"Should I write the whole story in order and just let it flow spontaneously, or should I map out the entire plot and key scenes first?"
For the first ten or so years of my writing career, I took the first option.
I didn't want to sacrifice the spontaneity, the authenticity, and the natural feel of just letting things happen as they happened. I wanted to just write what I felt like, without being chained to a pre-mapped plot.
Unfortunately, this came with four unpleasant side effects:
1. Amazing scenes went stale in my head, because I was writing events in the order in which they happened, instead of typing out those scenes when they came to me.
Moments that were vibrant, touching and beautiful when I first conceived them went unwritten for so long that they atrophied, leaving only a sad shadow behind when I actually went to write them.
2. I had to store the entire plot in my mind. Despite my desire to maintain spontaneity, I wasn't just writing haphazardly; I did have overarching plots in my had.
The trouble was, that's where they were - in my head. Taking up brain space. Forcing me to be more careful while I wrote, so I didn't derail my carefully memorized plot.
Ironically, the very thing that was supposed to set me free in my writing actually made me work harder and more carefully than I needed to.
3. My plotlines tended to be less intricate and well-thought-out, because I never got to take a bird's-eye-view look at the entire plot before submerging myself in it.
As it turns out, assessing and improving a plot outline is a LOT easier when it spans ten pages than when it spans over one hundred and ten.
4. I got writer's block more easily.
Another piece of irony was that my attempt to stay spontaneous by staying linear actually limited my spontaneity, resulting in writer's block.
Restricting myself to writing whichever scene came next meant I only had one scene available to write, and if the scene just wasn't flowing or I didn't feel like writing that particular mood - too bad.
But once I started writing out a plot outline ahead of time, I was able to pick and choose.
If I didn't feel like writing the scene that came next, I could pick from ALL the scenes I had outlined and write what I wanted to. Or, if a scene later in the book was tugging at my mind, I could just go ahead and write it.
What if I wanted to go in a different direction than what I'd mapped out?
There have been a several times when I've gone completely off the rails of what I'd originally planned. My experience with Catgirl Roommate's Jack is a good example of this.
Just because I have a plot outline, that doesn't mean I'm bound by it. If the plot outline was a code, then in the immortal words of Captain Barbossa,
Which method do you use?
Do you tend to write your stories in a linear way from start to finish, sticking to whatever scene comes next and storing the plot in your head?
Or do you tend to map things out in advance?
I'm interested to hear which method works best for you, so please feel free to share it in the comments.