I’ve been talking this week about that pesky time-management thing. This is something virtually all writers seem to struggle with. I know I do. But I’m getting better at it.
Getting it pubbed is a long term goal. Getting the 1st draft done is a medium term goal(?) So what would be a short term goal? Should I set up a daily word count goal? (duh) How can I enforce this?
Randy sez: Actually, a handy thing to do is to break it down a bit. The Simpleology guy says that when you’ve got a big target, what you want to do is work backwards from where you want to be to where you are now. So I put together a list of “how to get published” here. This shows the sequence of publishing your book, working backward from the day the book hits the shelves to the day you first began writing.
* Launch your first book
* Edit galleys on your book
* Work with publicist on campaign for your book
* Do revisions on your book after editor makes comments
* Send “polished draft” to your editor
* Receive phone call from editor buying your book
* Have your agent submit your book to publishers
* Get an agent
* Meet agents at writing conference
* Write a stellar proposal
* Polish your first three chapters
* Finish your novel
* Start writing your novel
* Design your novel (Snowflake it of course)
* Get an idea for your novel
* Finish your “Junior year” of learning the craft
* Finish your “Sophomore year”
* Finish your “Freshman year”
* Decide that you want to be a novelist
Now, many of you know that for me, this sequence took 12 years. That’s about 8 years too long, but that’s the way it was. Please notice that some of these elements are quick and some are slow. Some would be classified as short-term targets in the Simpleology analysis (something you can do in 1 to 10 days), and some of them are medium-term targets (you can do it in a few weeks to a couple of months) or long-term targets (might take 6 months to a year).
For example, deciding you want to be a novelist takes a very short period of time. Getting an idea for a novel might be a few days. Designing it takes a few weeks. Writing it takes months. Working through your Freshman year generally takes 6 to 12 months.
Of course, you can try to take the steps out of sequence. This usually works about as well as trying to take Calculus before taking Algebra and Geometry and Trigonometry. You can do it if you’re a genius, but you are just wasting time if you’re not.
Note that the longer-term targets on my list above need to be broken down. You can break down each of this using the same Backward Planning technique.
Camille, I don’t know exactly where you are on the list, but what I want to tell you is that the shortest path to your ultimate goal is that list. That goes for all pre-published writers.
It’s tempting to say, “But that’s gonna take years!” Yes, it takes years to get published. You knew that. I’ve been saying that for . . . years. There is no reason why anyone reading this blog could not be published five years from now. You just need to decide to do it, and then take action.
M L Eqatin wrote:
Randy, I presume that when you refer to “Thinking about it,” you mean just the cliche, not the action.
Randy sez: Yes, I’m referring to all substitutes for taking action. If you ask your son tomorrow morning to mow the lawn, and tomorrow night you ask if he mowed it, which of these answers do you want to hear?
a) I thought about mowing it.
b) I worked on mowing it.
c) I didn’t know how, so I got someone to teach me.
d) I mowed the lawn.
Ideally, you want to hear (d). If not, then you want to hear (c), but you never want to hear it again, and the next day, you want to hear (d). If you hear (a) or (b), then the brat is blowing smoke and you know it.
When I ask someone how their novel’s going and they say, “I’m working on it,” or “I’m thinking about it,” invariably that means they’re not doing anything. If they say, “I’m reading Dwight Swain’s book to understand MRUs,” then I know they’re improving their craft. If I hear, “I wrote three chapters last week,” then they’re DOING IT. That’s taking action.
I got an email a few weeks ago from a guy in Nigeria. He said that he came across my Snowflake idea last December. He started writing his novel in January, finished it in February, found an agent in April, sold his novel to Hyperion in July, and is now working on another one. That’s taking action! (Don’t ask if I verified any of these actions; I can’t and haven’t.)
I assume you mean “thinking about it”, as in the vague, wishy-washy sense, a procrastinator’s favorite tool in which there really is no clear, focused, structured thought toward a specific end. “Have you decided what you’re going to do yet?” “Uhmm, I’m thinking about it…”
Randy sez: Yes. I am not putting down thinking. I believe in planning ahead (and putting it down on paper). I am against covering up for inaction by claiming that you’re “thinking about it.” You, the writer, know perfectly well whether you are really taking action.
Okay. I confess I’ve been “working on” my new novel. The problem is, for this book I’m going to have to do some extensive research (something I don’t have a lot of experience doing) and research feels like such an abstract thing to me. I did list a few things I need to know more about, but how would researching a novel break down into tasks to qualify as a primary goal?
Randy sez: I’m sure we’ll talk more about research later on, so I’ll be brief. I recently spent a few weeks doing research. That’s because it was first on my task list for my next novel. Let’s use Backward Planning again. Here are some steps you can take, in reverse order of how you would do them:
* Declare your research “finished.”
* Read the last book on your list of books to read.
* Read the next to last book on your list.
* Read the first book on your list.
* Get on Amazon and make a list of books to read.
* Identify the topic to be researched.
