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I'm wanting to get back into writing and work on a novel or a collection of short stories. In the past, I've done creative writing and I've written a full-length novel, however it's been over a year since I've had time/energy/creativity to write. Right now, I'm having trouble deciding if I should free write or start planning my writing (i.e. getting an outline, schedule, and world-building done).

Which should I do, or is there a better way to move forward?

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Good question. I would do both in parallel.

If you start freewriting and build a habit of writing without having a story idea ready to transition to, you might lose that momentum when you need to take a break to research and outline your story before you can begin to write it. If on the other hand you start with taking the time to build a habit of occupying yourself with your story – brainstorming, researching, developing etc. –, that is, starting up your creativity and getting it flowing, you might find that your writing is stiff once you have a beginning from which to discovery write or an outline from which to write in a planned manner.

I would therefore start researching, planning etc. your novel and at the same time begin to write habitually. You can freewrite in relation to your story (for example backstory, character portraits, tales about side characters) or about unrelated things, e.g. a blog, a diary, social media posts, or more specific writing exercises in relation to your format or genre.

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There are two basic styles of writers: Plotters and Seat of the Pantsers. A plotter spends time world building, character building, and developing the overall plot. This type of author can make great detective stories.

Seat of the Pantsers (like me) can sit down with just the first sentence and start writing. This is how George Martin writes. This tends to lead to very rich characters, although the stories can meander a bit more.

It sounds like you're wondering which style you should pursue, and there's no right answer for everyone. You have to decide what works for you. To me, working out extensive plot lines doesn't work. Oh, I can do it, but when I actually start writing, I find that the writing isn't as rich. I rush from main point to main point, but the reason my fans like my writing is because of the time I spend with the characters -- that's far more important to my style than moving the plot in a particular direction. My very best books have been when I didn't actually know where the story was going to go, so I just kept writing, and the story unfolded for me much the same way it eventually unfolds to my future readers.

If you like world building, if you like making up a cohesive system of magic or future science, or if you want to write plot-driven stories, then absolutely you should spend time doing those.

But only you can decide.

I will tell you what my fans tell me, and what I tell other writers.

Write what you love. If you love it, other people will, too.

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Did you find an outline essential in the past?

If so, opting for that may be wise. Otherwise, writing is best tackled by writing, so freewriting is probably wise. Remember that outlining and world-building can be ways to avoid writing.

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In my experience, I would recommend creating a playlist for your characters to get over writers block, or come up with short stories (Like a paragraph or so) of what your characters are doing, perhaps even writing about what they did while you were away. But getting over writers block and such is different for everyone. These are just things that work for me :)

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