I'm of the E.M. Forester, "How can I know what I mean until I see what I say?" school of writing. Sometimes it sucks but I can’t write any other way. One discovery leads to another discovery leads to another and I have to trust that these will lead me, eventually, to a story. Of course, I’m thinking about structure as I do it. I’m thinking about characters desires and I’m thinking about how all the various elements fit together, but I’m always trying to be open to any and every possibility that comes into my mind. Especially when I’m writing a first draft.
I’m discovering my story. I get immense satisfaction from this struggle to discover my story.
And this is why I find outlining and, particularly outlining that involves formulas ( a lot of these out there) for writing ineffectual. They do work for some writers. There is no one way to write, of course. But for me when I try to fit my writing into some preconceived structure, I limit it. I force my story and my imagination to conform to a certain path and this limits the possibilities of my story. I diminish my story.
I need to think it all out on paper. Discover the story and the characters as I go and allow that first draft to wander aimlessly in places. This means a lot of wrong turns and a lot—a lot—of rewriting. I look at my first drafts with suspicion and embarrassment, but that is my process and the more I revise the closer I get to the real story I’m trying to tell. I need that embarrassing first draft to get to my story.
It’s messy. I abandon manuscripts after thirty or forty pages sometimes because I can see that my story doesn’t have the spark that draws new discoveries. But once I get going, once I make discoveries that lead to other discoveries, the errors, the wrong turns, the wanderings, eventually reveal my story to me.