Most writers have asked themselves the same question at some point: To outline or not to outline?
I’d say, “Yes.”
Outlining–whether before writing a first draft or after the seventh full-length revision–can give insight as to how well tension is paced and whether a character’s emotional trajectory is realistic. Plotting out the order in which events occur can give the author a more objective view of what the reader will see and what assumptions he will make.
On the other hand, there’s something frighteningly wonderful about letting your characters guide you once you’ve set them on the page. Whether it’s something that will turn into a chapter of your novel or a writing exercise meant only to help you get to know your characters, the act of free writing can open up doors in an author’s imagination that would otherwise remain shut.
I don’t know that one technique has to come before the other. Alternating between using an outline and letting one’s imagination roam is not efficient, but what about novel writing is? It is both craft and science, and the balance is key. Building a person, building a community, building a world takes time. The more often different sides of the author’s imagination are thoughtfully layered into the text, the more satisfying the result will become.