By Tosca Lee
The Line Between, my novel about a young woman who escapes a doomsday cult on the American Prairie just as a pandemic is sweeping across the nation (yup, I wrote a pandemic duology that released in 2019), was my tenth published novel. It taught me more lessons than I wanted to learn… but exactly the ones I needed.
Somewhere during the planning of the novel, I had this conversation with myself:
Okay. Time to outline.
This is novel number 10. Isn’t outlining innate by now?
You mean I’ve become a pantser like Steven James?
Yup. You are now Steven James.
Steven James is a brilliant author friend of mine and well-known “pantser” (an author who does not outline in favor of discovering the story as it comes—AKA “writing by the seat of one’s pants”). So many of my successful, highly decorated author friends write this way, not knowing whodunit until they reach the end of the novel. It keeps it exciting.
So I wrote the novel. And the first lesson I learned when the editor sent those mangled pages back…
Is this: I am not Steven James.
Also, that I should’ve known better. I always teach writers to know how they work best—during the day or at night, with music or ambient noise, with regular feedback or in a vacuum until the work is finished…
With an outline or without.
In addition to time, my error cost me confidence as I spent four arduous months reshaping the story. And then—already behind schedule—I started the sequel.
With no time to spare, I dug into the outline. Outline in hand, I wrote A Single Light swiftly. And then something happened.
I realized I wasn’t so stressed. That I was doing something I hadn’t done in a while…
I was having fun.
I spent that entire novel excited to write each day, giggling maniacally on more than one occasion.
Why? Not because I had an outline. But because I was honoring the way I work best.
The Line Between went on to win an International Book Award, Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion, and the Nebraska Book Award. It finaled for the High Plains Book Award, and was a semi-finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards. A Single Light also won an International Book Award and finaled for Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion… but lost to The Line Between. (D’oh!)
Four months after the release of A Single Light, Covid struck, bringing with it new lessons about creativity in lockdown, writing during chaos, and surrendering the results.
Have you learned how you work best? Tell us about it.