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.