Interview with Randy Ingermanson – The Snowflake Guy


Debbie Burke



Randy Ingermanson AKA the Snowflake Guy

Brilliant people understand complex concepts. But, despite their superior intelligence, they often cannot explain those concepts to less-than-brilliant folks.

But Randy Ingermanson can. He’s brilliant but he has a simple way of breaking down the incomprehensible so we mere mortals understand what he’s talking about.

For those who don’t know Randy, he has a PhD in physics specializing in elementary particle theory. According to the bio on his website: “Most of my work was in nonperturbative methods in quantum field theory.”

Did that lose you? Yeah, me too.

When I Googled nonperturbative, I recognized three words in the definition: cannot be described. That’s for sure!

Yet…Randy, in his spare time, became a successful author of fiction and nonfiction as well as a sought-after writing instructor. His two-book Snowflake series and Writing Fiction for Dummies still remain in the top 100 writing reference books on Amazon many years after they were published.

Randy has the extraordinary ability to break down complex writing concepts into easily digestible bites. In addition, his step-by-step plan of action template helps writers track and accomplish their goals.

Randy graciously agreed to chat with us here on TKZ. Welcome, Randy!

Debbie Burke: Your day job as a physicist requires a lot of brain energy. You also keep up the Advanced Fiction Writing blog and write bestselling craft books. Plus you write multiple fiction series, some involving extensive historical research, including archaeological digs. And you have a family. Do you ever sleep?

Joking aside, your ability to juggle multiple projects is impressive. Can you share some hints on how you manage your time and prioritize tasks?

Randy Ingermanson: For a big chunk of my life, I didn’t manage my time very well. I took on too many things and then felt really stressed. But things began to change about 15 years ago when I read David Allen’s classic book Getting Things Done. I realized that I was doing things badly, and that’s the first step to doing things better.

One key thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you just have to prune things out of your life. That’s very hard, but over the last several years, I’ve cut back several parts of my life that I thought were essential. And nobody died. I have a theory that everyone has a set limit to the number of main projects they can juggle. My limit is three. Some people can do four, and I admire them to death, but I can’t do it.

Another key thing I’ve learned is that it’s OK to have a hundred things on your To-Do List, as long as they’re not all visible right now. So I have a cascading sequence of To-Do Lists, one for “Someday”, one for “This Year,” “This Quarter,” This Month,” “This Week,” and “Today.” Every Sunday, I review the lists and promote some tasks from “This Month” to “This Week”. Every day, I choose things from “This Week” to put on the “Today” list. The beauty of this is that a day is a success if I knock off all the things on the Today list. I only have to look at those 15 items and decide which to do next. I don’t have to look at the dozens or hundreds on This Week or This Month or This Year. Those will all get done in due time, but the name of the game is to not be overwhelmed. When you get overwhelmed, your brain goes into panic mode, you spend all day spinning your wheels, and you end up eating all the Haagen-Dazs.

I use a nifty method called “Kanban” to manage my tasks. (This is very popular among software developers.) There are a bunch of websites that let you set up Kanban projects. The one I use is at, and it works for me. But I recommend that people always use a tool that resonates with them.

DB: Writing a novel is a hard project. You have a wonderfully workable system for how to tackle hard projects. Can you explain the steps in that system?

RI: I wrote a blog post awhile back on the general problem of managing any hard project. I’ll refer your readers to that post here:

I’ve gotten extremely famous for my system for managing one particular hard project—writing the first draft of your novel. The “Snowflake Method” will probably be listed on my headstone. It’s a ten-step method I use for writing my first draft. I wrote out the ten steps back around 2002 in answer to a question somebody asked in an online writing group I was on. And some people liked the idea enough that I posted it on my website. And then it just took off. It’s now been viewed more than 6 million times and has earned me a ridiculous amount of money.

The core idea is that you design a novel before you write it. Some people hate this idea and would rather just write by the seat of their pants. That’s fine by me. Different people are wired different in the brain, and it doesn’t matter how you get your first draft down on paper. We all can respect each other and recognize that we don’t all think alike. The Snowflake Method happens to work well for about a third of the writing population.

