There is no right way to approach writing a book. We all have our individual comfort zones. Consider how you work best. Do you require an outline to begin? Outline away. An outline can be an excellent blueprint for what you want to achieve. And speaking of blueprints, ask any architect if the final build of a plan is one hundred percent in line with the concept drawings. You might be surprised to learn that architects, like writers, find unexpected challenges along the way. You must be willing to abandon or adapt your outline to the story as it unfolds. Creativity lies in the surprises.
Perhaps you are a visual writer. What does that mean? The office wall of a visual writer is scattered with drawings or images of characters, locales, and proposed story arcs. It is not unusual to see a display of multicolored Post-it notes coded for characters, chapters, and/or plot points. The patchwork serves as a reference point as the writing develops. It is easily rearranged to accommodate story order and to insert new plot developments as they occur during the draft process.
The third most common variety of writer is a pantser. A pantser sits at a desk with his or her writing tools of choice and begins without an outline, without a storyboard, to create the story as the words come. Although this implies that the pantster starts with nothing, that is untrue. A pantser has an idea, a central theme, or a character in mind, but they want to see how the story unfolds as they write. The pantser approach reminds me of an old movie where a spunky character says, “Let’s build a barn and put on a show.” What will the barn look like? Not sure. What is the show? Don’t know yet. How many roles are there? Is it a comedy, a drama, or a fantasy? This is my preferred methodology. I wait to see what the story wants to be, and I trust that it will unfold.
Is one method better than another? NO! In fact, as your writing practice evolves, you learn that there are benefits to each method and you develop your own hybrid style. You may have to submit three chapters and an outline to a potential publisher; you may learn to rely on the Post-it scheme to reorder chapters for an enhanced story arc, and you may realize as you revise that you have to trust yourself to flesh out the story.
The trick is not to allow the way you attack or prepare for the work to become a limitation or a roadblock to the actual writing. If your goal is a one-hundred-percent detailed outline, that is what you will achieve—an outline. If you want a story with heart, imagery, and color, you must trust your words to write. Perfection in preparation is like perfection in creativity: resistance. Regardless of your style, you must trust your ability to tell your story.