A while back, I listened to a podcast episode for authors in which the guest highly recommended a book entitled Take Off Your Pants! It would help me to write novels in record time, the guest practically guaranteed.
The book, written by historical fiction author Libbie Hawker, starts off by describing two types of fiction authors: those who write by the seat of their pants, i.e., without much forethought or planning; and those who only write after outlining the story. Libbie argues that thoroughly outlining your book before you sit down to write it is the most effective and efficient (she came just a little shy of saying “best”) way to approach a novel. When I first read through the book, I got excited. Yes, figure out the main character’s flaw! Yes, figure out the theme of the book. The inciting incident! She basically lays out a plan to outline the book according to what I read in the book The Writer’s Journey years ago.
I got excited, because I was tired of taking more than a month to write a 75,000-word novel. I was tired of getting stuck in the middle, and having to agonize for days over how to move the story forward. And tired of getting stuck several times after getting unstuck at the midway point!
So, yes! I was going to start planning my novels ahead of time before I sat down to write them.
But there was one tiny flaw…
It didn’t work. I tried it for my latest publication, Call Me Isabel. When I got frustrated on that outline, I tried outlining another story idea I had.
BLAH!!! Both of them ended up shredded and at the bottom of our compost toilet.
Here’s what I figured out: some of us just have to write by the seat of our pants. Outlining kills the muse. Even doing the basics, which Libbie says you can do and still have a lot of blank spaces to fill in.
It’s funny that I am such an author, because I could be a professional organizer. I was reading books on homeschooling when B was still inside me, and learning about homesteading several years before we moved. At one point, I alphabetized all my husband’s paperbacks by author. The books on our living room shelves are organized by topic. There is a place for everything, and everything must be in place.
In other words, I am a planner and an organizer.
Except when it comes to my writing.
The proof is in the publication
I’ll admit: I got stuck on Call Me Isabel well after I had decided to ditch the outline. But, guess what? The outline ultimately frustrated me much more than my trouble with how I initially ended the story. And after I got over that hump, I did the rewrite in record time…without an outline.
Read any of my other novels. Redeeming Laura. Any of the books in either the “Texas Hearts” or “Choices and Chances” series. The only outline I had was in my head, and here’s what it looked like:
*II.Dramatic event somewhere in the middle
That’s it. Those four (usually vague) points/events were all I had to go on.
Why novel-writing has frustrated me
Now, remember how I recently told you that I was probably not going to write any more novels until I was older than George Burns? (Don’t make me feel old and tell me you don’t know who George Burns is!) And that was despite having previously told you that I could do anything. (Good thing I’m not wishy-washy.)
It had nothing to do with not having an outline. It had nothing to do with writing an outline and feeling restricted by it.
It had everything to do with my characters.
Yep. Let me tell you the three easiest books I’ve ever written. The first two are in the “Texas Hearts” series, the last in the “Choices and Chances” series: Guns and Rosa, Antonia’s Dance, and His First Choice.
Why? I fell in love with the characters. Now, I have to say that I love Sheila and Hank in The Envelope. But I also have to be honest – it was the first novel I’d ever written, and was written in fits and starts over a period of two to three years in the evenings after I got home from my teaching job, and during the summer. So because I was feeling my way through the skill of creating and growing characters, as well as inventing interesting plot turns, it was by no means easy to write.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m saying that those three books listed above have been the easiest to write. I’m not saying they were plain-old easy. But I loved the main characters. Rosa and George are both larger-than-life types. The romance between Max and Antonia is just sweet – because both of the characters are. Erin and Rodney in His First Choice are an awful lot like a certain couple I know (a-HEM!), so what’s not to love? 😉
Recently, I wrote a short story. Because I was only going to write short stories from now on, right?
But as soon as I finished the story, it wanted to be a novel.
Well, not exactly, It wanted me to go back in time and tell the story of the couple that stars in that story.
I slept on it. Waited. Did my best to talk my mind out of the idea.
The short story kept growing in my mind. I felt a stronger and stronger desire to do what it was asking, and turn it into a novel.
And so, yes, I, the non-wishy-washy blogger, am working on another novel. I’m writing it by the seat of my pants, and I’m having a blast. I think it’s been the easiest novel by far for me to write. Why?
I love the characters.
Yep. It’s that simple. I can write a novel and not get totally frustrated with either the time or mental gymnastics it takes as long as I love the characters. They have to become a part of me, and I a part of them.
Does that sound totally whack, or what?
If it does, too bad. I’m having fun.
With my pants back on. Sorry, Libbie. My stories just refuse to live in a box.