You start by taking an hour to write down a summary sentence for your story. This will be your selling tool forever, so it makes sense to take a little time to do it. But don’t spend weeks obsessing on this. Write down your best one-sentence summary for now and then move on to the next step. You can always come back and improve it later. In fact, you certainly will.

The Snowflake Method has another nine steps, and I don’t have space to even summarize them here. But anyone can Google “Snowflake Method” and find my 3000-word web article or my 50,000 word book on the subject. If you like to know approximately where you’re going before you start writing, then the Snowflake Method is designed for you. If you don’t, then it’s not for you.



DB: Most authors dread marketing. What do you recommend as the most important marketing tools for a writer?

RI: I used to hate marketing. In fact, I remember the day I told an agent friend of mine, “I hate marketing! I’m a terrible marketer, and I don’t ever want to have to market my books again!” She got a panicky look on her face and told me not to say such things out loud, because the walls have ears. And she was right.

I now believe there are three main keys to good marketing for a novelist. I call them the Three Rings of Power. They are:

  • Your website
  • Your email newsletter
  • Paid advertising

Your website is important because you own it. Social media is notoriously fickle, and any social media platform can suddenly become unusable, for a variety of reasons. Various platforms can ban you, or go out of fashion, or start charging you. But you own your website and it’s very hard to take it away from you.

Ditto for your email newsletter. If you have a newsletter with 5000 loyal readers who know you and actually read what you send, you have a guaranteed bestseller, every time you launch a book. That’s gold.

Paid advertising is now just a fact of life. None of us like paying for ads, but they work. If you use Amazon ads and Facebook ads and BookBub ads and the various book promo sites effectively, you can move copies with a positive return-on-investment. I think TikTok will soon join this short list of paid-ad opportunities that authors routinely use.

So the Three Rings of Power are great, and I personally have done extremely well using them. However …

However, a lot of authors don’t see a good return on their investment for their website, their email newsletter, and their paid ads. Why not? Do the marketing gods hate them?

No, the reason is very simple. The Three Rings of Power are useless unless you also master the One Ring that Rule Them All. That One Ring is copywriting. The ability to write good headlines, strong sales copy, and a compelling call-to-action, all without smelling like a weasel. This is a fine line to walk, but once you learn it, you can apply it everywhere. To your website. Your newsletter. Your paid ads. And away you go.

As it happens, I began to learn copywriting shortly after I had my “I hate marketing” conversation with my agent friend. And that has made all the difference for me. In some sense you make your own luck in marketing, and my luck changed permanently when I took the time to learn how to write copy.

Copywriting is not particularly sexy or fun. But if you go to Amazon and do a search for books on copywriting, you’ll find any number of sources that will teach you the fundamentals. And then you just need to go do it, determined to learn it, no matter what.

Learn copywriting, and the Three Rings of Power are your servants, not your masters. Many Bothans died to bring me this secret.

DB: What are you working on currently?

RI: I read Steven Kotler’s book The Art of Impossible back in October, and it revolutionized my thinking. I decided that for the next few years, I’m going to focus on fewer things and do them better. I have a day job doing image analysis for a biotech company in San Diego, and that consumes half my life, because it’s a half-time job. I am currently writing a series of historical novels on the most influential person ever to walk the planet, Jesus of Nazareth, and that’s going to take me another three or four years to finish. And I’m working on a project I call “Project Chronologicus” that will combine my mathematical/computer skills with my interest in ancient history—it’s a project to harvest historical data from ancient documents and compute the best-fit chronology for ancient history. (This is a notoriously hard problem, too difficult for any human to solve without a computer; but my whole career has been spent solving problems humans can’t solve alone, so I may possibly be able to write the software to solve this one. And if not, I’ll have fun.)

 DB: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Any questions you wish I’d asked?

RI:  As Gandalf once said, you don’t know your danger when you ask a hobbit such a question, because the hobbit will go on endlessly. This hobbit will have mercy on you and just say no.


Randy, feel free to go on endlessly with all the knowledge you have to impart to writers! Thanks for visiting The Zone!

Randy’s Snowflake series

Advanced Fiction Writing blog

Randy’s website


TKZers: Have you tried the Snowflake method of plotting?

Please share your best tips for time management for writers.

