I think one of the most important things one can discover as a writer is how one's own process works best. We can take courses, read books, get advice from experts, but in the end we will have to find our own way.
My process is a combination of things I've learned over the years from mentors and books and writing practice. There is no one way to go about writing a poem, story, novel, or screenplay. I'm not talking about the genre or form or the story itself, I'm talking about the physical act of getting it down on the page.
We don't dress alike, behave alike, or think alike so why should we create the same way either?
I was once interviewed by a gentleman who was working on a degree in poetry. He wanted to learn HOW to go about being a poet. He asked 20 poets what their rituals were and how they proceeded to write. I was the last poet he interviewed and I asked him what he discovered.
He said: Some poets write every day, some write only when the muse strikes, some write first thing in the morning, some write at night. Some poets edit their work 50 times, some never edit their work. Some poets read their work out loud to themselves. Some are formalists, some are cavalier. Some poets carve out their poems line by line, some are completely spontaneous.
I'm paraphrasing, of course, but this made me laugh. He was really kind of bummed he hadn't found the answer. I said, "I guess you just have to try everything and figure out what works for you."
I was cruising around writer sites and found this post on Laura Reyna's Writing and Building site about writing "mini-drafts" of her scripts before she writes the whole thing. She adapted this method from something James Cameron does. Very cool. She pointed to David Anaxagoras's blog as well, which talks about the difference between outlines, treatments and scriptments.
Want to hear a secret? I don't always write outlines or treatments for my spec scripts.* It could be that I'm lazy, but I don't think so. I think my process is just more organic. I think a lot about the story, tell it out loud to myself and others (something Alex Epstein recommends) and then complete a bunch of writing exercises and brainstorms around it. Then I write the whole thing from start to finish in as short amount of time as possible. 10 Days is my favourite length of time. I like being totally immersed in the story.
Basically, I start with a situation, visualize the end result, then create some characters and let them loose. To me, it's always been about the characters. I think if you create great characters, throw them into a situation with secrets, goals, wounds and needs they're bound to do something interesting.
I absolutely think structure is important. And it seems that if I keep asking myself the right questions, and keep moving the story forward, the structure emerges as part of the process. I simply prefer getting it all down and seeing what I've got. Then I mold it in the rewrite, making sure it all works and everything is revealed in the most effective way possible.
I am a stickler for rewriting/editing. Don't think my organic approach means I'm sloppy. I have a different process for the creation and the edit. After I've got it all down, I organize it, tighten it, and throw out what I don't need. No matter what I write, I've always preferred writing MORE than I need and trimming it down (carving it out), rather than not having enough and trying to fill it in. There's more to my rewrite process, and I'll tell you more about that when we get there.