#ThrowbackThursday: Randy Ingermanson on Organising your Writing Day

This post was first published in August 2017:
Today I share an article with you that I found rather interesting in Randy Ingermanson’s Newsletter, that I receive every month:
  
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visitwww.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Organisation: Attacking your Day!

Getting stuff done is a matter of attacking each day like it’s an obstacle course in a mud run. Because that’s pretty much what it is.

You can attack your day any way you like, based on the way your brain is wired and your own personal style of getting stuff done.

Today I’ll toss out for your consideration the way I attack each day. If you see some ideas that might work for you, feel free to use them or adapt them to your own way of doing things.

As I’ve noted in previous columns, I manage my tasks and projects in Evernote. (A “task” is something you can do in one sitting. A “project” is a collection of related tasks that may take days, months, or even years to complete.)

Evernote is great for keeping track of all my pending tasks and projects. Each task or project can be in its own “note” that can be assigned to a “notebook” of pending tasks or projects. When they’re completed, they can be moved to a new notebook of completed items.

However, for keeping track of what I actually did in my life, I keep a work journal in Scrivener. Scrivener is a word-processing tool in which you can work on many text files, folders of text files, and folders of folders, as a single project.

I have a 2017 folder at the top level which contains a folder for each month. Each month’s folder has a text file for each date, and in that text file, I track what I planned for the day and what I actually did.

Scrivener has a very nice template feature. You can create text file templates that are structured exactly the way you want them. I have a template named “Daily Plan”. Every day when I sit down at my computer, the very first thing I do is open my work journal and add a new text file to the current month, using the “Daily Plan” template. Then I fill it in, based on what current tasks and projects I have pending in Evernote.

My thinking is that a Daily Plan needs to give you context on the big picture of your life. So my Daily Plan has some standard things to remind me of exactly what my big picture is. Here are the five items that show up in my Daily Plan:

  1. My Life Theme
  2. My Learning Project
  3. My Monthly Habit to Build
  4. My Plan for This Quarter
  5. To Do List

Let’s talk about each of those in turn.

My Life Theme

You should know what it is you want in life. When you die, what do you want people to say you achieved?

You need to spell this out in words. A simple statement that reminds you every day why you’re here.

My preferred way to do this is with a sentence that goes like this:  “I want to be the best ____________ on the planet.”

Fill in the blank with whatever’s appropriate. If you want to be the best writer of Amish vampire science fiction novels on the planet, then fill that in. That’s a nice tight niche. (A friend of mine seems to already owns that niche, so find your own.)

My Learning Project

I’m a strong believer in continuous improvement. In constantly learning some new topic to the level of mastery or at least a high-intermediate skill level. Every month, I choose a new learning project. Sometimes this carries over to the next month.

I like to have a reminder of my current learning project in my Daily Plan. Just to remind me of What This Month Is All About.

Some months, I abandon the learning project if it seems to be going nowhere. But other months, I keep at it the whole month.

Your learning project can be anything you want. This month, I’m studying a book on nonlinear dynamics. Yes, really. No particular reason, other than it explains lots of things about the way the world is, and because it’s math and I like math.

I suspect you’re not so interested in nonlinear dynamics. No worries. Find something you are interested in and GO GET REALLY GOOD AT IT.

My Monthly Habit to Build

There’s a sense in which you are the sum of your habits. The truly exceptional people I’ve met all seem to be people who work hard at creating habits that make them better people.

They don’t rely on motivation, which is nothing but a damned fickle emotion that will only carry you for about three days, if you’re lucky.

They rely on habits. When your motivation is dead, your good habits will carry you through without effort, because a habit is by definition something you do routinely, without thought or effort.

Every month, I choose a new habit to build. This may be a new exercise habit or a new work habit or a new leisure habit. Whatever. It’s something that I want to do every day that will make me a better person.

In the best case, it takes about a month to build a new habit. So ideally, you can build twelve new habits in a year. In theory, that would be incredibly amazing.

In practice, it can take longer than a month to really get a habit rooted in place. But it’s worth it. If you were to create even six new habits each year, in five years you would be an amazingly different person.

My Plan For This Quarter

I wrote about the value of creating a quarterly plan in this e-zine in October, 2016. The title of the column was “How to Keep Focused”.

I strongly believe this is a powerful way to keep you on track. Every quarter I make a new list of a few projects that I want to achieve in the coming quarter. I’ve learned not to get too aggressive in this plan, because that gets discouraging.

Once you make a quarterly plan, you need to keep that in front of you. I do this by writing it up as a text file in Scrivener. Then I embed it in my daily plan using a Scrivener Link.

Every day when I fill in my daily plan, I see a link to my quarterly plan. I can click on that and a small document pops up to remind me what I’m trying to get done this quarter.

That serves as a constant reminder that I need to keep making progress. Small steps every day, or at least most days, will get you there.

To Do List

The very last item in my Daily Plan is a skeleton To Do List. This is actually not a list of tasks, but a list of projects, and it’s normally filled in with the three big things in my life.

The first of these is writing. My Daily Plan tells me I need to be writing two hours every day. That’s my quota. Once in a while I miss the quota. Most days I make it. Some days I exceed it. Writing every day is a good habit to build. In my journal, I track how many hours I worked and what my current total word count is on my project.

The second project I work on (almost) every day is my day job. Most writers I know have a day job. Mine is demanding and intellectually challenging, and I like it that way. It also puts bread on the table, and I like that too.

The third project is labeled “Total World Domination” which has the coolest label because it has all the things I have a hard time getting done. Administrative stuff and web stuff and marketing stuff and yard stuff.

It’s not that I can’t do these or I dislike doing them, once I’ve got started on them. What I don’t like is starting them. I have a high “activation energy” as one of my biochemistry friends puts it.

