So, last night I realised that I hadn't written a blog post for today and was struggling for something to actually write about. Then help arrived in the form of a tweet from my friend Mark:
For my first NaNoWriMo (in 2010), I chose to write a novel I'd come up with a couple of days before, rather than something that had been brewing and formulating for months. All I really had was the idea - guy catches a deadly parasite and has to a) hide this fact from his girlfriend, and b) try really hard not to give her the deadly parasite. That was all I had, and I got something like seventy thousand words out of it. But it's unusual for me to work that way.
I don't plan out every detail. I have to have the key events, I have to know the shape of the story (though I'm not so fixed on having to know how it ends). I have to know a little bit about the characters and the rough shape of the plot. But that's it. I tend to come up with an idea that I like, and it grows and evolves over a couple of weeks. When I'm not thinking about it, I come up with new things - plot events, characters, bits of dialogue, ten-page conversations...they just come to me. I write them all down in text files and then, once that new-idea-fever has died off a little bit, I know I'm almost ready to write. That's when I go through what I've written down and plunked in a folder with a generic title (the one for my now-titled WIP is "Devil") and put them into an order. Each key event in the story gets its own subfolder and then the text files are sorted and arranged in the order I'll use them. And then I'm ready to start. Basically, for me, writing is joining up the bits I've already written.
Of course, this is just how I write, and not even all the time. I have sat down and planned meticulously (though I never finished that particular novel) because there was a confusing timeline that I had to keep straight. I have, as demonstrated above, starting writing without having really any clue about the story I was writing. Both have benefits. I know people who hate to plan because it stifles creativity, I know people who hate to go with the flow because they need the structure to be able to write. Neither one is right or wrong, it's all about finding what works for you. I'm lucky in that I've found my method pretty quickly (and painlessly) but just do what feels natural. And if it doesn't work, try something else next time.