In general, when you think about how people write, there are usually two different ways. One way is to be a “pantser,” as in you go by the seat of your pants with no outline, throwing doubts to the wind. Another way is to be a “plotter,” which means you plan things out ahead of time and know your plot and everything that’s supposed to happen, etc.
I’ve always been a little bit of both. I’ll rephrase that: my process relies on both methods. It usually goes that I get a great idea, and this idea is fed by scenes, lines of dialogue, images, etc. But these come to me randomly, over long periods of time. They aren’t planned. All I have to go on is an idea my imagination has picked up on. But then, when I start examining these scenes/ideas and questioning them (who is that character? why would this happen? what would force that decision?), I start to see a way that they can be placed in chronological order in the narrative. A way that these scenes answer the questions other scenes pose. These collected ideas become a very barebones outline, which always has wiggle room.
Now, that’s the process for a first draft. I don’t often see discussion about how people who pants vs. plot attack a revision. I’m pretty sure for both camps in involves going back and cleaning up the manuscript. I got some great advice at a writing conference once to write an outline after the fact to see what I had accomplished in terms of plot in each chapter of the novel. Then that outline helped serve as a guide of where the strengths and weaknesses were in the manuscript. I also used this outline advice to look at how many characters were present in each chapter, and how important they were to the story. (Yes, some had to get cut… No looking back!)
Being in the revision stage much later in the game, I’m now sticking to the general outline of my plot that I’ve refined through my drafts, but the content is changing in the way it’s distributed. I’m putting in more on character and plot points that seemed rushed before are now getting more time. But, still, I’m always working with a combination of knowing and not knowing where I’m going. Whatever work I put in today will feed what I do tomorrow, and often I have to stand up and walk away to later work out a scene that’s giving me trouble.
I like using a little bit of both. I feel as if I have a more diverse toolbox.