Rowing in Summer Snowflakes

Design by PrinceofCanada, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, CC

Design by PrinceofCanada, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, CC

Hi everyone!

I’m going to do something a bit different today. Because I love to add value to my ROW updates, I’m sharing a segment of one of the most useful newsletters I subscribe to from Randy Ingermanson.

If you aren’t familiar with Randy, he is the creator of the Snowflake method of plotting/story design and the reason I’m sitting here today. A few years ago when I decided to re-initiate my writing dream, Randy served as a huge inspiration. I earnestly suggest subscribing to his newsletter (and scouring his archives) as it is always chock full of well-written, thoughtful, and versatile information. Subscription link is at the bottom of the post.

First, my ROW update.

1) Read through, analyze, and recompile all “Ben” material and be ready to start draft #4 by next Sunday. Word Count: 3828. While word count was not my goal this week, I did quite well. The words represent my notes, character expansions, scene snippets, and plot direction lines. I’m not quite through the process yet, however I’m excited by the progress. Goal extended through August 17th.

2) Spend 15-30 minutes a day, up to 3 hours a week, writing or editing blog posts. Ship (publish) when ready. This week ended up being busier than expected and I’ve not published any new posts, other than Writing Resources (which you should check out if you have a few minutes–tons of great information in there every week). Currently, I have a half dozen posts in various states of readiness and need to squeeze in a bit of time to complete one or two. Adjusted Goal: Focus 15-30 minutes a day, up to 3 hours, polishing started blog posts and get at least one published by this coming Saturday.

3) Draft & polish the first article belonging to “Project 2,” between Thursday and Saturday. I now have a draft of the first article belonging to “Project 2.” A partial success, and therefore an improvement. This week: Polish the first article belonging to “Project 2.”

Overall, I’m happy with the progress I’ve been making in spite of the chaotic schedule.

And now, here is the promised article by Randy Ingermanson on dealing with overwhelm.

Organization: Dealing with Overwhelm

Once in a while life feels overwhelming. It feels like everything is crashing in on you at once.

Like you’re spinning your wheels. Going nowhere.

I learned a neat trick a few years ago from Eben Pagan on how to deal with this. Eben teaches productivity techniques, and he’s good at it.

Today, I desperately needed Eben’s trick. When I logged onto my computer this morning, it told me that my external hard drive (the one that contains all my backups) was having problems. I ran some diagnostics and concluded that the hard drive really couldn’t be saved.

This meant a trip to town to get a new one. Since I live quite far away from civilization, this meant taking hours out of my day. Hours I didn’t have.

By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty depressed. I’d burnt a lot of time on an emergency and now I was way behind. And I had already been feeling stressed when I woke up, because there are a ton of things on my plate for this week.

I felt horribly overwhelmed.

So I tried Eben’s trick. Here it is, and it might work for you on a day when you feel like you won’t ever get caught up:

  • Open a new text file and start spilling your guts. Write down EVERYTHING on your plate right now. All the things that are stressing you because they need to be done today or tomorrow or yesterday. Don’t get fancy here. You don’t need an outline. Just dump it all on the page in whatever order things come to you. You can also write how you feel about each thing on your plate. If you’re dreading it, say why. If you’re mad at somebody for pushing this task onto you, say so. Get it out.
  • Stop when you run out of things that are overwhelming you. This will typically run a page or two. You might be surprised that your feelings of being overwhelmed tend to decrease with each item you write down. Mine do. It’s a nice feeling to move the anxiety from your mind to the document. When you finish, your mind should be clear and you’ll have a document that contains all the things that are making you crazy. Yes, it’s a big horrible plate. Admire just how horrible it is for just a minute. Be astounded at what a tough life you live, you brute, you.
  • Find all the tasks in your document that you can reasonably knock off the list TODAY and put each one on a new line and mark it with one asterisk. You might want to pick out all the crappy little tasks that you’ve been putting off that really don’t take much time. Knocking off a bunch of those all in one day really feels good, especially if they’re things on your Dread List or your Hate List.
  • Find all the things you can reasonably get done this week and put them on their own line, marking them with two asterisks. Don’t get too optimistic here. If you KNOW they have to be done this week or you’re certain that you can work them in, then mark them. Otherwise, don’t.
  • Everything else is stuff you aren’t going to do this week. Either it’s not important or it’s not urgent or it just can’t be done this week. Put each of these items on its own line and mark it with three asterisks. Now give yourself permission to forget about all the three-asterisk tasks for this week. Don’t worry about losing them. You’ve got them all written down. Next week, when you look at this document, a LOT of things will be crossed off. Your plate will seem a lot more manageable.
  • Now collect all the one-asterisk items together into a single list and promise yourself that you’ll do every single one of them today. This should be a much shorter list than the original big horrible plate that you started with.
  • Do everything on the short list today. It’s a short list. You constructed it to be precisely the things you can reasonably get done today. So it’s doable. Go do it. When you finish the list, you’re done for the day, even if you finish early. Reward yourself with something nice — a walk or some reading time or the magic beverage of your choice.
  • Tomorrow, look at all the items with two asterisks and choose a few that you can reasonably get done in one day. Then do them. You know the drill here. Don’t overbook yourself. Keep the list reasonable. Do it all. Reward yourself. Keep doing this every day for a week.

