I’m sometimes asked if I’m a plotter or a pantser. A plotter outlines heavily in advance. A pantser writes “by the seat of the pants,” that is, making it up as they go along.
There is not a right way to do this. There is the way that works for you, and for the particular story you are working on at the moment. Be proud of your plotting or pantsing. If it gets the job done then the method works.
I don’t fit neatly in either category, as I suspect many writers do not. I can’t walk blind into my stories, feeling them out as I go. But I don’t outline down to the chapter and scene particulars either.
I do have some fairly basic patterns by which I work into and through the first draft of a novel or short story.
Usually I begin with a sense of the thematic and emotional feeling I want for the novel/series. Slowly encounters and scenes and confrontations begin to develop in my mind around which the larger plot adheres. These bits and pieces get written down on scraps of paper or as notes on my computer. Big sheets of graph paper also work well for me when I want to make columns with characters and their “important plot points” or when I want to write out events and link them up with lines and arrows so that it looks like a huge brainstorming chart (although it isn’t quite that).
As I write, and the closer I get to the end, the more I do tend to outline the next few chapters and what needs to happen in them to move the plot forward. If I outlined more tightly from the beginning my novels wouldn’t sprawl quite so much. However, some of my best and most brilliant plot twists have happened during the course of writing, and there is something about the process of actually writing that brings new ideas and connections to the forefront that wouldn’t happen if I had it already planned out.
On the whole I think I work best in the ambivalent space where I know where I’m going but not quite how I’m going to get there.