How To Plot a Book in 16 Steps

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I’ve recently entered the brainstorming stage of my next book. It’s a fun, crazy time. Sometimes my mood is rainbows. Sometimes it’s angst. Right now my mood wants lists (as it often does), so here you go: a step-by-step guide to plotting a book. All you writers out there, this is for you. You’re welcome.

1. Find the most inconvenient time/place. Showers are good. Cars, too. Lying in bed, comfortable, mostly asleep? Perfect.

2. Think about something else.

3. Bolt of lightning crashes above you, singeing little bits of your hair as it sizzles past. Geez, that was close.

4. You’ve got it! THE idea! (By the way, you’re brilliant. Good job.)

5. Ignore it or write it down? Debate the options. Decide to wait. You are wet/busy steering/warm and comfortable. The idea can hold…Can’t it?

6. Suddenly remember the last time you told yourself that. Disgraced and petulant, that particular World’s Best Idea slunk away, never to return again. The only things you remember about it are that it had something to do with the letter ‘R’ and it felt like perfection on a milkshake. So, yeah, not helpful.

7. Curse your memory. Curse the timing of lightning. Curse the notepad, which always parts ways with the pen you were certain you put it next to. Curse writing. Who invented it, anyway? It’s their fault you’re even in this mess.

8. Find both the pen and the notebook. Finally.

9. The pen even works. It’s a miracle. Celebrate.

10. But not too long, because ideas have an expiration date, and this one’s nearing it.

11. Grab a towel/pull off the road/sit up in the dark.

12. Write. Begin to feel giddy. This is the best idea ever! Ooh! And there’s a nice subplot! And a turning point! The first? Second? Whatever. You’ll figure it out.

13. Maybe later, though, since you ARE naked and freezing and hogging the bathroom/getting honked at/burning under the glare of a grumbly spouse who JUST WANTS YOU TO TURN OUT THE LIGHT ALREADY. These people do not understand the joys of writing, poor things. They deserve your pity.

14. There’s no time for pity. You have an idea to write. Get back to work.

15. When you are satisfied, stash the notebook and pen and resume your mundane, non-writing task, all the while planning time to type in those pages and further flesh out your idea before you a) forget what you meant by “arrow moonbeam swirl” and b) forget how to read your own handwriting.

16. Repeat process until book is outlined. Then repeat throughout the writing phase. And revisions. And after you turn in your revisions. And basically until you start a new book. And maybe even a little after that.

BONUS STEP: Later, when you are visiting an elementary school, describing your writing process, an earnest third grader will ask you where your ideas come from. A few good answers may cross your mind: Wal*Mart, the newspapers, dreams. But ultimately you will find yourself telling the truth: “Bad timing. My best ideas come from the worst timing.”

  • Your post had me cracking up. I’m in the midst of plotting my second YA novel right now, and it’s scary how close to the truth this is. Esp. the part about potentially not being able to read your own handwriting. >.< Good luck with yours! Er, book plot, I mean. Not handwriting. Or possibly both . . .

    • Thanks, Ilana! Plotting is so much fun, but it can be daunting, too. Good luck with it! (And, of course, good luck with your own handwriting!)

  • Funny post! I’ve totally been there, every single step. 🙂

    • Thanks, CJ! There’s nothing like the plotting stage, is there?

  • Sherri Early

    Love this!!

  • This is perfect! I’ve been known to plot out entire books while I’m on my morning walk, and then get home and have no memory of what I’m supposed to be writing about. But it’s okay, because a new book will show up in the middle of the night, and that time, having learned my lesson, I’ll grab the notepad and scribble something like “monogamy frog statuary adoption.” Everything will be clear. Actually just this moment finished my novel and handed it in…so I’m re-entering the “how to plot a new novel” time once again. Thank you for this hilarious post!

    • You turned in your book? That’s fantastic! Hope it turned out the way you wanted. Can’t wait to see it when it’s released. I know it’ll be amazing (as always).

      Oh, and as for inspirations while out walking? I used to have that problem, too, but now I type my notes on my iPod, which I always have with me for music or audiobooks. It’s a little more laborious, but it works until I can get to a computer or notebook.

  • LOL Our planning steps are IDENTICAL, Caryn. I usually go for a run and make sure I don’t have any note taking devices with me. That always helps. And then I have to challenge my memory when I get home. Sometimes this is in the form of a shower. 😀

    • Yes! Exercise is a big one for me, too. Especially when I’m listening to music, but even when I have my audiobooks on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to rewind my audiobook because I got lost in thoughts about my own books. Not that I have to tell you, because I bet you understand! I do have my iPod with me, at least, so I can take notes. That helps. As long as I make myself slow down enough to take those notes, which is hard to do!

  • I love this SO, SO MUCH. It couldn’t be more accurate!

    (Though I will admit, sometimes I resort to the ‘notepad’ feature on my phone instead of my actual writing journal, because it’s quicker to grab during that half-asleep-fuzzy-lightbulb-moment at night … or super early in the morning, because I tend to wake up with ideas in my head, too. It’s always fun to later decipher what the ramblings actually mean!)

    • You know, I’ve been doing that more and more lately, too. I use Evernote, which is nice because it syncs with my laptop, too. That way I can type notes on one and receive them on the other. And I’m not at all surprised that you wake up with ideas in your head. I have a feeling your brain is working away on your books the whole time you’re sleeping. 🙂

  • Oh Caryn, I had to laugh out loud at this post! TRUE! So true! But I have a new trick: I can use my new phone and TALK to my e-mail. Of course I have auto-correct and start fussing with the wrong words, hmm.

    • Oh! Conda! That’s brilliant! My iPod actually has that function for my note-taking program, but I never, ever think to use it. I think I’ve tried it maybe three times. I bet if I got used to it, though, it would be a godsend. I’ve got to try it now. (Though, yeah, the misspellings are a little distracting, as is having to tell it to use periods and comma. Probably still easier than trying to decipher my middle-of-the-night handwriting, though.)

  • lol That made me laugh. It’s a bit like that sometimes, except you forgot to mention…Got a great idea for a plot, it goes over and over in your mind, no pen around, no paper, nothing…fall back to sleep, or later on…now what was that idea.

    Ideas that stream in have to be jotted down otherwise they maybe lost forever. Yes, this has happened to me a number of times. I now carry everything with me, and have a note pad and pen in my bedside drawer. I’ve learned my lesson. lol

    Have a good one. 🙂

    • I do the same thing, carrying notebooks and pens around with me everywhere! I actually bought tiny notebooks that fit inside my various bags, purses, and backpacks (including my diaper bag, when I needed it). Couldn’t be without my paper! Now if anyone needs something to write with/on, they always ask me first. The same thing probably happens to you, too!

  • Oh Damn, you did. lol… Love it. Ideas have an expiration date. Perfect in fact. 🙂

  • This is awesome… Thanks for the laugh! Scary how spot-on with my own plotting ways this post is. 🙂

    • I had a feeling it might be universal. Was kind of hoping, at least, so I’d know I wasn’t the only crazy one out there. 😀