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.


  1. Tami Meyers October 29, 2007 at 11:37 pm #


    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!

  2. Debra Ratcliffe October 30, 2007 at 6:06 am #

    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.

  3. Daan Van der Merwe October 30, 2007 at 6:07 am #

    I began my first novel during April 2006. I never had any doubt that it would become an international best seller within 18 months. During July 2007 I gave the first 5 chapters to my brother for his opinion.

    He complimented me on my creative talents but outrightly warned me that my Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was as marketable as a contraceptive to a eunuch. He firmly suggested the I seek help on the technique of fiction writing, so I subscribed for your August E-zine.

    I can’t believe that I have been studying the craft for only 3 months. Thanks to Simple.ology (I’m now at day 7) my target of mastering the craft is clearly in my sights.

    I have finished “Fiction 101” so the past weekend I have printed all the E-zines prior to my subscription. Already in the very first issue, March 2005, I read your interview with John Scott Bell which to a freshman is of course highly educational, particularly his advice on dialogue.

    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.

  4. Lynn October 30, 2007 at 6:14 am #

    The last few months have been an explosion of learning for me. I have a better idea of how to fine tune my writing; I’ve learned the value of critique groups; and I’m better at building mrus, scenes, and a storyworld.

    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.

    Being focused? When the kids started school in September I knew if I were to accomplish all the things I needed to, I would have to set specific projects/goals for specific days. I couldn’t just spend 15 minutes on this or 30 minutes on that because it would take that long just to get into “character”. I needed to spend the hour to two hours before school focused on one project. Then the two hours at nap time on the same, if it wasn’t completed. Then to be sure I met my obligations, each week I would commit a “day” (a total of maybe 4 hours if I was not interrupted) to a specific project. This has been working.

    I’ve cut back on the nonfiction writing – it pays but I find I don’t love it the way I love fiction. I’m commited to getting DMB published, and working to that end.

  5. Karla Akins October 30, 2007 at 6:24 am #

    My action plan is to keep studying the craft while I work on novels in my head and on paper. That is because I currently write biographies for kids and have had deadlines in relationship to those.

    I am also Mom to kids with disabilities, a pastor’s wife, and I run a school. With so many other full-time jobs, I guess until I hope to “retire” from the school in Fall of 2009, I keep working on my projects. My main plan at this point is to write at least three hours a day. That means I sacrifice a lot of free time.

    I also do NaNoWriMo each year. This gives me a new novel to get started on paper and in my head. Maybe that’s a bad thing, but I hope to refine them, one at a time, beginning in my “retirement” in 2009.

    One of the luxuries I allow myself each morning is to tune into this blog and get motivated. Sometimes I’m reading it in the middle of my students’ asking me a million questions, and sometimes if I can, I wait until my short break and read and reply. If I’m really blessed I get to it before school starts!

    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!

    So I compartmentalize my day. As a pastor’s wife, Mom to kids with disabilities, housekeeper, head teacher at a school and a writer, I have to. But one thing I do each day is write. It is the one thing in my life that keeps me sane, I think!

    I don’t know where that puts me exactly on the Freshman/Sophomore/Junior ladder, but I have a feeling I’m a little bit of each one.

    Thanks, Randy, for being my teacher!!! 🙂

  6. Anna October 30, 2007 at 6:29 am #

    I try not to work on more than one project at once, but there are several times that I have wondered if I could pull of writing two books at one time. Basically my action plan is to keep writing this one until I’m sick of it and it’s as perfect as I can get it. I hope to finish it early next year…do you recommend writing more than one project at a time?

  7. Mary E. DeMuth October 30, 2007 at 6:41 am #

    Randy, as you know I’ve been learning A LOT about the marketing end of writing. I posted about all the stuff I’ve mastered these past few months here: http://aratus.typepad.com/tma/2007/10/pebble-turning-.html

    Because of what I’ve learned (and boy did that involve a LOT of action and trying things I’ve never tried before), I am much more efficient in this part of my writing.

  8. Sharon Cargo October 30, 2007 at 7:38 am #

    Hi Randy,
    I have learned a tremendous amount about time management and goal setting through your e-zine and blog but this week in San Diego county has taught me that one’s first priority is to get your relationship with God straight. I was able to drive two miles through a burning inferno to evacuate and stay calm and directed because I knew if I died I would be going straight to heaven. The main thought preocuping my mind was if my car burned up, so would all 4 copies of my just completed novel. Sitting for days in the stadium I did absolutly nothing for probably the first time in my adult life. Sometimes stuff happens that we don’t plan, but ultimately God is in control. I realized that my left behind to-do list included nothing of eternal significance. Not that we get to heaven by any other means but by God’s grace, but Bible study, memorising verses, and charity work are now on my list.