I usually write in several subtasks under Total World Domination to let me know the things I’m going to work on today. Usually this is not a long list, but I want to know the high points.

The Automatic Journal

It can be useful to know what you did on any particular day in the past. The way to know what you did is to keep a journal. My Daily Plan is not just a planning tool—it also gives me a pretty good idea of what I did on every single day since I started keeping it, which was in 2013.

There’s no extra work involved here to keep a journal. I just keep the Daily Plan, labeled by its date, and I automatically have a journal.

Homework

  • Do you have a daily habit of making a Daily Plan?
  • If not, do you want to make a daily habit of making a Daily Plan?
  • What tool would you use to make your Daily Plan? (I use Scrivener, which is cheap and very powerful, but you can use anything you want. A paper notebook would work just fine.)
  • What time of the day would you create your Daily Plan? (Yes, in the morning, obviously, but what exact time in the morning, and what will prompt you to create it?)

That’s it. Don’t just seize the day. Attack the day.

#ThrowBackThursday: Ingermanson on Mapping our your Story

I am working myself through my old posts slowly but continuously and these articles by Randy Ingermanson on the writing craft are some of my favourites. Please enjoy! 🙂

Craft: Mapping Out Your Series

 
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
 

Readers like a series, so it’s good marketing sense to write your novels in a series.

But that raises a question. How do you map out a series of novels?

Mapping out one novel is hard enough that many novelists choose not to do it. They write their novels without a plan, and then work extra hard on the editing to build in a plan retroactively. That works for a standalone novel, and if that’s your style, then that’s your style. Do what works for you.

But can you get away with not planning a series?

The answer is that it depends.

There are two extremes in a series:

  • Each novel stands alone, and the series is essentially a collection of one-book stories built around a setting or a character. For example, the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child.
  • All the novels in the series work together to form one gigantic story. For example, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

If you’re writing a series of standalone novels, then you really don’t need to plan out the series. You can write each book as it comes along, and your instincts will guide you just fine. Romance series and mystery series often fall in this camp.

If the books need to work together to tell a larger story, then you’re going to need to plan things out in advance. But how do you do that?

There are two separate issues you need to think about:

  • The character arc in a series
  • The plot arc in a series

The Character Arc in a Series

Normally, a standalone novel shows a character making some fundamental change through the course of a book.

But that’s a problem in a series. If you show massive character change in Book 1 of your series, what do you do for an encore in Book 2?

The more amazing your character change in Book 1, the less room you have for character change in Book 2.

This tells us that we’re going to have to manage character arcs differently in a series than we would in a standalone novel.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to see how the masters of the craft have handled their series.

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien weaves together multiple story threads.  The story thread for the lead character Frodo takes up only a fraction of the total story. Frodo does change by the end—so much that he’s now too big for the Shire he loves. But The Lord of the Rings is a single story told in three volumes, not three different novels in a true series. Tolkien shows us one character arc for Frodo—strung out across three volumes where Frodo doesn’t get full air-time. If you’re doing a single story in multiple volumes, this is a good way to do it.

In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has the advantage that she’s starting with an eleven-year-old boy, so she has some room to grow him up to an adult. But even so, the changes aren’t radical. Harry is a decent kid at eleven, and he grows up into a decent adult with better control of his emotions. Most of his changes are what you’d expect for a kid growing into an adult. Of course, he has magical powers, and those get more mature through the series, but magical powers don’t make a character arc.

But something is changing in the Potter series.

What changes is the portrayal of the story world itself. Each book has a mystery to be solved by Harry, gradually revealing a much more complicated world than appeared at first sight.

In Book 1, the magical world seems small and childish. Fun and games. Yes, there are trolls to be dealt with. Yes, there are bad witches and wizards. Yes, there’s a bit of unpleasantness long ago with Lord Voldemort, but that’s all apparently in the past.

As the series continues, Lord Voldemort begins to make a comeback. And it becomes clear that those pesky bad witches and wizards are not merely naughty, they’re Evil Incarnate. The Death Eaters are growing in power. Lord Voldemort gets a body, followers, a government, a plan, a path to victory.

All of this takes time. It doesn’t happen all at once. Book by book, the story world grows up from a kid’s story into an adult’s story.

And characters who seemed in Book 1 to be one-dimensional are slowly revealed to be much more complex. As the series unfolds, we learn some major surprises about Sirius Black, Severus Snape, and Albus Dumbledore. Even Harry’s parents, James and Lily Potter, turn out to be more than we had imagined.

If you want to have a character arc in a series, that’s a good way to do it—you keep growing the story world and the other characters, and you make your lead character evolve along with them, bit by bit. Evolution, not revolution.

But a series is not only about characters. It’s also about plot. Let’s look at that next.

The Plot Arc in a Series

Plot matters in a novel. If there’s a higher-level story that guides your series, then your series needs to have a plot. How is it structured?

I believe it should be structured much like the Three-Act Structure in a novel, but with one important difference.

Let’s review how it works in a novel. In a novel, you think of your story as if it were the four quarters of a football game. We call the first quarter of your story Act 1. By the end of Act 1, your lead character commits to the full story. The second and third quarters of your story are called Act 2. By the end of Act 2, your lead character (and your villain if you have one) commit to some final showdown. The fourth quarter is called Act 3, in which you take your lead character through the final showdown to either victory or defeat, and then you wrap things up.

Now how do you structure the plot of a series?

Again you have an Act 1, an Act 2, and an Act 3.

Act 1 is the first book in the series.

Act 3 is the last book in the series.

Act 2 is all the books in between.

Note that this does not apply to The Lord of the Rings, which is not really a series—it’s one single story in three volumes. Act 1 ends at the Council of Elrond, when Frodo commits to taking the Ring to Mount Doom. Act 3 begins when he and Sam enter Mordor.

