Most writers know they fall into one of the two camps: plotter and pantser. You either write out your plans in detail or just let it happen and go with the flow. There are merits to both sides, and I will discuss those before revealing my big secret (dundundun).
Plotters are typically methodical. They write down an outline, clean it up, rearrange it, organize it, and polish it until it shines. Then they start writing the story with a clear road map beside them so they know when every beat is coming. It’s a great way to work if you have a lot of characters, a complex plot, or just want to give yourself that set of guideposts to write from. However, it can become limiting because some people don’t give themselves permission to write. They become so focused on the outline and carving out every detail that they lose sight of the story.
On the other hand, pantsers don’t start with much of a plan. They get a story idea in their head and run with it, following it wherever they go. Characters and dialogue write themselves as they explore the world. It’s unlimited freedom and imagination. The benefits of this are obvious, but the drawbacks are that you can end up with a disorganized plot that wanders from one point to the next without clear focus.
There has been a debate in the world about which style is “better”. Of course, the debate ends saying that every writer has their own methodology and neither is inherently superior to the next. But what isn’t addressed is the fact that there is a third type of writer.
I am said third type of writer: I do both. On one hand I rough out an outline and write down whatever comes into my head. I try and organize the story a little, and then I dive in headfirst. There is very little polishing on my outline once I have the basic story written out, so I don’t end up being hung up in the details. While writing I let the characters speak. Their stories, their dialog, their world all come from that unlimited font of inspiration, and if that imagination takes me somewhere other than my outline? So be it! The outline can be changed, or discarded, or whatever I need to do with it to suit my needs. It’s just a basic road map anyway.
To be honest, I don’t believe any of these methods to be superior to the other, but I do think we shouldn’t get hung up on what our method is as long as it works. Does it produce results, and do you find it fulfilling? Then use that method. That is what will work for you. There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to do this unless you are finding yourself unable to keep to a plot or to generate ideas.