#6. Map it Out

On waterfalls, construction, creativity, and the importance of outlines

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Years ago, when I was in college, two friends and I decided we needed to see a waterfall, so we borrowed someone’s car and drove around the outskirts of Boston for a few hours. Eventually, getting desperate, we found a trickle of water flowing down between two small ponds. We called it a waterfall and declared the adventure a victory.

I know what you’re thinking – those crazy Harvard kids! And yes, we were wild and reckless, blithely debating the categorical imperative as we circled the suburbs, but my point is that our mission would’ve been far more successful if we’d taken a few minutes and consulted a map before departing, or maybe even a list of interesting waterfalls in the region. Which brings me to the next lesson.

#6. Map it Out

Maps, outlines, and plans are an essential piece of creative journeys. You might be able to produce something polished without one but it’s going to be so much harder. I didn’t create an outline for my pirate novel, Fish. The book turned out well in the end, but it took me four years to finish. Four very frustrating years.

Another example: When my brother-in-law and I launched our construction business, CBQ*, we swore to ourselves that we’d never work off fancy, complex architectural plans that no one understands anyway. We were tired of standing over a table, turning these drawings around and around as we debated which end was up. Our new policy? Tell us what you want and we will build what we want. No plans, no hassles, no guarantees – just a dreamlike freestanding structure, finished in twenty-four hours.

The business stalled. People weren’t ready for such a revolutionary approach. So we pivoted, and now my seven-year-old niece draws up rough sketches for our clients, and we build to those specs. At first, this felt like a creative compromise. We felt less like artists and more like actual builders. But the process is much easier and faster.

Today, I create detailed outlines for all my books (that’s part of the one for Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion above). These plans look a little different every time, but no matter what form they take, the making of these maps really does make the writing process easier. Nowadays, a novel takes me about a year to write, instead of the four years required for Fish, which leaves me plenty of time for passion projects like CBQ and TBL.

Next up, we’ll be looking at a phenomenon called the energy of delusion, but until then…

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Follow me over on Instagram for some upcoming book giveaways. I’ll be sending out copies of Atlantis, Dangerous Waters, and others to the lucky winners. Details to follow.

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I’m looking forward to sharing some exciting book news soon. Lots of fun projects in the works, including a return to Atlantis.

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*CBQ stands for Crooked But Quick; our motto is that we might not get it done correctly, but we will get it done, and if you’re unsatisfied, you get a free poem.