I’m about to leave Texas for summer vacation. I’m headed to Idaho and Colorado. I thought it was smart planning on my part to beat the August heat and head to cooler climes. Wouldn’t you know it? Texas has experienced two “polar vortex” fronts in July, making summer temps here almost bearable. We’ve only reached triple digits a couple of times instead of having them for a couple of weeks in a row. On the other hand, both Idaho and Colorado are unseasonably warm this summer. Maybe I’ll bring a little of the cooler weather with me as I head northwest.
I’ll be gone 13 days, which means I really need to consider carefully what to pack. I need shorts & T-shirts for my usual morning walk and for the hiking we have planned (although last year my morning walk in Idaho saw temps in the high 40s, so I might need to throw in some sweatpants!). I’ll also need some nicer tops and capris for going out to eat, hitting a museum, or other outings that call for more than my usual summer wardrobe of shorts and T’s. I’ll have to throw in a skirt or dress—just in case—because you never know if something a bit fancier might come up. A woman always should be prepared for every occasion.
I’ll also need to gather up PJs, sports & regular bras, undies, and shoes. It’s the shoes that do me in every time. I like to have several pairs of sandals, hiking boots, tennis shoes, and even flipflops to throw on when in a rush. I’ll even pick out a couple of scarves so that I can throw one on to change up and dress up or down an outfit. I’ll definitely need items for when things turn cooler—jeans, my windbreaker (for rain), a sweater, and light jacket. Then there’s the inevitable make-up bag with everything from toothpaste to bandages to lipsticks to moisturizer.
With everything going into my suitcase, I have to be careful not to exceed the 50-pound limit! I definitely don’t want that additional fee tacked onto my trip. The airline even charges for a carry-on, so my backpack will double as my purse/computer/Kindle/charger bag. With all that needs to go in this, carrying it alone will be workout enough!
I always wind up taking my favorite pieces of clothing on vacation—clothes I’m comfortable in and that fit well. My biggest fear is that the airline will lose my bag, and I’ll return home to the ratty underwear and stretched-out bra and T-shirt with a hole in it that I wore the day before I left so that I could wash and pack all the good stuff in my luggage.
That got me to thinking. I pack The Good Stuff when I go on vacation. And when readers pick up a book, they want The Good Stuff in that book. It’s my job as a writer to give them all the good that I’ve got. As I outline my plot, I’ve got to pack it with interesting characters, internal and external conflicts, and twists and turns to keep them reading. I must pack carefully, not putting in too much of one thing and leaving out another. Readers need great descriptions to help their minds set the stage, but if all I do is write great descriptions and neglect dialog, a critical piece of any book, then I’m doing my readers a disservice.
So I have to pack my work-in-progress with as much care as I pack my suitcase!
An important part about packing is leaving room for souvenirs. You never know what you might run across that you’ll want to bring home with you. Writing a book, to me, is the same way. While I outline my plot and create my characters, I always leave lots of wriggle room. I want to be flexible and spontaneous enough to insert new ideas as they come to me during the writing process. If I’m too rigid in the construction, I may be reluctant to add fun bits that come as the novel progresses. Many times (too many to count!) my characters have gone off in unplanned directions. Like a dog on a retractable leash, I give them some room to wander off and explore. They’ve taken me to places in the story I wouldn’t have imagined—and it’s become a better book for it. So I realize it’s important as I “pack” my book to leave room for the unexpected to occur.
I’m off to do laundry now, the first step of packing for my upcoming vacay. I’m also ready to start writing a new book, so I hope I remember these pack-the-plot lessons. Both packing jobs require thought. They can be challenging to work everything in. And by the end—whether it’s the trip I’ve experienced or the book I’ve just completed writing—both will be rewarding.