I start writing with a general idea of what’s going to happen in my story – for most of it. The ending is often vague, sometimes entirely blank. But I figure, it will take me so long to get to that point of the story, surely by then I’ll have thought of something.
But then I don’t.
At least, not really. Each time I sit down to write, I know what will happen immediately afterward. But after that? Vague images and a sense of where the story should get to, but no idea of how to get my characters there.
I can, of course, follow my own advice and do some free-writing. Which I have done, a few times. But it only gives me a clue of what to do for the next chapter or two. Considering how long it can take me to write a chapter, knowing what’s to come a couple of those ahead of time isn’t so bad: it’ll take me a couple of days to get through two pages of notes, and maybe by then another page-worth of story will have seeped into my brain.
But that’s not the point. The point is, as far ahead as I’ve pushed my story right now, I still don’t know how my characters are going to reach their goal. And that’s a little scary (especially when your semester goal is to finish the story!).
One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from E.L. Doctorow: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Writers, even the best ones, don’t tend to know where their story is going when they start it up. They’re making the same careful way as us. It’s comforting – but it doesn’t make doing the actual writing any less frustrating or stressful.