The Habit of making Habits ~ The Snowflake Guy

August 2020
I think many of us had to develop new habits because of the pandemic. So this post from 2016 might help to keep doing so.
January 2016

How is your writing going? Do you achieve what you have set yourself to do or are you behind?

Randy Ingermanson has written about habits in his latest e-zine and I thought I better share it with you:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 14,000 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.

I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Also, his newer articles can’t be re-published. Enjoy!

2) Organization: The Habit of Making Habits


If you hate New Year’s resolutions, you may be a little gun-shy about trying to make any changes to your life in January. Just on principle.

I don’t love New Year’s resolutions, since they rarely live to see February, and therefore seem a bit useless to me.

But I do like to spend some time around the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one mapping out my next year. Change happens when you plan to make changes, and January is as good a time as any to make those plans.

But change is hard. Change takes willpower. And you only have so much willpower to expend each day. So it might appear that you can only make a limited number of changes for the better, because eventually you run out of willpower to enforce those changes.

But that’s not true. Habits don’t use up any willpower. A habit is something you just do because it’s a habit. You don’t really have to think about it.

This means that revolutionary change happens when you launch a new habit. Because a habit is something that, by definition, lives on with you forever. It’s something you do routinely.

Effective people use their willpower creating good habits. They have a habit of forming new habits.

It’s often said that you can form a new habit in about 21 days. That may or may not be true. Different people are different. But it seems to me to be approximately true, so let’s run with that.

The technology for forming habits is pretty well-known. A habit needs three things in order to survive and thrive:


  • The Cue
  • The Routine
  • The Reward


The Cue is an event that reminds you of your habit. The Routine is the action you take when the Cue fires. The Reward is the payoff you get for executing the Routine.

Let’s say that you want to check e-mail at least three times per day—first thing in the morning, again at 3 PM, and last thing at night. And furthermore, you want to do what all the experts say, which is that you’ll work your in-box down to empty.

How do you set up that habit?
You need to define the Cue, the Routine, and the Reward. Here’s one way (out of an infinite number of ways) that you might do it:


Define the Cue: set an alarm on your phone to go off at exactly those times of day when you want to check e-mail.

Define the Routine: you promise yourself that when the alarm goes off, you’ll drop whatever you’re doing and check your e-mail. Furthermore, you won’t stop until the in-box is empty.

Define the Reward: you promise yourself that when you’ve worked through all the e-mail, you get to lean back in your chair, close your eyes, and listen to your favorite song on your phone, inhaling that sense of well-being that comes from having done a good job.

This is a good habit to have. It means that you’ll take care of your e-mail with reasonable promptness.

Now, you may already have a habit of checking e-mail whenever you hear a new one come in. And you may consider that bad, because it causes you to lose focus on what you were doing.

In this case, you might want to break this instant-response habit. How do you do that?

Start by figuring out what the Cue, the Routine, and the Reward are. Then figure out how to disrupt them.

The Cue is the little beep that your e-mail program makes when an e-mail arrives. You can disrupt this by turning off the beep in your e-mail program.

The Routine is that you stop whatever you’re doing and open the e-mail and read it. By disrupting the Cue, you disrupt the Routine a bit. But even without the Cue, you may periodically feel an urge to check your e-mail. The most effective way to resist this urge is by replacing the bad habit with a good one—setting up a good habit where you check the e-mail at set times each day. Then you know for sure that the e-mail will get checked.

The Reward is whatever psychological boost you get from having dealt with your e-mail. Again, by disrupting the Cue, you disrupt the Reward. And by replacing the bad habit with a good one, you switch out the Reward for the bad habit with a Reward for a good habit.

For writers, one of the best habits you can make is to write every day. (Or at least every working day.)

Writing a novel is a large project, not likely to get done in odd moments. If it takes 100 hours to write a novel, and you write for an hour every weekday, it’ll be done in 20 weeks, which is less than 5 months.

