I have never been a major fan of planning ahead. I write much like I go through life: by the seat of my pants. In the twenty-two years I have been writing, I've always just dived right in and gone from there. Maybe once the plot thickens and I need to keep track of things, I will start o record them in a neat manner for future reference, but when it comes to planning most of that is done inside my head.
Characters come to me. Maybe you'll think that's crazy, but it's how it's always been. They come to me and tell me their story, and I record it for them. When the relative experience is really deep, or I feel particularly connected to it, the story comes out in first person. Many of them are written in third person limited because the characters are what drive a lot of my stories. Personal experiences that reach out and grab others... things that someone can read and say, "Oh my word! I have felt like that!"
So, when it comes to planning out where and when things will happen, most of that is done in my head. It's similar to planning, I suppose, but without all the structure to limit my creative process. I have tried to be neat and tidy... the second year I did NaNoWriMo I had a great structure all mapped out. Character sheets, chapter-by-chapter plotting, the works, but there is no story. In fact, the few thousand words I actually expended on the story don't even feel salvageable to me.
I started to plan and plot once I decided on a subject for this year's NaNoWriMo, but then I realized that one of the pushes of NaNoWriMo is finishing a novel in thirty days. The drive is in the deadline. Finishing the first draft is what is important. So, I tossed my written plans out the window and have returned to mentally tossing ideas about until it comes time to start dropping them onto paper on November 1st.
So, do you plan before your write? Do you feel as if you can't get through the first draft without a strong plan? Do you wing it, and worry about filling in any holes once the first draft is done?