It depends? Either one or both? Or do you have another way? This is yet another writer’s decision based upon your own unique needs and the parameters of what you are writing, whether to start with an outline or to be a bit random.
I have writing-friends who are very linear. For them, making an outline gives a sense of security and even comfort. They’ve got something down on paper and it has a safe structure! They’ve contained their idea and phew, they are on their way. Regardless of the particular genre, this is their chosen method of beginning to write–their point of entry.
I like something looser…a wending path across a long roll of paper that I unfurl as I go. Or on that same long roll of paper, I might draw text bubbles of all shapes and sizes. I diagram, play, map, add and subtract, doodle, make notes, daydream, go a little wild, add color, and engage with my theme or story in a way that the rigidity of an outline with Roman numerals doesn’t allow. My whole body is involved as I navigate around the meandering paper roll which has now drifted from table to floor. I number and re-number the text bubbles when I want to bring in some continuity or order.
Structures serve a purpose; however, in the creative realm, structures imposed too soon may be restrictive. If you are relating something that is absolutely fact-based, then you probably want an outline (at some point). However, if you have a fact-based story and go a little wild with diagramming, drawing, diverting, you might surprise yourself and bring in some elements that would give your fact-based story a different sort of vitality. And in doing so, you’ve tapped into another part of your brain!
I am not going to tell you not to do an outline. If you are bent on this, then do it. Once it’s done, try taking it apart and destructuring it. Take that long roll of paper and draw that unfolding path or unwieldy text bubbles. Call on your own fun-loving creative spirit and play freely. Afterwards, you can rein in your troops and see what is worth keeping and how to integrate it (or not) into your outline and written script. This is part of the crafting process.
Considering all of the above, writing seems to be a left-side of the brain activity. It seeks a logic of some sort as its basis. (Except, I think, for poetry…which dances between the left and right side of the brain–the masculine right to be assertive and logical dances with the feminine right to intuit and feel). Hmmm.
Try it both ways…take a poem you want to write, a chapter you’re working on or a theme you are considering. Outline it first. Then, set yourself free on a long roll of paper or several 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper taped together.
Once you’ve drafted your ideas on a paper roll, get yourself some inexpensive fluorescent paints and a paintbrush. Holding the brush in your fingertips, loosely glide it across the paper. No intention in mind, let the paint flow any which way. Later on if you want to add squiggles, doodles, designs and symbols, you can come back in with markers, gelatos, colored pencils, pastels, whatever you have. Remember that all of this is cut-able and paste-able if you decide to map your poem, essay or chapter in another way.
Notice how you feel during and after this exercise.