Outlining. The big scary word that has most writers running scared. Me included. Nano 2010 I used an outline for the first time. It was scary, since I'd never thought that far ahead in a story. I'd always been a pantser. I just started and kept going. But you know what? Plotting and outlining was the best way to get that story out. I had a real beginning, not just a cool character. I had a middle. I had an ending. I knew who the murderer was and why the murders happened (yeah, it was one of those books), which had never happened before. I knew everything about the book. I wrote it, and I didn't come close to finishing the whole story. But I knew where it was going and I had made my Nano 50k.
When I started on The Book Without A Name About Faeries And Boyfriends, I just wrote. Then I stopped myself and wrote an outline. I outlined in my bedroom, at my kitchen counter while I baked bread, on the pool deck, at the library, in Subway. It took a week, but I had finally figured out where the story was going. If it wasn't for that outline, I wouldn't have finished the book at all. Now of course I'm struggling through edits, but I finished writing the book, and that's the big scary part. I know everything about that book, so edits may be daunting, but I know that they'll make it better.
Now, I have an outline for my Camp Nano 2012 book. (Affectionately working titled Sister Psychic, which is not likely to be its real title as it's also the name of my favorite Smash Mouth song from 2001). I know who my villains are, what their motivations are, what species of Bumper they are. I know my main character Delia very very well. I know her history and her family. I know what's going to happen in my story. I know where the book is going. I can complete it.
Does having an outline prevent things from happening that change the whole plot? Not even close. Some strange things happened in writing TBWANAFAB (affectionately called Serendipity). Some strange things are happening even now as I plan for Sister Psychic. I just changed something major about my villains, but it fits and it makes the book that much better. I'm getting excited. I'm getting ready for this.
Do you outline? Are you a plotter or a pantser?