As a writer, one of the questions I'm asked often is in regards to plotting. "Are you a plotter or a pantser?" What if you're a combination of both? I can safely say I fall somewhere in between. I don't plan out every single detail before I start my story, nor do I sit down in front of a blank document and allow my muse to take the wheel. Heaven knows where I'd end up.
My method of writing has been changing and evolving since writing my first short story for publication. I was once a panster, but I soon discovered I needed some form of structure. Before I start writing any story, I allow myself time to brainstorm my plot, get to know my characters, research my setting, and figure out POVs. I ask myself what my story is going to be about, what's going to happen, what's the tone, then I start collecting information into my Evernote, everything from inspirational imagery, character descriptions, to maps. After I've done this, I start a loose outline.
Initially, it's more a list. At first, it's very basic, a rough sketch of what's happening to who and when, conflicts, resolutions, and timing. There's pages and pages of information, of ideas, and snippets of conversations. Later, as I start developing my story, and as my characters become fleshed out, I start adding to this list, removing, changing, and eventually I start breaking off chapters, expanding on those until I've planned out each one. Here's an example of an early outline for Johnnie's book (click image for full view). It might look like a list of random words to you, but I know exactly what they represent. Sorry, no spoilers, you cheeky monkey.
I have a notebook for each book or series, and I start everything out handwritten. When my list starts growing, I start typing it up. Soon I end up with a nice little synopsis of my whole book, yet at the same time, I've given myself room to let inspiration flow. If my characters decide to take a different direction, I go back to my list/outline and make the necessary changes.
I try to write straight through when I can, but if a particular scene comes to me, or inspiration hits, I never put it off. If I ever sent anyone a WIP they would run screaming in the other direction. It's usually a mass of random chapters, paragraphs, and scenes with highlighted bits, a bunch of *** and notes to myself, but that's fine because it doesn't have to make sense to anyone but me. It's a first draft, and the last thing I want to do is interrupt my flow.
With my historical stories, I research enough details beforehand to give me a sense of time and place, the bigger picture, while smaller details are researched later. I tend to work out big emotional scenes first because they have a habit of sweeping me away which helps with flow.
I need some structure to guide me toward that HEA and keep me from wandering aimlessly, but I still need the freedom to let my characters surprise me, and well, these fellas have a way of changing their own destinies.
Conclusion: Write however it feels right for you and don't think because you've been doing things a certain way for a long time that you can't change. There's no right way or wrong way, as long as you get there in the end.
What about you? Are you a plotter, pantser, or both?