"Choose a suitable design and hold to it."

I am a plotter. I think I've mentioned this before. I'm always amazed when I hear people say they just write by the seat of their pants. I can't even conceive of the idea of writing without knowing how something is going to end. Maybe it's my non-fiction background, or my academic bent, but for anything larger than flash fiction I have to have an outline. I think it was probably said best by those wise writing gurus Strunk & White. "Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur."

This is not to say that I'm never carried away by a scene or character into something that I hadn't foreseen or planned. Much of the Alex Budge parts of The River Maiden were expanded based on the strength of the character as he appeared in my head while I was writing. Still, I start a project knowing where I will end and what things need to be covered along the way.

Now, I started writing The River Maiden years ago, and when I did I had a very useful mind mapping program that helped us turn abstract ideas into outlines. Unfortunately, since I no longer work for that company, I don't have access to that program anymore. So, now that I'm in the process of plotting the next book, and was looking for a way to get all of the various themes of this book that have been swimming around in my head into some sort of outline. I found a few methods for plotting a novel, including mind mapping as I had done before. But I also found the information about how to use a snowflake diagram.

That's a lot of very specific steps (so specific that they've now made software for it) that get down to more specifics than I'm ready for right now. Instead I'm using it help me layer the various themes of the plot. I have 6 main themes and each section is for outlining that theme and how it all fits together.  I built my own tool for using the snowflake diagram using a folding foam board.


This helped me brainstorm the different movements of the plot and how each of the main characters get to where they need to be at the end. Instead of going through all of those steps however useful they may be, I used the snowflake structure to organize my brainstorming. Since I've had some scenes running through my brain for a while now, this gives me a chance to get them out and organize the. Not all of these points of the snowflake have specific events lined up with them, but it does give me a look at what is needed to move Sarah and Dermot and company to where they will be at the end of this book. While brainstorming the plot, I used the side panels to note locations and characters who need to be fleshed out further. I did this with post-its on the board so that I can move things around as needed. This also enables me to use the board again for the next project (did I mention I'm cheap?).

Snowflaking as we've started to call it around here is becoming quite the thing. My six year old is even using it to plot her work-in-progress "The Day it Rained Kittens". I helped with the writing, but the plot points are hers. I can't tell you how important organization is when your story is being dictated by a six year old.


Yawn and stretch...

"Bye Sweeties, have a good day." The kids jump out of the side door of the minivan and the door slides closed. I smile and wave to the school staff and take one last look at T and see her trotting into the school all skinny legs and backpack. K is already halfway to the building. Third graders are just too busy and too cool to hang around with their little sisters. As I pull out of the school parking lot I breathe a deep sigh. It's the third day of school and I'm starting to relax a bit from the frenzy of getting all their supplies taken care of and their clothes cleaned and ready to go, all the anxiety of whether or not they'll like their teachers or have friends in their classes. We've already survived our first night of ADHD homework. T is adjusting to kindergarten and I think after she finishes testing the boundaries with her new teacher, everything is going to be fine.

So, I turn my steering wheel northward to town to spend some time with the characters in my book who have been sorely neglected over the past couple of months. I look forward with relish to the new change in my lifestyle now that both of the kids are in school all day, five days a week. Previously, I had to content myself with writing for a maximum of nine hours a week plus the rare exception when my husband worked from home and sent me off to write. These were the few hours while T was at her half day preschool. I would head to a cafe and try to produce as much as I could in the space of three hours before having to stop and pick her up. If I were writing non-fiction or a how-to book, I probably could have gotten some writing done at home, but it's hard to write a novel when little voices keep intruding to ask for snacks or juice or to inform me of what transgressions the other has committed. My children are wonderful and gifted and I could not love them more, but they are also extremely talkative. K is an auditory learner which means that to encode what he's learning into memory, he has to say it. T is sassy and independent and while she's not an auditory learner she is a talker.  So it  feels like it's been at least four years since I've completed a thought in their presence, and with the exception of those 9 hours a week while T was in preschool.

Now, I have a blessed eight hours, five days a week to myself and oh the things I'm going to do. My head is brimming with plans to thoroughly clean the house, get everything organized like a pinterest pic. I'm going to spend hours every day working to finally finish this book. I'll finally get John Campbell that feedback on his new project that he's been waiting for so patiently and start reading other projects on authonomy. I'll put together a marketing plan and really stick to it. I'll make audio versions of my The White House and A Fond Kiss. I'll get started on those book trailers for the novel. I'll once again be as efficient and productive as I was in my corporate days. I can just see it. So, I drive all the way to town with the taste of freedom in my mouth.

When I get to my favorite writing spot, I manage to snag my favorite booth in the quiet section at the back where people sit alone working on their laptops, not up front where groups like to chat and have meetings. I get a cup of dark roast coffee because only people who just pretend to like coffee drink anything else. I fold some junk papers that I dig out of my purse and stick them under the table's wobbly leg, because nothing is going to ruin this glorious return to work after my summer funk. It's not until I sit down and pair my Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad and open up the file for the chapter I'm working on that I realize I've left my headphones at home. Now, instead of my character's own soundtrack or my thought clarifying Chopin, I'm supposed to write to the cheesy cafe music and the buzz of half a dozen conversations going on within twenty feet of me. She's heartbroken at this point in the story and I just don't know that I can get into that head space with the musical equivalent of C-SPAN and overheard conversations from neighboring tables about what their children's Sunday School classes did last week in my ears. I try, I really do. Still after an hour, all I have to show for it is one paragraph that I'm not entirely happy with.

Clearly, writing is not going to work today. I'll edit that last chapter I wrote, that'll help. I read into my bag only to discover that I have also left my little bag of post-its, colored pens and highlighters at home and every pen I have with me is black. Nice. Not ideal for editing. Finally, I pull out my little notebook that I like to use as a sort of journal, something I write in when my thoughts are as unfocused as they are this morning. I have to content myself with this. Sure, it's not the project I wanted to work on, but it's better than nothing. Right? As usual, I'm mentally kicking myself probably harder than I should for not being prepared.

Now that I'm home, I'm putting together a work bag so that next time I'll have all of those tools together and won't have another morning like today: Copy of manuscript & outline, markup tools bag, extra set of headphones, and an extra dose of patience with myself.