One bite at a time.
Writing, like almost everything in life is very much like eating an elephant. Everybody has problems. Everybody tackles those problems differently. Most people will take a problem apart and deal with each of its aspects individually until that problem is either solved or a happy medium is reached.
Writing is just like that. You have this elephant: your story and you go through the process of telling it in an engaging manner. Your goal is to get your reader to eat it -- one bite at a time; one word at a time. For me, that elephant is the story I'm telling in its entirety.
So, I start with an idea. I build that story on that one little, tiny idea. How? One bite at a time. But, you first have to thaw and marinate your elephant.
Thawing: For me, my stories play out like a movie in my head. I see the beginnning, the middle and/or the climax, then I see the end. Sometimes I see the end first and then I work my way backward. Sometimes I don't know how it will end, but I do have a general idea about where I want the story to go. Sometimes even that will change, but ultimately, I know I will finish my story. In other words, I will eat the elephant.
Seasoning and Marinating: First I write what I think is the whole story. This, in reality is really just an outline. Then I put that outline aside for a bit and muse about it. Sometimes I write notes down, sometimes I record voice notes, but mostly I do this all in my head -- where the story was born. This is when I name all my lead characters. I research names and their meanings and I try to choose names that will best suit my characters and their personalities. Sometimes I choose names just because I like they way they sound when I say them out loud.
I imagine scenarios and settings. I imagine what these people might wear, what they might look like, what their psychological make up is, what their backgrounds might be and how they may relate to others. Based on all of that, I work out how they might react under certain conditions. When I think the story has been properly seasoned and has marinated for a bit, I'm ready to cook and it goes into the oven. The heated pressure is on.
Cooking: I start out slow with lots of turns and lots of basting. The juices take a while to get going but once they get to bubbling, it's like a volcano beginning to rumble. It begins with a slow tremor deep inside waiting to burst like the juices of a sweet and tangy marinade just starting to reach it's boiling point. Slowly, it seeps through the the crevices of the meat of the elephant. I poke at the sections that are done and give it a little more heat. Twisting and turning it -- making sure that when poked, the juices flow evenly. Sometimes when I stab the meat, a shocker of juice spurts forward right in my eye, surprising me. I chuckle, blink and keep going. Damn it! Didn't see that coming! This happens quite a bit! I continue cooking at a steady pace and keep turning sometimes encountering sections that are a little raw. So, I turn up the heat a little bit then walk away and let it simmer.
Getting Ready for the Final Turn: It's almost done now so I go back and review, edit, revise then print the whole thing out. It'll take me a few days, but I run through the story out loud, beginning to end. Sometimes I record myself reading it and listen to it on the train so I can see how it flows; how it might read to someone other than me. I can't believe I wrote this! Really? Wow! As I listen, I'm taking notes. Once I'm done with this process, I go back and tweak it a little more -- or in cooking parlance - I poke the elephant a little bit and make sure it's not under or overcooked. This is the point at which I will share with my critiquing buddies. I trust they will be honest in critiquing my work. And once additional edits/revisions/more edits are done, I'll send it off to the proofreader/editor followed by more edits/revisions.
I'm not there yet, I'm still cooking. The point is this: I see a lot of tweets, and other postings about how many words are accomplished on any given day or are contained in a story. I was caught up in that at one point as well. What I realized is that it's not the number of words but the content of your story. If you have a story to tell and it is well told, the words are there. It's not something you need to keep track of. It takes A LOT of words to tell a good story and you shouldn't be worried about the numbers. Tell your story the only way you know how.
And that is by eating the elephant one bite at a time. I promise, you will find it very satisfying.