Writing is definitely an individual thing. Some writers get their first draft as close to perfect as they can and then have a polish of it while editing. Some make it up as they go along while others outline each scene in minute detail so they know exactly what to expect. I tried making it up as I went for my first few books and it’s no coincidence that they’re terrible. That’s not because the make it up as you go plan is a bad idea. It’s a bad idea for me.
That’s the important bit. Because writing is individual, what works for one writer doesn’t work for me. The difficulty for new writers is finding what works for them while thinking they have to write in a certain way otherwise they’re doing it wrong. So it becomes to outline or just start writing and see where you end up. It becomes bashing out a messy first draft and tidying, editing and polishing for draft after draft. It becomes analysing each word, each line and each semi-colon as you go in order to have a perfect first draft. All these ways work for different writers.
Personally, I outline but not in a rigid or even particularly detailed way. I like to know where the story is going but only as a guide. The characters take over and while they go through the story generally sticking to my idea, they have their own route to take. And I’ve got no problem with crappy first drafts. The last thing I’m going to do is ensure it’s all polished as I go. I do that and I could spend ten years writing a book. Plus, themes and plots develop as I go. Issues I hadn’t considered at the start become clear 20,000 words later; they need expansion and developing over the next couple of drafts and that’s fine with me.
So that’s how I do it. It took me best part of six books to work out what was best for me. Luckier (and more talented writers) know earlier in their career but I don’t really mind. It’s a learning process even eleven books in. And speaking of book eleven, it’s closing in on 30,000 words and my three main characters are definitely taking the story in their direction. I’m happy to let them lead me into the woods.
I just hope they know the way back.