I've been writing with an eye on submitting stuff to publishers and agents for twenty years. Before that, I just wrote without really thinking about it. Back then, it was mostly shit short stories that didn't go anywhere and were usually a rip-off of whatever I was reading at the time, along with terrible poems. I wrote a few awful books between 1998 and around 2003 and didn't feel like I'd come close to finding my voice until a fantasy novel in 2004. The joke was I hadn't found my voice at all, but at least I had an idea.
And the thing about those early books and short stories...I didn't plan any of them. I just started with a basic idea and rolled with it which is probably why most of my first books are long ass, rambling stories that could be cut in half without problem. In 2005, I started work on another fantasy which stalled around 25k in because I had no clue where the book was going. I put it to one side, outlined the rest of it and set to work. Again, it was much too long as well as being crap, but the outlining helped. I've stuck with it ever since. So that's fifteen years of notes, character descriptions, scene by scene bullet points and research before I write a single word of the actual book.
Now for a problem I didn't realise was an issue until I was halfway through a book I finished a couple of a weeks ago.
It's robbed most of the fun out of writing. Yes, writing is work. Hard work a lot of the time, but it's also fun. When you're either not making any money out of it or close to bugger all, it definitely has to be fun. Otherwise, what's the point? When a publisher doesn't give a shit where your next book is, when there are no agents or editors beating down your door, you write because you've got a story to tell and because it's fun. The Day Of The New Gods was outlined and that was a fun book to write probably because it's all story, it's over the top and I played to my strengths. Having a publisher who specifically wanted it also helped. But writing a first draft hasn't been fun for a while. I've slogged through them because I know first drafts are always crap and the good stuff comes in the rewrites. It's only been in recent weeks that I hit on what he issue was - outlining was taking away the sheer joy of making stuff up. The stories I made up as a kid were just that: made up. And they were fun even if they were crap.
So, over the last couple of days, I've written a 3k short story with only the concept to go on and next to no idea how it would end. It's rough and needs the usual polish, but I enjoyed writing it, winging it, rolling with it and seeing where I ended up when I got there. Obviously, writing a short story is different to writing a book, but even so, I'm edging more and more to just making a book up based on the initial idea for the first time in close to twenty years. I've got other stuff to do first (promo The Dead Room for one, and come up with a better version of my recent book). At some time soonish, though, I'll wing it.
See where I am when I get there kind of thing.