Outline or wing it? Both.
There. Done. My shortest blog post ever.
More details? It won’t be pretty.
Don’t tell my editor, but I write the first 50 pages blind. I have no idea who the characters are or what they will do. Because I write historical fiction, I know when and where they’ll be, and have researched the era and place for hours and hours and hours and…you get the picture. I have some ideas of cool or truly awful historical events and facts I want to look at, but that’s all.
After I finish those 50 pages I read them to see if they might actually be part of a novel. If not, I pitch them and write another 50 pages. If so, I start to outline. I outline the whole book, beginning to end.
Then I write another 50 pages. At the end of those I discover that my outline is wrong. The outline is wrong both going forward (i.e., things I haven’t written yet) and going backward (i.e., things I have written that weren’t in the original outline). More outlining. I write another 50 pages and…you get the idea.
Looking at it put down here, it seems totally crazy, but it is my process. After having sat through many classes on “the writing process” I’ve discovered only one truth: Your process is your own. Figure out what your process is and honor it. If you think outlining sucks all the fun out of writing, don’t make yourself do it. If the thought of embarking on a year long journey of novel writing without any damn idea of what you’re doing gives you hives, by all means write an outline. Neither approach is wrong, despite what you may hear.
When I’m all done I match up the outline to the actual book I wrote so I can keep track of what happens in the book. Rewriting starts. I rewrite tons as I’m one of those weird writers who writes too little and always has to add new scenes (as opposed to the writers who write too much and have to delete scenes).
There it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly. My process.