Practically the first thing an author you have just been introduced to will ask you is “Pantser or plotter?”
The question means “Do you plot everything out before you start writing, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?” Every writer does both but most writers are willing to put themselves into one category or the other. I happily identify myself as a pantser, though I prefer call myself a “blank pager.” I spend maybe three times as long thinking the problems through as I do putting words on paper. And I do it as I go along. But if I write it all down, and have finished the story in my mind, then I am done with it, and I will never finish the writing.
The story I am writing now was all done except for a single plot point. I had struggled with the identity of the killer, how to use the other characters to best advantage, and how to tell the story of the setting without telling too much (as opposed to showing) or drowning the story in the place and time. Then, when it was nearly done, I still had to figure out how the protagonist solved it. Two simple sentences, one near the beginning and one near the end were all I needed. As often happens, the answer came in the early morning before I climbed out of my warm bed. So right after walking the dog, I put the two sentences in their places.
I now have about 3000 words on paper, but I am not done.
I am big on research and pick topics that take a lot of it. I do it before I start; I do it as I go along; I do it after I have written the end. I still have to figure out if Ned could light a cigarette in 1850, or if he could smoke a cigarette at all. Since I am using a real event, I need to know who was there and what they did and what the outcome was.
Oh, yes, and I struggle with names. Poor Ned was Ted for the first half. I still have to decide which one he really is. One funny tid-bit about naming. I come up with first names separate from last names. Nicknames come even later. When I had a name for one of the characters, first and last, I realized that when I called her by her nick name, she bore the rather unique name of an acquaintance. Said acquaintance would not be at all pleased with sharing anything at all with that particular character. So I changed her last name and still have to go back and make sure it is changed everywhere. Glory be for search and replace. Except the last name was the name of a common object, I can see sending the MS off with the following sentence. “She went to the sideboard and rang the dinner Adams.”
I’ve got a couple more hours of work on it then it goes to my critique group who will tell me things like, “the motive is not strong enough” or “the clue is too weak.” I may even get both “Too much setting” and “not enough setting.”
Finally I have to decide what to do about their comments. Some are easy fixes, like changing an adjective. Some don’t need fixing. Most often I find the change needs to be in a different spot from the comment. When John says the main character isn't strong enough, I have to fix that.