Instead of books, you may need to substitute web research or interviews with real people or whatever. But making a list is a powerful tool to getting a big project done. You can always revise the list as you go, but make a list and then get cracking on it. Take action. If your list is not a list of actions, then revise it until it is. If you don’t know what to put on the list, figure out who knows what should go on the list and ask them. There is always some action you can take. Take it.
Take action! Don’t settle for “thinking about it” or “working on it.”
For more about Backward Planning, do the Simpleology thing. It’s good. It’s free. It’s pretty darn powerful. It’s what I use now and will continue using until I find something even better.
Daan Van der Merwe says
Thank you very much Randy. I found EVERYTHING said above, very useful and encouraging
In the words of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, ‘I’m just spit balling here’, but you know, that Nigerian fellow’s story might well be true. I say this for two reasons.
1. The Snowflake Method is indeed extremely helpful, particularly to freshmen. I have experienced this myself.
2. I’m beginning to believe (with all due respect), that the third C (connections), may not be as important in South Africa as it is in the USA. I further believe that this is due to the fact that there are per capita many more talented fiction writers in America than there is in South Africa, not even to mention a country like Nigeria.
Three weeks ago, after completing Step 7 of the Snowflake Method, I wrote to a South African publishing house, asking them if they would require a proposal before consider looking at a draft. Although I did not really expect a response, they responded within 3 days, giving me complete details of there requirements for submission of a manuscript.
Daan Van der Merwe says
Sorry! Please substitute ‘there requirements’ with ‘their requirements’.
Kevin Anderson got a phone call once from a guy who wanted help publishing a book. The guy hadn’t even started it. Kevin went on to say gwtting published is like getting an Olympic Gold. An Olypiad trains usually from when they are kids, they are incredibly focussed, they don’t do it alone, they have a coach. It takes dedication and sacrifice and there’s no guarentee they’ll be chosen to represent their country. Or, if they are chosen, that they will win. Food for thought.
Sarah Stockton says
Actually, deciding to be a novelist (that is, fully committing to it) and deciding on the story for a novel, all took a couple of decades- not a short time. I had “issues” as they say, with claiming the identity of a novelist. Actually writing the novel is moving quickly by comparison- 1,000 words a day or so without fail. This is true for a couple of reasons: a) I wrote successful non-fiction for several years first, thus learning the art of craft and discipline and b)I am more aware of the swiftness of life passing. I just grew beyond my own stonewalling. I guess everyone’s process is different- what’s important is to commit, then act, as Randy says.
Pam Halter says
“Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” 1 Cor. 15:58 The Message
I taught a Bible study yesterday to my writer’s group on this verse. Everything Randy is teaching us about the process is not a waste of time or effort if we are serious about our writing.
Research, developing characters, learning the craft, brainstorming ideas, joining a writer’s group, setting priorities … I could go on and on. All these things will make you a better writer and your story will be richer.
I finished my middle grade fantasy last week and have spent one solid week rereading and editing. My writing partner has gone through it and given me great suggestions. It’s a strong story, and I’m waiting to hear from an agent now. It’s taken me 2 years from the idea and beginning to write to now. That beats my first middle grade novel by 5 years. That’s encouraging.
Thanks, Randy, for pouring yourself into us. I’ve learned a lot from you, and I’m sure everyone else has, too. Together, we’ll change CBA!!
You know, it seems so simple(ology?). I wasn’t thinking of my research as a series of books to read and/or websources to check. I don’t know WHY I wasn’t. I guess the obvious answer was so obvious I overlooked it. Anyway, your advice is very helpful. I’m actually pretty excited now about making a plan for my research much like I’d plan a novel.
You are so right, taking action is the most vital part if we want to accomplish anything in our lives.
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.
I have printed your list above and this will help me in accomplishing my goals.
Thanks Randy. I think you’ve identified my problem (one of them 🙂 ).
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?
Debra Ratcliffe says
Well, I’m convinced to try simpleology again. I have 101 and 102 but I had to put them on a disc when my computer began having serious problems and I had to back everything up then remove everything to lessen the load on it. I’m hoping it will work to reload from the disc. Some programs have turned out to be just shortcuts to the internet. I have missed this blog because there is so much good advice on it. I’m presently using a diary but I’m not likely to keep looking forward in a diary to a goal. I’m looking for something that is there in front of me every day and I can’t miss it. I suppose the simple way would be to just put up a large sign.
Debra Ratcliffe says
Actually, I put up your list too, Randy.
Karla Akins says
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!
Thanks, Randy! What an awesome teacher you are and what a blessing, too. I am learning so much from you and I am so thankful God sent your blog to me! He is so good!
One thing I think I need to do is make a list of the books on the craft of writing that I have that I need to study. If I don’t write them down, I think they’ll just keep gathering dust. Oh, if only I had months to read them all! 🙂
My hard drive crashed so I’m hoping I can find my Ficion 101 disk — it did come on disk, didn’t it? I want to go back and listen and learn again as well as 102.