By next week, your dark and dreary world will look a little brighter. You’ll have knocked off a lot of the riff-raff stuff. You’ll be ready to tackle some of the longer-term items. You’ll feel like you’re finally getting some traction in your life.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed next week, repeat the process. But I would bet that you’ll feel LESS overwhelmed next week than this. After a few weeks of this, you may actually start feeling human again. And your plate will start looking less ridiculous.

Remember that you aren’t ever going to get it all done. Modern life is too crazy for that.

You may find that some tasks keep getting three asterisks week after week, forever. If they aren’t really important to you, then why keep lugging them along? At some point you might want to cut their vile throats. When the time is right for this, you’ll know it. Keep your knife sharp.

If you’re wondering whether this actually works, all I can say is that it works for me. This article was one of the things that got one asterisk today.

Now it’s done.

It feels good.

I’m going for a walk.


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 over 5,000 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

End Disclaimer.

And the link to the ezine:

Make sure to get out and support your fellow ROWers–it may be the best visit many of us get this week.

Peaceful Journeys!

About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. “Only the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,” sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
This entry was posted in ROW80 Updates, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Rowing in Summer Snowflakes

  1. Marcia says:

    Great job, Gene! You made terrific progress again. I love that post by Randy! It’s the simple solutions we forget when we’re stressed. I’m off to sign up for the newsletter! Thanks and good luck in the coming week!

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Simple solutions tend to be the most effective. This is one reason I find Randy’s posts so useful, he keeps it real for all of us. I hope you enjoy the newsletter as much as I do. Thanks for the support, Marcia. 🙂

  2. Shah Wharton says:

    I just came from Randy’s site after signing up, so thanks for the recommendation. I have Snowflake and his book for dummies (that’s me) so I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to look for a blog or other ‘Randy Resources’ 😀 Looking forward to the two free articles which come for subscribing. 🙂

    As always, you have made great progress. A mixture of awe, inspiration and envy rain upon me! 🙂 All the best for next week.

    Shah X

    • Gene Lempp says:

      I have Randy’s “Fiction Writing for Dummies” book as well, quite useful and well-grounded in the basics. His archives are packed full of advice on pretty much every subject applicable to the writing life, mechanics to marketing to manuscript. Thanks much for the support, Shah. 🙂

  3. Good job on making so much progress despite all the other stuff you have going on!

    As for the Ingermanson article, I have to wonder, is it wrong that my first thought about his hard drive woes was: “He can do without a backup drive for a couple days – why not order from Amazon, and save a lot of time and probably some money too?” LOL! Although wow, what a great article! It had never occurred to me – definitely going to try that next time the overwhelm creeps up on me! Thanks for sharing!

    • Gene Lempp says:

      LOL! I thought the same, however, I’m under the impression that Randy lives a bit away from civilization and perhaps it was less expensive for him in time and money to just go get it himself. He is also a physicist, so waiting on backups is likely not something he would be comfortable with. Glad you found the post useful. Thanks much for the support, Jennette. 🙂

  4. shanjeniah says:


    I am so happy for you! Sweet spots where things are moving along are delightful.

    I live a pretty flexible life, but i do tend to get a kind of hormonal overwhelm (especially this month, when there’s an unschooling conference and a potentially crazy-making amount of homeschool paperwork to complete.

    I tend to breathe and internally remind myself that I will do enough, each day…

    But I like the possibilities of this method, and I can see how, at least for me, the setting-down of the tasks and the feelings could also lead me to new writing…so a bonus benefit. =)

    I’ve been meaning to check out your Writing Resources…and now there’s something else, too…

    Is it wrong that I’m feeling just a tiny bit overwhelmed by all these opportunities to learn? =D

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Not at all. While learning is one of those things we should all strive to do constantly, the opportunities to learn are as countless as the stars. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the rush of opportunities, focus on those things that seem relevant to your current path and needs in life–at least that is what I do.

      Like everyone, I tend to over-plan how much I can accomplish during any given day. To me, this causes a greater sense of overwhelm than anything else. Because of this, having a few plans in mind for dealing with the excess is a prudent idea.

      I’m glad you found the article useful, and with extra benefits! Thanks for the support, Shan. 🙂

      • shanjeniah says:


        I’ll go one better – I think learning is something we all do constantly. We’ve just been conditioned to look at only a very narrow spectrum of all that as learning.

        I do tend to focus on what will work for me and fits my right now…but I am learning greedy, and I want more than my cup can hold! =D

        I also have that tendency to overestimate what I can fit into each day. I’m learning to adjust by using a rotating cycle rather than a daily to-do list. So far, it’s helping.

        I always enjoy visiting you, and I think I find as much support as I give!

  5. I have heard a lot of good things about Randy I.just may have to add him to my To Read list, my very long To Read list. Congrats on your progress this week, Gene. Happy ROWing!

  6. Pingback: Creative Time Travel: ROW80 Update, August 14, 2013 | shanjeniah

I'd love to chat with you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s