I have a confession to make. Since about 2009, I’ve been leading a secret life.
As a woman.
Yes, it’s true. Several years back I was working a day job and writing my novels for St. Martins at night and was so exhausted all the time I could barely form a response to anyone who asked me what time it was. And if I managed, it was usually “Bedtime.”
Life as a midlist author for one of the Big Five is not all champagne and roses. My advances were decent, but not fantastic. And spread out over a couple of years, the royalties they were doling out were not enough to sustain my hedonistic lifestyle. I mean, Ferraris are expensive to maintain.
So I knew I had to do something to make the leap from day job zombie caffeine addict to full-time writer zombie caffeine addict and the only way to do that would be a) drink more coffee; and b) find more writing work.
And since we’re supposed to be talking about writing here, I’ll spare you my opinion on Jamaica Blue Mountain beans and tell you about the finding more work part.
Oh, and the woman part, too. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about that.
You see, many of my writer friends are women. And many of those woman work in the world of romance, specifically the world of Harlequin romance. Some of them work for a line called Harlequin Intrigue, which is all about romantic suspense, and the emphasis on suspense over romance is completely up to the author.
When I asked my buddy Debra Webb (the Queen of Intrigue) if any men ever write for the line, she told me they did indeed and “Oh, my God, you should write for them! I’ll introduce you to my editor!”
The next thing I knew I was writing an outline and sample chapters and within a month I was working for Intrigue under a female pen name that I will happily reveal to anyone willing to pay me a hundred bucks, so long as you promise not to reveal the secret (hey, I’ve gotta make money SOMEHOW).
Anyway, I was attracted to Intrigue because the books are only about 50,000 words long, fairly linear, and I figured I’d be able to bang them out pretty quickly and earn enough extra money to dump the day job.
And I was right. Thanks to Harlequin and a very nice deal with Penguin, I was able to do just that.
But I had one very small problem…
I’ve never been what you’d call a fast writer. So now I was in a situation where I had to not only write a big 150,000 word apocalyptic novel for Penguin, I also had to do a couple of those 50,000 word romancers.
Had I just shot myself in the foot? Painted myself into a corner? Taken a long walk off a short—you get the point. Choose your own cliché.
Ever since I started writing, I’ve been a pantser. I come up with an idea, kinda sorta figure out who the main character is, then sit down and start writing. I had tried outlining many, many times (just like all the writing books say we should) and I just couldn’t stand to do them. My eyes would glaze over after three paragraphs.
Isn’t writing supposed to be fun?
But for the Harlequin Intrigue audition I had no choice but to write that outline and three sample chapters. It was full proposal or don’t bother auditioning. They weren’t going to hire me simply because they liked my Facebook page. (Or maybe in was MySpace in those days.)
When it came time to actually write the book, however, I discovered something quite wonderful. Because I had worked everything out in that outline, all I really had to do was, as they say, “word it in,” and I managed to bang that thing out in record time.
From there on out, I was a convert. At least when it came to Harlequin romances. I still wrote (and continue to write) my Robert Gregory Browne books by the seat of my pants (except for one exception I won’t get into here), but the Intrigues were all outlined first. Even after my editor said all she needed was a paragraph from me. I would write a ten to twenty page outline for myself, because I had to write those suckers fast.
I think the fastest I ever went from outline to finished book was about two and a half weeks. I’m no John Creasey, but I think 50K words in that amount of time is pretty damn fast.
So if you’re concerned about your snail’s pace as a writer, just know that as much as you might hate them, outlines can certainly be your friend.
Now that I’ve said goodbye to Intrigue, I still loath outlines and avoid them completely.
But that doesn’t mean you have to.