Getting Out of the Labryinth My Writing

Getting Out of the Labyrinth: Part 2 – Outlining

This is a continuation of my series on The Labyrinth, that monstrous impossible maze so many of us writers get stuck in during our inbetween years.  Last week, I talked about phase 1 of any novel, planning. You can read the five things I learned about planning while writing my first novel (The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, available this summer!) in this blog here.

Today I’ll be talking about the second phase of writing a novel, outlining. This is a long one because I think this stage is so important and I have a whole lot to say about it!


1. If you are in the labyrinth, you need an outline.

Bear with me here. This one takes a long time to bring together. But we’ll get there.

I used to be one of those writers who preferred working without an outline. I’d rather find out what was going to happen as it developed, I said, and I did! All the books I wrote before my labyrinth years were written outline-free. I figured out how Mary the Mouse and her intrepid band of investigators were going to rescue Tommy the Turtle on the fly, and it was exciting and grand. I told people up until my mid-twenties that I preferred working without an outline. I hadn’t actually worked in ten years, but that was how I’d always done things before. Why change?

Well… because I had to. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the manuscript I came out of the labyrinth clutching triumphantly above my head was the first manuscript I’d ever written a full outline for.

My Life

Meet Some Amazing Rescue Sweethearts

There are two fine little ladies in this picture. The roly poly bald one is me, at about fifteen months. And the cutie wearing the exact same facial expression is Toby, the rescue dog my parents brought home as a sweet puppy months before I was even conceived.

Toby was a beautiful, sweet-tempered, playful little dog. No one could even guess at her breed. There was probably some collie in there. She was friendly and she listened well, and even my friends who were afraid of dogs loved little Toby. She lived to a ripe old age of seventeen. She was a great dog and she was unique, which is part of what’s fun about rescuing mutts. Nobody out there had a dog like Toby. I’ve looked and looked and never found another pup who had her curly ringlet ears, small stature, vulpine snout, and long hair.

Toby was such a fixture of my life. We had her since before I was born, and she died when I was sixteen. She was there through all the formative years of my life. So when I first heard all the stereotypes about rescue pets — that they’re poorly behaved, that they’re rangy, that you’ll never be able to train them right, that they misbehave around other animals — I was just so shocked I didn’t even know what to do with myself. Pets like Toby were supposed to be those things? There was no way!

Well, fifteen years later and I still believe that. If anything, I’ve only gotten more passionate about how great shelter pets are, because I’ve gotten a lot more of a sample base of choose from.

Getting Out of the Labryinth

Getting Out of the Labyrinth: Part 1 – Planning

(This is a continuation of the ideas I started exploring in this post.)

It’s hard to say where I “got the idea” for my first novel, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, available this July. It’s not so much an idea that I “got” as an idea I’ve always had.

I learned to read by eating through all one hundred plus volumes of Nancy Drew. I developed a real love for the traditional whodunnit from that girl detective, and I’ve kept it my whole life. Even as my interest drifted from mystery fiction to fantasy fiction, my love for private eyes, perpetrators, and puzzles never faded. It always made me sad there wasn’t much genre overlap, and I’ve known since forever that I wanted to write a fantasy mystery novel. It just seemed right.

The problem, of course, is that “fantasy mystery novel” isn’t a story idea, it’s a concept. At best! But it was a good concept, for one major reason…

Getting Out of the Labryinth My Writing

The Labyrinth

I’ve pretty much been writing since I was born.

My first novel was finished when I was seven years old. It was done up on an old clackety type-writer with a rogue e that made it awfully hard to read.  It was about a detective agency full of rodents who solved kidnappings. The concept was clearly cribbed from Disney’s Saturday morning cartoon, Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers. The actual characters were based on a colouring book page that I really liked and created a backstory for, which lead to the incongruously reptilian Tommy the Turtle, the agency’s janitor. (My parents ran a janitorial company at the time, which made me think janitorial work was incredibly glamorous and cool.) The agency was run by Mary the Mouse, and I delighted in penning the sexual tension between Mary and Tommy. Tommy’s kidnapping by a gang of alleycats was thwarted by Mary’s clever sleuthing skills and there was a very salacious kiss at the end that I imagined myself very grown up for writing.

There’s a point to this story, I swear!

My Writing

Changing Paradigms

I’ve had a blog for a few months, now. Every time I get on my computer, I think – darn! I should really update my blog! After all, maintaining a blog is an important part of being an author in this modern age. You need a blog because you need a brand. If you don’t have a brand, you won’t sell books. I’m staring down a July release date on my first novel, and I don’t have a brand to speak of.

Back up.

Well, I do have a brand. Or rather, I did have a brand. 2004 was a hell of a time, and I was riding high on fandom popularity. At least a couple hundred complete strangers knew my name, or rather, my covert undercover internet alias. I was a controversial figure! Centre of ship wars, source of drama, and shit-stirrer extraordinaire! “Oh, her.” Yeah, me. Causing trouble, getting into fights, and being larger than life.

As it turns out, when you’re nineteen and super internet famous for being a bit of a drama queen (at least in your own head. Was I ever that big a deal? I highly doubt it), you burn out on it pretty hard. I thought I was pretty hot stuff, and I got myself into a whole lot of trouble that I couldn’t easily get out of. All those people knowing who you are makes it awfully easy to paint a target on yourself and run around naked.


I sort of had to teach myself to not have a brand. To kill my brand. To bury myself and all the bad blood young, “famous” me had managed to stir up. I spent so many years deleting profiles, getting access to geocities sites, scrubbing anything that could make me remotely googleable from the internet, and learning to live under the radar.


Fast forward again.

Here I am, finally looking at what I’ve wanted my whole life: a career in writing. So much of my world has been about getting caught up in other people’s stories, and I have this chance to get others caught up in mine. And I need a brand.

This is my usual attempt to work on my brand. I load up my blogs, my twitter, my goodreads. All those important tools in my brand-creating toolbox. I see an article I like and I wonder if I should blog about it. Retweet it, maybe. But there’s this deer-in-headlights paralysis that comes over me, the result of my blown up, self-inflated “dark past” in the 2004 fandom trenches. I don’t blog about the article and I don’t retweet it. The fact is, I’m starting to realize that creating a brand might be pretty damn hard. Especially if what you really want to do is hide.

I started my blog in October. It’s now the end of January and there’s still nothing in my blog. I’m at Starbucks, it’s writing night, and I know that it’s time to get off my seat and get started on this damn blog. Because I need a brand. Two refreshers and five false starts later and all my attempts feel fake or boring or both. “Hi, this is my blog!” Yeah, Kate, everyone knows that its your blog! It says that at the top of the page.

So I think that maybe it’s time to start with something honest.

How about this?

Hi. I’m Kate McIntyre. I want you to read my books, because I think they’re good, and I think you’ll like them. I’ve spent eleven years flying in stealth mode and I’m trying to learn how to do some sky-writing instead. Do you want to watch my probably pathetic but definitely earnest attempts?

Of course you do.