Imagine it is a beautiful, sunny day (a bit of a stretch for those of us in Melbourne) and you decide to go for a drive. You pack your picnic, a nice bottle of red and get in your zero emission cold-fusion car (let’s make this a big stretch of the imagination). Your goal is to have a nice day out in the country, but how you get there will be different for each of you.
Some will plan the entire trip using a map so they know exactly where they are going to be every step of the way. Some will look at a high-level map to get an idea of where they are going, and then just follow signs or explore anything that looks interesting along the way. Others will just get in the car and go, ready to follow any path that looks promising.
There is no ‘right’ way to go for a drive in the country (road rules aside) and writing a story is exactly the same. I have heard a number of writers debate the merits of detailed plans vs no plan vs some plan, and to me the whole thing is a moot point. When writing you should do what works for you. Explore the other methods, but if you find yourself being dragged back to your method of choice, that’s fine!
Obviously if you have a deadline, more planning is probably prudent, as ‘no plan’ will always lead to hundreds or thousands of words that take you in the wrong direction or simply just don’t get used. Back to the analogy, the person with no idea of where they are going has a much greater chance of getting lost, but they also might just discover something completely off the beaten track.
So plan if you want to plan, and don’t if you don’t. Whatever method you choose I promise you there is a well published, respected author who plans to a greater degree than you do, and an equally well published, respected author who plans less. At the end of the day, it is the final story that counts, no one cares about how you got there.