Writing Wednesday — Blueprint for a Book by Jennie Nash

Can you stand me talking about one more book? I hope so! Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out by Jennie Nash didn’t make my list of 10 Essential Books on Writing, posted a month ago, because I had just discovered it and wasn’t sure how “essential” it would turn out to be. I took an evening webinar from Nash, sponsored by Free Expressions Seminars & Literary Services (check them out — fabulous classes!), and was surprised how impressed I was. I’d first heard about her “Inside Outline” a while back, and looked into taking her self-directed course on the topic, but decided I didn’t need another way to outline — at the time, I needed ways to brainstorm more ideas about what to put IN the outline! (More on that to come.)

I was right, and I was wrong. When I saw Nash’s course offered by a source I trust, I was in. The focus of the Inside Outline is identifying your main character’s internal motivations and using those to outline your book in chunks or events. The MC’s internal needs — what Nash calls “the point” — are shaped a bit by events, then lead directly to the next chunk of events, and so on. The result is not a play-by-play forecast of the book, but a roadmap. You’ll have a plan for getting from Tacoma to Tampa. You’ll decide on the way where to stop for lunch, but you’ll have the hotels booked and the sights you don’t want to miss identified, and you’ll significantly reduce your chances of ending up in Tucson or Toronto. Which is the point, for most of us who outline to any degree.

The book walks through all that in 14 steps, starting with asking why you want to write this book, figuring out “the point” of it, writing a simple version, then a working title, and so on, leading to a three-page Inside Outline, followed by tips on using it to write the book, revise, and write the dreaded synopsis.

I already had a partial outline when I started Nash’s book, and I have always tried to incorporate the MC’s internal motivations and stakes. But this book helped me clarify my thinking tremendously. Is it working as I write? So far, so good!

Admittedly, this book is for those who outline or who maybe don’t but want to try it, to get more clarity before they start. But even committed pantsers could benefit from the early steps or even, as Nash suggests, writing the short Inside Outline after the first draft, to help you understand what you’ve created and give the next draft more narrative drive. It’s a short book — under 150 pages — so give it a try!

Writing Wednesday — a fun and handy guide

Last fall, before we got COVID and my brain turned to mush, I read a fun and handy guide by mystery writer Becky Clark called Eight Weeks to a Complete Novel: Writer Faster, Write Better, Be More Organized (March 2020), available in paperback and ebook. It’s half (or more) a guide to outlining and half (or less) a guide to time management for writers. The basic premise of the first half (ish) — and it’s one I’ve long endorsed — is that knowing the overall shape of the story you want to tell and identifying as much as you can about the key scenes will make the writing process smoother and faster.

I’ve met Becky several times and we’re Facebook friends. She’s hilarious, both in person and on the page. More than that, she’s a smart guide to working more efficiently, because it makes our books and lives better. I know some writers run screaming from the mere suggestion of outlining — when I hear some of the comments, I always wonder what happened to that budding author in the third grade. Becky discusses various options and approaches; it wasn’t all new info to me, but review is always useful.

One of the most useful aspects for me was the (re)encouragement to be very focused on the daily schedule, which for me means writing in the morning, set an hour or two aside in the afternoon for promotion. For me, the amount of time focused on promo depends on where I am in the process, but I really needed the push to set a block of time and not be so random. I also like her idea of “word banks,” consciously looking for and recording phrases and images that will fit your current project. (If this sounds like my “three things” idea, you get why it attracted me, though it’s a little different, and she’s so smart to suggest making it a daily practice.)

No, you can’t read this and automatically be smarter, funnier, and more efficient. You actually have to do the work. But if you do, voila! You might actually have time for the rest of your life. Pretty appealing when you think of it like that, right?