Back in 2014 when I was writing my first novel, I thought I could just write my story and be done with it. No outline needed.
When I got stuck and almost quit, I happened across Helping Writers Become Authors and the woman behind the blog, K.M. Weiland. Along with several novels, Weiland has several books on the craft of writing. I picked up Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success and—to this day—I’m confident in saying that this book saved my book. I got busy working on an outline for my novel and, two years later, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire was shortlisted for a local writing award. I also did outlines for my two other novels and they continue to receive positive reviews.
I’m not saying Outlining Your Novel should get all the credit but at least a big ol’ credit chunk, for sure.
I took a break from fiction to write and publish The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII, my first non-fiction book.
In that time, I apparently forgot how important outlines are for fiction—for me and how I write, apparently.
I wrote about 40,000 words of my first historical fiction novel with a pretty solid plan in my head for a beginning, a blurry, fuzzy plan for the middle, and nothing planned for the end. I kept putting off working on the novel and making up excuses and just not being into it, even though I’m still really stoked about the novel’s premise.
During the last weekend in April, I faced facts: I’m not a pantser. I need an outline. I need an outline and there’s absolutely no shame in that.
I need to get back to basics, start fresh with an outline of everything I’ve written so far and work from there. Some stuff may get chopped and that is OKAY.
So, I’m going back to the same tools that helped me so much before: I’m re-reading Outlining Your Novel. I’m using an index card app for the outline because I can easily move cards around, each card containing a scene that can then be shifted around to a better spot in the timeline. More importantly, I have to remind myself that this is a new genre for me, a very different tone, and that I need to be less critical of myself and more accepting of what works for me.
You’d think after three well-received novels, I’d be better at this or at least feel more confident about it. Yeesh.
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.