Dump Truck And Treasure Map aka Creating My Book Outline

Here’s the truth. I completed two drafts of my book without an outline. The result is pretty much what you’d expect.

Picture a dump truck, loaded with words. Now picture said dump truck emptying its load in my studio. See that messy mountain. That’s my book.

Oof.

And that’s why I am in organization mode.

I separated out the writing, backstory, research, etcetera into nine piles of files. Wrote about it too, right here
https://catfinkknowtrustchoosecreate.com/2019/04/25/nine-piles-of-files-and-one-book/

The nine-pile process directed me to work out the sections of my book, and this is where I am now. I am writing a list of phrases under each section heading, and at the end of this step I will have seven lists, each a full description of that particular section. I will have identified the themes, big and small, of my book.

I already know my next step. My awesome friend, Synchronicity, showed me an online image of a page from J. K. Rowling’s writing notes for Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

Her notes inspired me to see a grid for my book. Across the top is the themes. Down the side is the essay titles. A check mark or note in the intersecting box tells me, for example, this essay contains themes of love and fear, this essay is all about choice, and so on. What I am doing is sorting the essays into the sections.

What I am creating is a treasure map. At one glance, I will be able to see a snapshot of my next draft. The map will help me organize the order and flow of the essays. Gaps will show up. Themes that require trimming will show up. I have a feeling it will aid me in other ways I have not yet considered.

This is a perfect tool for me. I need to see both the big picture and the details when I am creating, and my treasure map does exactly this. I may be creating more grids as I continue the outlining process, more treasure maps that show me the big picture of my book.

Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for sharing some of your writing process and inspiring me.

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In this post:

J. K. Rowling https://www.jkrowling.com/

Nine Piles Of Files And One Book

It’s sunny and warm outside.  There’s a breeze and birdsong.  The cherry, pear, and apple trees are in full bloom, and I can smell the cottonwood trees.  Life is sweet today, and I am feeling contented and lazy.  Sitting outside and doing nothing feels terribly appealing.

However, I have a blog post to create, so coffee is brewing in the kitchen—bribing myself with lattes—while I begin writing.

I am back to seriously playing with my book draft.  Yesterday I set up a card table next to my studio work table, and laid out the various files of writing into three rows of three stacks each.  This is everything so far, my whole book where I can see it.

The tallest pile is Scenes In Development.  Here is the core of my book, and hooray to it being the tallest pile because it tells me I am making progress.

Next to it is Random Scenes, writing that sort of fits the story but the connection is tenuous.  With some rewriting, these scenes may fall in and be included, or they may not. If not, I’ll put them aside for use in something else.

Idea Lists/Maybes come next.  Here live the undeveloped thoughts, waiting to be played with and nurtured to see what grows.

In the middle row is Why This Story.  This is the what-if’s and why-I-care’s, the what’s-the-point’s and what’s-my-point’s.  Reasons, needs, and wants that push me to write.  A list of themes.  A one paragraph synopsis written crazy-dramatic, as though this story of healing is a suspense thriller.

Characters is next.  Bios and backstories, parallel story scenes, what drives each character and what trips them up (sometimes the same thing), and the rules of their worlds (how they see life).

Appendices are last in the middle row.  This is a story of healing, and as I wrote the first draft, I realized it needed a place for information beyond the story.  References, suggestions, examples, and how-to’s that don’t fit in the story-telling space, yet are a necessary second level for the reader.

The third row of files begins with Readers.  Here are my notes about who I am writing for (imaginary bios), who I see wanting and needing this book, who picks it up and reads it, what I want this story to do for those who read it.

Processes comes after Readers.  This is my collection of prompts and methods that help me imagine the pieces of my story and book, and guide me into seeing what I need to see in my mind’s eye.  This collection unsticks me when I get stuck.

The final pile on my card table is General Info.  Information on writing memoir, lists of memory triggers, timeline construction when interweaving past and present, tips on layering complex emotions, and more.  References that teach me and enrich my writing.

It’s all here, what I’ve collected and written into story so far. 

Seeing the work laid out makes the book real to me. 

Writing this story was never just a whim or something to pass the time.  It was always serious play, but now I truly see I am creating something tangible.  My nine piles of writing make me proud of what I’ve accomplished, and they show me where I go next in my creation.

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Related to this post:

Tom Hart said of all the material he gathered, wrote, and drew for Rosalie Lightning: a Graphic Memoir, only about 10 percent showed up in the finished book. He needed all 100 percent in order to find the story thread he wanted to tell. Tom’s book The Art of the Graphic Memoir came out in 2018, and it has become one of my essential references as I write my book.
http://www.tomhart.net/