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Notes from Val’s Desk

January 3, 2009 by in category Archives tagged as , ,

To-Do Lists, Plans, Plots (and Maps)

If you called me on New Year’s Day I would tell you that I’m sitting at my desk stacking various bits of paper into little groups. I have a cup of coffee, soft music is playing and I have gently pushed my fuzz-ball of a cat off these mini stacks of paper for the third (but not last) time. I am seriously engaged in my annual project—sorting through all the “to do” notes I made the previous year.

Some to-do’s I can happily check off as done, some are now little wads of paper piling up in my trash can, and some (that apparently were not that important) will be moved to my nice, new 2009 calendar for a second chance. However, there are a few—showing their age–that have moved from year to year to year. Although these particular “to do’s” have a prominent place on my bulletin board, for some reason known only to my subconscious, they were not given the priority they deserved.

  • Here’s one (written on a bright green 3×5 card with push pin holes in it): “plot my novel (focus on historical timeline)”
  • Here’s another: “get synopsis and first three chapters done by the contest deadline” (this note was clipped to a now-expired entry form)
  • Yet another: lose weight (that’s another story)

These three faithful notes are definitely moving to 2009. Can you spell o-p-t-i-m-i-s-t?

I seem to be a writer who can come up with a great idea, blast through the first, second and even third chapters without hesitation but then, wham! I always hit the proverbial brick wall. And, it seems to take a ridiculously long time for those little dings and bumps impressed in my forehead to smooth out. The momentum is lost and time passes by.

Why? It’s obvious that I didn’t have a plan (or a plot for that matter). I didn’t know where my story was going because I didn’t have an outline, plot, plan, map or whatever label you fancy. For a note taker and list-writer like I am, this situation could have been avoided. Why don’t I take the time to write down some simple directions? I work for an architect. I know the value of those detailed drawings and sketches—the step-by-step illustrated information absolutely necessary to get a structure built. I also love maps. I find myself in awe of intricate old/antique maps, especially the ones drawn in pen-and-ink on sepia-colored paper where the map maker/artist has detailed every single line–every twist and turn. Winding roads, streets and lanes, hills and dales are precisely “plotted” so the traveler knows exactly where to go to arrive at their destination.

So I compared this map idea to plotting. Many writers suggest creating a plot outline. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Why not keep it simple (beginning-middle-end), print it out and post it near your computer screen? Or, if you absolutely must, you can go crazy and get a big white board and cover it with brightly colored sticky notes–a different color for characters, settings, viewpoint, scenes, dark moments, bright moments and even plot lines. (Believe me, I read this once in a how-to-write article.) If I could remember where I read the following quote, I’d give proper credit: “A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.”

So…..create your “map” and start following the directions. It won’t cost a dime to revisit your old notes and files. We are all at the beginning of a whole new year with 362 unused days in it. Claim some of those days for yourself and start, re-start, edit, revise, finish, or submit your novel! (Think RWA Pro status or better yet, First Sale!) Notes from Val’s Desk will keep you posted on my 2009 writing commitment (among other things). In the meantime, what are your plans to map out directions for 2009? Is a plot in your plans?


Here’s another little slice of orange…..on Saturday, January 17, 2009, OCC (Orange County Chapter-RWA) is sponsoring its first special event of 2009..…a “One-Day Plotting Workshop” presented by our very own OCC member, multi-published author and current RWA National President Diane Pershing. Diane promises to get you there to those final climactic scenes. She will encourage you to think, she will help you to create, and she will make you laugh!

Those of us who have had an opportunity to hear what Diane has to say about the craft of writing will agree: Don’t miss this excellent opportunity to get your plot moving along (or move along and get a plot). You will see me there with my notebook and pad of sticky notes. Enroll today before it’s too late.

Visit http://www.occrwa.org for all the details and enrollment information.

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