Novel Approach

There’s a particular book I love.

Only a few have ever seen it, or know it exists, but I love it.

It is the first story I ever wrote all the way through – haltingly over a few years. It’s not at all polished, but the bones of the story are lovely to me, and although I recognized its faults and put it in the noveltrunk along with the fragments I’d been putting on paper since my teens, I never forgot it.

So much so that during my most recent phone call with my agent, I grabbed my courage with both hands and pitched it alongside a newer idea for a story that I also love. Old idea, new idea. Let the agent and fate decide.

The old idea is the one that got an excitement noise from her, so I confessed I had written it a long time ago. As in years. As in I had no idea what I was doing at the time I set it down. But still, the premise. So much in love with it. Still.

“Write it all over,” she suggested. “I know it sounds like a lot of work.” (She knows how to temper wisdom with empathy)

Work? Ha. I laugh in the face of work. I will eat the elephant, one bite at a time.

“You should try outlining it first,” she added.

Oh. Oh god. Another first. I’ve never outlined a novel before writing it in my life – but until two years ago, I never wrote a successful query letter, spoke with an agent on the phone, or started a Twitter account, either…

So. An outline. Based on what I already had. Not too bad. I did this with the story that attracted the agent’s attention. I could do this. It was a rewrite. It wasn’t that foreign. This could happen.


The more I outlined, the more it changed. If I ever wondered how much I had learned since 2008, this was a fine way of figuring it out.

At last, I had an outline. It felt good. It felt right. I would not be disappointed by my lack of pantsing on this project. I would press on and rewrite the story according to the new outline. Keep the parts that made me love it and lose the parts that made me cringe, and it would all be good.

And then I discovered that even with an outline… there are gaps. Gaps that delight the pantser in me. Gaps that still need a leap to bridge. Satisfying. And yet without the slight anxiety that was always there with a completely pantsed story that felt like the ghost of Christmas yet to come leering at me from my peripheral vision.

And perhaps it won’t need the massive edits that the pantsed ones did. Maybe. Just maybe.

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