If you write for 2 hours a day, it’ll be done in half that time.

Do you write every day?

Do you want to write every day?

If you do, then take five minutes right now to figure out how to make that a habit.

What Cue can you set up that will ensure that you remember to write every day? Can you set an alarm on your phone? If you write a daily To Do List, can you make a To Do List template so that the first thing on the list every day is to work on your novel?

The Routine is pretty obvious. Choose how many minutes you want to work on your novel every day. Or else choose a quota for the number of words you will write every day.

What Reward can you use? Some writers keep a running spreadsheet that tracks the number of words they write each day. Filling it in each day and seeing that you’ve now worked 98 consecutive days on your novel can be a HUGE motivator to make sure that you work on your novel on day 99.

We’re now well into January, and I’m guessing the shine has worn off of any New Years Resolutions you’ve made. Don’t despair on those. Instead, turn those resolutions into habits. By defining a Cue, a Routine, and a Reward for each one.

And put a note in your calendar to reassess your habits once every quarter. Are there good habits you want to make? Are there bad habits you want to break?

Make a habit of making good habits.

 
~~~~~~~~~~~~

What do you think of habits?

Are they boring and hampering your creativity or do they help you to get writing done?
image of a butterdish with a blue and a green bird on it

Good Morning Writers ~ Randy Ingermanson on Social Media for Writers

Ok, I guess, nowadays every writer knows how to use social media for their marketing. Back in 2016 it was all still new and developing.  But Randy Ingermanson’s thoughts and suggestions still bear some weight. But first my thoughts on my writing from December 2016:

Good morning writers, bloggers and poets. How is your writing, blogging, versing going? Do you feel stressed because the holidays are coming up and all that present buying and baking is on the map and you hardly find any time for writing or is it going to plan?

I have become a lot more relaxed lately with my blogging. First of all, I have blog posts scheduled for nearly 4 weeks in advance so even if I can’t write anything there will be something be posted. However, no matter what I need to advertise for my posts to attract more readers.

Interestingly, Randy Ingermanson wrote about Marketing for writers and what social  media has to do with it in his November Newsletter.

(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.)
I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!

Marketing: What’s Social Media Good For?

Social media is widely alleged to be a powerful marketing tool for novelists.

Is it true? How would you know? What would that mean?

Let’s take these questions in reverse order.

Marketing is about selling your book. If social media is a powerful marketing tool, then using social media in the right way would get you lots of sales.

You know your marketing is working when you can trace the connection between your marketing and your sales numbers.

If there is no connection, then your marketing doesn’t work. If there is a connection, it does. Simple as that.

Whenever I put things this way, I quickly hear from people claiming that the world doesn’t work that way, because you can’t trace the connections between marketing and sales, because things are complicated, because … um, because.

My response to that has always been that if you can’t trace the connection between your marketing and your sales, then either you’re doing something wrong or there is no connection between your marketing and your sales. Which sounds like I’m raining on the parade, but I don’t think it’s raining on the parade to point out that there isn’t any parade.

A Case Study in Marketing Effectiveness

It’s useful to look at a case study done a few years ago by Darren Rowse at ProBlogger.com. Darren is one of the best bloggers in the world and he had a new product to launch. He used several different marketing tools and used standard tracking methods to trace that pesky connection between his marketing and his sales. You can read his article here.

Darren found that 3% of his sales came from all his combined social media efforts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus. That is not a typo. 3%. Three percent. You may be thinking, “What??? Only 3 percent?” The answer is, “Yes, 3 measly percent.”

Another 3% came from Darren’s affiliates—people who actively promoted his products in exchange for a percentage of sales.

Another 7% of his sales came from Darren’s blog posts. 7% is shockingly low, considering that Darren is one of the most famous and successful bloggers in the world.

So where did the other 87% of Darren’s sales come from? The answer is simple: E-mail. Darren made the overwhelming majority of his money from the e-mails he sent out, even though e-mail was just a small part of his marketing efforts.

In Darren’s blog post where he reported these results, he faced up to the obvious question: If social media doesn’t generate sales, then what’s it good for?