But it does apply to the Harry Potter series.

Act 1 ends at the conclusion of Book 1, when Harry defeats Professor Quirrell, but learns that the spirit of Lord Voldemort is in fact alive on the earth, and it means Harry harm. Harry realizes that he’s going to be in an ongoing battle with Voldemort, whether he likes it or not.

Act 2 covers all of Harry’s adventures in Books 2 through 6, up to the point when Professor Dumbledore shows Harry the only possible way to finally defeat Lord Voldemort. Harry must find and destroy all of Voldemort’s horcruxes—evil talismans that contain the shards of Voldemort’s shattered soul. Harry learns that if all the horcruxes were destroyed, Voldemort could at last be killed and he would stay dead.

Act 3 is Book 7 of the series, in which Harry and his friends search out and destroy one horcrux after another, culminating in a devastating discovery that forces the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort.

As I noted above, this is similar to the way the acts are structured in a novel. The only difference is in the proportions. Act 1 and Act 3 in a series are typically one book apiece, no matter how many other books are in the series. Whereas in a novel, they’re each very roughly a quarter of the book.

Homework

  1. Are you working on a series of novels?
  2. If so, do the novels in the series stand alone, or do they work together to form a larger story?
  3. If they form a larger story, how do you handle the character arc of your lead character? And how do you handle the plot arc?

Please stay a little longer and read about “Hot Beverages, Blogging and Changing my Story” on “The Bee Creates” at Weebly and my daily poem at Carol Anne’s “Therapy Bits“. Thanks.

#ThrowBackThursday: Ingermanson on How to keep Focused

Do you have trouble to stay focused on your writing? I have and so far I haven’t found a way to get around that. But it’s time to change being unfocused now!

“Trouble staying focused on your #amwriting? Here are tips on how to change that!”

So I’ve come back to Randy Ingermansons newsletter “The Advanced Fiction Writing” for guidance and I want to share this article with you:

Ingermanson on “How to keep focused”

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

How to Keep Focused

Half the battle is staying focused. With all the day-to-day chaos that comes with normal life, it’s easy to get off track and forget what you were supposed to be focused on.

Many people make an annual plan to get back on track at the beginning of each year. I’ve done this for many years, and I’m always struck by how different my year was from the year I’d planned. My most successful years have been the ones when I stayed on track. But it seems that most years, things got off track quickly and stayed off track for the rest of the year.

This year, I was a little tired of making an annual plan that didn’t pan out, so I decided not to make one. If you don’t have a plan, then you can’t get off track, right?

That turned out to be a mistake. By April, I felt like my year wasn’t going the way I wanted, but since I didn’t have a plan, it was unclear exactly what that meant.

So in April, I decided to do a quarterly review and make a plan for the coming quarter. I’m a fan of simplicity, so here’s what I did:

  1. I read through my personal journal for the past three months.
  2. I made a list of about three projects I’d like to get done in each of the four major areas of my life.

I made an aggressive plan for Q2, with a total of thirteen projects. I worked hard on some of them and not at all on others of them. The good news is that I actually completed two major projects in Q2 and started two others. That felt a bit like a success. But there were nine projects I didn’t start at all, so I wouldn’t call it a huge success. For me, the important thing is that I got two major projects completed, which was better than Q1. It’s a good feeling to complete something.

In my quarterly review in July, I made a plan for Q3 that was a bit less aggressive. It had only eleven projects. Q3 is now over, so I recently did a quarterly review and was surprised to see just how much I’d got done. This time I completed three major projects and made good progress on two others. I also completed several other major projects that were not on the plan but they came up so I tackled them. That still left six projects in the Q3 plan that I didn’t get to at all. Some of those are now in the Q4 plan, and some of them I’ve decided are less important.

My Q4 plan has twelve projects. One of those is already completed and four are in progress. It would be great to get at least those four done by the end of the year. It would be even greater to get all twelve done, but I’m going to take what I can get.

One thing I’ve learned is that you lose track of a quarterly plan unless you keep it visible. But how do you keep it visible?

Here’s what I do: I have a template in Scrivener that I use to make a daily plan. It has a link to my current quarterly plan. Each day when I fill out my daily plan, I click that link and review the current plan. It takes only a few seconds, and it serves as a daily reminder of the big picture. And then when I fill out my daily plan, I’ve got some motivation to schedule time for the important projects in my life.

Homework

Are you keeping a daily journal of what you’re doing in your life? If not, start one. You can’t do a review at the end of the quarter if you have no record of what you did. A journal doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s enough to write a few sentences telling the things you worked on that day. I prefer an electronic record because it’s easier, but a handwritten journal would work just fine.

Do you have a plan for the current quarter? If not, make a list of the main areas of your life. Under each one, write a few things you’d like to achieve by the end of this quarter. Find a way to make it visible on a daily basis. A low-tech way to do this is to print it out and post it at your work area where you can’t help seeing it. The key thing is to look at it every day when you’re planning your day. Some days are crazy and you can’t possibly work on your important projects. But some days you can. If you take advantage of the good days, you can do amazing stuff.

Are you doing a quarterly review? If not, schedule one for a date near the end of this quarter. Some people like to take a full day for this. Personally, I prefer an hour, because I’m more likely to do it if it only takes an hour. Schedule it on your calendar. Then do it.

Thanks, Mr Ingermanson for helping us change and stay focused!

Related Posts:

A Scribe to describe: Focus: Bane of my writing

Shan Jeniah: Purposely narrowing my focus

But I Smile Anyway: #RiNoWriMo ~ The Finale #candothis? #Ididit!

Now go and focus

because

you can do it!

