I once read that John Irving never sits down to write a book until he knows how every element plays out. It's really evident in A Prayer For Own Meany. I'm going to start out to say that I don't write like that. I'm not good enough to hold the whole story in my head. I'm not a big enough control freak to make sure I know where everything goes. There are pieces that I know for sure and then there are other parts I haven't figured out yet. The only way I have found to work out a story is to get the pieces I know down on paper and see if I can figure out how to get from one place to the next. It's a little like going on a journey with only a few shreds of a map.
Truth be told, I wasn't a very good student. History held my attention as did the story telling part of English. I had no interest in grammar. That was just a collection of rules and I've never been a big fan of rules. I was lost in Math and the lab portion of Science was what kept me afloat. During lectures, I occupied my time with a pen and a paper. Drawing was what kept me awake.
The point is that I am very comfortable working with a blank sheet of paper and a nice ball point pen. This is the place that most of my writing starts. I can write about as quickly as I can think. It's a nice system because it allows me to steamroll through some ideas as fast as they pop up. Up top is an example of how I started off my first novel. Those aren't even complete sentences, just quick thoughts that lead to the next one.
Several years ago, I would take those little notes and then write them out long hand. I have volumes of Moleskin books filled with my longhand versions of my stories. After knocking out what I would consider about a chapter's worth, I'd transcribe them to the computer. From there I would edit. As I mentioned in an earlier post, editing too early was a mistake that derailed my first book. I wouldn't recommend doing that.
When I set out to write the new book, I modified the process. I stopped working with Moleskins and wrote on plain printer paper on a clipboard. I got away from the Moleskins because they're more expensive and less available than printer paper. I wanted to write, not feed into a fetish. I still work stream of consciousness. There are times when I'll begin a sheet and not know how it's going to end.
I try to keep myself from editing. They'll be plenty of time for that later on. The purpose of what I'm doing is to lay down the broad pieces of the story. There will be plenty of time to fix it the next time through.
I refer to this as my outline. I have pages and pages of it. I didn't start transcribing any of my outline until I was done with the whole thing. I would estimate that my outline probably took about three months to put together. I would also say that I wasn't really in novel shape when I first began it. There were a lot of days off in the process of outlining. If I did it again, I could cut the time down considerably.