You can read his article to see what Darren thinks on the matter. I have an opinion which I’ll give you a bit further down in this article.

But first a little marketing theory so we have the vocabulary we need.

Basic Marketing Theory

Any working marketing strategy needs to achieve three things. If you do all three of these things well, you succeed. If you fail on any one of these three things, you fail. Here are the three phases of marketing:

  1. Attract
  2. Engage
  3. Convert

“Attract” means that you find a way to make people learn that you exist. There are 7 billion people on the planet. Most of them never heard of you and never will.

“Engage” means that you provide enough information to one of the people you attracted so that they know you’re a person worth listening to.

“Convert” means that you motivate somebody you have attracted and engaged to finally pull out their credit card and buy your stuff.

You can’t convert people you haven’t engaged.

You can’t engage people you haven’t attracted.

Attraction, engagement, and conversion can happen very quickly. It’s very possible to take somebody who never heard of you through all three of these phases in 15 minutes, as long as you do them in the right order and do them well.

What Social Media is For

Now let’s look at what Darren measured in his experiment. Darren was exclusively measuring conversion. He e-mailed, blogged, tweeted, Face-booked, and more—all in an attempt to get people to pull out their credit cards and buy his product. E-mail worked best for conversion, by a huge margin.

If you look at Darren’s explanation of what he thinks social media is for, it all comes down to attracting and engaging. Darren is a smart guy. I think he’s right.

So if you’re going to use social media, then focus your efforts on those two things.

Attract people to your web site, where they can sign up for your e-mail list.

Engage them so they know you’re a person worth listening to.

That’s what social media is for.

And by the way, you can measure attraction. You can measure engagement. You can measure conversion.

The important thing to keep in mind is that these three things don’t ADD.

They multiply, because they happen in sequence:

Marketing Success = Attraction x Engagement x Conversion.

If any of these is zero, then your marketing amounts to zero.

If all of them are maxed out, then your marketing efforts are maxed out.

Homework

  1. What’s your marketing strategy? What do you do to attract? What do you do to engage? What do you do to convert?
  2. How are you measuring your attraction? How are you measuring your engagement? How are you measuring conversion?
  3. Which of these phases is maxed out and which isn’t?

Good Morning Writers ~ Tracking Your Time by Randy Ingermanson

I posted this article first in 2016 but Randy Ingermansons suggestions on how to track time for your writing projects just in case an agent asks is still worth reading. But first some words on my writing/blogging routine from way back then:

How is your writing going? Do you take a break every now and then or are you a ferocious writer? I need breaks when I blog or write. Regularly. But not necessarily in a given time schedule. When I feel I get tired and can’t concentrate anymore I have a break, have a cup of tea or do some gardening or housework. That grounds you terribly well and you can sort your thoughts and idea.

However, if you are asked to do a project or want to publish your writing you need to know how much time you need for it. Randy Ingermanson gives you some ideas:

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.

Imagine that your agent calls you out of the blue one day. An editor needs a book written to fill a slot in her publishing schedule. The first draft needs to be done in five months and revisions within the following three. The editor called your agent and asked if he had any clients who could meet the need. Your agent suggested you, and the editor would love to work with you if you’re willing to take the project on short notice.

Now the ball is in your court. Are you interested? Do you have the skills to write the book? Most importantly, do you have the time? The editor has made it clear that the deadline has no slack. Either you can meet the deadline or you can’t. Your agent needs to give the editor an answer tomorrow. What do you say?

You might imagine this never happens.

It happens all the time, somewhere in the publishing world. It happens once in a while to just about every professional author.

And professional authors know how to answer the question intelligently.

Really, there are only two possible answers:

1) “Yes, I have the time. The project will take me 80 hours to write and 50 to polish, and I have that much time in my schedule on a five-month deadline. Then revisions will take another 75 hours, and I have that in my schedule over the following three months.”

2) “No, I don’t have the time. The project will take me 80 hours to write and 50 to polish, and I don’t have that much time in my schedule on a five-month deadline. Not even close. Sorry, I can’t take this project, but thanks for thinking of me. Period.”

