This is a question I get asked a lot: Do I outline, or do I just write? Every interview I have done so far, I get asked this question. Every interview I hear or read with an author, this question is asked.
Here's my convoluted answer (which I did NOT outline before writing):
I bring my 92 year old mom to church most weeks. Our church looks kind of like this right now:
Sorry I couldn't take a photo of our actual church, which is really much more ornately decorated with poinsettias, to the point that the visiting priest made a crack about it being the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time already, and when are the Christmas decorations coming down? The answer to that would be almost Easter, or whenever the poinsettias die. What can I say, Polish people get a kick out of ornate decoration. Myself included. But I couldn't take a photo because my mom was pulling at my sleeve, saying, "Don't DO that! Someone will see!" I forbore to say that was the point, and let her lead me out into the freeze, sans photo.
Anyway. The first reading today was from the Book of Samuel. I didn't even know there WAS a Book of Samuel. I had never heard of him. He was some prophet, apparently. But I felt a certain kinship with him, and I think his story can explain what writing is like for me. When he was just a kid, he was hanging out with a guy named Eli, and they were asleep in the house of the Lord, where the ark was (of the covenant, not Noah's ark, although I still don't know why the ark of the covenant was in the story). Samuel gets woken up by a voice calling him, so he goes to Eli and says, "You called me, here I am." But Eli tells him, "I didn't called you. Go back to sleep." So Samuel goes back to sleep, but before long, he hears a voice calling "Samuel! Samuel!" So he runs over to Eli again, and Eli says, "Shut up, I never called you. Go back to sleep." This happens a few more times, then Eli finally realizes it's God calling Samuel, so he tells Samuel what to do. The next time Samuel hears the voice calling, he says, "Speak, for your servant is listening." And after that, God told him all kinds of stuff, and made sure everyone believed him.
Writing is kind of like that for me. What I need to write comes to me. I have an idea of what's supposed to happen next, but then it is as if the story just flies into my head. Or not even that, it flies into my writing hand. Nearly every day I say to the universe, or to God, or whoever, "Speak, for your servant is listening." And most times, I get an answer. Not to say that my writing is in any way exalted. I just listen for the story, and I write it down, whatever it may be. But I can't force it. I can't outline it. I just have to shut up and listen.