Follow-up On Blueprint Your Best Seller

Where did we leave off? Don’t let the Brandy snifter in the last post about Blueprinting Your Bestseller fool you. I’ve been busy… well, busy not writing. But preparing to write… . During the holidays I tend to let myself unwind, unplug, and unpack. With a house full of kids, husband and visitors I decided not to stress out about the continual and predictable erosion to my writing time. So, while the party came to me, I partied —er, relaxed.


Holidays and Writing

So this past month we celebrated as usual, and then I dug into purging the house. What, not writing? Hey, I had month of hangers-on… albeit my favorite peeps, but as soon as they flew the coop in search of more exciting entertainment than M-O-M, I still didn’t write. Say what? You say.  I purged the house… in the spirit of a pregnant mother cleaning and nesting before a baby comes.

Preparing for Writing a Book

Just as the nesting in preparation for the birth of a book is a metaphor, so is the idea that purging is a great practice for preparing to write. It’s another one of those rituals that gets us ready for deeper work. Letting go of the old, making room for the new. In this case, the book. The New Book.

Learning from the Book Architecture Method

Here’s the 30, 000 foot takeaway from what I learned working with Stuart Horwitz’s Blueprint process and a wonderful line-up of beta readers: Lisa H., Kathy W., Tom, Selina S., June E., Amy W., and writing and marketing coach Windy Lynn Harris and author and writing professional Susan Pohlman:

A commercial book or novel must have a honed concept of what it is about. Stuart Horwitz calls this The One Thing your book is about. Simple, eh?   What I found out is that my current book about my first year teaching in Alaska was about a lot of one things… (my longing for adventure, my dad’s depression, my relationship with my dad and landscape and adventure, my longing for a relationship and work and a place to call home, and my struggles as an overwhelmed first-year-teacher who hauled water and excrement in buckets.) But, as many readers pointed out, the question lines these things raised didn’t all get answered in that one year outlined in book one.

Here is What I Did / aka as My Pre-Book Architecture Book Writing Process

My previous writing process involved writing a collection of stories set in my first wilderness village in Alaska. The stories were written in a meandering literary Creative Nonfiction Style… While each story had a destination, they weren’t especially linked and didn’t drive toward The One Thing my book was about… . About which, well folks, I’m still somewhat uncertain.

So, Now What?

I’m going to do something not unheard of in writing circles. Something painful. I’m mothballing book one.  Eight or so years of work—well not a straight eight, there were hours of parenting, mommy-taxing, PTA meetings, theater and swim-mom weeks, chaperoning, and some teaching sprinkled in there… . But, not only am I starting the book over, I’m going to mothball the Blueprint process until I get more material from my entire Alaska time.  Now that I understand the importance of writing in scene. But more on that in a minute.

Many of my insightful beta readers indicated they felt that the psychological learning curve of my character in the first year was not complete. They were right.  That’s because I struggled to make a typical rise in action because my book format had not lent itself to the three-act story ingrained in us since Roman times and more currently from television and movies.

Where I left off on the Book Architecture / Blueprint Process

After reading and assessing how close to my target each scene related to the One Thing my book was about, I placed those scenes on the target. Combining this with reader and professional input, I realized now is the time for me to set aside book one and the Blueprint target. For a while. The book is of an age where it can play by itself a little bit while I take time to consider baby book number two… .


In this picture you can see how many scenes, each represented by a sticky note hit the center of that One Thing my story appears to be about. Also, of particular interest, note that each color sticky on the target represents chapters that are perfect or need work or something else. I won’t tell you more, since you really need to buy this book and practice this method for yourself.

I’m not really a method person, but the value of Book Architecture jumped out at me, especially since even after writing  90,000 words I still recognized immediately my struggle to pinpoint The One Thing this book was about other than my adventure in Alaska. If you can see my target, you can see The One Thing this book is about, but it still needs honing:

Renee’s search to understand her longing for adventure and connection with other seekers while discovering a landscape to call home.

 Here’s another idea (more like jacket copy) that came to me after the target hung on my wall a while:

Where do you go when you’re looking for your first adventure/ job /and relationship and you’re out of options?  Leaving behind a string of unsuitable relationships and a father who pushed her to the edge/into the wild, Renee Rivers was convinced it was Alaska…

The New Book Writing Plan

Both Stuart Horwitz and my scene study with Susan Pohlman have underscored the importance of writing in scene. We remember in scene. This is why writing book one from a journal left me with lots of meaningless bits according to how we make meaning as writers and readers… .

The Book Architecture method has you recall all your meaningful moments from memory. Duh? After working the process it occurred to me why. Because those are the heart moments. What sticks with you are the moments of deeper meaning and impact. You learned something. You learned lots of things… and that learning is what informs the through line in a story. What the story is about, what questions the story answers. I should have known this. One of my posts on writing and healing likens memories worth writing about to knowing that the spaghetti is ready when it sticks to the wall.

If I follow my previous method – my story was just as much about all the things I listed above as it was stylized, lovely-to-read, meandering almost journal-like account of Renee’s life in wilderness Alaska. But commercial readers and eventual movie-goers will want to know: Why was she in Alaska? Why is she uncertain about her work? Why does she struggle finding a mate? Why does she wind up living in her car?

