Wow! 1412 words, two hours… And LIGHTNING struck! (Or… “Am I making a huge mistake?”)

I’d written myself into a corner yesterday, and I had absolutely no clue what was going to happen next.

See… Brain writes the outlines and the overall planning. Gut, however, writes the words, and Gut — like a willful horse — is entirely capable of getting the bit between his teeth and galloping straight toward whatever suddenly looks good.

Over the last few days (my time, not hers) my main character has experienced an appalling revelation, a near-death experience, and an unexpected triumph combined with a terrible loss…

And I thought she was still heading toward the same basic end-story objective, but getting there by some strange side paths.

I was still having to get there by pure pantsing, because I left my line-for-scene outline a couple chapters ago in pursuit of The Better Idea.

But today I found myself staring at a wall where I realized I’d just caused the utter obliteration of the ending I thought I was going to write.

Brain was muttering…

“Right… That thing you blew up yesterday was supposed to be the heart of your conflict for another five books after this five, and now… BLAMMO? You sure you want to save what you did yesterday? You can go back. Back is SAFE. Back in KNOWN. Back is the PLAN… and you liked the PLAN when you wrote it.”

Gut held firm. Gut said, “Don’t be a chicken. You knew yesterday’s stuff was cool when you wrote it, and now you want to wuss out and go with what’s safe? C’mon! Grow a pair!” 

Small side note here while I point out that my gut is kind of a jerk sometimes… but it’s almost always right about the fiction, so I have learned to look past the taunting to the meat of the argument.

Which is that what I got yesterday was really cool. Gut is absolutely right about that.

It isn’t what I planned, but it’s better than what I’d planned. It isn’t Safe. But Safe in fiction, the Known in fiction, the Expected in fiction… are always okay.

They are NEVER fucking amazing.

And today I had to look at the loss of some words to return to the Safe Known. Or to keep moving forward in pursuit of the hope of bringing home something fucking amazing…

With the acknowledged very real possibility that I will fall on my face, absolutely wreck this story, and then have a gruelling, long slog through it when I go back through to do the One-Pass Five Book Revision <shudder> that waits for me at the end of this process. Where I will end up turning it into the book I’d planned to write.

I’m choosing to chase the chance to make this fucking amazing.

This may be a serious tactical error on my part, and if you find me in here next month muttering, “Yep… should have got back to the outline…”


You’re invited to say, “Well, I thought you were nuts when you veered away from your plan into fresh new territory.”

Not yet, though. Let’s see where this goes.

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By Holly

Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.

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Sylvia Nickels
11 months ago

I say go with the gut, too!! Without a little suspense and excitement thrown in (IS this going to work?) writing would just be a dismal slogging through the swamp of trying to be a writer. Not very enticing, at least not to me.

Mike Lucas
1 year ago

I agree, go with your gut!

Though this all makes we wonder how successful outliners who stick to their outlines (e.g. Brandon Sanderson) do it. I think they must be able to channel their Muse while writing the outline AND somehow stick to the outline without losing the joy of it. Seems almost impossible.

On the other hand, I’ve heard Sanderson say he writes a LOT of drafts (more than 10). Not sure exactly what counts as a “draft” for him but maybe it means that he sticks to the outline in the first draft, ends up with some stuff that’s kind of uninspired and doesn’t work, and then fixes those parts. If so, it sounds like an odd process to me, but seems to work for him!

Holly Lisle
Reply to  Mike Lucas
1 year ago

Yeah. That’s the thing about writing. We all do this differently, and a lot of us seem to do some stuff differently with every single book.

I have systems. I have processes. And when something good grabs me, I throw them under the bus… and most of the time, that works out.

I have a few novels on my hard drive that are unfinished, just lying there, probably never to be picked up and finished because I ran them off cliffs.

And Brandon Sanderson probably doesn’t. Which would be a big benefit to doing it his way.

On the other hand, I write one first draft, and do one revision on the books I finish, and get them out. Which is a big benefit in working my way. It probably all balances out. And points out yet again that there is no One True Way to do this job.

Jamie DeBree
1 year ago

Enjoy your trip into the deep woods, I say. As a pantser-trying-to-find-an-outlining-flow, I definitely think it’s more fun just seeing what’s hiding in the brush. Even if you have to pull out the thorns and work backwards later. 🙂

Holly Lisle
Reply to  Jamie DeBree
1 year ago

As a “not-pure-pantser, not-pure-outliner writer” I think I probably have the best of both worlds. My process isn’t one-hundred percent guaranteed to deliver great novels every time, and I have a few unfinished ghosts on the hard drive to prove that.

But it works well enough most of the time to let me deliver novels I like to readers who generally like them, too.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x