Worry no more! Here is some basic advice on how people approach writing a story or a novel. Please note that poems or non-fiction won't really be covered here, since this is written from the angle of a novel writer.
There are multiple common approaches to writing. Neither of them is inherently superior. Writers pick the one that works for them, so if in doubt, you should give them a try and find out what works for you! The common approaches are:
1. Outlining / Planning.
How It Works: You plan the overall story structure first. To do this, as an outlining writer, you will write down the overall plot arc based on constructs like e.g. ‘a hero's journey’, then split things up into smaller parts, down to chapters or even scenes - noting down all major plot points, conflicts, character interactions, and so on. Only after that plot planning is done, you would start writing the first scene.
Why To Like: Useful for very contrived and complex stories. Easier to do detailed world-building. Helps if you're prone to getting stuck, since the outline helps nudging you towards next scenes to write. Helps if you don't want to write chronologically.
Why To Hate: Possibly a risk of overdoing the planning - remember to get started some time! May slow your writing if you plan a lot. Can be frustrating in case things derail during actual writing, and your plans don't work out as intended.
Misconceptions: Planning / outlining still means you need to edit and revise later. Also, you don't need this approach for detailed world-building - it's just easier this way.
2. Discovery Writing /
How It Works: Figure out a sentence or two sentences about the setting, a character name, maybe a vague plot goal (or not if you don't feel like it), and then jump right into the first scene. As a discovery writer, you get the excitement to surprise yourself with what's next, and the genuine character reactions resulting from writing entirely unplanned.
Why To Like: The rush of excitement as you don't know yourself who will live, what will happen. If you hate ordering things, making graphs, bullet lists - why bother, just go! Can yield very natural character reactions, surprising plot twists.
Why To Hate: Might feel too messy to some. Higher risk of getting stuck or writing yourself in a corner. Often more editing and revision needed, because you're more likely to introduce plotholes due to a lack of an in-depth plan. Hard to write non-chronological without confusing yourself.
Misconceptions: Doesn't mean that the plot will be incoherent or one-dimensional - but in the first draft, it might be a lot more all over the place than if you had preplanned it all. (but it might also turn out more interesting, who knows?)
3. Balanced Middleground.
How It Works: You plan to some extent as you would do as a planner / outliner, but you dive into some scenes largely unprepared like a discovery writer / pantser. Basically, you find the middleground you're most comfortable with.
Why To Like: Most flexible. Probably what most writers go for. Gets you the best of both worlds.
Why To Hate: Might take a while until you figure out your preferred balance. Otherwise it's pretty much love it or hate it - as with the other approaches as well.
Misconceptions: It might sound like the most reasonable approach, but even famous writers swear by one of the two extremes. Writing can be very subconscious, emotional, intuition-driven and personal. Just pick whatever you like - everything works, if you make it work for you.
You essentially just need to try them. What made me go into the extreme discovery writing corner was that I soon found out that planning / outlining makes the story uninteresting for me - essentially, it feels to me like I've already decided so many things, there is no excitement left in exploring the story. But your mileage may vary, many planners for example feel lost without any outline or plan in place before they start.
Therefore, keep experimenting, see what works for you, and, most importantly, keep writing!
Thanks for reading the article. Find more advice on writing here. And remember, always keep writing to get better!
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