The other day I heard someone say the only way to write a book is to plot it out. To have spreadsheets, character sheets, scenes planned out, and more. Is it good to at least have a vague idea of what you want to write when you sit at the computer? Yes. Definitely. But plotting is not the only right way to write a first draft.
You want the right way?
There isn’t one.
If you plot, if you color-code and write lengthy character sheets and have a 100-page bulleted outline, you’re doing it right. If you have a few scenes outlined on a 3×5 card, you’re doing it right. If you sit down at your desk and fly (or in this case write) by the seat of your pants, you’re doing it right. I’m the latter one, if you’re wondering.
If you’re writing a trilogy, duology, or series, it’s a good idea to at least know where you’re going because it all has to tie together. A lot of publishing companies that buy your first manuscript will often want to see what else you have. Sometimes that involves you writing up a proposal or synopsis for a book you haven’t written yet. In which case, you may not have a choice but to plot there.
Do the outliners sometimes have better odds of not having to do a dramatic overhaul in their book? Sure. Do they have the chance of not liking the plot they outlined and having to start again from scratch after the book is written? Definitely.
If that happens to you even after outlining your little writer’s heart out, you’re still doing it right.
Pantsers have a tendency to need very heavy first pass edits. We throw everything in there. We deviate from what we originally thought the book would be. We add things in the middle of the book as they come to us, knowing we’ll have to go back to the beginning and add it in.
If that’s something you do, you’re still doing it right.
The reason why so, so many writers love writing first drafts is because it’s all about freedom. Even if you outline, a first draft is your chance to write whatever’s in your heart. Even lines you know will probably need to be cut later on.
So enjoy it. Write that first draft with a detailed outline. Write it from your 3×5 cards. Or write it from an idea you had scribbled on your hand in the grocery store. Just write it.