Either of these answers is acceptable to the editor. What’s not acceptable is door number 3:

3) “I don’t know, probably. I’m busy right now, but it sounds like a great project, so I’ll just make the time. I don’t know where I’ll find it, but I will.”

Why is that not acceptable? Because it’s nothing but smoke. Editors get smoke all the time from amateur authors. Amateur authors who miss deadlines are the reason that slots open up in publishing schedules, forcing editors to scramble. An editor expects better from a professional.

The reason professional authors can answer this question is because they track their time.

Maybe they use a spreadsheet.

Maybe they use some sort of time-tracking software.

Whatever. A professional author can look at her records and figure out how many hours she needs to produce a piece of work, based on past experience. She can look at her calendar and figure out how many hours she has available over the next several months. She can do the subtraction and come up with an answer—a yes or a no. She can do it quickly, without guessing.

And of course, she might still be wrong. She could break her leg next month and wind up short on hours. If that happens, every editor will understand. What an editor won’t “understand” is that an author said yes on an impossible project without having a clue that she couldn’t meet the deadline.

Some professional authors are fast and some are slow. That’s fine.

Some professional authors have a lot of time for writing and some have a little. That’s fine.

But every professional author knows if she is fast or slow, and she knows how much time she has for writing. Not knowing is not fine. Blowing smoke to get a contract is not fine.

Homework

  1. How much time did you spend writing last month?
  2. How much time did you spend writing so far this year?
  3. Are those numbers about what you had planned? (Say within 20%.)
  4. How many hours did it take you to write your last project?

If you can’t answer the above questions accurately within five minutes, then you need to start tracking your time. There are any number of tools you can use to do that.

If you Google the phrase “time tracking software,” you’ll find enough options to keep you up late into the night comparing all your choices. Because every author has different needs, there is no way for me to make a recommendation that would be meaningful to you, but the tool I use comes up on the first page of the Google search results.

Image of harvested field, line of trees in back and cloudy sky

World-Building & Social Networks with Randy Ingermanson

Hello, out there, all you creative writers. No, you haven’ missed about six months of this year or gone back six months. I first posted this article in December 2016, but find it interesting to see where I stand now.

I am considering myself a blogger now not a writer. And a poetess. What a lovely word. I still need a writing routine and I still struggle with it. But, on the other hand, I do produce blog posts so I assume I must be doing something right 😉

Well, here are my thoughts from four years ago and Mr Ingermanson’s ideas on creating characters.

Good Morning Writers,

How is your writing going? Are you still struggling with Christmas or Hanukkah obligations or are you relaxed enough to get back into your writing?

My writing life has to change and I am not sure I am up for it. It has occurred to me that blogging has stopped me from finishing several of my writing projects (a love story, a fantasy story and a sci-fi story) which actually are for my blog.

So I have used the holidays and the new year coming for overhauling my writing routine. Well, there is not much of a routine as I work flexible shifts but I am determined to develop one somehow.

Yes, I know some say that a routine is pretty much deadly for creativity while others say it is entirely necessary for creativity. I have come to the conclusion that both is true. Looks like I need a combination of both and I am working on it.

Blogging is easy. You can just get your words out and mostly you get instant gratification and feedback. Writing a novel or short story is harder work and lonely work and I try to get that shift from blogging to actually do some proper writing since some years.

One thing I feel I am not good at yet for my sci-fi and fantasy novel is world-building so Randy Ingermanson’s article about it came just in time.

I want to share it with you and hope it can give you some new ideas too:

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.

I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!

Craft: World-Building and Social Networks

There are three categories of fiction where world-building is very important:

  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Historical fiction

I haven’t written much on world-building, for one simple reason.

Most categories of fiction don’t require elaborate world-building. I like to write about things that apply to most novelists. So I’ve avoided writing about the topic, even though world-building has been a big part of my own writing life.

I’ve been thinking about world-building lately, and one aspect of it in particular: social networks.