Ingermanson on Tricks how to get motivated

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Randy Ingermanson:

I did the following interview with Jim Rubart via Skype and then transcribed it. We started out talking about motivation, which is a terribly dull-sounding topic. But by the end of the interview, I realized I’d been thinking about motivation completely wrong. Here’s how things ran:

A Novel is Mount Everest

Randy: A lot of writers I know have a problem with staying motivated. Writers love writing. So when they finally have a chance to write, what is it that would cause them to lose their motivation?

Jim: They don’t realize what kind of mountain they’re climbing. They think it’s one of the hills in the Blue Ridge Mountains, when in reality, it’s closer to Everest. I love the old anecdote about the brain surgeon and the author who were chatting one day when the surgeon says, “I’m going to take six weeks off this summer and write a book!” The author looks at his friend and says, “What an amazing coincidence! I’m going to take six weeks off this summer and become a brain surgeon.” Writing is hard. Which is good news for those willing to keep climbing, because most toss their gear halfway up and trudge back down the mountain.

Randy: Yeah, come to think of it, I’d like to try brain surgery sometime.

Jim: Let’s do it!

Randy: You bring the brain; I’ll bring the knife.

Jim: Umm …

The Silent Killer of the Soul

Randy: I do think it’s true–writing a book is a major challenge. What keeps you going when you’d really rather watch Netflix?

Jim: There’s a number of specific techniques I’ve developed that kept me motivated early in my career and also ones I use now, but for the sake of brevity let me mention a quick thought that might help your readers, Randy. Regret is the silent killer of the soul. Whether it’s having that extra piece of apple pie when you’re trying to lose weight, or wasting time watching a show when you promised yourself you’d write instead, regret sits inside us and eats away at our spirit. So imagine yourself a day into the future. Maybe two days. And consider what you’ll be saying about yourself a day or two days from now. Will you be saying, “Well done, another ten pages closer to the dream!” Or, “Another nail in the wall between me and stepping into my destiny.”

Randy: So if I’m staring at the screen trying to get started for the day, how do I take the leap forward to type that first word? And what is this vendetta you have against apple pie? Apples are very nutritious.

Writing is Playing

Jim: I want you to know the rumors of me eating half an apple pie at one sitting are almost entirely false. When we were kids, drawing with crayons or building with Legos or creating tea parties with friends, we weren’t working. We weren’t judging ourselves. We were simply playing. Often I find writers staring at that screen, judging their words even before they’ve typed them. They’re working! Stop working. Start playing again. Create sandcastles and if you don’t like them, knock ‘em down and start over. Another way to say this is, “Kill the editor,” but it helps me more to think of being on the playground, reveling in the joy of playing with stories.

Randy: I think that’s really key. To remember that this is all about having fun. I went to my critique group last night and was kidding one of the writers about her tendency to judge her own work and prevent herself from writing. I told her, “Stop crushing your soul by telling yourself that your work is terrible! That’s our job!” And she laughed and promised to stop. But it’s a tough habit to give up–crushing your soul.

Jim: Yes!

Randy: But I like your insight there about playing. Great writing comes out of just playing around. Writing something that you don’t have to show anyone because it’s just for you.

Jim: Many people speak of getting great insight when they’re in the shower. Why? They’ve turned their minds off and ideas flow from their hearts. Same with writing. When we get past the mind, our heart often give us wonderful stories. Play gets us past our minds

Randy: Yes, showering, shaving, and driving–the three great fountains of inspiration.

Jim: You gotta do that book, Randy.

The 20-Minute Club

Randy: But I’ve also discovered that when I’m really angry at someone, that’s also a great source of inspiration. I used to tell myself, “Write your rage.” Meaning that if you find something that makes you angry, you can tap into that and say something deep. Of course, then you also have to tone it down a little, because raw rage is not all that interesting. It’s the thing that the rage drives you to say that’s interesting. Do you have an exercise to prime the pump and get you going?

Jim: For me, that binding, legal contract I signed with my publisher always seems to motivate … I think for many writers, the idea of completing a 90,000 word story is overwhelming. They see the hours and days and weeks in front of them and it becomes too daunting. The trick I used for myself was commit to writing just 20 minutes a day. That was it. I figured I could do anything for twenty minutes. Didn’t have to be good, no set word count, just give me twenty. I wrote the majority of my first book that way. So the exercise would be reduction to the ridiculous. For other writers it might be half an hour, others might say they can only do ten minutes. Great. Just do it. (And I probably should let you know that 20 often turned into 40 ‘cause I was having so much fun.)

Randy: That’s a powerful tool–setting the bar so low, making it so ridiculously easy, that you know you can jump it. Because once you’ve jumped it, you want to raise it a little and jump higher. And then you’re off and running.

Randy sez: This concludes the part of the interview on motivation. Let’s review the four key points Jim made that resonated with me:

  1. Writing a novel is a Big Project—an Everest. Don’t approach it like it’s a nothing-burger.
  2. Regret is the silent killer of the soul. Live your life so that your future self won’t regret what you didn’t do today.
  3. Writing is playing. If it’s not fun, then stop taking it so seriously and get back into making it fun.
  4. Set the daily bar low. 20 minutes. Or 500 words. Something so ridiculously easy that you can get started. Don’t be surprised if you jump FAR over that bar.

Ingermanson on “Doing Hard Things”

As a person who continuously struggles to get the balance right between family, work and creativity, reading this post helped to get some more motivation to just get on with it:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Organization: Do Hard Things

Everybody has projects in their life that they don’t want to tackle. Hard things.

Maybe there’s a part of your yard that’s overgrown with weeds, and it just gets worse and worse and worse every week.

Maybe your garage is overloaded with junk you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t even dare look at because it’s too depressing.

Maybe there’s a relationship in your life that’s gone south and it seems unfixable.

I call things like these “the swamp.” The swamp is any part of your life that you don’t dare touch because it just seems overwhelming. Because it’s too hard.