And from what I’m learning in Scene Study with Susan Pohlman, readers want story in super tight scenes in which not a word, image or idea is inconsequential. Likewise, Stuart Horwitz maintains that the closer on target each chapter or scene is to The One Thing your book is about, the more satisfying for readers.  But really, the few comments I’ve included here about the Book Architecture method and book don’t even begin to do it justice. I’m barely on target. Go out and check out the book for yourself:

It’s a new year. It’s time to try a new process for a new book. Now about that closet I didn’t get to… There’s always next year.

What did you learn about your writing process or something you’ve been doing for years? What steps do you plan on taking to change it?


18 thoughts on “Follow-up On Blueprint Your Best Seller

  1. You’ve got a great handle on what you want to create now, Renee! I’m so glad you’re willing to do the hard work it takes to birth a great book. I can’t wait to read it 🙂


    • Thanks Windy – my thought process wouldn’t be this clear so soon without your engaging and in-depth input on this…along with other readers who each served a succinct purpose and represented a distinct type of reader! Like lots of things I had a splint second of regret for not allowing myself to see through to a commercial project and style sooner… and there’s a chance I still may come up short… but I’M STILL GOING TO ENGAGE 1000% AND SEE WHERE THAT TAKES THIS NEW PROJECT. I CAN’T KEEP DOING THINGS THE WAY I’VE BEEN DOING THEM! Thanks so much for your amazing insights and support with all you’re working on!


  2. I need to get back to the drawing board and refresh my memory about the storyline before writing aimlessly as I head for the ending. So before I write the next chapter I’m going to revisit the plot and the sequence of events to avoid rambling.


    • Anneli, so glad to see you back here too! I do the same thing and boy it’s time consuming… I’m working harder at staying current with my project so I have to do less of what I call “re-combing” back through the ms to know where I’m going… I’m so glad other writers find themselves losing their path if they don’t refresh their memories! Glad to be back, Renee


      • I’ve been stuck on chapter 9 for months. I know where I want to go, but I’ve lost some bits in between about how to get there. It’s back to the drawing board! So glad to hear that I’m not alone!


      • Do you have a writers group Anneli? I find I get inspiration and direction from other writers like you in my communities. My original writing group was ready for me to start writing pitches, but a few other readers pointed out that if this first book does not reach commercial potential that I won’t be looked at again by agents/publishers…and the second book I’d planned has huge commercial potential…so I’m actually combining what thought were three years / three books into one book that encompasses my whole time in Alaska… It’s hard to turn my back on the first book, but it could be a prequel when the next book is done… or I have lots of material for lit mag submissions this year!!! So lots of upsides!


      • Yes, I go to a writer’s group for our Comox Valley area and I also have a great writing partner who critiques and exchanges files with me. The resources are there – I just have to get my act together.


      • Anneli,

        I know the feeling. Stars must align: idea, motivation, inspiration, support, a great story and a great process… . I would be dancing in the dark if it weren’t for my writing groups. They are wonderfully diverse, honest and supportive.


  3. UGH, Renee! I’m so sorry to hear this! But I am loving this book, too, and so frustrated I haven’t been able to get near it or my ms for weeks now! As far as writing in scene goes, I think the workshop method of writing 1000 word pieces or less is very conducive to getting a lot of scenes cranked out. I just hate that you think you have to set this book aside for now after all that work!


    • Luanne, that’s another brilliant approach: 1000 word pieces for getting scenes cranked out. My husband’s not liking that I’m setting it aside. I drew up a schedule yesterday. And I’m working on committing to another process… actually much like the one you’ve used… is that the 1000 word scene process? Here is what I intend: flying through free writes–written in scene– to see what emerges. This may be a hundred or more pages before I start evaluating what the focus of the book–the longer reaching book–might be. I don’t intend on spending as much time as I did on the first book… but hope to attain similar quality. We’ll see. I need to work faster and cleaner that’s for sure. The book won’t disappear – it will either be partially subsumed into the larger work or eventually stand on it’s own with some tightening/scene work. It may have to be the later published prequel or back story to the larger book I’m working on now.


      • I was always in favor of the prequel idea, but now I do wonder if you will find that you use so much of it that both years become one book. I will be looking on with great interest!


      • Luanne,
        I think the prequel idea was your suggestion… you may be right about the use of too much material from village one… but, I’m actually looking at writing all of my Alaska experience, which is three years. So may use less of story one that may leave enough for prequel material–that and/or get permission for reprints.


      • Why did I not know it was three years? I thought it was two? What cloud have I been lost in? Reprints. That sounds complicated!


    • Luanne, did you catch that the Blueprint / Book Architecture author, Stuart Horwitz actually commented on and retweeted my first blog about this? Windy put the virtual bug in his ear!


  4. Renee,

    I read this post in the carpool lane while picking up N from school. The one word that I took from your process: courage. It takes immense courage to start over and then reveal this truth to the world. You are an impressive writer and person and I am proud to call you my friend. xoxo


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