In response to my last post Simon commented on how he sometimes has to write the wrong story before he can write the one he needs to be writing, peeling away the inital story until the real story emerges.
I remember doing this years ago with 'Spirits of Darkness and Light.' Originally it was a SF story but after completing the first draft I wasn't happy with it so I stuck it in a drawer and started work on something else. A looong time passed before I remembered the story was still stuck in the drawer. But when I finally dragged it out I realised that what I thought should be a SF story should in fact be a ghost story. Much more fitting for the tone and setting. Plus this change also allowed me to bring in an emotional undercurrent that had been entirely lacking in the story's first incarnation.
In theory outlining allows me to get this part of the process out of the way a lot quicker. I'm just bouncing ideas around, the plot is still fluid, malleable; I can add or subtract as I wish. Entire subplots can live and die in a space of seconds. Even if I end up mulling over them for longer periods at least I'm not distracted by the need to write beguiling prose at the same time as I'm trying to figure out the story's plot.
In Mask I realised that a plot development I was toying with wouldn't fit into the word count so I collapsed the whole thing into a couple of lines whilst still in the planning stages. Saved me having to write out a half dozen or so pages of story and then trying to shoehorn it into the rest of the plot; shedding dialogue here, descriptive passages there, all the time cursing the need for this gutting of my muse.
Other times the outlining hasn't worked so well. I've added in subplots that have absolutely no place in the story I'm writing but I don't realise until after I've finished the first draft. I then have the problem of working out how far this soon to be deceased subplot has entwined itself around the main plot, the story's heart. If small but telling details of the subplot have wormed their way into the main body of the story then continuity errors probably fill every page. So as well as the fun of cutting out all the stuff I don't want to keep I also have to rewrite all the stuff I do want to keep. This is never fun.
It doesn't help that lately I seem to have totally lost the ability to judge the intended length of a story. Scenes that are only supposed to last a couple of hundred words drag on past the thousand word mark, rapid fire exchanges of dialogue turn into bloated discussions. All of which means I not only waste time writing this rubbish but I also have to trim it all down again afterwards.
Unfortunately there's no one best method to write a story. There's only the best method to write the story you're currently working on. Sometimes you find that method first time, sometimes you have to scream and shout and pull out a few clumps of your hair first.