There are two ways to handle the swamp.

  • You can ignore it forever.
  • You can go through it to the other side.

Those are the only two ways I’ve ever found for dealing with the swamp. Ignoring the swamp is easy. Going through it is hard.

But doing hard things builds character. (It’s much easier to say this when you are not about to enter the swamp. But it’s also true, so it bears saying.)

Here are a few other things that are also true:

  • The swamp doesn’t go away by itself.
  • In fact, the longer you ignore the swamp, the worse it gets.
  • The only way to go through the swamp is to go through the swamp. You can’t go around.
  • The first time you go into the swamp is the scariest.
  • The swamp is never quite as terrible as it seems.
  • There is no feeling as wonderful as coming out on the other side of the swamp.

This is a short column because there’s really not much to say about the swamp. You can either hide from it or you can go through it to freedom. You get to choose.

Do hard things. The characters you write fiction about are in the business of doing hard things. The more hard things you do, the better you’ll be able to tell their story.

Homework

  • What is the swamp in your life, right now?
  • If you decided to go through the swamp, how long would it take?
  • How would you feel when you came out the other side?

Ingermanson on “Permission Marketing”

This post was first published in October 2017
You have written your book and it is published. Brilliant! Congratulations! But now comes the hard part: How to market your book. There are different ways of doing that and Randy Ingermanson suggests “Permission Marketing” as one way to success. Here is how:

 

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

 

Permission Marketing

Do you like marketing your fiction or do you hate marketing it?

Most authors I’ve talked to hate marketing their work.

Hate it, hate it, hate it.

The reason is simple. They think that marketing must be done intrusively, using interruption marketing.

Interruption Marketing

What do I mean by interruption marketing?

Let’s say you’re watching your favorite TV show. The characters have just gotten themselves into an impossible situation and you’re dying to know how they’ll get out. Exactly at that point, there’s a commercial break. Now you have to sit through an ad for a product you probably don’t much care about.

That’s interruption marketing.

Most marketing these days is like that. It’s annoying for two reasons:

  1. It interrupts what you were doing to hit you with an advertising message just when you don’t want it.
  2. The product being advertised is unrelated to what you were doing, so you probably don’t even care about it.

If you think that you have to market your fiction using interruption marketing, you’re naturally going to hate marketing, because you don’t want to annoy people.

Permission Marketing

But there’s another way to market your work that you might enjoy a whole lot more. The method is called permission marketing, and it was developed by marketing guru Seth Godin as a way to make marketing better for everyone. Better for the consumer; better for the marketer.

The way it works is pretty simple. You create something of value that you can give away free to people who want it. You send out the free information at regular intervals. Along with that free information, you include advertising for products related to the stuff you’re giving away.

This eliminates the two major annoyances we noted for interruption marketing:

  1. You send out the free stuff on a regular schedule, so it’s anticipated by the customer.
  2. The ads are for products that are relevant to the customer, because they’re much like the free stuff you’re sending out.

Why is it called permission marketing? Because the only people you send the free stuff to are the people who asked for it—by subscribing. And if they decide they don’t want the free stuff anymore, they can easily unsubscribe and then they never have to hear from you again.

Some Examples

A nice example of permission marketing is BookBub.

BookBub has a web site advertising good deals on e-books. On the web site, you can sign up for a daily email that alerts you to good deals on the categories you’re interested in. BookBub makes sure that the deals they’re offering are genuinely good deals—the prices offered must be quite a lot lower than the normal price, the deals must be for a limited time, and the books must be verifiably good reads.

BookBub subscribers know that they’ll get good deals in their in-box every day. They know that they’ll only see deals for categories they’re interested in. And they know that they can unsubscribe at any time.

All of which means that BookBub is using permission marketing to sell e-books to willing customers. You can bet that the people at BookBub don’t hate marketing. Because they know they’re giving something of value to people who want it. That’s a winning marketing strategy.

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine is another example of permission marketing. You subscribe for free and you can unsubscribe at any time. I give you free information on organization, craft, and marketing every month. And any products I mention in this e-zine are relevant to fiction writers. (Most often, the products I mention are not even mine and I don’t earn a penny from them, although I reserve the right to occasionally include an ad for one of my own products.)

Permission marketing is fun, because the focus is on giving away valuable stuff for free. Giving things away makes you happy.

But is permission marketing effective? Yes, it’s effective. I’ve found it effective anyway. This is now the 13th year I’ve been writing this e-zine. I’ve learned an incredible amount by writing the e-zine; I’ve made a ton of friends; and the money has been very well worth my time.

You might be wondering how you can apply permission marketing to the marketing of your fiction. One obvious way is to write a series and give away the first book in the series free. That makes you happy, because giving things away makes you happy. It makes your target audience happy, because everybody likes getting good things for free. And it’s effective, because if readers like the first book in the series, they’ll happily buy the rest.

Are there other ways to grow readership for your fiction using permission marketing? I believe there are many, and I plan to test some new ideas in the next year or so. If they pan out, then I’ll share the results here. If they don’t work, then I’ll be a little wiser.

Homework

  • Name some examples of permission marketing that have worked well on you in the past.
  • What did you like about these examples?
  • What did you dislike?
  • Can you think of some possible ways to apply permission marketing to your fiction?

 

Related blog posts:

The Weiver: Book Report ~ Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

Naina.co: #WTFNaina: Permission Marketing

Now go and market your book

because

you can do it!