We’ve all become intensely aware of social networks in the last few years because of social media. If you’ve been on Facebook long, you’ll notice that they’re pretty good at guessing who you might want to friend. They do that by looking at who are friends of your existing friends, and they apply a branch of math called network theory.

Network theory has developed massively in the last twenty years, thanks to the growth of the internet, which makes it possible to study in real-time the growth and structure of various real-world networks. Network theory is now widely used in biology and chemistry and physics and political science and economics and computer science and neuroscience and materials science … and, and, and. The list is long.

Social Networks in a Story World

The core idea I’ll talk about today is the importance of social networks in creating a large story world. Mathematicians recently mapped out the social network in Game of Thrones, trying to identify the main character of the series by using various ideas from network theory. You can see the large graph they created on this page.

Most novels don’t have anywhere near the complexity of this social network. But historical novelists routinely deal with social networks that are much larger. I’ve written three novels so far in my City of God series, set in first-century Jerusalem shortly before the Jewish Revolt. I’ll continue to write more books in that series, but I’m also working on a series set in Judea and Galilee a few decades earlier. Social networks have played a key role in working out the history of both series.

I started researching my novels back in the early 1980s, and I quickly felt overwhelmed by the enormous number of people we know about from the various historical sources—Josephus, the New Testament, the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, the Mishnah, the Talmud, various apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings, numerous other minor sources, and the archaeological record.

To help me keep track of everyone, I began mapping out the social network of first-century Judea. I started by making lists of the numerous social groups. I found three main groups of aristocrats, two main groups of priests, and three main religious sects within Judaism. These groups had subgroups. I learned that there were five kinds of zealots. There were two main schools of thought among the Pharisees, and each played a critical role in first-century history. There were four families of chief priests who dominated Jerusalem for decades, and one of the four families bullied the other three.

For each of these groups and subgroups, I made a list of every character I could find, along with key information about each—when he lived, where he lived, important things he did or was alleged to have done. In a patriarchal society, most of these were men, but I dug up information on as many women as I could find. Historical information is often fragmentary, but it was not uncommon for a single character to be named in multiple sources, which gave me a more 3-D picture. (You can often learn as much from someone’s enemies as you can from their friends.)

My lists grew to include 151 historical persons, and could easily have been two or three times as large, but I left out many minor characters and most characters born in the first century BC or outside of Judea and Galilee.

Benefits of Building a Social Network

This was a lot of work, but two main benefits emerged:

  1. By combining information about each character from all the available historical sources, I built up a broad picture of who these people were and what they were trying to do. There were often disagreements between sources, but there was plenty of agreement, and any conflicting data gave me room to get creative.
  2. By clumping together similar characters into the social groups they belonged to, I was able to guess at who knew who. Even if no source ever said explicitly that Mr. A and Mr. B knew each other, I could infer that they did if they lived in the same place at the same time and knew the same people. Because (as Facebook knows), a friend of your friend is likely to be either a friend or an acquaintance or at least somebody you’ve heard of.

Can you guess who was the most connected person in this story world, according to the sources?

No, it wasn’t Jesus of Nazareth. It wasn’t Julius Caesar. It wasn’t the historian Josephus. All of these were very influential. They all had many connections. But they weren’t the most connected person in the sources.

The most connected person in the sources was King Herod the Great. Herod was an immensely energetic man, a powerful soldier, a visionary architect and builder, a shrewd politician, and a paranoid family man. He married ten women and sired a number of sons eager to inherit his throne. He executed his favorite wife and three of his sons out of misplaced fears of their disloyalty. Herod was close friends with Marc Antony and Cleopatra and later switched his loyalty to their enemy Caesar Augustus. (When he did, he encouraged Augustus to ignore whose friend he had been and to instead consider what an excellent friend he had been. Herod was nothing if not an opportunist.)

