Most writers I've ever read seem to agree: write, write, write, then edit when you get it on the page. I really try to do that. Honest. The problem is I often find it very challenging to do things that way.
Why? Well, for starters I usually have a conception of where I want the story and my main characters to start and a pretty clear image of how they end up. There are usually specific scenes and images and conflicts that I see along the road, but much of it is out of focus and (as The Proceena Crusade taught me) even the end doesn't always turn out as I envision.
I often check in on Facebook when I’m working. I like to give word counts and let you, the reader, know that I'm “hard” at work on the next great story. That worked out really well in Lunatic City. It had a little different feel and it was really easy to take Frank Parker along on his dark and twisted journey into the seedy underworld of Tycho City. But, with the larger space operas, it seems the challenge is different.
I want to advance the story, but I’m still feeling out some of the characters and their role on this large and complex canvas. I often find characters that were first filling a space across from or next to someone at the table grow into complex people with their own stories that fit very well into the plot tapestry I’m weaving. I recently found the perfect role for someone who has really only served as a minor foil. Now, he’s a full-fledged actor who is not just helping tell this big tale, but has a compelling story of his own that enriches the whole novel.
This added plot thread now has to go back and be woven into the story I’ve told so far. It means moving scenes around, compressing or elongating time lines, and sharing the page with other plot threads. I have to do all of this without making a bloated story that bores or confuses. This sometimes means trimming from other threads.
Much of that work can come later, during conventional editing. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the events of my stories (like all other stories) build on the events previous. I can’t just change this character midstream and then go back and fix it after writing the rest of the story. OK, I probably could, but it seems so much more natural to go back, add a couple of scenes rather than try to fill in my mind what I think my character said and did in those earlier pages (I often go back and reread where thread left off to avoid continuity mistakes). The dialogue doesn’t have to be perfect. Every move or thought doesn't have to be just so. But, the foundation for this character’s story and what he’s done so far has to be there for me to build upon.
Only then, can I write the rest of my story.