Ingermanson on the “Luxury of not enough Time”

This was first posted in December 2017
Wow, dear readers 2017 is nearly over and it is that time of the year, you know, Hanukka, Bhodi Day, Yule, Christmas… . No matter if you are following any religious holidays or if you just have to deal with year-end stuff: December is always a busy month and this article by Randy Ingermanson fits perfectly in my opinion.
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Organization: The Luxury of Not Enough Time

When you don’t have enough time to do everything you want to do in life:

  • You have a good reason to cut out the less-important stuff in your life without feeling one bit guilty.
  • Which forces you to think about what actually matters to you and what actually doesn’t.
  • And leads you to make a conscious decision about how much time you’ll spend on each of the things that actually matter, even though none of them will get “enough.”
  • But that means when you finally get a chance to start working on each thing that actually matters, you’ll be desperately eager to get rolling because you know you can’t waste a second because you’ve only got so many minutes today that you can do this thing that you care about so much.
  • And it ensures that when each time slot is up for the day, you’ll be thinking “I wish I had ten more minutes because I didn’t have all the time I wanted today,” instead of “I sure hated that last ten minutes because I had too much time on my hands today.”
  • Which means you’ll be ending every single time slot in your day “wanting more,” rather than ending it “wanting less,” which is probably the best way to stay excited day after day after day about the things that really matter most in your life.
  • And it also means that every day when you wake up, you’ll be gung ho to get rolling on all the cool and amazing things you can do today in the limited time you have to do them.
  • Which is not a bad way to live your life.
  • And that means that not having enough time is a luxury that makes your life better, not worse.

You don’t have enough time for everything you want to do in life.

I don’t have enough time for everything I want to do in life.

Aren’t we lucky?

Ingermanson on “Why You Need A Weekly Review”

March 2019
I am a little more organised now but it’s still good to look back and learn 🙂
October 2017
Do you, like me, suffer from “organisation phobia”? You have brilliant ideas and even manage to write them down, however, when it comes to putting them into practice and organising yourself all hell breaks loose.
It is time to stop doing this to yourself! Now is the time to change and find a way fulfil all those writing dreams and I have the right man an article for you:

 

Ingermanson on “Why you need a weekly review!”

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

 

Your Weekly Review

If you’re serious about getting things done in your life, then you need to have a regular weekly habit of reviewing the previous week and planning the next one.

That sounds fun, doesn’t it? It’s right up there with changing the oil and cleaning the toilet on most people’s list of Things To Avoid Doing Pretty Much Forever.

Why You Need a Weekly Review

Here’s the thing. Your novel is not going to write itself. Big publishers are not going to throw money at you to write your novel. Truth be told, if your novel is never written, nobody will notice or care. (The good news—if your novel does get written, there’s a fighting chance that people will notice and care.)

The brutal reality is that if you want to get a good novel written, you’re going to have to do three things that are highly labor-intensive and that won’t earn you a dime up-front:

  1. Develop the skills to write a good novel.
  2. Write a good novel.
  3. Polish your novel.

I’m not trying to rain on the parade or tell you there’s no parade. There is a parade and it’s a good one. I’m trying to say that it’s a serious, major effort to make the parade happen, and you won’t get paid for it until very late in the game, if you ever get paid. You’ll need to spend hundreds of hours on this thing. Maybe thousands. You need to find a way to squeeze those hundreds of hours out of an already jam-packed life.

That means giving up some things. Saying yes to writing a novel means saying no to a lot of other wonderful things.

This could take you forever, or you could get it done in short order, and get your book out the door, and have it earning you money. The choice is yours, and a big part of that choice is taking control of your life.

I know some lucky people who are good at taking control of their life. I’m not one of those people. I have a lot of things going on in my life, and they all want to take control of me.

I deal with them by fighting back, and a big part of that fight is my Weekly Review.

The Weekly Review

This is not complicated. Once a week, (almost always on a Saturday afternoon), I sit down with my gigantic To Do List and work through it. I look at how I did last week, but more importantly, I look at what I want to get done in the next week.

There are three key questions to ask:

  1. What things are scheduled in already?
  2. What unscheduled things do I have to get done this week?
  3. What optional things do I most want to get done this week?

Questions #1 and #2 are key. Those are my constraints, because they tell me how many hours are already spoken for in the coming week. Question #3 then lets me pick out the optional things that I could reasonably get done.

Why is this useful? That’s easy.

I mentioned I have a gigantic To Do List. It’s uncontrollably large. But the key point is that every item on the list is tagged. I tag them with the time-frame in which I want to get them done. There are things I want to do “someday maybe.” There are things I want to do “this year.” Others that I want to do “this quarter.” Others that are “this month.” And a few that are “this week.”

The Weekly Review lets me keep the set of “this week” tasks down to a reasonable number. These are the things that matter right now. The other stuff will get done in good time, but just not right now.

What this means is that every day when I decide what I’m going to tackle today, I have a short list of things to choose from. I don’t have to look at the gigantic To Do List. That would be too cruel. All I have to look at is the items tagged “this week.” Every day, I choose a reasonable set to tackle. And it takes me five minutes, maximum, to plan my day.

I don’t have to wonder if there’s something coming up that I’ve forgotten about. During my Weekly Review, I already looked ahead and checked that. If there’s something coming up this week, my Weekly Review tags it as “this week.”

This is how I get stuff done without going crazy.

The gigantic To Do List will never go away. It’ll always be gigantic. It’ll always contain a bunch of pipe dreams that will never happen.

But the Weekly Review ensures that the things that are either urgent or important bubble to the top and get done.

No, the Weekly Review is not sexy. It’s not fun. But I find it absolutely indispensable. It takes about an hour each week, and at the end of it, I have some feeling of control over my life again.

