I wrote ten novels over the course of ten years before my eleventh novel sold. Each of the trunked ten novels were fantasy, and they were all written basically the same way: no outlining, but with an idea of the end, followed by minimal editing. All fantasy, all third person past tense.
I think the eleventh novel, Across the Universe, sold mostly because I tried something different—still no outlining, but also no real idea of what the end would be. And this was a science fiction novel, told in alternating first person present points of view. It was different for me, and it became the novel that changed everything.
After writing the sequels to Across the Universe, I realized that I needed another change. My method of writing meant a lot of rewriting, and it was killing my time. I could be more efficient, I knew that, I just wasn’t sure how.
So I read. I don’t really like a lot of writing self-help books, but I did like Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and Hague and Vogler’s DVD on the hero’s journey was great. I started to piece together a method that worked for me. For the current book I’m writing, coming in 2015, I still wrote without an outline—but I edited with an outline. I changed the method I wrote, too, using different features in Scrivener I’d previously ignored.
I’m also now writing a totally different book…at the same time as the current one. Different genre, different style, and different method of writing, relying on a notebook rather than a wall chart, and sketching out a bit of an outline as I go.
People would always tell me before that there’s a certain method each writer prefers, and you just have to find the way that works for you. But what no one really told me is that the method changes for the writer with each book—sometimes more than once in a single book. Outlines don’t help with some novels, but work for others. Editing takes different routes. Styles, tones, and tenses change. The writer changes.
Writing isn’t a static activity. It is constantly dynamic, constantly changing, and the best thing you can do is seek out the change rather than fear it. You’re not either an outliner or a pantser—you can be both, simultaneously, or one for one book and another for another.
Writing for the long haul isn’t about writing either/or. It’s about finding the best method for each story.