sometimes. To put his idea in another context, seeing is believing, but sometimes believing is seeing, and it’s this latter aspect that Brausch is cheerleading about.

But to apply Brausch’s argument to the part of “try” that gets at uncertainty of outcome is foolish. Many runners compete in a race, but only one wins. They all tried to win, and took action to do so (by running in the race).

Randy sez: I hear what you’re saying here. The word “try” is certainly ambiguous. But I like his main point, which is that all too often, “try” is just an excuse for “not taking action.” If I ask my daughter to feed the cat, I do NOT want to hear her say, “I’ll try.” In that context (when it’s a simple matter of doing something she knows how to do), the words are just a lame way of saying, “I’m not going to do a darn thing.”

I’m guessing a number of you have seen the movie FACING THE GIANTS. It’s a “Christian inspirational football movie” if there is such a genre. The acting is kind of spotty, and it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of java, but I find it inspiring. There’s one scene that I really love.

The coach is telling his team how they need to commit to the team. He challenges the captain of the defense, a guy named Brock, to do the “death crawl” for 50 yards. (The death crawl is where you have to crawl on hands and feet–no knees can touch the ground–while carrying another guy on your back.)

Brock says he’ll try. The coach says, “No, I want your best effort.” Brock agrees to give his best effort. Then the coach blindfolds him so he won’t know how far he’s got to go and won’t give up until he’s totally exhausted.

Brock agrees to this while his teammates smirk. Nobody is taking this seriously.

The death crawl begins, and pretty soon Brock is getting tired. The coach keeps telling him, “Your best effort, Brock. Give me all you’ve got. Your best effort!”

This continues for yards and yards and yards. Pretty soon, the teammates aren’t grinning. They’re on their feet watching Brock crawl and crawl and crawl some more.

The coach is hollering, Brock is sweating. The coach hollers some more. “Give me all you’ve got!” He counts down how many more steps to reach the goal: “Ten, nine, eight, seven . . . down to zero.”

When he gets to zero, Brock collapses. He’s lying there gasping, asking if he made it fifty yards. The coach takes off the blindfold and says, “Look where you are, Brock. You’re in the end-zone!”

And he is. Brock’s gone twice as far as he thought he could. He’s learned that he can do amazing things, but “trying” isn’t enough. “Trying” would have got Brock 20 yards. Brock didn’t merely “try,” he acted. He kept on taking action–far beyond what anyone thought he could do. Except that darned coach, who knew all along what Brock could do.

Folks, don’t settle for “I’ll try.” Take action and keep taking action until one of two things happen:
1) You realize that the goal you chose is impossible, or
2) You realize that you don’t want this goal anymore–you want a different one

On Taking Action

I blog here five days per week, usually late at night Sunday through Thursday so the blogs appear for you Monday through Friday. So today is a day off for me, but I wanted to give you two links which I came across today:

First, a post today on one of the very few blogs I read. It’s a post by James Brausch on taking action. Take a look! I think you’ll like it. And no, I didn’t know James was going to blog on this when I wrote my blog yesterday. But he’s the guy I learned from on the subject of taking action.

Interestingly, Yvette left a comment today, which I’ll quote here in part:

Just last night my husband and I were priveledged to have dinner with James Brausch and his wife, the guy you mentioned in one of your earlier post. (We are both located in Costa Rica.)

We had a great time, and when I asked what it is he does, he says that he is an actor. He thinks of a product or idea, then acts on it. Of course he mentioned other things, but we all need to be actors to some degree.

Randy sez: Well said! James doesn’t “think about it” when he wants to get something done. He does it.

The other blog I’m linking to today is an interview with Dean Koontz on Novel Journey, which is a blog run by my friends, Gina Holmes, Ane Mulligan, and Jessica Dotta. Check it out! This may very well be the best interview I’ve ever seen. Dean is a Seat-Of-The-Pants writer, which is the right decision for him. As I’ve said many times, each one of us needs to use the methods of writing that work for us. And what works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but it has a chance.

Check out Dean’s interview. I’m gonna break early tonight and watch a movie!