  9. Yvette October 30, 2007 at 8:35 am #


    The “Clean up your Act” has helped me tremendously. I have and am still cleaning up my work space, I feel more organized, got rid of those extra e-mail addresses which I don’t need and only take up time.

    I plan to finish Fiction 101 within a few months, and have nearly finished my basic writing course.

    The most important thing that has happened to me, my mindset has changed, and am very optimistic about my future.

  10. ML Eqatin October 30, 2007 at 9:04 am #

    Randy, I have been greatly helped by the teleseminar on speaking. The part I needed most was the whole fee schedule thing, since I am basically trying to revive/rollover the speaking I used to do ‘free’ (to promote my defunct product, llama packtrips) into speaking for pay and to sell books. The beginning was to write a book suited to my audience. And then along came Mary’s information on how to set rates.
    So when the usual request came for me to show up at a school with a llama for Halloween (I did this a lot when my kids were in school, but now I only have so much time and no packtrips to sell) I immediately suggested that I would do it at half-rate if the teacher would set up another speaking gig. I had just prepared a packet with info on my book, and that got passed around the teachers, and next thing you know, I have a spring gig setup for the whole school. And I’m thinking about special speaking subjects tailored to different schools — like one of my novels is set in Granada, and that is the name of a local high school. (Don’t ask me why, but that had never connected in my brain as a possibility.)
    It also really lights a fire under me; if I can get the book ready by spring, plus another project I have in the works, I might leapfrog that into all the schools in our area. Your comment on the guy who leveraged school speaking into success for his book has got me strategizing along those lines. After all, I’ve been the local llama lady for twenty years; they already know who I am.
    Another thought is to repurpose some old marketing literature and make that a book too.
    Yep, the old juices are churning. Thanks.

  11. Sheila Deeth October 30, 2007 at 11:40 am #

    “Don’t settle for try” really got to me. I’ve decided to define more things as “doing.” e.g. sending a short story to an ezine is now “doing” something, instead of just “trying” to get published. I can’t influence the getting published bit, but I can commit to sending at least one item to at least one person per week. So now I’m not “trying and failing.” I’m doing something about it.

  12. Robert Treskillard October 30, 2007 at 11:49 am #

    Thanks for your answer to my question, Randy. That makes a lot of sense. I had not considered how my attitude about my own book could make a publisher turn off from it. I guess we need to not just have a good book, we need to be excited about it, too. “Write what you love!”

  13. bonne friesen October 30, 2007 at 5:16 pm #

    My action plan for getting serious about writing has been as follows:

    1. Listen (with or without “notes”) to Fiction 101 enough times to catch it. It’s been three times all the way through now, going over Scenes and Sequels and MRUs many more times than that.

    2. Sign up for a writing class. I’m half done my first semester, enjoying some of the stretching involved, resisting others. Learning how to workshop and give valuable feedback to other writers is good. Not sure I will take another semester.

    3. Developing writing buddies. I found another commercially-oriented fantasy writer in my class and we plan to continue sharing work when we’re no longer classmates. We already meet together every other week. Also meeting other writers through Nanowrimo events, we’ll see what develops there.

    4. Doing Nanowrimo. I discovered this about two weeks ago. Since then I’ve been spending 2-3 hours a day Snowflaking by the seat of my pants! Biggest regret so far ~ not having a storyworld already developed. I’ll definitely have to go back and fix that later. In the meantime it’s been a terrific exercise in structure, and I’m now filling in my spreadsheet with Scenes and Sequels. I will know how to go about it better next time. The discipline and wordcount goals for Nanowrimo are also intrinsically valuable.

    5. Maintain writing blog

    Future Plan:

    Keep writing every day for 2 hours
    Go through Fiction 201
    Finish Institute of Children’s Literature course (begun a decade ago, but they said they’d take me back!)
    Go to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference next October (closest one to me, and sounds good)
    Start developing speaking platform, revisit “Clean up your act” and the Branding seminar.