Homework

  1. Are you doing a Weekly Review already? If so, congratulations, and you get a gold star. You might want to think about whether you can do it better. Maybe you can make a template for the Weekly Review so it goes quicker and so you never forget a step in your process. But if it’s working well for you, don’t change it. You’re good.
  2. If you’re not doing a Weekly Review, I’m not here to shame you. I’m here to tell you to do it, because it’s good for you. You’ll get more things done. You’ll be more in control. You’ll feel better. Really, you will. Now what day of the week can you schedule your regular Weekly Reviews? What time of the day should you plan on? How much time do you want to budget?
  3. If you don’t have any idea what to even do in a Weekly Review or how to get started, and you’d really like to punch me right now, that’s OK. Keep your distance, please, and go check out TheSecretWeapon.org,  which has a bunch of free videos on how to take control of your life. In an hour, you’ll know exactly how to do everything. That’s an hour well spent, and you may never need to learn one more thing about organization in your entire life.

This is not a feel-good article today, and my apologies on that. I’m not trying to make you happy. I’m trying to radically boost the chances that you’ll get your novel published someday.

You can thank me when you accept your Pulitzer.

Thank you, Mr Ingermanson for helping us along to get organised!

Related blog posts:

James Clear on Continuous Improvement

A Gentlewoman and Scholar on being productive even when you are sick

Cheryl Fassett on Finding what you did not lose

Val Mills on Daily Writing

Now go & organise yourself

because 

you can do it!

 

 

 

 

Good Morning Writers! ~ You Write what you Read?

December 2018
A good question don’t you think? Even though Randy Ingermanson asked it in 2014 and I did too. But it is still relevant, I believe!
August 2014
How is your writing going? Are you writing or are you on holiday? Or maybe you do both? I do, as it happens. Day job is off for two weeks, but as the best husband in the world’s back does not allow camping as originally planned we stay home and render Norfolk’s beaches uncertain ;-). Holidays are usually a time for excessive reading for me and a few weeks ago Randy Ingermanson’s newsletter was about reading as well. He voiced the opinion that as a writer you should read a lot. Not only what you like and what is “good” but all the opposites as well. Of course not too much of the bad stuff. Not sure if his newsletter helped me decide to give reading a certain time a day or if it was my Amazon Kindle Daily Deal binge a few Sundays ago. There are so many books I want to read, but I also love to spend time with the family and write and…. getting into a routine does help sometimes :-). I agree with Mr Ingermanson. Right now I am concentrating on both English and German classics as well as self-published authors. Besides all the technical aspects that I might (or might not) learn while reading it always gives me new ideas what to write about. And that for me is another important aspect
That’s why I bugger off and get a book and leave you to ponder Mr Ingermanson’s ideas about “You are what you read?”

Description for visually impaired readers: Illustration of three trees with differently coloured canopy on the left. In the middle black writing saying: Ingermanson on…

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 9,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visitwww.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Craft: You are what you read?

Years ago I was talking to a fellow novelist whom I’d just met and I asked him what his Top Five favorite novels were.

This is a question I ask writers a lot. I’m always looking for great books, and one place to find them is on the Top Five list of another writer.
This guy’s answer just about knocked me over. He said, “I don’t read fiction.”
I couldn’t believe it. I asked him if he meant he didn’t read much fiction.
No, he didn’t read any. He was a nonfiction kind of a guy.
He wrote fiction, but he didn’t read it.
That was years ago, and I haven’t seen anything from him recently.
To put it bluntly, I don’t see that as a recipe for success. If you’re a novelist, you need to be reading fiction.
There’s a saying that “you are what you read,” and I think this is partially true.
If you read great fiction, you’ll absorb some of it, and you’ll become a better writer. You’ll learn what’s possible to do in writing, and it can’t help but expand you as a writer.
But I think it goes beyond that. I recommend reading widely, even if it isn’t great fiction. Because the fact is that you are MORE than what you read. What you read is fuel for your mind—it’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.
Novelists need to be reading fiction. A lot of fiction. Not just the bestsellers. Obscure stuff. Good fiction. Great fiction. Horrible fiction (not too much of this—if you do manuscript reviews at a writing conference, you’ll see more than you need).
When you read other people’s fiction, you learn things that you couldn’t learn any other way. Because when it comes to the craft of writing, you don’t know what you don’t know. The only way to learn what you don’t know is by reading other people’s work.
For starters, you should read widely in your category. You need to know. the rules of your genre—which ones are ironclad and which ones can be bent.
But that’s not enough.
Read widely outside your genre. Read outside your demographic. Read outside your worldview.
Read romance fiction. Most novels have a romance thread in them, no matter what their category. If you can improve that thread, your story will improve.
Read suspense fiction. Most novels have some element of fear in them. Learn how to do that better and your novel will be better.
Read fantasy. Even if you, personally, would never want to read a vampire or werewolf story, it’s quite possible that one of your characters would. If you understand that character better, then you’ll do a better job writing that character.
Read mysteries. Even if you hate mysteries. Most novels have an element of mystery to them—some secret that needs to be uncovered. If you know how to unwrap that secret, one layer at a time, then your story can only get better.
Read a spy novel. One of your characters is reading a spy novel right now. Do you know what he likes about it?
Read a historical novel. The better you understand history, the better you understand the present.
Read science fiction. You might learn a bit of science, if it’s a hard science fiction novel. But for sure, you’ll expand your universe a bit. Never hurts.
Read YA fiction. It’ll give you insights into your younger characters. It might give you some insights into a few young adults in your life.
Read women’s fiction. If you’re a guy, you’ll understand women better, which is good all by itself. If you’re a guy writing fiction, you’ll understand your readers better, because the odds are that the majority of your readers are women.
Read fiction that features characters with wildly different beliefs than yours. I understand hyper-capitalists better after reading Ayn Rand. I understand Jews better after reading Chaim Potok. I understand Wiccans better after reading S.M. Stirling’s apocalyptic series that begins with Dies the Fire. I understand Muslims better after reading Khaled Hosseini’s book The Kite Runner. I understand fundamentalists better after reading the first book in the Left Behind series.
The better you understand your characters, the better your novel will be.
Read bad fiction. Yes, really. If you find a particularly bad piece of writing, read it all the way to the end. Figure out why it’s so awful. Resolve never to do the things that the author is doing.
I confess that I have a favorite bad novel, written by a high-school kid who graduated a couple of years behind me. This thing is fearsomely, wonderfully, amazingly awful. It’s bad on every possible level.
No, I won’t tell you the title. Find your own dreck. I’m keeping mine a secret. My family knows which book I’m talking about, and they’ve all read it. We sometimes quote particularly horrible lines at the dinner table.
There are a billion ways to write great fiction, but only about a dozen ways to write truly horrible fiction. Good writing starts by learning to avoid  that dirty dozen of Desperately Horrible Writing Follies.
If you’ve read some really awful fiction, I guarantee it’ll improve your writing. But there’s such a thing as too much of a bad thing, so stop when you’re had enough. A little goes a long way.
Read a little bad fiction and a ton of good fiction.
Reading fiction is the foundation of writing fiction. Make your foundation broad and strong.