Herod and his sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons were close friends of the emperors of Rome for more than a century. One of his grandsons, Agrippa, brokered the deal to crown Claudius as emperor after the assassination of Caligula. Several of Herod’s descendants are mentioned in the New Testament, and his great-grandson, Agrippa Junior, was a close friend of the historian Josephus. His great-granddaughter Berenike was a mistress to the emperor Titus, who was eleven years younger than her. She must have been amazing. Titus almost married Berenike, which means that a 51-year-old hot Jewish grandmother very nearly became empress of Rome. There’s a story there, no?

When writing my novels, whenever I’ve needed a new character to play some role in the story, the first thing I’ve done was to flip through my list of actual historical characters. More often than not, I’ve found a real person with a real name and a real history that I could pull into my story. Then I could skim through all the known facts about that person to suggest ways to connect that same character at other points in the story.

Homework

Historical novelists are notorious for doing way too much research and building far too intricate story worlds. Being a historical novelist is a disease, and there isn’t any cure.

Most novelists don’t need to map out their social networks in so much detail. Even so, it can make sense to ask a few questions about the social networks in your story world:

  1. What are the main groups in your story world? (These might be religious, political, professional, or some other sort of group. Each one might have subgroups.)
  2. What are the conflicts between the various groups and how did these arise?
  3. Which characters belong to each group and subgroup?
  4. What are the conflicts and rivalries between characters within each group?
  5. What are the conflicts between characters belonging to different groups?

Start a file to keep track of your growing social network. Work on it until you get tired of it. Come back to it when you need it. See what happens.

For Poets and Writers with a Blog ~ Ingermanson on Google Analytics

I shared this article first in August 2017. Many use Google Analytics successfully, but I have to admit I am not one of them. I guess Randy Ingermanson’s advice to read up on how to use it makes sense. Another point on my to-do-list 🙂

But feel free to make up your own mind.

Good Morning, Afternoon, Night (depending on where you are or when you read 🙂 ) Poets and Writers. Most of you have a blog and I believe that Randy Ingermansons suggestions about how to use Google Analytics could help you get more traffic.

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.
I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!

Marketing: Google Analytics

If you’ve got a web site then you need Google Analytics.

What’s Google Analytics? It’s a free tool created by Google that lets you track things that happen on your web site.

What kind of things can you track? Lots of things:

  • How many people visit your site.
  • How many pages they visit.
  • Which pages they visit.
  • How long they’re on your site.
  • How they got to your site.
  • Who sent them to your site.
  • Typical paths they take through your site.
  • Which pages they come in on.
  • Which pages they leave from.
  • How fast your pages load.
  • Which days of the week people visit most and least.
  • Tons more.

Installing Google Analytics

If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your site, it’s easy to get it going. Here’s what you do:

  1. If you don’t have an account on Google, (a Gmail account or a Google Plus account or whatever), go to plus.google.com and sign up for one. It’s free and all you need is an email address.
  2. Once you have a Google account, go to analytics.google.com and sign in.
  3. Set up your account to track your web site. You can find directions here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1008015
  4. When you finish the above step, you’ll have a small piece of code that you’ll need to insert into every page on your web site. The exact way to do this depends on how your web site was created. If you use WordPress for your site, then you can install a plugin and paste in the code there. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your web developer to do it for you. (Usually, your web developer should have done all of the above when they created your site, but if they haven’t done it, they can do it now in very little time.)

Once Google Analytics is installed on your site, it begins tracking visits immediately. The code that you inserted in every page on your site will send messages to Google’s computers to track site visitors. You won’t ever get any personal information on who these visitors were. But you’ll get statistical information on them as a group.

Using Google Analytics

Google Analytics gives you enormous amounts of information on what’s happening on your web site. That can be overwhelming.

Every web site is different, so it’s impossible to give out advice that applies to everybody.