38 thoughts on “Interview with Randy Ingermanson – The Snowflake Guy

  1. Randy’s Advanced Fiction Writing Blog was one of the first resources I chanced upon when I began my journey of learning the craft of fiction writing over ten years ago. I can say with all honesty that the lessons I’ve learned from him have become invaluable to my writing. It’s lovely to see him here on what is my current go-to blog for learning and virtual-friendship.

  2. Ten years ago, when I first began writing my first novel, I learned about Randy’s Snowflake Method. I’m always refining my process, but I still use a modified Snowflake Method. It does work.

    As a side note: Most of the scientists and mathematicians I’ve known have also been excellent and creative writers.

    • TL, those left-brain scientists and mathematicians like Randy are a huge help to organize the gibberish spewed out by right-brain pantsers like me.

      Taking a system that works for you and refining it is the way to be most productive. Thanks for commenting.

      • Years ago, I took one of those online tests to see whether you’re right-brained or left-brained. Turned out the two sides were almost evenly matched. This might explain why I never felt like I understood equations until I could see it as a picture.

  3. Great stuff. Besides checking out the Snowflake Method, I definitely will explore KanBan and copywriting. I think I’ve always assumed that if one can write novels and philosophy papers, copywriting can’t be much of a challenge.

    • My opinion is that copywriting is like duct tape and The Force. It has a light side and a dark side, and it binds the universe together. So I always feel a little wary when I teach elements of copywriting, because it can be used for evil. But it can also be used for good, so the best I can do is echo what Google used to say in the good old days: “Don’t Be Evil.”

  4. I’m a “hate marketing” person. Will have to delve into your copywriting suggestion. As opposed to copyrighting, which is where my not-awake brain went first.

  5. Thank you so much for hosting Randy, Debbie. He’s a bright man, for sure. I have two of his books – Snowflake and Fiction For Dummies and highly recommend them. Just a quick comment on copywriting which Randy is bang-on about. I spent 2 years writing web content/copy full time and I came away a far better writer for it. I did a KZ post on the process when I first started contributing here. Let’s see if I can find it… Yep:

    • Your post was a dandy, Garry. I esp. remember your quote: “Online audiences don’t really read–they scan.” That’s an important distinction.

      • Yes, I would agree. When I write blog posts or email or any online copy, I tend to make the first few words of each paragraph bold. Then I read down the page to see if the bold words make any kind of sense. Because a lot of skimmers are going to just read those bolded words. So they need to tell the story all on their own, or at least give the gist. Very often, I find that the first few bolded words are fluff words, and those need to be converted to non-fluff words.

  6. Welcome to TKZ, Randy! I found The Snowflake Method while writing my first novel, and was gobsmacked by the process. I joined your e-zine, followed your blog, consumed almost all your content. You inspired me to chase my dream, but you also gave me the foundation on which to build. Seventeen books later (and five trunked novels), I can finally say, Thank you!

    Debbie, thank you for an incredible interview!

  7. Wonderful post, Debbie and Randy. Thanks!

    One of the first books I read when I began studying fiction was Writing Fiction for Dummies. I keep a bookmark in the beginning of Chapter 18, because the chapter heading in the TOC and the chapter title itself does not mention “Snowflake method.” Otherwise you’ll have to look in the index to find it.

    And I do use a modified snowflake method for my planning and plotting. My method has changed as I’ve experimented, but I have drifted back to the Snowflake Method, brainstorm and scribbling on scrap paper for steps 1-3, move to Google Docs (so I can work online and Mac or PC) for steps 4-9, move to Scrivener for writing and editing, and finish up in Word for final editing.

    Thanks, Randy, for mentioning copywriting. That reminds me that I need to go back and study Garry’s post on copywriting.

    Good luck, Randy, with all your future projects. I look forward to your historical novel series.

    Thanks, Debbie and Randy!

    • Hi Steve: Writing Fiction for Dummies has succeeded beyond what I ever imagined (and I think it was a nice surprise for the publisher, John Wiley). It’s now gone over 100k copies and still going strong. As you note the Snowflake is very flexible, and there are probably as many versions of it as there are actual Snowflakers. I encourage people to adapt it and make it their own. In fact, I’ve adapted it myself over the years. True confession: The very first piece of writing I ever created with the Snowflake Method was in 1986 when I wrote my PhD thesis in a burst of blind panic. So it works quite well for nonfiction.

