(From my book on writing: Be The Dog), which will be out by this weekend.)
My process is a bit discovery and a bit outlining. I use both.
The first draft still gets messy, of course. It’s just the way it goes with first drafts. It’s like a construction site. Messy. Messy. I have a mantra. Say it with me. LOW EXPECTATIONS, LOW EXPECTATIONS, LOW EXPECTATIONS.
Extra: Don’t let the mess stop you! You have to keep going. You neat-freaks, bothered by disorder, will struggle most with this. Just keep reminding yourself that revision is just a draft away. You will have many chances to bring order to your unruly creation.
That’s how I begin a novel.
Extra: A lot of writers begin with gusto. They write that first chapter like a racehorse exploding out of a gate. They go to the next. But they hit some headwind. All of a sudden it’s a hurricane strength headwind. They’re running in place. They reread their first pages. Maybe they even go back and rework them. They tell everyone they know how great their idea is and how good their first chapter is. But the problem is that on page 15 or 20 or whatever, they are suddenly stuck in place. They won’t finish. They won’t even get close.
You need more than one idea. You need many. You’re going to need to be able to flesh them out. You’ll need characters and a story. You need to be projecting where your story will go. One or two scenes is short-sighted.
But if you find yourself in this place, try some of the outline ideas in #6 of this section. It’s OK to outline as you move along. Sometimes it can help you quiet the headwind enough to take a step forward.