Instead, I’ll give you meta-advice—advice on how to make your own decisions on how to use Google Analytics.

  1. Schedule a regular time to visit Google Analytics to review your data. If you’re obsessive, this might be daily, but that really only makes sense if your web site is earning you thousands of dollars per month. Decide how often you should visit Google Analytics (weekly, monthly, quarterly, whatever) and then schedule it. Mark it in your trusted system—your calendar or whatever tool you use to organize your life.
  2. On your first visit, give yourself an hour to fiddle around with Google Analytics and see what’s available. You can’t really break anything, so try things and see what you can learn. Make a list of the things that seem relevant to you. If you have a blog, then you’re probably interested in knowing how many people actually read it. If you link out to your books on the online retailers, then you probably care about how many people click those links, and which ones they click.
  3. On each visit, the first thing you should do is set the date range that you want to see data for. I typically just want to know what happened in the past calendar month or in the past 30 days.
  4. Next, work through your list of data that you care about. Are things improving? Getting worse? Staying about the same? Do you see any crises? (For example, was your site down for an extended length of time that you didn’t even know about? Has your bounce rate zoomed up to 100 percent? Is it taking an unreasonable amount of time for your pages to load?)
  5. Think for a few seconds about what actions, if any, you should take, based on what you’ve just seen.

If you decide that you need to become a guru in using Google Analytics, there are courses and books you can buy that will teach you vastly more than I know. I have no particular recommendations, but you can easily find them with any search engine and make your own decision on what would work for you.

How I Use Google Analytics

You aren’t me, so the data I’m interested in is not necessarily the data you’re interested in. But for what it’s worth, here are some of the things I routinely look at in my regularly scheduled sessions on Google Analytics:

  • What is the total number of page views I’ve had in the last 30 days?
  • Which pages are getting the most page views? Any surprises here?
  • What is the bounce rate on these pages?
  • What is the average amount of time it takes for pages to load on my site?
  • Since I have an online store on my site, I measure the conversion rate of my sales pages. The conversion rate for a sales page is the percentage of page views that result in an actual sale. I also look at the total number of visits to the sales pages.

I typically get close to 100,000 page views on my site each month. That’s a fair bit of traffic for an author, and not all hosting companies can handle that much traffic at a decent price. Also, not all hosting companies can deflect attacks by hackers well. Google Analytics has been helpful to me in the past in making the decision to switch to a better host—faster and more impervious to denial-of-service attacks.

For what it’s worth, I now use WPEngine.com to host my web site. They’ve proven to be both fast and secure, but they’re not cheap for low-volume sites. I’ve been very happy since switching to them. (In case you’re wondering, I have no affiliate relationship with WPEngine. They don’t pay me a single dime to mention them here, and they have no idea that I’m doing so.)

Homework

I’ll repeat myself, because this is important. If you have a web site, then you need Google Analytics. If you don’t have it installed already, do so. If you aren’t using it yet, schedule it as part of your regular routine.

Knowledge is power. Google Analytics is free and easy to use and gives you extraordinary amounts of information. Have fun!

Ingermanson on “Your Weekly Review”

Good Morning, Afternoon, Night (depending on where you are and when you read 🙂 ) dear Poets and Writers!

I have always aimed at organising myself better not only with writing but with life in general. In March 2017, I read an interesting article in Randy Ingermanson’s Newsletter “The Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine” about a tool he uses: A weekly review. There were times when I did that, however, life got in the way, and you know how that one goes :-).

So here are Randy’s thoughts and suggestions on organising your writing:

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.

I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!

Organization: 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.


And me too, because I shared it with you 😉

Happy Wednesday to you all, despite everything!


#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.
I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!

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.
 
I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!
 

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.
I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!

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.