I’m definitely an acolyte of Anne Lamott’s “shitty drafts” strategy. Generally before I write anything real, I have to take a moment (or a day) to scribble in my notebook, starting with the first things that comes to mind and rattling of whatever comes afterwards. Usually, this draft truly is shitty. I used to think those drafts were more valuable, more “pure,” because they had my first thoughts and weren’t bogged down by what came after. Now, I realize that part of a writer’s duty to her reader is to scrape all the residual brain-gunk off a piece so that all that’s left is exactly what she wants to say.
Even when I’m writing something academic and non-creative, I almost always write a quick stream-of-thought about the topic, about the information I have and my perceptions on it. Usually this is where I get my thesis and most of my main points, and from there I can draw up an outline and continue developing my ideas. My creative writing could probably benefit from that same outline process, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet. That would be a good thing for me to try in the near future!