So, you've been thinking about writing. Maybe a short story, or a novel even. And you eagerly go out on the internet to read "how-to's" by published authors, or maybe even buy a book or two about (ironically) how to write a book. And after you've sifted through all this information, you learn something very important:
There is no one, true way.
You will find authors that definitively state that outlines are the way to go. It's like drawing a road map--you lay out everything you want to happen and think should happen, develop your plot, and then follow the outline to write your story. Some writers even go so far as to note nearly every single detail in every section of the outline (at that point, haven't you already written the damn thing? But I digress).
Others write a bunch of scenes and slap them together. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it leaves great gaping plot holes so large you could drive a freight truck through them.
Some writers have three step methods. Others have snowflake-shaped methods. These are just variations of the outline method, whether they appear that way or not.
And you, poor amateur writer--you pick the method that seems most appealing (usually the one recommended by the most famous author you've found), and then can't figure out why it isn't working for you. You struggle and struggle, and ultimately decide you must suck at this writing thing and give up altogether.
Three words: Don't Do That.
Don't give up. Just because one method doesn't work for you, it doesn't mean none of them will. And it doesn't even mean that when you find a method that works, that it will work all the time.
Remember that writing is an art. It's as much feeling and imagining as it is skill and technique. Some artists work better with lots of initial sketches; some just freehand the hell out of it, and it looks great. Writing is much the same way.
My first book was written in a very linear fashion, from start to finish. Sure, I went back and edited and revised and all that good stuff, but it was written beginning to end, no hopping around. I was pleased with it, self-published it, and it has so far garnered quite a bit of praise (though that praise hasn't made it onto Amazon's reviews--I'm talking to you, readers! You know who you are).
Anywho, I didn't do an outline, I just wrote, and it worked. But now I'm working on the second book and...well, let's just say linear writing isn't an option.
I almost swear that books have their own personalities. They're like kids--you've got the good kid who does what you want without any fuss; and then you have the bad kid, the one who bucks you at every turn.
Yeah, Book 2 is definitely the bad kid.
Book 2 doesn't want to be written start to finish. It wants to hop around, going here, going there, doubling back on itself, and refusing to go any further until I write that one scene it's just dying to have written. (Now, I know it's not really the book; it's my brain doing this to me. But I feel better if I can blame it on my book and not on any potential neurosis.)
I've found myself having to look up details from the first book (this is where notes would have been useful), because Book 2 insists these things are important. I've found myself actually taking time to sit down and outline this beast in an effort to get it to behave, to no avail. It matches my outline, and raises me a hell no. Infernally frustrated, I finally gave in and started writing it the way it wanted to be written.
This means jumping around from scene to scene in very different places in the story. This means trying to figure out where my brain--uh, book--is trying to take me, because it's not where I thought we were going. And though it's a crazy, bumpy ride of writing a bunch of stuff and then stringing it together, it's actually starting to flow.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what you want--flow. You want the writing to move through you, like you're taking your scenes and your chapters straight out of your head and smacking them on paper (or computer screen, whatever). You want your story to slip out of you, pouring right into the pages where it's meant to be.
If an outline and plotting every detail is what makes that happen for you, go with it. If randomly writing bunches of scenes and then putting them together makes that happen, go with it. If a combination of the two, or any other method, or dancing the mamba on the front porch does it for you, then go with it.
There is no one true way to write. No guaranteed formula to goodness and success. You have to write what you need to write, the way you need to write it. And while, YES, there's editing and revising and learning and all that good stuff, that's just the stuff that polishes your writing up to make it presentable to the rest of humanity. The real guts of it is YOU, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
So let it flow, my friends. If something's blocking your flow, take another route. You'll get there eventually.
Now, off to go wrestle with the evil spawn from hell that calls itself a sequel...