INGERMANSON ON: Organization: The Magical Power of a Sprint

November 2018

This post was first published in March 2018

March 2018

It is Wednesday when I write this and I am rather anxious. Decided to go back to work tomorrow but haven’t heard anything from them yet and I could not get through either. Nervous, scared…..

Managed to write a German blog post but for the English one I get back to Mr Ingermanson’s brilliant newsletter that I suggest all of you writers out there subscribe to because there is so much more helpful material in it than I ever publish with his permission 🙂 :

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.


The big things in life are usually a marathon: Buying a house. Raising kids. Writing a novel.

You finish a marathon the hard way, one step at a time. There aren’t any short cuts. You just show up every day and do what needs doing and one day it’s done. In recent months, I’ve talked in this column about the extraordinary power of habits to tackle these big things.

The small things in life are often quick. Pay the Visa bill. Change the oil. Write a blog post. You can do them in five minutes, or fifteen, or an hour. Pow. Done.

You do the small things during the cracks in the day.

The Middle Zone

But there’s a middle zone of tasks that aren’t exactly marathons but aren’t exactly a five-minute thing either. They’re the kind of thing that would take all or most of the day. Cleaning out the garage. Zapping the moss growing on the roof. Setting up a web site.

These are too small to justify creating a habit to tackle the job. But they’re too big to fit into the cracks in the day.

These are the kind of things that sit on my To-Do List, festering for weeks. Or months. Or years. Maybe you know the feeling.

Beating the Middle Zone

So how do you tackle these middling kind of tasks that just never seem to get done?

You do it with a “sprint.”

A sprint is when you reserve a whole day to tackle just one thing.

You basically tell yourself, “If I get nothing else done today, I’m going to get that terrible task done.” Then you do it.

I remember a bit more than a year ago, I decided that the garage absolutely must be cleaned out. It was getting too horrible for words. So I declared one Saturday a sprint day. My wife and I started about 9 AM. We took everything out of the garage. We junked the junk. We cleaned the dirty stuff. We decided on a rational scheme for where everything was going to go. Then we put it all back in. We were done by 1 PM. Four hours of concentrated effort, and we knocked off a task that had been getting worse for maybe five or six years. The garage looked good when it was done, and it still looks pretty good now.

That’s the magical power of a sprint.

How To Execute on a Sprint

Sounds great in theory, right? So how do you execute a sprint?

  1. First, you have to make the decision that you’re going to tackle this problem at the next opportunity. Make a commitment that you are definitely going to do a sprint and beat this task into submission. At this stage, you don’t have to know exactly when you’re going to do it. You just commit to doing it when there’s a good opportunity. Put it on your To-Do List to “Find a date to do this sprint.”
  2. Second, you have to pick the date for the sprint and reserve it on your calendar. Good days for sprinting don’t come along often. Most of my sprints happen on a weekend. Occasionally I’ll do one on a holiday. And yes, I know it’s painful to take precious weekend time or holiday time to do dull work. I don’t like to do it, and I bet you don’t either. So I wouldn’t recommend doing a sprint at every possible opportunity. But when you’ve already made a commitment to do the sprint, all you have to do is check your calendar for a good sprint day in the near future and then reserve that day.
  3. Third, just do it. Grit your teeth and do the thing you committed to do, the thing you scheduled for a certain day.

Notice that step 3 is the easiest of the three steps. The hardest is step 1. That’s the reason that I shaved it down to the irreducible minimum, because it’s hard to commit. Once you’ve committed, it’s not so hard to actually find a slot on the calendar. And once you’ve put that terrible task on your calendar with a firm commitment to do it on that exact day, actually doing it is not so awful. My experience is that if I think it’s going to take the whole day, it often takes half a day.

It’s a good feeling to knock a task off your To-Do List that has been there for months or years. A really good feeling.

Homework

Is there a terrible task on your list that’s been sitting there for months, mocking you? If not, you’re an amazing human being and I admire you greatly. Or else you’re a bare-faced liar.

But let’s say you do have one of these terrible tasks. Do you really want to do it, or is it just there because you think it should be there? If you really don’t care about it, then cross it off your list because you’re never going to do it. Admit that you don’t care.

If you really want to do it, if getting that terrible task is in line with your personal values, then make a commitment to do it. Put a task on your To-Do List that says, “I commit to doing this task. Assign a sprint day on my calendar.”

Next, before this week is over, schedule the sprint day. Look at your calendar. Make a decision. Mark that day in.

When the sprint day comes, no weaseling out. Do the terrible task. Cross it off your list.

Celebrate. You did something good.


 

Fellow Blogger writing about Organisation:

A Gentlewoman and Scholar: Organisation