  8. Thank you, Debbie for this interview. What a gift Randy’s insights are this Tuesday morning. I’ve been floundering some lately with overly lengthy outlines, tons of revision notes, and a novel journal for my latest novel that’s longer than the novel itself. I’ve needed something to cut through the mental Gordian knot I’ve wound from months of revision.

    I did read his “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method” back in 2014 and found it helpful, but ended up going a different direction two years later when I wrote my sixth novel (the first one I published). I really appreciate the interview. It reminded me of his iterative novel creation method. This is the perfect time to revisit his approach.

    A quick visit to Randy’s website uncovered a 2018 post where he discusses revising your novel and discusses a reverse version of his snowflake method.

    Also, I agree 100% with Randy’s insights on marketing–his three rings are the key fundamentals.

    Thank you, Debbie and Randy!

    • Hi Dale: Yes, I’d almost forgotten the reverse-Snowflake method for revisions, which I sometimes call the Flowsnake. (Both terms stolen from the world of math.) I’ve found the Flowsnake incredibly helpful in resolving my feelings of absolute terror after getting an editor’s revision letter that began with the words, “Now don’t panic, but…”

  9. Randy, Welcome to the Kill Zone and thanks to you and Debbie for the wonderful interview.

    I used a modified version of the Snowflake method for my last two novels. I was also a great fan of Randy’s Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine, and I gobble up any writing advice he offers. (I’ll be reviewing books on copywriting today for sure.)

    On the fiction side of things, Randy’s “City of God” trilogy is one of my favorites. He made time-traveling back to first century Jerusalem thrilling. Maxwell’s equations among the ancients!

    Have a great day.

    • Thanks, Kay. I keep a file of Randy’s Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine. They were always chock full of information laid out in a way that takes readers by the hand and walks them through complicated processes.

      The subject line always sounded daunting but, by the time I finished reading his method, I came away thinking I can do that.

  10. Oh man…thank you thank you thank you, Debbie and Randy!

    I’m going to look into the copywriting gig for sure.

    (Randy, you had me at Many Bothans died to bring me this secret.)

    Sprinted over to your website and signed up.


    • Deb, the Bothans line made me laugh, too.

      Randy’s sense of humor is yet another reason why he’s such a great teacher. You’ll find lots of useful info on his site.

    • Hi Deb: I’ll just repeat the warning I gave in another comment. Copywriting can be abused by the unscrupulous. One value of learning how copywriting works is that you can more easily spot how it’s being used to manipulate you. When I write copy, I always ask myself if my copy is ethical. And if it’s not, I rewrite it until it is. You know the drill: Great power, great responsibility.

      • Randy, thanks for bringing that ethical distinction to our attention. I couldn’t agree more. Many people have been conned by clever, seductive words from a con artist that ultimately cost them dearly.

  11. Debbie, thanks for bringing Randy to TKZ! I’ve given his “How to Write A Novel Using the Snowflake Method” to several aspiring writers. Being able to see the Snowflake Method in story form helped me more than anything.

    I will definitely look up copywriting (like Terry, my mind went to copyrighting). And I think I took the same test you did–mine showed I was half and half. Now if I just had your brilliance.

  12. Great interview, Debbie! Eight years ago I decided I wanted to write fiction, because I love reading it. I’m an engineer with a lot of technical writing experience but knew nothing about the inner workings of story. I read WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES without knowing that craft books exist, because Randy obviously named it for me. I am forever in your debt, Randy, for teaching me the basics and imparting the belief, further fortified by the wonderful folks at TKZ and elsewhere, that I can learn to write fiction through study and practice.

    • LOL, I always hated the title, because it sounds like it’s about how to write fiction that dummies would like. And anyway, it goes against my grain to use the word dummy about anyone. But the title was chosen by the publisher before they found their author, who then asked me to come on-board as the second author on the team. My one condition for joining the project was that they would let me write a book that would cover the full gamut of fiction writing, a book that would endure. They were very happy with that condition. My only regret in the book is that it spoke the truth about self-publishing as it existed in 2009 and before. But the self-publishing world was already changing into a whole new thing, and that only became clear some months after the book was published. Facts matter, but the facts changed, and now I don’t do traditional publishing anymore.

Comments are closed.