Friday, March 6, 2009

Writing by the Seat of my Pants

by Susan McBride

If you didn't guess by the title of this post, I'm one of those writers who usually flies by the seat of my pants. I never worked with outlines while composing 10 novels that never got published; nor did I use one for my two small press books or the five Debutante Dropout Mysteries I wrote for Avon.

All that changed when I signed with Random House to do THE DEBS young adult series. My contract required I turn in an outline before each book. A detailed outline. And it had to be approved by my editor, which meant turning it in and getting her feedback before I got the thumbs-up.

You can't even imagine how bad my first outline was. I figure my editor at RH assumed I was drunk when I wrote it (and I don't drink). Or possibly that I let my cats' paws do the walking on my keyboard. It stunk because I had no clue what I was doing. Creating an outline before I could sit down and write felt foreign to me, almost like I was ruining all the fun. Somehow (thank God), it all worked out, and THE DEBS came out A-OK.

Over the course of two more YA books (LOVE, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS and GLOVES OFF), I got better at outlining. Not great, mind you, just adequate enough that my editor could make some sense of the plotlines I suggested. I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea; but it doesn't freak me out anymore either.

Now, after turning in GLOVES OFF and doing the revisions lickety-split after getting notes back before January ended, I've gone into manic writing mode as I work on THE COUGAR CLUB for Avon. My deadline is May 1. Gulp. I've made fairly good progress, but I find myself hyperventilating now and then, realizing "I have no frickin' outline!"

I got so used to them that now writing by my gut again feels a wee bit scary. Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying the freedom of letting my crazy brain take me in all sorts of directions. I fall asleep at night thinking of what I've just written that day, and I wake up in the morning with new ideas that get my heart pumping.

But I'm nervous all the same. A part of me misses having that crutch of truly knowing what's coming next...and then next after that. Then I remind myself that once I get COUGAR done and sent off to my editor at Avon, I'll have an outline to write for Random House again.

So next time I'm at a panel and someone asks, "Which of you outline?" I'll raise my hand. And then when they inquire, "And which of you flies by the seat of her pants?" I'll raise my hand, too.

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