Darla asks: "In Bird By Bird, Anne has a chapter titled Plot Treatment . . . I read it and thought "OMG that is me right now" (minus the editor, advance and potential for being published.. LOL). Anyway, from what you've written before it seems like you don't run into this because you are very linear in your writing, but do you address this type of confusion in your classes? And/or have you run into it yourself? Color me curious!"
In my classes, I haven't yet dealt with an entire novel -- only 20 to 40 pages. But I do recommend that the students think about what their protagonist wants to achieve; what obstacles stand between the protag and success; and how will those obstacles be overcome. That's a very bare-bones plot line. I also ask my students to come up with a brief (under a minute) coherent answer to the question "What's your book about?"
Bird by Bird is an excellent book. In the chapter Darla mentions, Lamott tells of sending a novel to her editor only to have it rejected because, in spite of beautiful writing and fascinating character, there was no structure. He suggested she abandon the book and write something else but Lamott was determined to make it work. She wrote out a detailed plot treatment -- 500 to 1,000 words for each chapter, describing what was happening in each chapter -- where it began, where it ended, and what had to happen to get from beginning to end, as well as how the ending of each chapter would flow into the beginning of the next.
With this road map (it ran to forty pages) in hand, Lamott says that rewriting the book -- shifting and adding scenes -- went smoothly and the book was one of her most successful.
As for me: I tend to start with an inciting incident and a plan for an outcome and just a vague idea of how I'm getting there. About halfway through the book, I'll know more of what needs to go in the rest of the chapters and start doing a somewhat abbreviated chapter treatment. The one time I did a very complete chapter treatment before beginniong the book, as I wrote I kept feeling I'd already done this and it was a little boring. On the other hand, I didn't waste a lot of time wandering in the wilderness.
What works for one writer may not work for another. But if you have written a lot of wonderful scenes but suspect you don't actually have a plot, Lamott's chapter treatment method may be just what you need to help your novel soar.