Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Real Thing: A Route 66 Placemat!

What does a cheesy, mass-produced placemat have to do with good writing?

Short answer: simplicity.

Because I've long felt that most writing instruction is needlessly complex (I don't even like the term 'instruction'), my chief guideline while writing YOU'VE GOT A BOOK IN YOU was simplicity.

Simplicity in the ideas I developed, simplicity in my presentation of them. The best teachers, as we know, merely point the way.

I first got the idea of the Route 66 placemat when creating a webinar for Writer's Digest University on writing mysteries and thrillers. My concern was plotting. I expanded on the 'heart-clutching moment' plotting method I'd first written about Writer's Digest magazine, then put together a simplified version of the classic 'hero's adventure' framework.

Then, something even more basic—one might even say rustic—occurred to me, which can incorporate both methods, really, while being totally 'graspable'. A story's plot, I reasoned, is like a map—is a map—and I thought of the simplest map I'd ever seen, which was a Route 66 placemat. Here it is:

[With thanks to the Hoffmaster Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for their generous permission.]

I developed the idea in the proposal for my book, and then further in the book itself.

The Route 66 placemat map is a powerful symbol of movement and simplicity, perfect for writing.

Because every book, fiction or nonfiction, is a journey for the writer and for the reader. And ideally it's an adventure too, filled with zest and new vistas.

Just as drivers need a map to get from Chicago to Los Angeles, we as authors need some sort of map to get from "It was a dark and stormy night," to "THE END." And for the journey to open us to the joys, terrors, and opportunities of the unexpected, that map should be as simple and flexible as possible. The beauty is that a simple map lets you get into virtually endless complexity—side trips, backtracks, interconnections and junctions—without encumbrance.

A good lesson for writing, and a good lesson for life!

I submitted a bunch of photographs and other images with the manuscript, but Writer's Digest Books only included a few of them in the published book, the reason being that the images would have put the page count over a threshold that would have put the price of the book too high. My other choice would have been to cut pages of text, which I didn't want to do.

So to my sorrow, the book does not include an image of the Route 66 placemat.

But I'm glad to present it here, just for the hell of it.

I'll publish other images that didn't get into the book here, with explanations and more insights.

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  1. Hello, Elizabeth, and thank you for your blog. I'm currently reading, "You've Got a Book in You." Excellent, excellent book! (And I've read them all.) I wish you all the best, and thanks for sharing. Have a great day!

  2. Peter! Wonderful to meet you. I'm mighty glad you're finding the book worthwhile, and thank you for making my day!

  3. I have just finished reading "You've Got A Book In You" and must say I found it entertaining, informative, enlightening and inspiring.
    Many people in this world are capable of extraordinary accomplishments, but it is highly unusual, at least in my experience, that these people are also capable of instructing other people how to accomplish the same kinds of feats. Bruce Springsteen can write a hit song, but do you think he could realistically tell you or me how to do the same? After Ted Williams hit .400 for a full baseball season, he actually attempted to tell others how to do it in prose. There haven't been any .400 hitters since, so sadly, his efforts fell short.
    With this book, Ms. Sims gives us mere mortals hope and instruction that we, too, may see our name on the cover of a book someday. Many how-to books tend to be condescending to the edge of rudeness (Note the entire, highly popular "Idiot's Guide To... series). You will find none of that here. Ms. Sims treats her readers with both respect and affection, and the encouragement found in these pages is truly a breath of fresh air in a cynical world.
    For most of my life, people have been telling me I should write at least one book. I believe reading this book has given me the push that I needed to make a valiant effort. For that, Ms. Sims you have my heartfelt thanks.

    1. Howard, I'm so excited you found such value in the book, and thank you for taking the time and trouble to say so!! It's truly an honor to read your post here. You picked up exactly what I was trying to do. And from your post I can tell you've got the skills and the desire to write your own book. Do please keep me posted, all right?


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