I have a confession to make.
I’ve been outlining of late.
Don’t tell the World Association of Pantsers. They’ll have me excommunicated. Or maybe they’ll throw a sheet over my head, toss me into the back of a van, and drive me to the set of Whose Line is it Anyway? and not let me leave until I successfully complete one of the hoedowns.
A little backstory… I’ve been trying to write Betrayed (Jill Andersen book 5) for almost two years now. I am now on the fifth (yes, you read that right) rewrite. I have not yet managed to complete a first draft. I’m not sure why; I feel like Betrayed has a strong story with a lot of action and intensity and some emotional beats I know are gonna really throw my readers for a loop.
But I keep getting stuck. So you know what they say about desperate times.
A few fellow writers recommended Libbie Hawker’s book Take Off Your Pants! Don’t let the title (or the cover rife with underwear) fool you; this is very much a how-to tailored toward showing pantsers a good, logical method of outlining.
As with almost every book about some aspect of writing, this is not gospel, and everyone’s mileage may vary. There are suggestions in this book I know I won’t be using, or if I do, I’ll use them in a different way from what Hawker suggested. But that’s the beauty of this craft we call writing: there’s no one right way to do it. Everyone has their own method, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you.
Still, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay — hell, even important — to not be so set in your ways. Especially if your ways aren’t working for whatever reason. I can’t tell you why Betrayed has been such a struggle, especially since my previous method had already netted me five published novels and a collection of short stories. But it did, and I had to adapt.
I won’t lie, outlining feels a little weird. But I can already tell it’s also going to help.
Betrayed will get written. It will get published. And then I’ll finally be able to move on to all these other projects I want to work on. And now that I have an outlining format that works for me, I’ll probably become more productive, and at least return to the days when I was publishing two books a year. Those days were better.
So check out Hawker’s book if you’d like.
But more than anything, don’t be afraid to examine your process and make changes if you feel stagnant. This entire process is fluid, it evolves, and you have to know when to evolve with it.
About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.