    That’s the plan. It’s a little intimidating to see it all in a row like this, but at the same time amazing to see how far I’ve made it down the list in the last 6 months

  14. DC Spencer October 30, 2007 at 5:25 pm #

    I’m working on my masters in creative writing, writing a novel, teaching 6th grade full time and speaking at women’s retreats, so my time (like every other writer) is fractured. I also write short nonfiction pieces, interviews and a column for a local midsize daily. I know it’s all too much, but I do one thing at a time, except for the novel – it comes in spurts with the masters program and is the ultimate project for the Master of Fine Arts degree. However, it helps to make a list of things I need to do. I prioritize them, and then start attacking them one at a time. I usually let deadlines be my guide. What is due first, then next?

    I won’t let myself wait until I have time to write the novel, because I will never HAVE TIME. I have to bludgeon it out of every evening at home.

  15. Pam Halter October 30, 2007 at 5:55 pm #

    Two things have caused me to change in the past few months. The first thing is finding the genre that works for me. The second is working closely with a better writer. Besides learning more about the craft, I am now confident that my story is good, and I believe it will be my break out novel.

  16. Pamela Cosel October 30, 2007 at 9:46 pm #

    I took a bold step last week and submitted three proposals to be a presenter in 2008 at a Christian writers conference (while I yet work on writing projects: a screenplay and children’s fiction series). I think my topics are good ones, so we’ll see what happens. I presented two years in a row at a state conference about 10 years ago when I held a job as community relations director for a non-profit. Submitting the proposals gave me a great sense of accomplishment, even if I’m not selected. Keeping my fingers crossed and my prayers out there!

  17. Debbie Allen October 31, 2007 at 7:01 am #

    In the Fall of ’06 I began to write again, as a motivation for my two teen girls who love to write. I outlined a novel that expanded into a trilogy. I worked sporadically on this for a year as I began to seriously study the craft of writing.

    Sometime during the Spring, I came across your site, and the article helping you decide if you’re a Freshman, Sophomore, etc. This was really valuable to me, helping me to have a vision for where I am and where I’m going. I also decided to set aside the trilogy, as they are much harder to sell as a first-timer.

    September ’07 saw me buying and reading several books on writing that were recommended by you and other writers. I began teaching a writing class for homeschooled teens (essentially regrgitating what I was learning- very effective for my own writing!). Last week I taught them about Scenes and Sequels- the looks on their faces as they ‘got it’ were incredible!

    I woke up 9/19/07 with a story idea. In the last month it has been Snowflaked, and has grown to 30K. If I can keep up my pace of 7K a week, it will be ready for editing by Christmas.

    I’m submitting the synopsis and first 15 pages of this WIP to a local writing contest to practice the submitting process and get a couple of critiques.

    I’m saving up for Mt. Hermon in March.

    I’m gathering local writers for a potential crit group.

    Future Plans:
    Start a blog related to my platform: pure fiction- books for teen girls with an emphasis on purity
    Begin speaking at homeschool support groups and submit articles to homeschool and teen magazines.

    Note to YA writers: Homeschool families are voracious readers of excellent fiction. Find out if there are support groups/coops in your area. They would love to have you speak, and you will win lifelong readers. Homeschool conventions are held all accross the country, and you can rent a table in the Exhibit Hall to sell books and meet readers. If you have a platform, you can ask about giving a seminar.

  18. R.J. Anderson November 3, 2007 at 4:29 pm #

    Over the past six months I’ve benefited a great deal from the Snowflake lecture. I’d always hated the idea of outlining, believing that it would spoil my desire to write the book. But I made up my mind to give the Snowflake a try anyway, and I’m glad I did.

    I’ve found the Snowflake idea very adaptable to my needs, allowing me to go into as much or as little detail as I need to keep me on track. The novel I’m currently working on is quite complex, so I’m very glad for a detailed outline and plot spreadsheet to help me keep track of things — but because I haven’t written down everything about the story, I’m still making discoveries that keep me excited and interested in what’s going on.

    Thanks to the Snowflake, I was able to quickly write up an effective working outline for a sequel to an already finished manuscript, and my agent sold them both to HarperCollins in a two-book deal. I’m currently working on a third, unrelated manuscript (the complex one I mentioned above), and my immediate goal is to polish up the seven chapters I’ve written already, as well as my Snowflake outline, and send them both to my agent in hopes that we can sell the book as a partial. All very exciting stuff for someone who just six months ago was worrying that she’d never get published! So thanks for the information you’ve made available to other writers through your lectures and blog — it really does help.

    I’m also hugely indebted to you for linking to that interview with Dean Koontz a couple of weeks ago. I’d been feeling pretty discouraged about my writing methods, but knowing that he writes the same way I do and still manages to turn out books on a regular basis was very encouraging to me.

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